It's a little bit over two years since I decided (arbitrarily and with little experience to inform the decision) that self-publishing is the writerly route for me. It was an unwise decision, in the sense that it was made with little wisdom, but it seems to have been a fortuitous one all the same. I certainly wouldn't retract it. Anyway, as I did last year, this seems a good moment for a little analysis.
The angle I want to take is considering what might have happened had I decided differently - this seems to me the best way of evaluating the decision I actually made. I hope that in doing so I can get a little closer to pinning down exactly why this route is right for me, and why it might (or might not) be right for you.
Let's start with where I'm at in reality. The Second Realm is approaching 3,000 total downloads at Smashwords, and presumably there are also some people reading it on this blog (though it's hard to estimate how many). This has been achieved with very little in the way of promotion - nothing more than a handful of tweets around the release of each new episode, plus this blog (on which more tomorrow) - but the downside to that is that it hasn't made very much money. Immortal Remains has made a few bob with even less promotion, but generated very little persistent interest - an average of 2 'sales' and 5-6 samples per month.
In some ways, it's a bleak, penurious picture - whether or not there's any money in writing, there doesn't seem to be any in how I'm doing it. On the other hand, some of those 3,000-odd downloads represent actual people actually reading my writing (I know this because very occasionally one of them will tell me so, and it always makes my day). Remember this, because it will be important later on.
Now let's turn the clock back to March 27th, 2011, and the start of this blog (no, I'm not going to link to the first ever post - I daren't even look at it for fear of how terrible and naive it probably is...). And let's pretend that I ignored, dismissed or lacked the guts to follow up on the Konrath/Eisler dialogue 'Be the Monkey' which put me on this path.
At that time, I had two novels drafted, one unmarketably bad (The Death of John Collins, a.k.a. the death of physical description) and the other unmarketably weird (Bad Romance, a.k.a. the one about stalking Lady Gaga). I had no platform to speak of and very little awareness of the flaws in my portfolio.
There was some light just around the corner, though; about a month later, I started work on Heaven Can Wait, which is probably the first publishable thing I ever wrote. Still, the first draft was bad enough that I've now done seven redrafts of varying levels of severity, as I've learned and grown as a writer. The book is currently on submission to a smallish new publisher whose business model I like the look of.
We'll go with a 'best plausible case' scenario. I decide on the strength of initial feedback to start shopping Heaven Can Wait to agents. I get lucky; someone takes an interest in the first six months despite the first draft's bloated first act and helps me chop the whole thing into shape (and has the patience to deal with my inevitable temper tantrum when confronted with the weaknesses of my writing). We spend six months on this part of the process, that being the least amount of time I can imagine three or four harsh editing passes taking.
Duly whipped into shape, the manuscript goes on submission and gets lucky again - it lands on the right editor's desk on the right day, the beginning grabs them and I come away with a sale. Say another six months. A standard advance (about $5,000?). By this point, it's coming up to Christmas of last year. If the publisher takes the standard year or two to get round to actually publishing my book, it might be out for Christmas 2013.
All of this, of course, assumes that I don't get fleeced, scammed or ripped off anywhere along the line, and all the relevant businesses manage not to collapse. It also assumes that no part of the process is so stressful that I give up (I have some anxiety issues which would probably have made contacting and dealing with agents hellish).
Right now, in May 2013, I'd have some money in my pocket (though how much, I have no idea), but no published writing. The only people who'd have read any of my work would be beta readers, agents and editors. The publisher would be expecting me to start building my platform, but probably giving me very little support to do so.
And I'd still be between six and eighteen months away from having anything published. On a best plausible case. It could easily be several years more. I'm not saying that makes the indie route better all round, but it's definitely better for me. I think if I felt it likely that I'd have to wait five years to show anyone my stuff, I probably wouldn't bother trying. My writing would just go in a desk drawer. I suspect I'm a lot freer to write and do what I want - and to learn at my own pace - than I would be on other models.
So yeah, self-publishing might have been a decision made with little wisdom, but it was definitely the right one. Not that I haven't made some mistakes along the way, but that's a post for another time.