Riding the Fence – Indecision at Your Own Peril

There’s something that’s been ricocheting around my pea-sized brain for a while, and it has to do with Riding the Fence…as in, “Do I wanna self-publish, or do I wanna go with a publisher?”

This makes my teeth itch, and I’ll tell you why.

Time Suck

I had an experience recently where the author was Riding the Fence about whether to self-pub or sign with a publisher. I was the lucky slob who drew the short stick.

I liked his book and made him an offer. But we gotta back up and count all the hours that I spent getting to that point to making the offer.

  • Reading his book proposal (1 hour)
  • Reading his manuscript – making copious notes on arc issues, organization, and further development (30 hours)
  • Discussing with marketing/sales teams and other publicity folks (8 hours)

So, going into this endeavor, I invested nearly 40 hours. Big deal; it’s what I do.


He was expecting a six-figure advance. Yah, ain’t gonna happen. He didn’t have the story or platform to support such a fantasy. Depressed, he then tells me he’s considering self-pubbing.


Now I’m thinking voodoo dolls and sharp, pointy things. Nearly a week’s worth of my time is blown to bits.

Reality vs Fiction

Because he’s Ridin’ that Fence like a buckaroo, he asked me exactly what I could do for him and his book. Okay, I’m totally good with these questions, because authors should have a solid idea about what their potential publisher can do for them.


Time spent writing numerous emails pointing out the Realities and Fiction of self publishing (16 hours)

After nearly three weeks hemming and hawing, he wrote to tell me he was self-publishing. Argh. Why in the HELL didn’t he decide this before he wasted all my time? This kind of stuff is so unnecessary.

It Ain’t About Just the Money

Publishing has drastically changed since the heyday of spending like drunken sailors. Publishers gotta work smart if they want to stay in business. We always plan for a book to do well, but the marketplace is a fickle mistress, and the best-laid plans may go awry. And they go awry for all kinds of reasons. Just to say, that they also go very right for all kinds of insane reasons, as well.


  • Author platform was over-inflated
  • Genre Buyers don’t like the topic (that is a whole other post in itself)
  • Intended audience doesn’t respond

Huge advances makes only one person happy; the author (and his agent, if he has one). They get a nice payday regardless of the book selling well or tanking. The publisher eats it. In these uncertain times, advances had little choice but to go southward.

However, what a publisher CAN do is offer:

  • Superior editing and design work
  • National/international distribution
  • Marketing/promotion
  • Getting authors into industry book fairs and conferences
  • Sending review copies and media kits to industry reviewers and media

And that’s just a short list…and they do it all on their own dime.

The self published author is responsible for bankrolling the entire endeavor, and they often have no idea whether they’re getting a great editor or cover designer. They don’t realize their books won’t be reviewed or stocked on store shelves.

In simple terms, self-pubbed authors are a team of one, and they’re competing against publishers who do this for a living. Even as small as we are, we’re a team of hundreds…all who are devoted to selling our books to the widest marketplace.

So, sure, the advance offered to this particular author may have been less than he was expecting, but the cash outlay that we would have put into his book would have been in the tens of thousands…along with countless hours of professionals doing what they do best.

Do the Research

Let me say that I have no problem with those who want to self-pub. Heck, the marketplace is big enough for everyone to play in the sandbox. But don’t hedge your bets to a publisher by Ridin’ the Fence…”I’ll see what they offer me, then I’ll make up my mind.” That kind of attitude really sucks the jam out of my jelly doughnut.

Make up your mind about what kind of publishing options you want to pursue, and stick to it. Someone who isn’t sure will invariably find fault with the publisher for any little thing that happens.

Publishing is a partnership – a two-way street – and if one of those parties consistently rides the fence (“Damn, I shoulda self-pubbed…then I’d be rich and famous.”), then what chance does the committed party have in succeeding? And the self-pubbed author is rarely rich or famous.

Do the work and research ALL your options BEFORE you decide whether to stick your big toe into an editor’s front door. The more information you have, the better able you are to decide which option is best for you and your book. And you won’t waste anyone’s time.

6 Responses to Riding the Fence – Indecision at Your Own Peril

  1. Barbarann says:

     Out here beyond the pencil, a whole lot of us are beyond stupid about this stuff. We simply have no idea what costs are or should be. We don’t even have a to do list. What does it  cost to build a book? What are the moving parts? Who is qualified? What’s my input? What’s that, you say?  It’s more than over the moon writing? Where is the tutorial?  I feel like I’m climbing the endless ladder to the book store. While I ‘m tending to my knitting I hear I should already be doing interviews, getting my name out there, and I have a plan to do it. War museums are on my target list. Public speaking is my idea of fun, so I look forward to that. But how to begin? I hear you saying pick up the phone, honey. Write letters, sell your story. Find your market. I do have resources who have been there and self published. I write with them and they are happy to help. Now, don’t faint. My book is a memoir heavily combed for order and redundancy, and reviewed for content by Sheila Bender, at whose knee I studied and wrote for 5 years. She has been invaluable. Likely I hesitate because newbies have not been there or done that. But I will. I will. I am going to screw up my courage and FLY!  Thanks in advance for listening, you with the beagle. Knew a fine beagle named Tippy. Tippy had a German Shepherd named Bruce. Tippy rode around the farm hanging on Bruce’s lip.  Newbies so badly need an ear. I hope I have not overstepped here and apologize if I have. No excuse except for your irresistible sense of humor. I should tell you this memoir is WW2 vintage, of war and widows and orphanage and finally, freedom and discovery. Barbarann Ayars

    Sent from my Verizon 4G LTE smartphone

  2. Er……..Ethel – I think I should be the last one to remind you – Publishing is a Business – the same as sellin’ widgets. – It has to sell – it’s there to make a buck – period.
    Dress it up in all the arty farty pretence you like it’s a fact. You gotta keep the shareholders happy – or at least keep in the Black.
    Mr self-pub is merely finding out the numbers – and is it worth it. I did the same myself – and decided my part of their numbers wasn’t worth it.
    ‘Luckily’ it panned out – I made the right choice – after a lotta hard work. – Your book Does get reviewed and get stocked on the shelves (Waterstones Et-Al) – but YOU gotta push it.
    Hence the creative becomes the business which boils down to making a profit.
    Your job is to do all that business stuff – for which you get paid – if you choose to smooze & court for the goods that’s your choice. (and most pubs don’t put in all that effort – until it’s an auction (!))
    I have no problem with publishers who want to publish – but don’t ride the guy for finding out what the best deal is. Finding out what the numbers are IS part of the research – and you can’t find that out except by sticking that Big Toe in your Door. 😉



    Fancy a gander at my Bioyoof epic?

  3. MishaBurnett says:

    Maybe you should make the offer earlier in the process? Obviously I don’t know any more than what you’ve posted here–did you make it clear that your advances fall into a range of X to Y before you put the time into the manuscript? You can hardly expect someone who is selling an intellectual property to say, “I accept your offer–now tell me what it is.”

    As far as not telling you that he was considering self-publishing, I would think that would be a given these days.

  4. I can’t make an offer until I’ve done all the steps I mentioned in my post. To do otherwise would be going in blind. In order to heavily invest in a work, I need to make sure my sales guys can sell it. In order to make sure it’s a quality work, I gotta make copious notes in order to assess how intense the editing process may be.

    I don’t go into detail regarding our advances because they vary, depending upon the work and the author’s platform.

    Lastly, I would never expect someone to blindly accept an offer. The offer comes with the contract, so they know exactly what they’re getting.

    Publishing is my day job, and has been for many years. I make the assumption that I’m dealing with professionals who understand the publishing industry, and have decided this is what they want. Why would I assume that authors are waffling between self-pubbing and going with a house? In the fourteen years we’ve been in the biz, I’ve only encountered this three times. The reason I don’t make this assumption is because most authors do a lot of research about the various options and decide BEFORE wasting anyone’s time. It’s simply the classy thing to do, in my opinion.

  5. Um.Yes, I’m painfully aware that publishing is a business. Been doing this for fourteen years. I got the memo. The UK publishing industry and marketplace are completely different from the US. Self pubbed authors don’t get reviewed by the big gun reviewers unless they pay dearly for it. They don’t get shelf space in stores. Best they can do is do a consignment agreement if the store manager is particularly kind.

    I’m glad your self pub adventure worked out for you. Most don’t…and that’s what I constantly discuss. Most new authors simply look at the advance and decide they’ll do better on their own, without having a complete idea of how expensive, time consuming, and difficult publishing really is…especially if you’re a team of one or two.

    As I said in my post, I don’t denigrate anyone who wants to self pub. But I don’t appreciate being the test bunny for those riding the fence. There is so much information on the Net for those who are looking at the various options, that there’s simply no reason to waste an editor’s time. In the case I discussed in my post, the author had spoken to three of our authors, so he knew exactly what he was facing had he signed with us.

    Lastly, the end result of the suggestion that I assume all authors are looking at self pubbing is that I’ll be less likely to take anyone seriously in an effort to save myself countless hours of work. How does that benefit the author?

    Riding the fence? Research your options first, then commit. It’s not always about the dollar value, but who can generate a better project and get it widely distributed.

  6. MishaBurnett says:

    It may not be all about the dollar, but that is a consideration. Where do I go to research what sort of advance I can expect for a particular sort of novel? Is there a list of book comps?

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