Ever since an article on the subject in the New York Times several weeks ago, there’s been a lot of buzz about what it can mean for a young writer to self-publish. One such author, Max Leone, was kind enough to share his experiences with us, but also his thoughts about why self-publishing could be a smart move for his potential future career in book business.
by Max Leone
I understand that the publishing industry is a rather unforgiving place at the moment, and steadily becoming more so, but I am still foolish enough to try and seek my fortune—or at least some sort of livable income—in that area. After all, I have always aspired to live in a tiny apartment and subsist on air, a dream that writing for a living would allow me to fulfill.
My first foray into publication began slightly over a year ago: As a high school sophomore, I first encountered the Aeneid, the reading of which was one of the most incredible and transformative experiences of my life. Soon after, I received an open-ended writing assignment related to the poem: The rubric called for a five-to-seven page creative writing piece. Easy enough, I thought. This won’t take too long. That first night that I sat down at my computer, I reached fourteen pages in a few hours, while still on the rising action. That was when I knew I had something. Some time later, I handed in a fifty-six page prose sequel to the Aeneid.
After asking a few people to read my monstrosity, something strange happened: I started receiving positive feedback—people actually seemed to be enjoying my writing. I can’t pinpoint an exact moment during this period, but the idea of self-publishing gradually revealed itself through scattered comments. It was an excellent time to commence such a journey: Amazon had recently started with its Kindle Direct Publishing service, which I was at the time not cool enough to know about, even though it eventually provided the vehicle for my publication.
The process actually took quite some time—far from being the “easy way,” as some have alleged, self-publishing carries with it many of the same challenges as normal publication. There was the search for an eye-catching cover, the rounds of editing, getting in contact with Amazon, and even more editing. One area in which self-publishing proved to be harder than working with a publisher is that when one self-publishes one carries the responsibility of getting the editing and formatting right.
On the other hand, being my own editor and publisher freed me from having to worry about my words being altered. Of course, the standard aspects of publication—seeing my name on the cover of a book, being able to say I had been published, autographing copies—were thrilling, and excellent supports to my ego. This experience was invaluable for an aspiring tiny-apartment-dweller, as it taught me the importance of editing, which is one of the few things that one can never do enough of.
For the task of getting an awesome cover, I had to hire a pro. My mom is a freelance author and journalist, and had a number of contacts in the publishing industry, and it was through one of these contacts that I met Chris Eselgroth. His amazing graphic design managed to turn my various vague suggestions into a perfect encapsulation of my vision.
I am not delusional regarding the currently deadly and dangerous climate in the book industry. I am well aware that gaining a published title at such an early stage can be a foothold (and major boon) in the world of commercial publication. This could be considered something that might eventually translate into some sort of economic reward-type thing, but, in general, the benefits of self-publication are generally intangible (keep in mind that the profits so far have not exceeded the cost of hiring a graphic designer for the cover art.) However, this lack of instant gratification is a valuable lesson about any business, industry, or field, not just publishing. Learning that the world is unforgiving and notoriously tight with its money is essential for anyone who wishes to maintain even a basic grip on reality.
In my view, common criticisms of self-publishing, particularly self-publication of works written by those who are not old enough to legally drink, do not often take into account the realities of the experience. It is not easy or lucrative, and only highly rewarding to those with a genuine desire to create. Self-publication is definitely not rewarding in a way that will draw a tide of those seeking quick returns on investments of time and money. They would do better to stick with traditional ventures, such as insurance fraud and televangelism. For people who actually want to write for its own sake, however, I highly recommend self-publication.
Max Leone (maxleone (at) hunschool (dot) org) is a 17-year-old high school student, whose main interests are bizarre historical facts, epic literature, and reptiles. His first published piece was a Publisher’s Weekly editorial, written when he was thirteen. His sequel to the Aeneid, Riders on the Storm, is available as an ebook and a paperback at Amazon.com. He likes referring to himself in the third person.