This has been a big week. For the first time, I self-published.
Not just e-published, but self-published. The 12,000-word book I put up for sale on the web Wednesday — the first major profile of Dan Savage, from Chicago-Irish upbringing through the "It Gets Better" phenomenon — was not the product of a collaboration with Kindle Singles, Byliner.com, atavist.com, or any of the other worthy efforts at getting high-quality short books into the hands of the masses. Instead, I formatted the book for Kindle, Nook, etc. all by myself, using an open platform at PressBooks.com, and am now marketing it through a host site called Ganxy.com.
I never though I'd be a self-publisher, so what happened? Five things:
1. I finished a glossy magazine article with a lot of good stuff left over. One of the unfortunate facts about newspaper and magazine publishing is that when a reporter finishes a good article with lots of great stuff left in his or her notebook, that great stuff usually never sees the light of day. A major reason is that editors are loathe to publish more stuff on a topic that a rival editor has already published on, even if there would be an obvious readership for it. A lot of this has to do with silly editor pride: nobody wants to publish that story on corporate chaplains if a rival magazine published a story about corporate chaplains last month. This is, stupidly, true even if the magazines barely share a readership. (That corporate chaplains example was random, just a topic I happened to write about recently.) So, having written a lengthy magazine piece on Dan Savage in a big magazine, there was probably little hope for me to publish another piece on Savage, even one with totally fresh material that went unused in the first piece. And no matter how great the craving for Savage-ana.
2. Despite the fact that space on the web is free, despite the fact the web should liberate newspapers and magazines to do truly long-form stuff, there is still no reliable way to get a 12,000-word (or, increasingly, a 5,000-word) piece to the masses. This is what my friend Fred Strebeigh calls "the 4,000 to 40,000 word problem." The next piece on Savage, sex, Santorum, and safety-from-bullying that I had to write was not normal magazine length — at least not for 2012. It was normal New Yorker length for 1980. And very, very few magazines are publishing that length. Why does no magazine publish extended web-only versions of their pieces? I don't know. But right now, they don't.
3. Creative control. For this ebook, I thought it would be fun to have a friend design the cover; use a photograper I admired; put in my own links; and set my own price.
4. Money. I also thought it would be nice to get almost 90 cents on the dollar from my hosting service, rather than a much lower cut from Amazon.com (although I am also selling through Amazon).
5. I had a good editor already. Most of the material in the ebook had already been edited carefully: by my wife, who is very good at that sort of thing, and by an ebook editor who had initially offered to vend it through his site. And that didn't work out, so rights reverted to me — which in the end worked out great. But it leads to a caution: only try this at home if you are prepared to spend $500 up front, or however much, to have a good editor pass over it (that's for magazine-length; way more money for a book).
But that $500 would be about it. The platforms and hosting services now make this very, very easy.