I was intrigued by your comment over at Jim Hines's journal that you had decided to go the self-publishing route, writing for the audience you had developed, even though you knew the limitations that that route imposes. How did you arrive at that decision?
Kind of a long story — but hey, it's the Internet, it's not like I'm going to run out of pages. So here goes.
I mentioned that the reason I took the POV I did about young writers was because I was one of the very hotheads I was talking about. So I did a lot of writing that was, frankly, very bad. Worse, I grew up with — or, rather, propagandized myself into — the feeling that whatever it was I would be doing, I would not be appreciated by most audiences because I was too good for them. Laugh when ready.
Years went by. I wrote and finished a number of things. Some of them were very bad indeed. Someday we will look at them together and snicker derisively.
After a while I wrote things not quite as bad, and soon I got to the point where I was holding a really good finished manuscript in my hand and saying "You know, I'd bet money a publisher would at least look at this." Others agreed with me, but I still had the bad habit of immediately assuming they were buttering me up.
During this whole time, several other things were happening in parallel.
One was that I was letting a little of the air out of my very swelled head, which meant I could go back and look at my work and give it at least some degree of proper revision. (I don't think any writer can work without at least one person on the outside whom they trust to give them feedback, but I'm not convinced that person has to be an Editor with a cap E. But that's another argument for another webpage.) I was able to go back and look at a lot of what I'd done up to that point and reject it — draw a line and say, that stuff is not worth trying to make readable, it's an artifact of an older me. Best to leave it as it is.
Still, this process allowed me to get a better sense of just how marketable my own work was, and to what audience. And by and large, I sensed that the audience I would have would be tiny, but devoted — probably too tiny for a conventional publisher, though. I considered the smaller presses, but when I saw what they were doing, I shied away in horror. Most of it was not about the quality of the writing (some of the people who wrote for such places were talented), but the dismal flavor of whole package — the production, the marketing, etc.
Another thing that happened, and which influenced the above in terms of what I was choosing to write about, was a change in my personal tastes. My big thing for Japan took full flower, and that influenced what I was doing — drove it that much further away from mainstream SF/fantasy, which I hadn't been reading for some time. I came back to it and saw just a whole lot of stuff I didn't want to read or write in the same vein as. (At some point I mean to write an essay called something like "How I Read 50 Bad Books In One Year" that was about this whole fiasco.)
The best example of this: I tried to read the first of the Wheel of Time books, and the whole experience was deeply unnerving: Am I not seeing all of the very same things other writers were sternly telling me not to do? But the book got published, and that only convinced me all the more that the publishers were not seeking new, fresh, interesting voices: they were looking for ways to line the shelves that only looked new. What they really wanted was the same old Tolkien-clone crap in a different wrapper. (Not to say that Tolkien's work is bad, just that so many fantasy writers have been living in the man's shadow for so long that they've forgotten so many other possible modalities for fantasy exist. E.g.: Mervyn Peake, Peter S. Beagle, China Mieville, etc.)
The third thing that happened was the Internet. This part I barely need to recap, but the short version is: digital distribution, print-on-demand, social networking. It now seemed that much easier for me to build my own PR from the ground up, face-to-face with fans. I could create exactly the connection I wanted with my potential audience — but it would take a lot of work.
I knew right away that wasn't going to yield the same scale as a conventional publisher. But at the same time, I also knew that wasn't what I wanted anymore. I wanted to at least start my journey by building a connection to a prospective audience in a one-on-one fashion. If it moved past that at some point, fine, but I wanted to at least begin on that foot.
So to that end, I started assembling all the different pieces to make this happen: book designs, POD services, word about which conventions and face-to-face events would be worth my money and time, and so on. And after a couple of such rounds of research, it hit me that this was a hell of a lot of fun. The process itself was energizing, and the more I did it the more I wanted to do it.
That was about four years ago. Here we are now.
I don't believe that I have some magic touch, that I can shake up the publishing industry from the outside or anything that deluded or naïve. I'm just a guy with his own imprint and a few books he thinks are of quality, and enough ambition (read: pretense) to try and get them into people's hands without going through the usual treadmill of agent/publisher/editor/etc. (Again — this is not an indictment of those who are already doing this or are busting hump to do this right now. You guys are probably far braver than I'll ever be.)
I do believe that sometimes the only way to bring something genuine and of lasting quality into existence is to go outside the established channels. I know full well this isn't going to make me rich or famous — but the former is a red herring (it's better to be just comfortable than to have too much money, I've learned) and the latter is about as bad in its own way. I don't want nattering attention about every silly thing that comes out of my mouth, past or present; I just want people to take what I have to offer and reflect on its meaning in their own lives.
If at some point I made a connection that resulted in an offer for a book contract, fine. But I wasn't obsessed with turning this into a networking opportunity. I was enjoying the process of writing and marketing my own work directly to the people who were most meant to read it.
If I had to compress it all into a single statement, I'd put it like this: The things other people see as limitations, I see as the exact opportunity I always wanted. By having no choice but to connect directly with fans to move my work, I do the one thing I always wanted to do: connect directly with fans.
As I put it many times: I don't have a lot of fans, but I think I can refer to all of them by their first names. And this way, I can say that I really did do it myself.
That's the short version.
The long version is much more complicated.