Reasons to Self-Publish Part I

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The other day, a new comment appeared on an old post of mine, and I thought it provocative enough that I’d address the issues brought up in that comment. The issue was about self-publishing and her reasons for considering it.Thing is, there are plenty of reasons that self-pubbing could be an appropriate choice…these aren’t those reasons and shouldn’t be any factor to your decision.

Here is the first of a three part series.

I do not need to go through countless rejections

I’m the first to agree that rejection stinks. I know authors hate seeing them as much as editors hate writing them. But deciding you want to self pub because you want to circumvent the whole rejection process is like your mother telling you all your life that you’re a fabulous singer when, in fact, you can’t even carry a tune.

Rejection is the great equalizer, and it carries all kinds of meanings. It could be that your book is too similar to something the editor is already publishing. It could be that you’re writing in a crowded category like addiction, cancer, vamp romance, YA dystopian. It could be that you write well, but your story needs better organization. And it could be that literary creation isn’t your strong suit.

If you deny yourself the experience of being rejected, you’ll never know how you measure up. Rejection isn’t always a matter of “you’re not good enough, and even if it is, does that mean it’s a good idea to put out yet another inferior book that has little chance of seeing the light of day? The adage of “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” has some merit, and rejection can be a barometer of talent.

Additionally, if you’re trying to save yourself some heartache, then you may want to remember that your book reviews could be extremely painful. The message here is if you’re going to stick your toe into the water, then you must be prepared to get wet. There is nothing painless about publishing, no matter what option you use.

The first authors in this country paid the printer to print their books as Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain. No one questions their writings.

I’ve heard this bandied about for years and strikes me as a non-argument because publishing isn’t the same as it was back in Ben’s and Mark’s time. It’s my understanding this is one of those great publishy myths generated to justify using a publishing option that may not be to your best advantage.

But even if this were true, does that mean you should self-publish, too? What’s appropriate for one doesn’t make it appropriate for all. It’s like my mom used to say, “If your friends jumped off a cliff, would you follow them?” Good one, Mom. And just for the record, if it was Antonio Banderas hurling his gorgeous self overboard, I would be tempted to follow.

There have been self-pub success stories, but they are the exception, not the rule, and it rings hollow to use the argument that someone else did it.

My book is a niche book that could go mainstream.

It’s important to define what is meant by niche. Niche means to have specific appeal to a specialized group or market. So are we talking a cancer book, which is geared toward a specialized market, or are we talking ingrown toenails? One group can be extremely elusive and the other, quite large and defined.

Given this tenent, any niche book could go mainstream if enough people buy it, like it, and talk about it. That doesn’t mean yours will. The one thing I’ve noticed with self-pubbed niche books is that they are either so off the wall (ingrown toenail), or don’t say anything new, and this is because they haven’t done their market research.

For example, I remember an author who queried me many years ago with her cancer story. I urged her to do some reading of her competition (this is after she had insisted there was “no competition” for her book), and then come back and tell me she has something new to offer to this very crowded genre. Two months later, bless her heart, she wrote back and agreed that her book had nothing new to say that hadn’t already been written about many times. It broke my heart because she seemed so sad to find this out. But had she self-pubbed it, she would be no wiser, and wonder why she didn’t have any sales.

If you’re going to self-pub, KNOW YOUR COMPETITION.

The whole idea of going “mainstream” is so that your book can educate, entertain, horrify…whatever…which means you need to work three tiems as hard as the commercially published author because you’re a team of one.Conversely, the commercially published author has a team of hundreds.

Those self-pubbed books that made the big time didn’t get there on their own. Those authors worked morning, noon, and night to establish their footprint. They had a plan and spent many hours on promotion.

Having a self-pubbed niche book go mainstream – meaning being read by a wide audience – is rarely an accidental thing, so don’t count on this happening. Have any of you opted for self-publishing thinking it would be easier and gain you more remuneration?

Tomorrow’s post, Reasons to Self-Publish Part II, will cover issues of whether commercial publishers like controversial books and whether they have the chestnuts to “print the truth.”

5 Responses to Reasons to Self-Publish Part I

  1. The people who “don’t need to go through countless rejections” are also the people who won’t be thick-skinned enough to take the negative reviews they get on Amazon. I may come back as a rhino in my next life.

  2. Exactly, Gayle. This is isn’t a business for the thin-skinned, is it?

  3. ericjbaker says:

    I’m still torn on the subject, and I probably always will be. Not that this is a new thought, but rejection can happen for a million reasons other than lack of talent or overcrowding. Frankly, bad books get ‘legitimately’ published all the time (I’ve started and not finished piles of them), and many really good potential books don’t, especially titles that are deemed hard to market. If a writer is talented but isn’t judged commercially viable, self-publishing might be an option. Having 50 readers is better than having none, in other words.

  4. I know what you mean, Eric. The reasons to self-publish are many, but I’m of a mind that this option should be because the author wants this, it’s a conscious decision, rather than, “Ah well, commercial publishers don’t want me, so whatever…”

    And yes, certainly there are plenty groaners I’ve read and wondered what the acquiring editors were smoking when they bought them. But that’s the thing with publishing, what one reader loves, another hates. Like art, books are subjective, but I think editors of commercial presses have far more hits than misses. Otherwise, they’d be out of business.

  5. I’m in my late sixties. It often takes a year or more to get through the process of finding an agent, then a publisher. I may not have that time. Any agent looking at me may well conclude that they won’t make much money from me before I die, that’s what I would think if I was in that business. Without wishing to be too cynical, I think self publishing is a better option for me. I go to writing groups, get critiques (paid for) and do everything I can to improve the quality of my writing, but if I want to see any of it in print I’m sure that self publishing is a more reliable option for me.

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