Sometimes it takes someone else to say what's on your mind. Sometimes they say it better than you do.
Seatbelts, folks; this could get bumpy.
My comrade-in-arms Zach B. has been talking at his blog about electing not to go with self-publishing as a default option. He laid out his position in a post titled "Humility", then defended it further by explaining some of the toxic attitudes he felt the self-publishing circuit encouraged. Among them is a reflexive hatred and distrust of conventional publishers.
I went back over much of the stuff I've written about the same subject, and it's not so much the publishers that I find problematic, but the attitudes evinced by some of them. Note again: some. If I hated publishing in toto, I would be condemning Melville House, New Directions, Haikasoru, Dark Horse (yes, them), and a great many other folks who consistently choose to do the right thing, to take risks that matter, to nudge the needle that much more in the direction of good-art-as-great-entertainment instead of okay-entertainment-as-mediocre-art. So, no, I can't condemn publishing as a whole out of hand, not when there are many good and dedicated people in it trying to make great things happen.
There's a lot of other stuff Zach identifies that I'm with him on as well: the unprofessionalism of the participants, the ungainly and ugly look of many of the finished products — and, more than almost anything else, the complete lack of a sense that self-publishing could be about getting off the focus-group treadmill. If all that's offered through the self-publishing circuit is poor man's versions of the things we get from the big-book folks anyway, why bother?
No surprise, then, that Zach had arrived at a point where "self-publish first" no longer worked for him, in big part because he saw what kind of company he was in, and wasn't sure it was company he wanted to keep, even if only by distant association.
Me, I'm still of two minds, and here's why.
My original impulse — one I still believe in to a strong degree — is that the best way to improve self-publishing is to be a better self-publisher, to be the ethical, professional, craftsmanlike type that isn't seen there much. I took a lot of pride in making my work as good as I could make it, in making it look appealing and read well. Zach has a point in that the amount of work involved in doing this is draining, and not everyone is suited to it: do you really want to not only be an author, but your own editor (ouch), your own promoter, your own graphic designer? Very few people are suited to wear all of those hats, even one at a time. I'm just pretentious enough to believe I can get away with it, but now even I wonder if it was wise to spread myself so thin.
That said — and here's my point, probably long overdue — after about a week of meditating on all this, I decided that Welcome to the Fold would not, in fact, be self-published by default. I've decided instead to seek representation for it, and if within a given window of time (say, a year) no one shows interest, then I'll fall back to my standard Plan B: put it out under my own aegis.
Yes, it means you don't get to see a new book from me for a much longer time, and for that I'm sorry. But there comes a point when you have to see, if only provisionally, what the people who actually do make a living doing this stuff have to offer you. It may be more than I ever gave it credit for. It doesn't mean that everything I produce from now on is automatically going to be contrived to fit their demands; I'm still going to write the books I want to write, and none other. That said, if on the off-chance they like it too, what's the harm?
It also doesn't mean that everything I produce from now on is going to automatically be bounced to an agent. That's too far into the future for me to speculate about reliably; for all I know, it'll end in tears, and I'll return home in triumph to my cozy handmade empire. Or not. But how the heck am I supposed to find out until I try?
Genji Press as a concern is not coming to an end. It's just being re-assessed in the light of what I want to do, versus what I have been actually able to accomplish, versus where my energies might be better directed. It's not been easy to come to this conclusion, but it's like liver: it'll be good for me. I just have to hold my nose and gulp it down.