I’ve occasionally had friends ask why I don’t just publish my own stories once I’ve written them, instead of looking for magazines to publish them for me. Self-publishing is easier than ever, whether you want to publish in electronic format only, or produce an attractive, professional-looking paper book.
I have self-published a couple of things. For a while, I had one of my short stories posted on this website. And I just self-published my story “Woman Moving to the Country” in Kindle format. But these were both stories that I first had traditionally published in magazines, where I submitted the story to the editor, and the editor decided to pay me for the right to include that story. So far, I haven’t self-published any new, never-before-seen stories. Why not?
It’s not that I think there’s anything wrong with doing so, or that I might not do so at some point in the future. Publishing is changing all the time, and maybe in a few more years it won’t make sense to do anything except self-publish. But here are some of the reasons why, right now, I’ve chosen to pursue traditional publishing first (i.e., I try to get someone else to publish my stories for me), and only self-publish stories that have already come out.
1. I’d rather be writing. It’s a lot of work to publish stories and convince other people to read them. Writing is a lot of work, too. But it’s work I enjoy more than designing covers, formatting manuscripts for publication, learning how to use new software to design covers and format manuscripts for publication, marketing, etc. Why spend my time doing all that instead of writing, or spend my own money hiring people to do it, when some publisher is willing to do it for me free of charge, and maybe even send me a check?
2. Better distribution. If I were famous, I might be able to publish my own stories independently and have hundreds or even thousands of people rush to pay me for them, thus earning more money than I would through a traditional publisher. But I’m not famous. If I self-publish a story, it’s pretty unlikely that anyone who doesn’t already know me is going to buy it. If I self-publish a story for free (i.e., post it on my website for anyone to read), it is possible that friends might forward the link to other friends, who might then read it. However, I suspect that I’m going to get more people to read my stories by having them published in magazines, and some of those people might not even know me. I’ll probably earn more money, too.
3. Less chance of embarassing myself. Some of my stories have been floating around for years now, garnering rejection after rejection. If no one else wants to publish my stories, shouldn’t I go ahead and publish them myself? Maybe. On the other hand, if a particular story’s getting no love from editors, maybe there’s a good reason for that. Maybe it just isn’t very good, and five years from now I’d regret plastering it all over the internet for everyone to read. Getting a story published in a magazine signals to potential readers that at least one other person besides the author’s mom* thought the story wasn’t crap.
4. Joining the conversation. There are a lot of magazines out there, print or electronic, publishing short fiction. Some don’t pay much, or at all. Some aren’t widely read. But when I’m looking for magazines to submit stories to, I’m also discovering magazines that print other stories I might enjoy. When my stories are published, I make a point of reading all the other stories in that issue, and I have to think that I’m not the only writer who does this. I like to read as much as I like to write (perhaps more), and pursuing traditional publication, trying to stay abreast of what’s being published where, gives me the opportunity to discover new favorite authors, and see what they’re up to.
So, those are some of my reasons. I can’t promise not to change my mind about self-publishing at some point in the future. For instance, longer stories are harder to place with magazines, and I seem to be writing a lot of long stories lately (if not quite novel-length). I may decide to publish some of these myself, rather than allow them to languish forever in the files of my desktop. But for right now, I absolutely prefer traditional publishing.
* Not even my mom likes all my stories.