Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Self-Publishing .... Decisions, Decisions

I've talked about self-publishing before (here), so this isn't a new topic for me. But I've been thinking about it a lot more seriously lately, especially after Marsha Ward's blog post here. She raises some issues that, for me, are compelling.
  • I'm kind of old to have started on this journey, and I sincerely worry that I could die before I have a chance to publish traditionally.
  • I'm not in this for a new career. Because I'm older, I've already got one I like just fine, and I can retire in less than ten years.
  • This is supposed to be fun for me. I worry that the whole query/rejection process will suck all the joy out of what I'm learning and doing--recognizing that if I put my stuff out there before it's ready, there will be plenty of people who will be happy to help suck all the joy out of what I'm doing--but that's true even of people who publish traditionally.
  • A lot of people believe self-publication is the way to go, including David Farland, who's spoken to this issue in several of his Daily Kicks.
On the other hand, there are some compelling reasons not to self-publish.
  • You have to do all your own marketing. I can't tell you how much I hate sales. I realize authors are the true salespeople for their work. Readers don't come to book signings to meet the publisher or the agent or the printer; they come to meet the author. It's just hard for me to consider trying to pimp my own work.
  • At LTUE, self-published author Anna del C. cautioned writers considering self-publication to get a lot of books written before beginning. She said she spends so much time now marketing her books that she has little time to write. Considering I have a full-time job and limited time available for writing already, this is a huge concern for me.
  • As Marsha mentions in her blog, she thinks she's had success so far without marketing because she has so many finished works and could get them out there quickly, that having several books for readers to select from is a big advantage. I don't have a bunch of books to throw out there. I have one WIP close to being "ready" (I know, define ready), two partial WIPs, and lots of ideas. I've spent a ton of time on this first book because it's my on-the-job training, so to speak.
  • Many people who, for good reason, haven't made it out of the slush pile are now publishing and flooding the ebook market with dross. Readers could become jaded about the quality of self-published books, and (assuming my book is not just more dross) mine could get lost in the trash.

My friend Laura Josephsen just bravely self-published her book Confessions from the Realm of the Underworld (Also Known as High School  (I read it this weekend and loved it, but I'll write more about it on Friday).  She's already published traditionally and had a publisher interested in this book, and she opted to self publish. Does it help that she's already published and has a fan base? Is it better for someone like Laura than it is for fledgling beginners?

A comment from the LDSStorymaker conference really struck me. Someone reported that author Larry Brooks said writers are too worried about getting published. What we should be worrying about is getting read. When I heard that, it gave me pause.

So what's a girl to do? 

  • What are your thoughts on self publication? 
  • Have you ever considered it? If so, what did you decide and why? 
  • Do you feel like you'll be taken more seriously as a writer if you have the endorsement of the gatekeepers and stick with traditional publishing? 
  • Or do you think self-publication is the wave of the future?


  1. I know where you are coming from, Donna.

    I don't know your age, and not EVEN going to venture a guess. HA.
    But I am on the other side of 50 and, like you, have given this a lot of thought.

    I'm pretty confident I could self-pub and get my novel out in short order, but I don't think I have the marketing expertise to make it a success.

    But then we have to define success, right? For me, the traditional route remains my goal. I'm hoping to build a platform, if you will, that will fuse with the acceptance and publication of my work. I haven't even started to talk about the theme or premise of my novel, but will shortly.

    Success, to me, is completing a task and seeing a dream through to fruition, not as an amended shortcut, but as I first envisioned it. If THAT makes any sense.

  2. I'm an independent publisher, about to do a two month book tour with my fourth book, more than worth all the hard work!

  3. Some tough questions there. I do think those who self-publish and are successful at it already have a fan base or have a substantial amount of work to pull from. I also think you need to get the basics right before evening considering self-publication. Such as:

    Paying for a Professional cover.
    Employing the services of a proofreader and/or editor.
    Ensuring the formatting of your manuscript works for e-books.
    A solid online presence.
    Finally, a book that will ensure your readers will return for a second, third, forth and so on.

    The important thing about all of these things is that it is you who will make all the decisions, which could be a good or a bad thing, depending on how much work you want to put it.

    Personally, I am torn between the acknowledgement of a traditional publishing contract, and the freedom self-publication can give. A lot to think about!

    Ellie Garratt

  4. I self publiished my poetry book three years ago, I got on very well with it and came up with no problems. I am now compiling another book.
    One problem did arise 2 weeks ago I noticed a buyer on Ebay had 10 "New Copies " on a "Buy Now Basis"
    and was charging way over the price stipulated by me.
    I contacted the seller who said he had no actual books but was going to get orders from Amazon who I knew was sold out. Also this seller had the wrong IBSN NUMBER printed on Ebay. It was withdrawn from Ebay on my insistance As I am the sole Copyright holder and a lawyer is getting onto the seller.
    Don't let that put you off The authors stand to be well looked after. I also sold many copies through my local bookshop.
    Good luck.

  5. This is a wonderful post, Donna. Very informative. I, too, have been contemplating self-publication as of late for the simple fact that I'm ready to get something out there. Yes, perhaps I need to exercise a little more patience. But, really... How many times can I hear, "love your voice, the writing's great, but it's just not what we're looking for..." Well, then, what the heck are you looking for?

    All right. I guess my biggest fear about self-pub is, in fact, the self promotion stuff. I would almost venture to guess that's a lot of our problem, because we're introverts. Artists. We do this in private, to ourselves. We don't wanna bang our own gong; we want someone else to do it, thank you very much.

    Other than that... Yes. I do believe it's the wave of the future, indie publishing. And I've read some REALLY great books through Amazon digital services--and they're usually A LOT cheaper than the traditionally published, so that's a plus. When I read Addison Moore's Celestra #1, I immediately committed to buy the next 2. So, can you gain a solid following? An eager group of readers? And without all the glitz and glamour wont of an NYC publishing house?

    I totally think so.

  6. I self-published a collection of short stories on and Smashwords. I did it as an experiment and to learn the e-pub business a little. It's been well worth it from the learning side, not the money side, but the money side wasn't what I was interested in. I know short story collections are unlikely to sell, especially by an unknown writer. I've made this choice because I'm 64 yrs old, and all I've ever gotten from literary agents is "no thanks." So, I'm resigned to the fact that I'll be self-publishing my novels when they are ready. And that's crucial--when they are professionally written and hopefully interesting. So self-editing is crucial, and getting all the help I can in the editing process (I belong to two writing groups, and I think I'm getting excellent editing through them). So, when my novels are ready, I'm all set up to self-pub them. At my age, spending two or three more years, at least, trying to get my work out there is a bit long to wait (and that assumes a literary agent and publisher is ever found).

  7. Excellent post!!! I've been thru the same process myself, and recently decided to self-publish.
    Here's what clinched it for me... From what I've read, even if you GET an agent, and a publisher, you STILL have to do your own marketing if you want your book to sell. Publishers these days do not promote books. They want authors prepared to market their own books.
    So if I'm going to have to market my own book, why bother with the traditional process???
    Another issue is the time involved... The website of a respected agent reported that the average time between a successful query and publication is roughly 2 1/2 years! It sometimes takes longer than that, but rarely shorter. Yet, if I devote a few weekends to formatting, etc. I can have my book up on Amazon within a month. (Will people buy it? Again, that depends on my ability to market the book. But the same is true if I go thru a publisher. Well over half of traditionally published books never make money!)
    So that's why I'm planning to self-publish. If I'm wrong on any of the above, I would LOVE to be corrected! Am I missing something?
    -Robert David MacNeil

  8. To address a few of your concerns...

    Authors Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch believe that most marketing (whether you're doing it yourself or a major publisher is doing it for you) is a waste of time. The most important thing is for you to have a web presence. People need to be able to find you when they type you into google. And then you just need to keep writing and producing and adding to your published works.

    However, you don't need to put off self publishing until you have more books, that's just throwing money (however little) away. Just keep adding. Remember that self published books grow slowly in most cases but that's ok because they'll never be taken off the shelf. It's the opposite of trad publishing where you need to be successful in the first couple of months or your book is a failure. In self publishing you have all the time in the world to allow word of mouth to spread and slowly grow your fanbase. There's no rush.

    As for concerns about what people have lately been calling the "Tsunami of Crap" here's a post by Joe Konrath addressing it:

    And here are a couple posts about why NY publishing is NOT a quality filter:

    Self publishing is definitely the wave of the future. It's a better system for authors in ever conceivable way. I'll be riding it high.

  9. I'm considering it but I also don't think there is a right or wrong way. I also don't think that the marketing issue should be the only reason not to self publish. A writer is going to have to market just as hard to be successful with a traditional pubbed book unless they are of the lucky few to get support from their publisher. My advice would be to wait until you have several ready to go.

  10. Donna, I self-published my first novel and the hardest part was distributing it across Canada. I lucked out when I signed with Sandhill Books, but before that it was a nightmare. Yet, if I hadn't self-published I wouldn't have met my distributor and she wouldn't have introduced me to my publisher. So, what takes you out of your comfort zone is often a very good thing.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog.

  11. Donna, I forgot to mention. If you follow my blog, you've a chance to win a copy of either Dead Witness or Broken but not Dead. I notice they're not your genre, but could make great gifts.

  12. Hi, Donna. Having self-publishing a single short story about two months ago, I'll give you my take.

    Marketing - traditional publishing is going to leave you to do 99% of this on your own as well, so that shouldn't be a deciding factor either way. It's just something you will have to learn, but it doesn't have to be somethng you do in hyper-mode. In fact, many people (myself included) find the constant hyping annoying.

    I agree with another post that said marketing only goes so far. After awhile, the work really has to stand on its own and spread by positive word of mouth.

    As for my experience, I have some short story credits, but I'm not a household name by any means. And the credits are in a different subgenre than the story I self-published. In the first month or so, I hit a top 100 list in the US and 2 lists in the UK. That doesn't mean I was making bank, but I intended the story to be part of my platform leading up to publishing a novel later this year.

    After the first couple of weeks, I stopped marketing the story. My sales went down but have continued a slow trickle. What I am seeing now are word of mouth sales and a new kind of reader/fan. I've started getting fan mail and people making a point of finding me on blogspot and twitter. These are people who are very likely to buy the next several things I put out (so long as the quality remains high). Overall, I'm happy with the way the story has performed.

    That being said, keep this in mind. I've been writing for 28 years. I had an agent and almost landed a deal with Penguin. My next novel will be my 8th completed novel (not counting unfinished partials). I've been to invitation-only workshops and picked the brains of major industry professionals. I'm not making my decision based on the fact that I can't get an agent or an editor to read my work. If you are going to do this, make sure you are ready.

    It is easy to self-publish. It's not easy to self-publish well. There is a lot to learn.

  13. Amen to what Sarah McCabe said, and WTH? about Donna Hosie's advice. That is yesterday's model.

    I see you doing your due diligence to improve through the writing groups to which you belong. If you're concerned about the age element (and believe me, there is a bias against older writers among agents and legacy publishers!), get that novel finished, critiqued, edited, get a cover, and learn how easy it is to upload to the distributors. You don't have the years to waste seeking the "approval" of an agent or editor. The reader is, after all, the final judge of the work. Gatekeepers are going out of style. Indie publishing is the NOW and FUTURE way to reach the reader.

    Since you're doing this for the joy and love of writing, GO FOR IT!

  14. Lol! You will certainly NOT die before you get published! :) And as someone who's read your book - I can say with certainty that it is NOT dross. No worries there at all.

    You raise some really great questions, though. I'm still clinging to the "I want to be published traditionally" wagon. It's a validation thing for me, I think. Of course - if that validation never comes... it could really suck the joy out of writing. Still - I know that I haven't put myself out there enough. Not really. I don't have dozens of rejections littering my inbox. Simply because I haven't sent out dozens of queries.

    My thoughts - I would make a serious effort to get published traditionally, first. Give myself a time limit - perhaps. And if it doesn't pan out - self-publishing is a good option. It may be the wave of the future. A consideration, surely - but, for me - after I've made a real effort to get it published by gatekeepers first.

  15. I've thought about it often. There are things agents and traditional publishers can do that I can't do on my own. I don't have anything to say that everyone else hasn't said already, but although I'd like to write what I want and get it published and epub can do that for me, it takes money and great marketing skills. You're a great writer. Should keep trying traditional first.

  16. First, thanks for the mention!! ^_^

    Second, I'm going to copy here something I told you yesterday and expand a little bit on it:

    Even though I had a book traditionally published, I feel like I didn't really establish a fan base for it. I mean, I had a lot of friends who were willing to help promote it, but my traditionally published book only came out in October of last year, and I've learned so much more and met so many more people since then. But at the same time...I don't know if I'd have had the courage to self-pub if I hadn't been traditionally pubbed? I am in awe of those who are plunging into the self-pubbing first. Traditionally publishing a book is nerve-wracking. Self-publishing a book is also nerve-wracking. Both require (at least for me) a lot of self-marketing and friends willing to help each other with their books. That's one thing I love about the writing community. People are so generous and willing to help each other.

    It's an interesting question--is self publishing a better option for authors who have already been traditionally published? For me, it was like...I can't choose what people will like. You never know what readers are going to really dislike or really like and pass along to others. I'm just trying to find the best way to get my books out there--and it might not be the same for each one.

    WHY a person writes can play into it a lot. I told you before my reasons for writing.

    I also have been writing for a long time. Not nearly as long as some, and I know there are TONS of authors with a lot more experience than me. However, I've been writing novels for about eight years. I've co-written three and I've written three on my own. Aside from that, I've written COUNTLESS stories that were read by many people. I learned a LOT. Actually, "Confessions" was one of the ways where I kind of poked at and explored the "dos" and "don'ts" of writing and deliberately wrote a lot of things that are often considered "overdone." ;) That was a lot of fun.

    The point I'm trying to make is that I know I'm still constantly learning. We as writers always have to keep learning and growing in our craft. I learn new things to improve my writing all the time. I wrote "Confessions" in a month and then spent over a year and a half working on edits and revisions. (Off and on, not ALL the time over the past year and half, but SO. MANY. HOURS and days.) A lot of work goes into each book, and I knew that it was ready to see the world at this point.

    This doesn't mean that you can't publish a first novel! My traditionally published book was the first novel I ever wrote--but it, too, went through a lot of work. Two years of writing between me and my coauthor, TONS of editing and rewriting (tons and tons and TONS).

    If anyone is considering the self-publishing route, my advice would be to make sure it's in the best shape that you can make it.

    (Have to continue this in another comment--it's too long. ;))

  17. (Continuing from where I left off.)

    There were also mentions of the professional editing and cover art and everything. I was very fortunate on that end--my cousin is an editor (she works for a small publishing company) and she was more than willing to help me with edits. I've done editing work, but you know how it is with your own writing--it's easy to miss things because you know what's supposed to be there. I also had fantastic beta readers to catch things. For the cover, I approached my dear friend Holly, who also happens to be my dream artist, to find out if she would be willing to work with me on the cover, and she was.

    If someone has the means and feels their book is ready and wants to go the self-publishing route...then why not? I think it's become a very valid option.

    I can understand, too, though, why some want to get traditionally published first, or instead. I was one of those people--I wanted to try the traditional publishing first. And when I signed my contract, it was 2008 and I wasn't aware of self-publishing being as huge then as it is now.

    It comes down to every writer's individual path--what works for them. More than that, it can also vary for each book. If one person self-pubs and that works for them, great! If someone else gets an agent and publishes, great! If another person gets a publisher without the agent, great! There's not just one path and every writer will define what they consider "success" differently. Again, the nice thing about being part of a writing community--so many people with so many paths, and we can all learn from each other and help each other.

  18. Self publishing is becoming more and more popular and accepted. I personally still want to go the traditional route because of the support. They are there to make me look good and they have far more experienced.

  19. I am personally going to try to get published, but if no one will, I have all ready decided to self publish. My story has personally meaning to me and my sisters who have inspired the story. I want to publish my book not just for me, but for them. Whether or not a company will do it for me.

  20. I sometimes worry that writing will suck the joy out of me also. We strive so hard to gain an agent/publisher that sometimes we lose sight of what we held dear.

    If you feel it is right for you then do it. We will be behind you 100% of the way. I know I will promote you until the death! :)

  21. Reading these comments I noticed a lot of "feel is right" responses and that made me smile. Because that's what the honest truth is, isn't it?

    There is no right or wrong answer. Two years ago, I would have NEVER considered self publishing because I felt my work wasn't up to snuff. I know good writing when I see it, and I wasn't producing it. Now, not a problem, I can play with the big boys, in fact, I am the big boys. Bring it on, mama. lol.

    So, sit back and ask yourself how much work are you will to do and then do it. It's your life. Enjoy the freedom.

  22. Oh, you guys. So much to consider and so many kinds words.


  23. Hey Donna! Great post. As you know, I've been posting about idie-publishing for a while now. I think the benefits outweigh the risks...and work. My book is doing great. I epublished and print published. If people like your book, it will sell. Of course, not everyone will like your book. I can't count the books I've had to critique that I didn't like, but it was only my personal opinion. Others love them... Go figure. Thank Heaven for opinions...what a bore if we were all alike. I say go for it. What do you have to lose?

  24. Interesting post and comments. The whole self-published issue gives authors something to think about.

  25. This eerily sounds like our conversation earlier in the week. I go back and forth. If nothing else, trying to go the 'traditional' route has pushed me to improve my writing. I would love to get published, have an agent, etc to take care of the details for me. I don't really like the 'business' end of it all and would love for someone else to handle that part.

    I have looked at self publishing, but am still leery. Readers in the area where I live consider that the medium for writers who aren't very good and can't get published any other way. And very few of my friends would read a romance book anyway. They might buy it because I wrote it, but if it was only available as an e-book, I don't think they would buy it at all. I would be at the mercy of the random reader scanning the web services for something to read.

    But then again, the same would happen in a bookstore. And who's to say my book would even be on the shelf long enough to garner attention. Especially when Nora Roberts takes up two shelves at the local Hastings. Debbie Macomber has a full shelf. That's some stiff competition for a newbie like me.

    Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference. What you think will work best for you. Just like everything else, people have had bad and good experiences in each venue. Go with what feels right.

  26. I think it has a lot to do with what you want out of the publication process. I think it's an emotional thing, almost a visceral thing. No one can decide this for you, because when it comes down to it, I really don't think it's a numbers game. I think it's an emotional one.

  27. WOW, what a discussion! I linked over here from your current post, and I just read all the comments. Hmm... I queried 70+ agents for my first novel, and when I didn't get a bite, I decided to self-pub. The marketing has uber time-consuming, and I've not exactly enjoyed high sales, but I'm pleased that I went for it because a lot of people have really loved my novel, and if I had let the agents' responses guide me, the book would not exist.

    Now, I have a second novel that's ready for publication, but I was unable to get a bite from the 60+ agents I queried more than a year ago. I now have a lead on an NYC agent, and I can drop a name in the query, but I've yet to send the Q. Why? A part of me wants to do it myself. If I sign with an agent, s/he might suggest changes that I don't want to make. And then, if s/he gets me a deal, an editor will be involved with his/her own opinions and suggestions. Hmm... This post was very thought-provoking. Now, I feel more stumped by the dilemma than I did before arriving here!

  28. 'writers are too worried about getting published. What we should be worrying about is getting read'

    This is what made me decide to self-pub. Though I couldn't put it quite so succinctly!


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