Keeping Business Small Why I rejected a real publishing offer

The stigma of vanity press is a relic of publishing history now. Everybody knows good writing can be independently published, while traditional publishing produces a lot of beastly shite. And yet the shine of “real” publication is still there, undeniable, and so I couldn’t help but feel as though I had somehow finally arrived when I got an offer recently. It was a serious offer from a small but clearly capable Canadian publisher, to produce print versions of my books for bookstores worldwide, plus Kindle and other “traditional” e-book formats, potentially reaching way more readers than I am today.

I turned it down. I may be crazy.

I discussed the proposal with the publisher over many weeks, until I finally declined, like so:

This has proven to be an extremely difficult decision for me, but I think my feelings about it finally stabilized a couple weeks ago — long enough to finally make my decision, which is “not yet, maybe someday.”

The issue for me is overwhelm. I badly need diversification of my income, and what you’re offering is basically ideal for that. But I also badly need to simplify my life and business, and that priority turns out to be the winner. No matter how good a job you would do, I know this project would involve all kinds of new things on my own to-do lists, and they just can’t hold any more. Before I take on any new business development projects, I need to spend a solid year just cleaning up the many messes I made while cutting corners in the early years.

This decision is consistent with a long term commitment to a running a small business. Like Hot Doug’s hot dog stand in Chicago:

Doug’s devotion made the work inseparable from the person in that uniquely Chicagoan way. This is why, despite offers from investors and pleading from fans, Doug would never sell the restaurant, or franchise it, or even open a second location. You do your best work when you put yourself into it, and for Doug that was always literal: The idea of the restaurant existing without him was a nonstarter. When he severely broke his leg a few years ago, the entire restaurant closed while he recovered because he couldn’t work the counter. is an extremely personal business. I never try to make it sound like anything more than the work of one quirky mind. I would never use the pretentious royal “we,” like so many little businesses do to seem bigger than they are. I don’t hide myself behind a grandiose brand. I have collaborators and contributors, but no business partners.1 It really is just me, for whatever that’s worth.

It’s worth a lot to me. This is how I want it, and how I want to keep it.

  1. I routinely get collaboration proposals from total strangers (a couple a week). These proposals are mostly doomed. Asking someone you’ve never met to “collaborate” is often like a marriage proposal on a first date. The path to most meaningful partnerships is long and winding (probably years). Only a couple have ever come anywhere close. ↩︎