Is self publishing really that bad?

I hear that question a lot at conferences, and it always makes me wince because I know the question doesn’t come from someone who understands the business. They’re asking my opinion, and the truth is, there is no quick answer.

Sure, it’s easy to screech out a quick, “NOOOO! Save yourself! Don’t do it!”, but that wouldn’t really answer the “why?”

Before any decisions can be made, you need all the facts, right? It’s like looking at a used car’s shiny paint job, new interior, and brilliantly clean engine. Sounds great, yah? No one would ever guess it had been in a smash up on the 405 freeway during rush hour. Still want that car? Most people who are experienced at buying cars would know to ask for the car’s history.

So goes it with publishing. Most authors who ask me this question are still very green. They banged out their manuscript without really understanding how to write. Maybe they sent out a few queries and received a few rejections, and now they’re disheartened. It’s too much “I want” and too little “I know.”

If authors have all the facts, they can legitimately decide whether they want to go the self publishing route. So what questions need to be asked?

Intent: What is your goal? If it’s to sell or give away a few books to friends and family, and have a little fun, then this is probably the way to go. If your book sold to a publisher and you had no intent on promoting your book to a wide audience, your name will be mud, and you’ll have a very angry editor who may have a spiteful beagle for a secretary. Believe me; she knows people who know people.

Is your intent to get reviews from trade magazines? It’s unlikely this will happen because they won’t review self-pubbed works. That isn’t to say you can’t get blurbs from big names, if you know any.

Money: If you want to have a wider audience than friends and family, you need the greenbacks to fuel your dreams. This will pay for proper editing, cover design, interior design and layout, printing costs, warehousing, advertising, and promotion.

Platform: This is vital for every author, but even more important for the self pubbed author because they don’t have the backup of a publisher’s resources. They need that platform to draw audiences to their events. This takes understanding and analysis about marketing and promoting yourself and your book.

Product: If you’re doing this yourself, you need to understand how to present your book in the best possible fashion. This means getting a good cover, designed by a professional. There are a lot of tricks of the trade that goes into cover design, so don’t depend on your neighbor who designs garage sale fliers. They be a different animal altogether.

Distribution: Self pubbed authors won’t be distributed with a sales team and such, so this is going to be a major block to getting your book into readers’ hands.

In the end, the absolute hardest part for me is watching a very green author jump the gun. You have to learn to crawl and walk before you can run. Slow down, look, learn. Only then will you have the tools to discern a pristine car from a history of accidents.

8 Responses to Is self publishing really that bad?

  1. scrivatrice says:

    I’ve had people talk to me about self-publishing, but from what I gather on the blogopshere, it is a lot like natural remedies–those who use them swear by them, but experts in the field warn against it. The truth is that some remedies work and some are placebo effect or downright dangerous. Same for self-publishing, right? Why gamble?

  2. michael says:

    I worked for two years on my manuscript, then wanted to be published immediately, looking for instant gratification. Luckily for me, I have a wife whose brain is two times the size of mine. She reminded me to slow down and value my work. I believed in it, and so did she.

    A friend finished a book on the same subject matter and went with Publish America. I waited another year (and a dozen or so rejections) before landing a reputable agent, then another year or so before he found a home. (not a perfect home, but I’m satisfied he did the best he could,)

    My book was very well received locally, I was invited to appear on news shows, talk radio and local bookstores. The book was reviewed by major newspapers in New England and trade magazines nationally.

    My friend sold a few books to family and friends and still struggles to find the inspiration to follow up. I was energized, hooked by my modest success and am working on writing as a full time career.

    Tonight I’ll be speaking at the local library. The lady running the show just called to tell me nearly one-hundred people have signed up and a lot more will show up unannounced.

    Am I happy I waited? You bet.

    Oh, and Lynn is going to publish the book I’m working on when I finish it. (Hey, if a guy can’t dream he’s got nothin’)

  3. Nicola Morgan says:

    Great post, Lynn (whenisitevernot?) and two great comments after it. You know the thing that bugs me about this whole self-publishing vs publishing hoohah? That self-publishers think that somehow we’re trying to cut them out of the action and being all exclusive about it. No, no, NO! We car only about the quality. When (as sometimes is the case) self-published books shine, we LOVE it because we love good books and don’t care too hoots who publishes them. The impatience of unpublished authors is entirely understandable but patience and hard graft ARE the only good answers.

  4. lynnpricewrites says:

    That self-publishers think that somehow we’re trying to cut them out of the action and being all exclusive about it.

    That is a lovely thing called justification. Vanity presses tell this to their prospective vict…clients in order to gain their business. Self pubbed authors, usually not understanding the business, repeat the rhetoric. There is nothing more frightening to an author than slowly realizing they made a mistake, and this makes them dig their heels in harder. It’s a major bummer.

  5. Gutsy Writer says:

    I heard an author mention that self-publishing is good for two groups of writers: poets and experts on a specific subject. Poets sell mainly at their readings and experts with speaking gigs do a lot of BOR sales. Do you agree with that?
    Missed you at the SCWA meeting. Hope you’re feeling better and look forward to your July presentation.

  6. lynnpricewrites says:

    Poets sell mainly at their readings and experts with speaking gigs do a lot of BOR sales.

    Yah, sure, I agree with that. Niche markets can do well with this choice as well. The important thing is to be well-informed so you know this is a viable choice. It’s those who rush in with wet ink and a hard-on to see their work between covers. Yikes.

    Yes, I missed the meeting this Saturday. I was beyond bummed, but I was still in a lot of pain and could barely move. I’m really grateful to the speaker who took my place. I hear he was wonderful. I hope I’m equally as wonderful in July when I take his place. Damned accidents.

  7. That dratted Nicola Morgan got in there first and said everything I wanted to say. If every writer who ever jumped the gun and went for self-publishing before sitting down and carefully considering the options, outcomes and pitfalls, there’d be far fewer bitter and disappointed writers out there.

    Incidentally, I’ve just read in the trade-press that for the first time the number of POD books (usually self-pubbed or vanity-pubbed books) published in the U.S now exceeds that of books published in the mainstream. Some might find that liberating. I don’t but I’m not in the least surprised.

  8. lynnpricewrites says:

    Yes, something must be done about that Nicola woman.

    I saw that bit about the POD books, too, but I’m not entirely convinced it gives a true picture. Many commercial presses (including us), rather than going to larger offset runs, pulled in their checkbooks and went digital for smaller runs. So this statistic doesn’t imply there are more POD companies afoot, only that more publishers went digital due to the sour economy and genre buyers not buying as many books.

    But I will allow as how that there are more authors who see publishers buying less new titles and decided to go the vanity/POD route.

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