I've always been very cautious of the self-publishing boom. Self-publishing is by no means new — Charles Dickens did it, among many others — but it used to be costly and difficult. What's changed is that it's now fairly easy and (at least in theory) it can be done for free. This is a good thing, of course, but its very big downside is that authors who used to have to hone their skills through the cycle of submission and rejection now have the power to sling out their first drafts on Kindle, unrevised, unedited, poorly designed and with amateurish covers.
It certainly can be done properly, and most of the much-touted success stories are authors who knew what they were doing (often from experience of traditional publishing) and were willing to put a significant amount of time, effort and (often) money into preparing the book and then promoting it. These, though, aren't always easy to spot in the midst of an avalanche of poorly prepared work
In spite of my reservations, I've just taken my first plunge into self-publishing by issuing a second edition of my novel At An Uncertain Hour. This was originally published by the American house StoneGarden, which unfortunately closed down last year due to the owner's need to rearrange the priorities in his life. I'd like to emphasise that my experiences with StoneGarden were all positive, from submission to their honest handling of the closure and reversion of rights, and I wish Kris all the best.
This was somewhat different from the average self-publication in various ways. For one thing, this was a book that someone had considered worth investing his own money to publish, and for another I'd been through a rigorous editorial process with StoneGarden (four edits and then the galleys, if I remember rightly). That didn't stop me giving it another once-over, but it did mean that I didn't feel the need to hire a professional editor. That would have been beyond my means at the moment, but I'd be very reluctant to put out a "raw" novel without it.
There was still the cover to get right. I have little confidence in my artistic abilities, but I was lucky to get a design from the excellent A. Carson without the high fee her skills really deserve.
I published the print and EPUB editions through Lulu, and the Kindle version (obviously) through Amazon, and it was definitely a steep learning curve. Especially as I was simultaneously doing the same for the anthology Light of the Last Day. I learnt about how their systems work, and everything from the assignment of ISBNs to allowance for "bleed" to how to make a table of contents in Word — something I'd never had the need to do before.
There were definitely hair-tearing moments, but I'm delighted by the results, and this made me think. Ebooks, at least, don't need to be of novel length — I have several ebooks out from various publishing of novelette/short novella length — and many of my stories have been published in magazines or webzines that are no longer available. The rights have reverted to me, so why shouldn't I make these available again?
The pros and cons are much the same as for At An Uncertain Hour. Although none of these works have undergone the same intensity of editing, they've been accepted and tidied up by respected editors, and shouldn't require extra professional editing. And, like the novel, these stories have been deemed good enough for publication.
This leaves the cover, which is going to be the main sticking point. Maybe I'll be able to get another favour, or perhaps my finances will improve to the extent that I can afford professional rates. Or, perhaps, I can overcome my doubts and try to do it myself — though I'll certainly ask for feedback from people who'll be honest with me before I use any of my own efforts.
I have a list of suitable stories, but for now there are three priorities. The City of Ferrid, a fantasy thriller set in an industrial revolution society (though not really steampunk) was published as both a chapbook and an ebook by Crystal Codices, a publisher sadly no longer with us. Steal Away and Rainy Season were both published in the webzine Golden Visions, also now defunct. I'm particularly eager to get these back into print, since they're the first two stories in my series about the... shall we say enthusiastic teenage sorcerers Karaghr and Failiu. The third story, The Temple of Taak-Resh, is currently available from Darwin's Evolutions, and I should soon be ready to start shopping the novella The Dweller in the Crack to publishers. It would be good to have the earlier part of the series republished.
Is any of this going to work? I've no idea, and I don't know if I'm going to be able to get suitable covers, but I think it's worth trying. If these do turn out successfully, I have more out-of-print stories to come.