Shameless plug – in even more senses than usual: My dark/erotic short story “Firmware” just came out in Issue #2 of Martian Migraine Press’s Necronomicum, “the magazine of weird erotica.” That’s my first literary publication to appear in a while that wasn’t self-published. And aside from pride – and a lot of chagrin at the various bloopers I’d missed – it also prompted some reflections on the difference in the two experiences, and how it still feels to make it into print (no pun unintended).
So how come, after I painstakingly handcrafted the ebook version of my first collection of poetry, The Golden Age, once the original publisher had let it lapse, lovingly formatted it, and put it up on Amazon, the experience of magazine publication still feels so different? I’d already had all the endorsement I could eat for the poetry volume, so it’s not about that.
One painful fact about the bipolar narcissistic disorder called authorship is that writers are pulsating bundles of insecurity. They crave reassurance and external validation – although, as with any good narcissist, no dose is ever big enough to fill the sucking black hole at the heart of a writer’s personality, and they always crave fresh narcissistic supply. Well, at least it keeps them writing. But it does mean that any validation, no matter how spurious, is like mother’s milk to them. (This vulnerability, by the way, is also why any critique can plunge them into disproportionate depression, because it compounds the inner doubt, but that’s a different story.)
So yes, it feels damn good to have someone else to give you the imprimatur of publication – and notice how that term, originally all about authorship, has now become a general one for approval and endorsement. There’s also the matter of benchmarking and peer group recognition. As Daniel H. Wilson & John Joseph Adams wrote in their recent SFWA post “Ten Reasons to Write Short Stories Even Though the Pay is Peanuts,” one reason to write shorts is that: “Short Stories Provide Audience Crossover Potential With Other Popular Writers … When fans discover an author’s story and enjoy it, they will often go in search of that author’s other work—even if they originally picked up the anthology because ‘George R.R. Bestseller’ contributed a story. Even if you yourself are a bestselling author, there are always readers out there who may be a fan of GRRB but still have not yet tried your work, so the opportunity to make new fans is there for everyone involved in the anthology.”
That still feels very different from having your self-published work out on Amazon or Smashwords, even if it’s climbing up the Top 100 list. And fine, writers ought to have the self-confidence and front to be indifferent to the company they appear in, yes? How many really are? It does make a difference to more than you might think, no matter how established.
So there are a few reasons that publishers are never likely to go out of style, no matter how far self-publishing goes. And that’s even without touching on the topic of an actual pay check for your work. Many writers are cut out for a sandwich board reading: Will work for validation.