Self-publishing books used to have a bad reputation. That has changed a little bit over the past couple of years, but there definitely is the sense that people who get published “for real” must be better writers, and certainly have more cred. I decided to self-publish my novels for a number of reasons, after long consideration and contemplation. These reasons are both philosophical as well as deeply personal.
First for the philosophical. There are two different threads that I'll follow in this post about the philosophical underpinnings of my decision not only to self-publish, but also to publish using a Creative Commons License. I have been an open source advocate for many years. Although not as much of a purist as some, I still believe that the way to create and share these digital things we're awash in now, whether it be software, content, data, music, writing, art, what have you, is to make them open and freely available to everyone, and allow anyone to “riff off” of that creativity. And, I want to help encourage economic models which help creators make a living from creating.
Open source software is a great example of a gift economy at work, and although it is never, and can never be purely so until and unless our society operates as a gift economy (my personal economic philosophy) it does present a success of sorts for that ideal.
When I wrote my first novel 5 years ago, I knew I wanted to release that work using an open content model. I worried as an emerging writer about how I could possibly do that and get published at the same time. I even wrote Cory Doctorow an email about it once. He is without a doubt the most well known published author who's work has an open content license. There are very, very few other success stories like his. He was quite nice in reply, and basically said “don't worry about it until later.” Well, three books and five years later came, and getting published “for real” didn't look especially likely, especially not with an open content license. I'll talk more about those issues a little later in the personal section.
The second thread has to do the concentration of ownership of media companies in a very, very few hands. Six companies in the United States own the vast majority of media, including TV, radio, music, movies, and print. Most publishers of science fiction and fantasy novels are now owned by one of these big six. And in the pursuit of being published “for real”, one might be hard pressed to pick and choose. I found the idea of being a part of that machine kind of distasteful. I don't blame other authors who are – not at all. But I realized it wasn't for me.
These two threads come together in talking about copyright, and the ways in which these large media companies work very hard to not only extend copyright protection for works far beyond what makes sense in order to protect the creators of that work, but also to do their best to limit the availability of work, and prevent unauthorized copying of works with technology such as DRM. Things which, in my humble opinion stifles creativity and innovation instead of fostering it. There is a great (albeit long and complex) discussion of this in Yochai Benkler's amazing book The Wealth of Networks.
So now to the personal. Frankly, I didn't spend many years trying to get an agent, or trying to get published. I did spend some months, however. And I got feedback from editors and such on my work. The most common kind of feedback I got was “it needs more conflict.” I even had someone suggest that the Casitians should be involved in a space battle with the US military at the beginning of my first book!
I was fighting with this – I wanted people to read the books. I wanted to get published. But I realized that that wasn't why I was writing. It's a subtle thing. I write to tell stories that flow through me. That's the only way I can describe it. I realized that I wanted to write without compromise. I think I'm a good writer. I hope some day I can become a very good writer. I want people to read what I write – but that's not why I write. I write because I can't not write. I can't not tell these stories that come to me.
I didn't want to have to change how I write, or what I wite just so I can get published. I write on subjects that some science fiction fans (and therefore publishers) won't like. I write about gender, race, sexuality and spirituality. I write about peacemaking, and alternative economic systems. I write about the effects of oppression. I want these stories to be read – I don't want them to simply pile up on my hard drive, with no one to see them but myself.
I don't know what will happen now that I've embarked on this road. It's been fun talking with people who are reading, or have read my first book. I'm looking forward to the process of putting the rest of them out, as I'm also already working on more (yes, there will be more – I said I can't not write.)