Miss Independent: Why I Self Published my Gay YA (The First in the Self Publishing Sparkle Series)

I have been getting more and more emails lately from fabulous aspiring writers, asking why and how I self published, and how exactly it’s working out for me. I keep promising that I will be releasing a series of posts about it, soon, because there is a lot to cover, and I think it’s important to get information out there so that everyone can make their own decisions and opinions and all that fun jazz. I shall endeavor to make it INTERESTING and FASCINATING, and shall even add pictures of our cute and adorable animals that have NOTHING TO DO WITH SELF PUBLISHING WHATSOEVER on occasion. So, here and now, I present the Self Publishing Sparkles Series, POST ONE: WHY I Self Published, because without the “why,” seeds are not planted, wings are not tested and chocolate is not consumed (that last one may be “why not,” BUT STILL).

First, let me introduce myself. My name is Sarah Diemer–I’m a queer author who is (LEGALLY!) married to the most amazing woman on the planet. I’m the sparkly mind behind the YA, lesbian retelling of the Persephone and Hades myth, The Dark Wife. I also write lesbian adult books as Elora Bishop.

The Dark Wife has been met with critical acclaim, is up for several awards, and has sold over a thousand copies since I first published it on May 17th, 2011. And it’s self published. All of my other work, my novel, novellas and short stories, have sold many hundred copies. At the rate that my sales are rising, I am hopeful to be completely self employed by the end of this year, 2012. (My wife is an editor, and we also have an Etsy shop that contributes to this income, so it won’t solely be from my writing, BUT STILL.) This income projection is WITHOUT the addition of any other novels, novellas and short story collections, several of which I’ll be releasing this year.

Our pup, Link, is VERY excited about this. I SHALL HAVE TWO MOMS AT HOME.

I have worked my entire life to reach this, have only ever wanted to be an author and a storyteller–it’s in my blood, and it is my life’s great work and passion. To be able to tell stories for a living is all I’ve ever wanted, and I am so supremely grateful and joyful that this dream is now within reach. The support and excitement that my projects have been met with is astounding–people want books about courageous young ladies who love other ladies, want them so much.

And that brings me to my reason of WHY I self published.

I did not self publish because I didn’t think publishers or an agent wouldn’t take me. I did not self publish because I don’t believe in the traditional publishing world. I do–I think it has its place. My career plan is to eventually get an agent and a traditional publishing deal, and also publish several books through small presses because I think it’s a good idea to have a well rounded writing experience, and you can reach more people if you put your work on all paths.

The main reason that I self published is that I know a lot of people think lesbian books don’t sell, and I wanted to prove that they do. Period. There are many, many people in the publishing world who won’t touch gay YA not because they’re homophobic or because they don’t like these sorts of books, but because they don’t think they’ll sell.

I’m a stubborn and very independent soul. And I love a challenge. I believed that if the story was good, the book solid, and enough marketing was done, the book would sell, and greatly. I also believed, to the moon and back, that people wanted these stories. They wanted lesbian YA. I knew they wanted it, but knowing something and proving something are two very different things.

And, Poesy would like to point out, unlike proving unicorns exist, we KNEW that proving people wanted lesbian books was POSSIBLE.

So, simply, I set out, and I proved it.

I have solid numbers to back up the fact that people want lesbian YA. Younger and older lesbians buy my books, and they become some of my staunchest fans, but the most surprising thing is that straight women love my stories and are the majority of my sales (the demographic “everyone” said would NOT buy a book with a lesbian main character). Straight and gay men alike read my stories, not because they’re fetishizing the love story, but because they genuinely enjoy it (another argument that straight and gay men wouldn’t buy and read lesbian books! And I’m sure some people fetishize it–THIS IS THE INTERNET–but, for the most part, they’re enjoying it for the reason it was written).

Since I have been self publishing for about eight months now, I’ve also discovered other reasons why I love self publishing. I love (obsessively! XD) making covers, I love marketing (I AM A VERY ODD PERSON, I KNOW), I love meeting people who are impassioned with the story and the genre, and I love my fans so much. I love being in charge of release dates (or, you know, doing away with release dates all together), in charge of the books I’m writing. I love working with my wife, a fantastic and fabulous editor who I trust deeply with my stories, and I love that I’m in charge of what I put out and when. I get to do outrageous things (my next book is a collection of outrageous short stories that includes a very tongue in cheek story about a WERE-UNICORN. I mean, really. People are INCREDIBLY excited about it, but I’m not sure traditional publishing would be all like YES, SARAH, WHEN A RAINBOW APPEARS IN THE SKY, SHE TURNS INTO A UNICORN, EXCELLENT IDEA. People LOVE the idea, but I would probably never be able to get a publisher to agree to it.). I get to have multiple pen names. I get to experiment, and I get to see what really works, what doesn’t, and adjust everything accordingly.

Orca says BUT I LOVE THE IDEA OF A WERE-UNICORN WHO IS ALSO A LESBIAN. LOOK AT MY RAINBOW SCARF.

That’s not to say that I’m running around on My Little Ponies and scattering sparkles to the seven winds everyday. Self publishing is a tremendous amount of work. Among many other hard working tasks, my sales are directly linked to my marketing, which I’ve worked tirelessly on–and trust me, it’s sometimes exhausting. I know traditionally published authors market, too, but in self publishing, you are your ONLY marketing department. And NO one knows about you. So how do you get people to know about you? Market the heck out of your stories! Which is what I did. And it worked! But I can’t stop–I must continue, always, or my sales WILL slack off. Which obviously isn’t good.

Roane doesn’t want my sales to slack off. This explains her expression.

There is a lot of “us VS. them” in the publishing world, a lot of division between traditionally published people and self published people, but to be completely honest, my efforts have been met with mostly open arms. I have several traditionally published friends who applaud my efforts, just as I applaud their efforts. I think that in this eco-system, kindness and tenacity and courage go a long way in accomplishing anything, and if you’re a good writer with a lot of drive and passion, you will get your book published no matter what, and no matter which path you take–self publishing, traditional publishing, small press publishing, or a combination of all of these or more of these or rainbows.

ESPECIALLY RAINBOWS.

There are many reasons someone would choose to be traditionally published, and many reasons someone would want to be self published, and it all comes down to what you want. I am living proof that self publishing works well for me, and I enjoy it immensely, but it is not for everyone. Do I recommend it? Completely. But there are a lot of caveats to that “completely.” Do you have a lot of work ethic? Are you willing to find an editor for your stuff (YOU WILL NEED TO FIND AN EDITOR), are you willing to pay someone to design your cover (YOU WILL NEED A GOOD COVER), do you have enough time/drive/determination to market the HELL out of your creation, and–bottom line–are you completely and one hundred percent confidant in your story?

Poesy would like to point out that IT IS NOT ALL FUN AND GAMES. And, SOME DAYS THERE HAVE TO BE BATHS. (In human terms, this means there will be NOT FUN DAYS.)

If you answered YES I AM AND CAN DO ALL OF THIS to all of the above questions, then CONGRATULATIONS! You are a very good candidate for self publishing! RAINBOWS FOREVER! In the coming posts, I will explain how I did it, things I experienced, SOME ROAD BLOCKS TO AVOID and some tips and tricks, because I do believe it’s a very viable way to get your books out there, and want to provide a sort of ground work on how it’s possible.

In the mean time, if you found all of this interesting/amusing/SHE-IS-SUCH-A-CRAZY-SPARKLE-LADY-AND-HER-PETS-ARE-ADORABLE-I-AM-INTRIGUED, you can follow me on Twitter or Facebook to follow along with this series, and if the idea of The Dark Wife is intriguing, you can give it a read if’n ye wish.

Until then, keep writing the stories you believe in. That’s the first step to any of this–stories find a way to exist, however they come about. And that’s where the magic starts. ❤

And, you know, in boxes of prunes. Possibly. Roane won’t tell me.

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About Sarah Diemer

I write about heroic, magical girls who love girls. I drink a lot of coffee. Follow me at http://twitter.com/sediemer or find out more about my work at http://sarahdiemerauthor.wordpress.com
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9 Responses to Miss Independent: Why I Self Published my Gay YA (The First in the Self Publishing Sparkle Series)

  1. Arielle Schow says:

    My dear lady. You are too much. I love you. & your hilarity. You slay me. <33
    & the fact that you're an inspirational woman, who writes inspirational things … SO WELL, makes you. amazing.

    Like

  2. Sidhe says:

    I loved this post. I definitely feel there are advantages to both traditional and self-publishing. I’ve considered self-publishing of some of my less mainstream stories, for much the same reason that you went with self-publishing: to prove I can sell those stories. I am really looking forward to reading the rest of your posts on self-publishing. Maybe it’ll help me get started! Well, when my book is ready that is.

    Like

  3. Gemma says:

    You shine with such brilliance it really is like looking straight into the sun or a star. Your talent and beautiful spirit STUN me.

    Like

  4. elaby says:

    This is so incredibly helpful and I’m super glad you’re doing it! I think this is the way I want to go for publishing my stories. I’m very interested in reading the rest of these! ❤

    Like

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  6. LVLMLeah says:

    I’ve been going more and more to self-pubbed authors’ books to find good and interesting lesbian stories.

    Many of the “mainstream” lesbian publishers’ ebooks cost $9.99 or more. They are good, well written books, but at that price I don’t buy too many.

    And the smaller publishers who’ve been offering ebooks and really pushed the ebook industry, cater mostly to the straight female reader, meaning, they don’t offer much in the way of lesbian stories.

    In the last few years, with the explosion of ebooks and authors self-pubbing, I’ve found a treasure trove of cool new authors and books. Yours being part of that crowd. 😀

    I think it’s great that people take their careers in their own hands and go for it. You guys are pioneers! And you’re offering interesting stories that many publisher won’t touch.

    So keep at it. I hope you’re very successful and can keep putting out great stories.

    Like

  7. Emmet says:

    Do you have concerns about being able to reach a young queer audience as a self-publisher — particularly those who are the most isolated from queerdom? This is one of the main things holding me back from self-publishing, at least with my current project (a tale of intrigue and girlkissing starring a religious 14-year-old). I can see a number of advantages to self-publishing (particularly total control over the book design — could do some really cool things with it that a trad publisher might not go for!), but as I understand it, self-publishing is driven heavily by online sales, i.e. lack of unfettered access to a credit card/other means of electronic payment could be a barrier for many in my book’s target demographic. It can be a challenge for closeted/unsupported youth to gain access to queer books no matter how they’re published, but I have this notion (possibly false) that traditional publishing provides a clearer avenue to get a book into libraries and bookstores where youth have a better chance at getting ahold of it without having to ask their parents if it’s okay.

    That’s how I stumbled upon this post — looking for information about whether I’m basing my publishing strategy on a false understanding. I’m still not totally convinced I have the constitution to self-pub, but I figure I should at least base that decision on an empirical study of the facts. Thanks for talking about your experience in this arena!

    Like

    • Sarah says:

      Hi, Emmet! Thanks for writing. 🙂

      You have a very good question, and I can understand your skepticism. But let me tell you a few things:

      – The kids most isolated from queerdom, the kids most in the closet, are not going to be buying ANY gay books. They’re also not really checking them out from the library. I can’t tell you the number of kids who have told me that the ONLY ACCESS to queer fiction that they think is SAFE (ie, no one in authority is finding out about) is reading it online because it’s not something that their parents can find out about. Hence why we did Project Unicorn. That’s not good, obviously–that sucks. But I can understand. I lived in a very turbulent house when I was in my teens, and I could NOT bring queer fiction under the roof unless it was carefully hidden, and it was incredibly stressful, so I understand where these kids are coming from. It is what it is. So if you’re writing for queer kids and want to reach ALL of them, release free things that can be accessed online. Obviously, this is not a good business model. 🙂 But most of my sales come from queer kids who do live in safe, stable environments and have no problems with access to money (you’d be surprised–kids these days have more access than we did growing up), and queer and straight adults. Adults make up a majority of my paying audience, queer kids make up a majority of my fans. That’s just the way it is.

      Your idea that queer kids might have better access to titles in libraries and bookstores is, I believe, half true. Libraries are wonderful, and obviously bookstores rock, but in most cases, the kids find out about the books online first. So, whereas someone buys my book the second they hear about it, having to wait to be remembered at a library or bookstore isn’t conducive to a lot of sales. OBVIOUSLY, people sell a lot to these places, but with queer books, it’s very different. When someone finds out about my books, they can have them immediately, and they do.

      I hope I answered your question! 🙂 I have agents now, and am working on getting a traditional deal–no matter which direction you choose, you know that kids need these stories, and you’re doing something about it–so bravo!

      Like

      • Thanks for your detailed reply! You give me a lot to think about.

        It seems like a lot of folks these days are deciding it’s not a matter of trad versus self publishing, but finding a way to combine the two into a productive career. I can see a lot of wisdom in taking the hybrid path, but I’m still not sure if I’m ballsy enough for self publishing.

        Good luck with your foray into the trad pub scene! Seems like there must be some pretty nifty advantages going into it with so much publishing experience under your belt.

        Like

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