(Previously: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)
It's no secret that I am a writer, and I aspire to be a professional. Since last October, I've been posting a new piece of flash fiction every Friday to 512 Words or Fewer and recording an audio version to podcast.
But wait! Why, you may ask, am I "self-publishing" these stories, when I've just spent the last four days railing against self-publishing? Why am I not submitting them to actual, paying markets so I can start collecting professional credits?
I'm doing 512 Words for three main reasons: practice, pressure, and publicity. Practice, because I'm still working through my million words of crap; pressure, because at least two people will notice and get on my case if I don't meet my deadline every week; and, of course, it's a publicity stunt to get my name out there (a story a week! kinda like Jay Lake! but not really).
Listen, I have no illusions about my "reach" (as marketers would call it). My blogs are essentially newsletters for my family and friends, because nobody else cares what I have to say. I do have longer stories making the rounds at several professional markets (I'm expecting that rejection from The New Yorker any year now), but if short fiction is to writers as the club scene is to independent musicians, flash fiction is my version of busking on a street corner. It gets me out there and doing something, and it keeps me writing. It's just part of the journey.
I also believe, as Tim O'Reilly famously said, that obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy. I support the Creative Commons (CC) movement to share cultural works freely (both as in speech and as in beer). I believe more artists should follow the fine example of forward-thinking people like Cory Doctorow and Jonathan Coulton, who release all their work under CC licenses for others to share. Let fans be fans, and they will show you love and support in ways you could never have imagined--or, sometimes, ever wanted to, but that's another story. So this is me, putting my money where my mouth is.
Even if you're a writer who would rather distribute your writings the old-fashioned way--encased in physical objects called "books"--the Internet gives you tons of opportunities to interact with your fans and keep them engaged. You may have heard of Scott Sigler and Seth Harwood, whose novels are published by Crown Publishing (a Random House imprint). Both of these guys do a ton of online self-promotion, including putting free content on Podiobooks.com and selling some crazy merchandise. Clearly you don't have to be as gung ho as these two to succeed as an author, but it certainly couldn't hurt:
Now, some people think it's fun to do all that self-promotion. But that's not writing. More to the point, if you can make others believe in your work, they will help you do all the things you're not so good at. When I get my first book contract, I don't want to comb through all the legalese myself--that's when I'll want an agent. When the book goes to press, I won't want to deal with typesetting and other production issues personally--that's why I'll want an editor and a publisher. And so on. I am willing to relinquish some control for the benefit of having a good team on my side, and I want them to be in it for the duration.
The American dream these days seems to be the get-rich-quick scheme. Every singer wants to be Gloria Gaynor, who built a career out of a single song ("I Will Survive") and is still raking in the royalties. A lot of unpublished writers seem to think they'll be able to write a single Great American NovelTM which rockets to the top of the bestseller lists and then immediately retire, having secured fame and fortune everlasting.
But no publisher or promoter wants a one-hit wonder. Forget about the lottery-jackpot aspect of this pipe dream; if a reader enjoys one book, she's going to look for more books written by the same person. Publishers want to help dedicated writers build careers as authors. I want to tell lots of good stories, and I want each one to be better than the last. I want my life to be something more than long.
Like the man said, always end on a song: