Friday, April 01, 2011

Why Not Self-Publish?

If you've been reading any of my author interviews over the last few weeks, you know I've been at this writing gig a long time. About twenty years to be exact. I banged out my first real manuscript on a loaned PC that took up half my dining-room table while my daughter slept in her crib.
That's a long time to hold on to a dream.
A long time to hold out hope that one day it might actually come true.
I can't tell you the number of times well-meaning friends and relatives asked me why I just didn't fork out the money and self-publish. To be perfectly honest, I considered it. But a nagging feeling just wouldn't allow me to proceed further. Consider the following:
Your daughter is the biggest Justin Beiber fan in the world. (Yeah, I know, but he's big, go with it). She has posters of him all over her room. She eats, sleeps, breathes all things Justin. And he's coming to your town the weekend of her birthday. She knows she can't go to the concert. Tickets are way too expensive and you're already working two jobs to pay rent and put food on the table. But you decide you're going to splurge and get tickets. It'll be the best birthday surprise ever and you can't wait to see the look on her face! So here you are, in a line with hundreds of other people. You set up camp hours before the tickets went on sale. Brought your sleeping bag and slept on the cold ground. It's raining and the group of girls behind you have been drinking all night. And puking. But the ticket counter finally opens and the line starts to move. You wait a few more hours, chewing on your nails and wondering, hoping and praying, that the concert isn't going to sell out before you get tickets. Just as it's your turn to approach the window, you notice the stretch limo pull up to the curb. The driver hops out and opens the door for a young girl dressed like a princess, followed by her Daddy in Armani. They step in front of you, engage in conversation with the girl behind the window and walk away with ten tickets. The last ten tickets.
And there you stand, soaking wet, exhausted, hungry and devastated.

Okay, so that's my analogy. If you're an aspiring author, you know what this is all about. You can account for every hour spent on your words. You remember every rejection letter you've ever received. You smile when you recall the praise you've been getting and you hold onto hope that maybe, just maybe, this will be the year your manuscript will land on the right editor's desk at precisely the right time. You will be published.
And then you read about Amanda Hocking.
Doesn't it tick you off just a little?
I have nothing against the girl. I've read her blog and she seems very sweet. She lucked out, no doubt about it. I've also read through some of the reviews of her stuff. It's not all good. But there she sits on the NYT Bestseller List.

If you have self-published, please do not take this as an attack. In fact I'd love to hear your side of this. Why did you decide to give up on traditional publishing? Is the reward of seeing your book in print greater than slugging it out for a few more years? I'm just asking. For me, having an editor in a traditional publishing house finally 'get it', was like the biggest relief in the world. I'm not published with a big house, so I am putting out a lot of cash in marketing and getting the word out about my book. I don't doubt that somebody who is self-published has to work just as hard, if not harder, to get noticed in the market. I don't know, for me, paying a company to publish your work (and some of the fees are outrageous), doesn't sit right. That's just my opinion.

There are both sides to the coin. My agent Rachelle Gardner has addressed the topic of self-publishing numerous times on her blog. If you're interested, she has a 'Search This Blog' button down near the bottom, you can find the posts that way. It seems like a lot of people don't see anything wrong with self-publishing. Just like a lot of people don't see anything wrong with living together and not getting married.
I guess when you're traditional like me, that tends to seep into my decision making process. I chose to stick it out and take the get-an-agent-first-publishing-contract-second route. Was it easy? Heck no.
Was it worth it? Absolutely. If I still wasn't published would I be considering self-publishing? No. I'm a masochist.

So let's discuss this. What's your opinion on self-publishing?


jackwatts said...

I just had a book published by Simon & Schuster—"Recovering from Religious Abuse"—and I have also self published a book—"We Believe: 30 days to Understanding Our Heritage." Obviously, having a big name behind a book is the best option but, if you don't have that, self publishing is a great alternative, which I recommend.

In fact, i have helped numerous people self publish as well as self market their material. Thanks for the post.

Jack Watts

Anne Lang Bundy said...

Like you, I can't see myself ever self-pubbing my fiction. If it's got God's blessing on it, I trust Him to make the right connections in the right timing.

But I have another, non-fiction project in the works. It's had fantastic feedback, and serious interest from one BIG house publisher. But that publisher wanted to use my concept to sell another idea that runs opposite to my faith. Another, very small publisher (of home-based Christian art) with a well-established distribution has interest in my project as bookmarks. I'm good with that--and I'm retaining all copyrights, because in my heart, I sense God still wants this project published, and it might be the profits from fiction that self-pub this one. Maybe.

Whichever route one takes, I think the key is staying in step with God and understanding which way He's leading.

Maggie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Heidi Willis said...

I think each writer needs to make his or her own decision as to what path to make, and there isn't just one right way for everyone. Some people will never be published the traditional way - and self-publishing is the only way to see their dreams. If that's so, why not let them?

And if, as Amanda Hocking has shown, you can be equally business woman and writer, all the more power to you. She's no doubt earned that money she's made, and in showing that she can sell, she's made herself desirable to the traditional publishers who now see her as a marketable writer with a built in audience and name recognition. They are, after all, in business to make money more than publish just great literature. Most of the books on the NYT list show that.

I don't think it's wrong for a writer to stick out for the ultimate dream of an agent and big publisher, but I also don't think it's wrong for someone to find alternate routes and have different dreams of what they want out of writing. It's not a moral choice, like getting married over living with someone. It's just a different one, and one with it's own struggles and heartaches.

Congrats, though, on knowing exactly what you wanted and sticking it out to get that. I'm sure that makes the realization of your dream all the sweeter. :)

Catherine West said...

Interesting thoughts here! I'm not sure I'd go as far as to say it's 'wrong' because after all, it's a free world full of choices. In fact I probably think it may even be the harder way to go because you don't have the backing of a publishing house behind you. All I'm saying is that from the view of someone who tried for many years to get published the traditional way, it often smarts a bit when I see a lot of people taking the self-publishing route. And let's face it, there are a lot of BAD self-published fiction books out there. Just like there are a lot of very bad traditionally pubbed books out there!! I can understand non-fiction, especially if you know you have a niche market you can sell to. But what's the tipping point for the fiction author? What makes you say the heck with it, I'm going to get my book out there no matter what??

Michelle DeRusha@Graceful said...

Really interesting post and comments, Catherine. I've had more than one person suggest I self-publish my book, but I've held out for two years -- that's how long it's taken me simply to land an agent! Why have I waited? I think part of it is that I am a snob! I majored in English, I love literature, I respect traditional publishing...and I have a tendency to pooh-pooh books that have been self-published. I realize this is self-righeous and downright snooty on my part!

That said, although I don't know much about Amanda Hocking, I'll bet she worked her tail off to self-publish her book and make it successful. I admire that kind of ambition, and I say "more power to you" if you can make self-publishing work!

Tracy Krauss said...

It is definitely a tough call. Some people seem to be having success with self pubbing while the majority are lost in the sea of books. One thing that worries me about the SP route is the quality of the writing. I have read a few self pubbed books lately that just didn't measure up and I'm starting to feel a bit gun-shy. why waste my time on something that is poorly written? that's one BIG advantage for those who go the traditional route. At least you can be pretty sure that the book is well written (even if you don't enjoy it)

Katie Ganshert said...

I always think there is luck involved in EVERY situation, not just self-publishing. I have been SUPER impressed with Amanda Hocking. Her blog posts have been incredibly level-headed and so intelligent. She's giving self-publishing a great reputation - not just b/c of the money she's made either.

Anyway - on to self-publishing itself.

I think it's just going to continue to get more and more popular. Especially with the self-publishing option on Kindle. Nathan Bransford had a really good post on this last week. He crunched a lot of numbers, and if a person just wants their book as an e-book, then he made a good case that says self-pubbing on Amazon makes the author more money.

Amanda Hocking has also been very open about how much marketing is involved when a person self-publishes.

Catherine West said...

I agree, Katie and others - there are pros and cons to both options. The thing to remember is that self-publishing is something 'anyone' can do. I think that's where it rubs me the wrong way a bit. But that said, I'm well aware of how tough it is to break into the traditional publishing realm, as I've said, so I think the bottom line comes down to the product you're putting out there. I haven't read Hocking's books, but people seem to like them. Obviously. She found a market, which tells me there she was doing something right - story was appealing and word of mouth took it from there. Same thing with The Shack, which I will never understand. Sorry. Not a fan. I think what worries me about the self-publishing market these days is that the more the trend grows, the greater the chances of bringing down our overall standard of literature and what we deem as 'good' become. Those who actually go on to sell millions from a self-publishing venture are few and far between. So I'm not sure I am quite sold on it yet.

Megan DiMaria said...

I too struggled for years before getting a contract with a traditional, royalty-paying publisher.

A friend who is in radio would suggest that I eliminate the frustration and self publish. When I asked if someone using a ham radio in their basement had the same status as a DJ on a commercial radio station, then the light went on. I didn't want to just have a book with my name on it, I wanted a traditional publisher to validate my writing.

I understand, though, that if you have a platform and an audience it would be in your best intrest to self publish and earn all the profit. It all depends on the author.

piafinn said...

I've been looking into self-publishing, but only for non-fiction. I think writing fiction is much harder and I would want the validation of doing it the traditional way. I prefer self-publishing a real book over e-books, and there is a small publishing house here in Canada called Essence Publishing. It's a Christian company and they do short run publishing, say 500 copies. It's not about making money for me, although after 192 out of 500 books sold, it's pure profit. I know of some of the books they've published. It also gives you an isbn and a listing on amazon and barnes and noble with 50% profit on any books sold through their website. They do quality work and are trying to fill a niche for the Christian market, for books that wouldn't be touched by traditional publishers because of volume. You can order more if needed. You really have to do your homework whichever way you choose to go.

Melissa said...

I agree with those who say every author has their own path in which they must follow. For me, after working my tail off for years to please what seemed like a million different people, the self publishing was the right path at this time. I have the same fears and concerns about the poor quality of the content being submitted. This challenges me to work even harder on my own writing. There are so many things to consider here and ego and holding that book were not even on the list. I now have the control over print runs, my covers and titles, page length, price and the direction I want my career to go. Luck does play a big part in this and I've already seen agents and editors looking at authors who prove they have content readers want to read. Could this be the future? A different kind of slush pile so to speak. Research and knowledge are the keys here. No matter which way you chose, it's a long hard journey and I wish all the very best. :)

Amber S. said...


I know this is more of a discussion post than an inspirational post, but I have to tell you that your story/post is an encouragement to me. :) I recently finished my first manuscript (although I still have to go through the editing/polishing stage)--and this story has been on my heart for years, even though I'm still rather young. Unless God leads me down an unexpected path, I really want to stick it out and get it published with a Christian publishing company.

With self-publishing, you still get to see your book in print, but with traditional publishing I assume that more people will know about and read the book. I know it's not about numbers, because God can glorify Himself if even only one person is encouraged and blessed by a story. But if it is His will, I'd love to share this story with others--to remind them of God's truth and love. :)

Thanks again, and I'm excited to read your book!


Steven E. Belanger said...

Good post. Some days I feel like I want to self-publish immediately, right that second. Other days I also feel like a masochist--apt expression, Melissa!--and think that I'll plug away forever until I see my traditional book on a traditional bookshelf. I am open to self-publishing---but not yet. And I think I might continue to say that long after I probably should.

Anne Lang Bundy said...

I'm back. I thought I'd share a quote here that's been above my desk for some time:

"It probably won't happen the way you envision it at all. But ... if it's God's will for you, you'll be rewarded either way."
~ Catherine West, author

Carol said...

I don't know if my books will ever be published, but I love the writing and gain a lot of satisfaction from it. I can't imagine tackling the market without an agent and editor's guidance, so it will be traditional publishing or nothing for me. I guess I'm a masochist, too. :)