Editor’s note: This article pertains largely to self-publishing with a third-party publishing house, as opposed to starting a publishing company from scratch. Both processes present their own difficulties and advantages.
Thinking of self-publishing your book because you’re tired of the stress and frustration of making submissions to literary agents and editors? Feel like self-publishing is the easiest way of making your dreams of being a published novelist come true?
Self-publishing is NOT necessarily the easy route to achieving your dreams. Self-publishing companies strive to make the process of typesetting, binding, and printing your book appear stress-free and easy. But when you buy into the easiness hype, you may be opening yourself up to even more difficulties than if you’d continued trying to publish the traditional way. Here are just a few of the reasons self-publishing isn’t always as easy as it seems:
HYPE: Publishing with a self-publishing company is simple and stress-free.
FACT: Self-publishing is NOT necessarily simple and stress-free. First, you have to research self-publishing companies. We get calls and e-mails all the time from optimistic writers who naively got locked into bad (or just plain disappointing) contracts. To self-publish, you must be able to read, negotiate, and interpret contracts, you must research distribution packages, you must develop and implement a marketing plan…in short, you must develop as much business know-how as if you were seeking a traditional book deal. It’s not impossible develop all the knowledge you’ll need to be successful, but it’s far from easy.
HYPE: Self-publishing will easily satisfy your desire to share your story with the world.
FACT: Unless you have an amazing (expensive) book distribution company in your corner, your book won’t make it to the shelves. And even if it does physically get on the shelves, readers won’t buy your book unless they already know it’s there. Very few sales are made because readers stumble across books. Many self-publishers offer to list their books on Amazon.com; but be warned: it’s unlikely that anyone will buy your book from Amazon.com unless you’ve already enticed them to go there and buy it. You’ll have to do a lot of hard work to get your audience to notice your book; writers who are looking for the instant gratification of being an overnight success will not likely find it in self-publishing.
HYPE: Self-publishing your book could “make” your writing career.
FACT: For every self-publishing success story you hear, there are literally tens of thousands of self-published books that get no attention at all. How hard and long you work to sell books relates directly to your book’s success. For that reason, self-publishing appears easy, but is not necessairly the path of least resistance.
The Truth About Self-Publishing
If you’re trying to figure out where you’re going to get the most bang for your buck in terms of reaching your dreams, the answer may or may not be self-publishing. Our advice (based on watching industry trends) is to exhaust all avenues available to you before you decide to self-publish. If you haven’t queried 100 literary agents for your book project, you don’t have enough information to make the decision to self-publish.
If you self-publish because it seems simpler, be aware that literary agents and editors tend to be somewhat suspicious of the writer who can be tempted to take the easy way out, or the writer who chooses instant gratification over perseverance. If you self-publish, you’ll need to work extra hard to distinguish yourself and your writing. You’ll need to make some serious sales or get some truly reputable and impressive reviews in order to be taken seriously.
The Moral of the Story (aka The Good News)
Self-published books (and all early-career books) are very important in the life of an aspiring writer. Writing a book is a huge accomplishment and should never be dismissed! If you’ve written and self-published a book, celebrate your accomplishments! Literary agents will view your first books as very important life credits, even if they don’t end up being important publishing credits.
The good news is that even in these tough economic times, more books are being published now than ever before!
- Are you ready to commit to spending more time doing what you love (learning about writing and improving your techniques)?
- Can you get your submissions out effectively (can you send them to the right people in a professional format)?
If you can do those two things, you may have a shot at getting a book published. Not all writers achieve a pie-in-the-sky book deal with a major New York publishing house, but those who quit too soon NEVER have a chance.
Visit www.WritersRelief.com if you would like to learn how we can make the submission process easier and more effective.
Well said, Ronnie, and it’s nice to see your photo after all these years.
One more element of the self-pub.vs. traditional route — either way the marketing is up to the author. Traditional publishing does not put your book on a silver platter heaped with unlimited marketing funds.
No one lovs your book liek you do, so plan to spend some marketing time every week, every month, to keep the book alive. You can succeed regardless of publishing method, with consistent marketing.
It seems to me that you are confusing self-publishingâ€”where the author becomes the actual publisher of the work, makes the investment in producing the book with a team of professionals, takes the risk, and retains the profitsâ€”with vanity publishing. "Self-publishing companies" is what vanity presses call themselves to sucker authors into falling for their hype, but the term is an oxymoron.
It sometimes makes sense for an author to self-publish. This is not often true for novelists, but there are nonfiction categories where there is a good business case for it.
I agree that there’s nothing simple about it, and it requires serious commitment to following through on the marketing if it’s going to be successful. But dismissing it out of hand isn’t the best strategy either.
Thank you all for your great comments!
To be clear, we are not advocating "writing off" self-publishing as viable option. As stated in our article, many writers have successfully self-published their books. We are advocating being educated about the process (and the pros and cons) before going into it.
We hope this article (and discussion) will be a helpful resource for writers who are considering self-publishing.
I agree with Dick, this post seems to be addressing the pitfalls of VANITY PUBLISHING, and not true SELF-PUBLISHING.
This article does primarily address the issues of contracting with third party "vanity" presses more than it tackles the issues that are involved with starting a (self)publishing company.
To some within the publishing industry (writers and editors both), the term "vanity publishing" is considered pejorative and outdated. Many feel the term "vanity" is condescending toward writers who hire third party publishers. For that reason, we avoided the term "vanity press" in this article.
"Self-publishing" has become the (inexact but PC) catch-all term used by industry professionals to refer to any published book for which the author has assumed the majority of the financial risk–whether it’s POD, e-published, "vanity" published, or published by a press that the author has established.
I appreciate your commentary regarding self published books.
Thus far my writing has produced two published novels amd several short stories. The books both fall into the genre of historical fiction and are self published. As of this time none of the short stories have been published.
My first book, "The Forest King," recieved good commentary but limited sales. After reading the authors copy of my second book, "The Crossing," I didn’t continue on and push the book. In fact I sent an E-mail to the publisher asking that they stop printing. They said it would remain as a viable product for sale at their on-line bookstore until I made revisions and paid for them.
A local book store had agreed to sell my second book, "The Crossing," based upon sales from the first book. After getting permission I pulled the books off their shelves. It was not, in my opinion, a good enough piece of work to market at the time.
That was in spring of 2009. Since that time I have, with the help of two good editors, rewritten the entire book. I now feel it is close to being a viable product for the market.
My dilemma is which way to go. In truth I would like to test the market with traditional publishers. I do not have enough financial resources available to market "The Crossing," or for that matter other books that I have started.
Do you have any suggestions?
Richard Bagge, a.k.a. Carson Clay
We admire your deep commitment to quality writingâ€”it’s a very good sign.
With all due respect, it seems as if deep down you may have already made the decision to seek a traditional publishing house, given budget limitations, etc. And you CAN absolutely query agents, since you hold all rights. If you’re on a tight budget and don’t have time/resources for querying, our A La Carte service starts at $100 and might be a good fit.
But regardless, here’s an article that might help you proceed effectively as you try to get an agent.
This information was very helpful. Alot of things here to consider. Thanks for the insight!