Why I (Probably) Won’t Self-Publish

Never say never and all that, but I don’t want to self publish.

A certain member of my family frequently asks, “So when are you going to get that thing published?” Like publishing my book is an errand I’m putting off and if I weren’t so lazy, I could just walk it over to, say, Tor, ask them to design me a cover and print out a couple of hundred copies of the whole bound book.

I could do something akin to that. I have talented artist friends who could paint a cover. I could mosey over to one of the many vanity presses online or—heck—the big one across the highway from my apartment complex that’s made the Writer Beware bad guys list and pay to print out my book. I could then persuade some local booksellers or even the store where I work to sell those copies.

Even better, I could just upload that puppy to the Kindle store, charge 99 cents for it, and call it done.

I don’t want to do that, though.

I think of myself kind of like a monkey that juggles flaming batons. That’s a pretty cool monkey, and maybe even a talented one, but that monkey needs some help getting going. Sure, she could juggle flaming batons on street corners, but she’s pretty likely to get arrested and thrown in the zoo when she accidentally lights someone on fire.

Of course, in the self publishing scenario, I’m more likely to set myself on fire than anyone else. I don’t want to ruin my career by pushing a book full of typos and plot errors into the hands of someone who will publicly (and rightly) flame me. The point is that the juggling monkey needs some sort of handler to help her choose her engagements and tell her where it’s safe to throw fiery batons.

Kristen Lamb’s post for today got me thinking about this yet again. She says,

I’ve met writers who proudly paid to have beautiful covers designed and build web sites for their self-pubbed book, and yet, when I got a look at their first pages, I wish I could have stopped them. That’s the problem with being new. When we are really new, we are too dumb to know what we don’t know.

So before we make a decision to self-publish, we must make sure we get a professional to look at our book and let us know the hard truth, even if it hurts. It is way easier to have an editor send a private e-mail telling us that our book is a disaster than for a book reviewer to do it on a blog or for readers to blast us on Amazon. Also the BEST way to positively impact sales is to write excellent books. No amount of social media can help a bad book.

I don’t want to be that writer, the one who spends time and effort and even money on a flawed product. I know there are people out there who are smarter than me about plotting, about publishing, about marketing, and about almost everything to do with writing books. I know my stories. My job right now is to write a damned good book that someone will want to read.

But when I’m ready, I want to hire those smarter people to help me help myself. (And by “hire,” I mean I want them to publish my book.)

Still, I have to plan for the not-best-case scenarios. I need to learn to market myself well, to build a sturdy social media platform, and to convince people out there who don’t even like reading to read my book. To that end, I’ve signed up for Kristen Lamb’s class. I’m reaching out to other bloggers. And I’m editing the crap out of my manuscripts. Literally. By the time I’m done, they will contain no more crap. I hope.

All of these skills should help me convince some of those smart, professional people to join my team down the road. And if, knock on wood, I can’t manage to go the traditional route and win over a juggling-monkey-coach/editor, then I’ll be all the more prepared to help myself self-publish. Even though I don’t want to do that.

What’s your worst-case-scenario plan? Will you self-publish if you just can’t get your foot in the door?

8 thoughts on “Why I (Probably) Won’t Self-Publish

  1. I definitely will try for the “brass ring” of the traditional print route as long as I can. But I’m prepared to e-publish if that doesn’t happen. It’s a generational thing for me. Still, I’m 21st century enough to say, like you, never say never. And I would not go the 99-cents route. A well-written book deserves much better.

  2. Hi, I followed your link over from Kristen Lamb’s Blog.

    I always said that I wouldn’t self-publish for all the reasons you mentioned. Now I find myself preparing to do just that. Interestingly, I did get a call from a publisher. And after several phone calls and emails from them, I wonder why I waited so long to ‘do it myself’.

    I realise that I do gain a certain amount of credibility by signing a contract with a big publishing house but the deal sucked. I mean it really sucked and the marketing was still mostly my responsibility.

    The contract was like a straightjacket and there is no guarentee you will ever be successful. You have a very limited time to make it and you can’t take your book and sell it yourself if things don’t go well because they own the book, not you.

    Anyway, I always said ‘never’ but since this encounter, I have changed my mind. It maybe a mistake but at least I feel better about my decision

  3. I have decided to self-publish. Or, rather, I’m gonna try self-publishing first, burn in the flames, learn from my mistakes (hopefully), and then try the traditional path.

    I think.

    I’m not really sure. I’m curious to hear Emmie’s take after her visit to the Writer’s Digest conference and participation in the agent-slam-thingy.

  4. Like most other writers I want my novel traditionally published when it’s ready. I’ll hound and hound agents and publishers until someone takes it. I’ll revise it and make necessary adjustment according to suggestions but …

    … but what if years later no one will still take it? I figure if it’s going to sit in my draw and do nothing I might as well become the publisher myself and get it out as an eBook, then a paperback if it does well. If the traditional publishers don’t think I’m good enough to publish a book, then I might as well give it a go myself because if I can’t write novels, then wasting my time on another may not solve the problem. If the readers out there see what the trad. publishers missed, though, well that’s the reason why I want to give self-publishing a go.

  5. I started a blog post tonight with no real aim and ended up ruminating on this very question.

    The short of it is this:

    I will not self-publish. Yeah, never say never. But…my dream is book on shelf. I think that agents and publishers know better than I do what makes a good book, a good story, and something that sells. I reckon if I get rejected, I get rejected for a reason. Maybe they give me feedback, maybe I fix stuff and then it sells. Maybe I’ll need to move onto something else. I am prepared to do just that in spite of the years I’ve put into this trilogy.

    I’m of the mind that excellent books get agents. I also think that a lot of writers (myself included) outright cringe at someone ripping apart our babies — and we all have to have a certain amount of egotism in order to want to get published at all. So we have to believe we have that certain je ne sais quoi…even if we’re wrong. The trick is to learn when we should try something new and keep trying to get better.

    Self-publishing has its merits, especially for people who already have a career that makes them a living. (Not a job…a career.) I do think that for those of us seeking a long-term career in storytelling, the traditional route still holds the most steady aptitude for longevity. But that’s also just my opinion, and I am admittedly biased on the subject. I think with careful planning, strategic platforming, and excellent writing (as well as the drive to always be better), writers can be successful in both worlds — for me, I choose the traditional route.

  6. Hi Karen! Hope you had a great Holiday. I found this post from Kristen Lamb, but I would have found it anyway, since I’ve subbed to your blog.

    I don’t have a problem with thinking of self-publishing… my problem (as I mentioned in the comments @Kristen’s blog) is when people self-pub something that needed 25 more rewrites.

    I may self-pub… or I may not. But once I’ve edited and polished the book to a high sheen, I will avail myself of a professional editor.

    It’s probably time to start saving my shekels for that now, don’t you think?

  7. I tried the traditional publishing thing a few years ago. For a short while, but per usual, life got in the way. Then when I did have the time again, I looked into all of the options. And from everything I’ve researched it sounds nearly impossible to break into traditional publishing. At least not unless you can prove to them that you already have a strong fan base.

    Something else swayed my decision to go the indie route though. Even going with a publisher and agent, I’d still be stuck doing the lions share of my marketing. And giving them the lions share of any profits. Why? To get their company name on my book? To print the copies? To take away my rights to my work or force me to make revisions to the story I felt needed to be told?

    If I’m going to pour my heart into creating the best story I possibly can, if I have to brand myself, create a platform and do most of the marketing, why would I want to turn total control over it to a publisher I may or may not ever acquire?

    I’m very careful about putting out a good product, as typo free as possible. I have others read my manuscripts to help with that, and to point out problems with my plot and story in general.

    So I’m sticking with self-publishing. I have to do all the work anyway. Everything except the actual printing of the books.

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