Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Should You Self Publish? Or Not?

 by Janis Patterson

While browsing on Facebook this morning (instead of working on my current novel, my bad!) I found a post asking writers what made them choose self publishing over traditional publishing. I just had to answer. By the way, my answer is specific to me, and is not intended as a dictum to anyone. To self publish or not to self publish is a decision only the individual writer can make.

Though I do still traditionally publish rarely (a dear friend is a publisher, and I love doing business with her) I chose self publishing because I hated the ‘writing by committee’ aspect of traditional publishing.

Think about it. Most of the major publishers won’t even look at a manuscript without the intervention of an agent, which means that your story must go through an agency’s first reader who will ‘suggest’ changes to be made before they will show it to the agent, so you do them. Then if all goes well the agent will ‘suggest’ changes to be made before offering representation, so you do them. The agent then shows the book to an editor at a publishing house, who (again if all goes well) will ‘suggest’ more changes, which if you do them will get your book handed to the acquisition editor, who will probably ‘suggest’ more changes before the book goes to the editorial committee, who – you guessed it – will ‘suggest’ more changes. Then the book gets a content editor, a continuity editor, a proofing editor – all of whom will suggest changes, which you do. (And this is a good-case scenario – your book can be shot down at any step of the process!)

Then – tah-dah! – in another 18 to 24 months your book is on the shelf. The only thing is, the book that comes out more than likely won’t resemble much of your original story. Writing by committee.

By contrast, in self-publishing I can tell my story as I want to and make sure that my story is the one the readers receive. I do hire editors and make my story as strong and good as it can be, but through the process it remains my story with no alien ideas or sub-plots or character changes grafted on to fit the whims of others. The basic bones of my story – if they are good – are not changed to suite the whims of those who determine if it should be published or not.

Make no mistake – self-publishing is a lot of work. Fiddly, picky but essential work. It’s not hard, though, and your story remains the story you wanted to tell – not a conglomeration of various peoples’ ideas. I have a friend – an accomplished and seasoned writer – who under a multi-book contract wrote a romance novel with a Montana rancher as the heroine and an insurance agent as the hero. I read it. It was a lovely book. Then she got a letter from her editor ‘suggesting’ that she change the locale from Montana to the Florida keys, make the hero a deep sea diver and the heroine a secretary. And that is not the worst tale I have heard of editorial re-writing!

Self publishing comes down to control. You control the story. You control the cover. You control the price and the distribution. You control whether it will be ebook or paperback or both. You control the timeline – no more waiting years for the book to come out. (Am I the only one getting the lead-in to the old Outer Limits tv show here?) You control the publicity – which you would most likely have to do with a traditional publisher anyway. Plus, so many traditional publishers limit you as to the number of book you can release in a year; that decision is now yours, which is wonderful for us fast writers. These days there are ways to get your book considered by libraries (impossible during the early days of self publishing) and foreign markets.

One drawback to self publishing is that it costs money – you need to hire editors; you need to hire a cover artist; you need to hire a formatter; you should buy ISBNs even though with some retail outlets that is not necessary. (I always say if you’re going to play with the Big Boys of publishing, play by their rules and conventions.) If you’re so inclined, you can learn to do all of this yourself – except editing. You always need another set of professional eyes on your book. Yes, there are companies – some legit, some the worst kind of money-grubbing vanity presses – who will do this for you. Some are kind of reasonably priced, some are extortionate. Personally I cannot think of paying a great deal of money to do what I can do myself, but then I was raised to do what I can do well and hire the rest out. If you do decide to go with a ‘helping’ company, do your due diligence.

As I said, self publishing does require a certain amount of outlay up front, but you can control how much. On the credit side, you will probably make more money than with trad publishing. Since I’ve been self publishing I sell a markedly fewer number of books than when I was traditionally published – but I’m making a lot more money. 60-70% of cover price sure beats 3-6% of net! I’ll take the money – and the control of my career!

Self publishing is not a decision to make lightly. Investigate, think about it and then do what is best for you. I have, and I love it!


Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

The majority of my books are now self-published and like you, I paid someone to edit and in many cases, re-edit older books. I always had to do a lot of promotion no matter how I was published, so that part hasn't changed. I also paid someone to do the actual putting my books on Amazon. At this stage of my life, didn't feel like learning how. Thanks for the post!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I haven't self-published but I can see there are definite benefits.

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

I self publish for many of these same reasons!
Great post.
Thanks for sharing.
Good luck and God's blessings

Fiona McGier said...

I've been forced into self-publishing, because when a publisher closed doors a while ago, I got the rights back to 9 of my books.

First I had to send a "cease and desist" email to the owner, who stole one of my books and put it up on his other publishing page.

Then when I shopped the books around, multiple publishers were interested until they discovered that Amazon was still listing them, albeit with things like "limited availability" next to them. When I complained to Amazon, I was told by a flunkie that the ebooks are not available, but it's a "customer service" that they keep the covers (which I don't own) up on the page for my books, because if someone bought a paperback and wants to resell it, they can do it there. So Jeff Bezos gets a cut, the seller makes money, and the author gets? Shafted! I pointed out that no one else will take my books on, because they're listed there. One is listed by a Goodwill for $100. One is listed for over $800! What are they smoking? They offered that if I DO get the books republished, they'd be glad to add a link to the new publisher next to the old cover. Thanks a bunch.

So now I'm re-editing and putting up my books, one a week, on Smashwords, where I control everything. Husband is doing my covers. Since most e-publishers don't do much in the way of promotions, it's not very different from the books I still have up with e-publishers--only I have more input into the covers this way.

I didn't want to do it like this, but I have no choice. The characters don't deserve to live only in my laptop! They want to find new eyes, and new readers' brains to live in! LOL.

Jackie Houchin said...

Thanks for the comparison - all true. At least while you are waiting for your book to be on a shelf or two, you are doing something. Not just waiting. And, like you said, the pay off is better. Maybe by learning some marketing techniques from a professional (one time) you can sell even more.
Good luck and thanks for sharing. said...

The problem I have with traditional publishing is the time it takes to publish the book and get it on the market. My latest book took 18 months. During that time, books of my time period diminished in popularity. I'm getting a book ready for publication now and have about decided to self-publish. Before I send a book to an editor, I have it edited once or twice anyway so I might as well take the extra steps. Thanks for your comments.

Morgan Mandel said...

After my original small press sold out to another small press, which did nothing for any of us authors, I decided I was too old to wait for another publisher to decide whether or not they wanted any of my books.

I've been self-publishing since then. After my friend who was an editor became unable to edit anymore, I rely on people who know what they're doing to read over my manuscripts. Best not to rely on only one person, because there's always something someone else can contribute. The covers are the hardest part. I did have a cover artist before, but since retirement I've struggled with concocting my own.

Alina K. Field said...

Great post. After two books with a small epublisher, I'm strictly self-publishing. It's a lot of work, and I don't like every task, but I've judged it to be worth it. I tell my kids they'll have the rights for long after I've crossed the rainbow bridge. Maybe the books will pay for their grandchildren's dance or music lessons.

Alicia Dean said...

Excellent post! Yes, there are many benefits to self-publishing (I'm trying to always call it 'Indie' publishing, because it sounds a little better :)) I also enjoy working with The Wild Rose Press. There are some perks to being published with them as well. I was traditionally published with a big publisher, but it was not a great experience.

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