My Decision to Self-Publish

The commitment to self-publish came slowly to me. As is my nature, I had to collect lots and lots of information before I could make the decision, and while I was researching the publishing landscape changed tremendously. What was once a questionable move became an obvious choice to me and many others.

Still, there are many who doubt.

One of the most persistent objections I receive to me, personally, self-publishing is, “Oh but your stuff is too good to self-publish!” This invariably comes from other writers who have only published with traditional or small publishers. They’re happy with their experience and think I should do as they are doing. They believe that I’ll do my work a disservice by publishing myself. The (usually) unspoken assumption is that no one will find my excellent work swimming in the cesspool with all the other sloppy self-published crap that’s out there.

Perhaps I exaggerate. But not much.

And, in fact, some of the indie published books out there are poorly written, proofed, and formatted. The woman who just did my mammogram volunteered that observation without being aware that I planned to self-publish.

The irony is that if I followed the nay-sayers’ advice, if I held out for traditional publishing because my work “is too good,” I would only perpetuate the underlying assumption that all self-published work is sub-standard. That only losers who can’t get published any other way self-publish. And obviously, if you can’t sell to a traditional publisher, your work must not be very good.

News Flash! If you still believe that, you haven’t been paying attention to how publishing works today. Editors are generally good, hard-working people who want to find great books for their publishers. Traditional Publishers are mostly huge corporations that see books as product, and want to see huge growth in sales. Modest growth is not good enough anymore. Editors hands are being tied. To a large extent, editors alone do not decide if a book is to be purchased. If the marketing department doesn’t see your book as having break-out potential, no matter how good it is, you don’t get a contract. I know more than one solid, mid-list author who can’t sell their next books.

Does that mean your work isn’t good? No. Does it mean there aren’t readers who would love to read it, if they only had the chance? No.

Let’s all agree: bad writing is bad writing, and shouldn’t see the light of day. Nor should bad covers or bad formatting. Mike Stackpole says it very succinctly:

Don’t mistake what I’m saying above as an endorsement of willy-nilly publication of whatever’s been scribbled down. Self-publishers owe it to themselves, their careers and the readers to make sure their stories are the best they can possibly be. If you need an editor, beg, barter or pay for someone to edit your work. If you need covers, use a professional graphics designer and professionally produced art to get a great looking cover. The idea that “someone will buy it” isn’t good enough. You want your work to stand out, to be the choice, not a choice from a bunch of lackluster offerings. All writers must constantly remember that any offering will be some reader’s first exposure to their work. If you’re not taking your best shot, you’re just telling new readers that they should look elsewhere in the future.

I’m of Scottish descent. My parents grew up during the Great Depression. I hate spending money on myself, but I don’t mind investing in a mutual fund that will pay me dividends. That’s why I’m investing in my career. I could design my own cover, and I think I’d do a pretty decent job of it, but the money I’d save wouldn’t be worth the time it would take me to learn how to do it well. So I’m hiring Hot Damn Designs. In my opinion, Kim’s work is worth every penny.

I could ask a slew of beta readers to help me proof my manuscripts that have already been through two critique groups, but I want the confidence that having a freelance editor’s eyes on it will bring. I want to be sure, especially with this first (self-pubbed) book, that it’s the best I can make it.

I could learn to format my books for Kindle and Smashwords, but I’d rather be writing my next masterpiece. I’ve talked to too many writers who say it’s a pain in the butt. So I’m hiring someone to do that, too.

Tim Ferris calls it outsourcing. I call it the best use of my time.

Ultimately, it will be the readers who decide if what I’ve created is worth their time and money. It will take time for them to render their verdict. Self-pubbing is a marathon. It takes time, and the release of several books, to build a career and show whether it’s moving in the right direction.

I’ll let you know how it goes.


Filed under writing

15 responses to “My Decision to Self-Publish

  1. Frankie, Thank you for validating the same decisions that I made almost two years ago when the publishing industry changed. I have not regretted my decisions even though some in the industry thought I had made a mistake. My carefully crafted and edited book received awards from Next Generation Indie Book Awards and the Los Angeles Book Festival. And my second Indie-pubbed book is due for release next month. Welcome to Indie!

  2. Frankie,

    I think you’re going to enjoy self-publishing. I certainly have. I’m one of those people who couldn’t sell (or two agents couldn’t sell) to New York because my work was sweet, not sexy, even though the book had won a Golden Heart. Well in 11 weeks, I’ve sold over 7500 books! Not bad for swimming in the cesspool!

  3. I tried to go the traditional route with my current released title as I did my historical romances.
    My book didn’t fit into any of the niches.And I just don’t think the editors knew what to do with it. It wasn’t a category, It wasn’t a mainstream. It was heavy on the romance, light on the suspense, and a military romance and it was the first book of a series.
    I submitted and waited for 2 years. I self published the book and in 5 weeks have sold enough to have earned the advance I’d have gotten with a publisher.
    The money is really great. But the best an most important thing is that I’m receiving emails from readers saying how much they like the book!!!
    I don’t regret this decision at all. I’ll do some things differently with the next book. Live an learn. But I don’t regret taking this step to gaining control of my writing career.
    Teresa R.

    • Teresa and Debra, It’s really great to hear from indie writers that have done what I’m about to do and know that success is possible for more than the “chosen few.” That’s another of the objections I keep hearing from my traditionally published friends: Only a few writers, those who already have a following, can sell enough ebooks to be considered successful.

  4. The publishing industry has changed so much in the last few years I barely recognize it as the same industry I started out in a little over twenty years ago. I’m researching my options and found your posting to be a good, measured response to critics of self-publishing.

  5. You’re awesome lady! And you make excellent points. I know you’re journey is going to be a fine one.

  6. Thanks for this post. I’ve recently changed my strategy to producing more stories so when I do decide to self-publish (I’m considering it for 2012), I will have inventory. Also, what I’m finding with publishers is that while they like my work, they tell me they don’t know how to market it. I write paranormal romance and urban fantasy! I guess if there are no vampires, they don’t consider it viable.

    I appreciate the links (covers and editing) because that is one area that I’ve stumped on and I plan to check out all these sites. This post has given me hope that I can indie publish and there are the right resources out there!

    • Casey, I think that’s a good strategy. Having a decent sized inventory will help give you a good launch, I think.

      I write paranormal romance too, but no vampires — at least not so far! The thing I love about self-pubbing is that it gives us the opportunity to test the market to see if what we love to write has a readership.

  7. Great post! It’s very affirming to see such a rational examination of why self-publishing no longer deserves that pervasive stigma of “not as good.” The 360 that authors and the industry as a whole are undergoing is both inspiring and sad. Inspiring that so many authors will take ownership of their career and do the driving themselves, perhaps stretching them in both their writing and in other areas of their lives in ways that would never have occurred on the traditional path. Sad knowing that we say goodbye to traditional and comfortable ways of doing and thinking that have served us well until now. Real change is never comfortable. I believe the long-term rewards for traveling the indie route are well worth the investments, The road less traveled is full of risk, and I believe it really will make all the difference.

  8. I”m with Casey. I think I’ll have a stockpile when I finally jump in the pool. This is such a hot topic in my writing circles, should you, shouldn’t you. Its as bad as high school and deciding all the social questions of the day. But the people who have tried it in my group are very excited. Self-publishing creeps up higher on my list every day and at some point I’ll be brave enough to get wet!

    • Jessica, your comment gave me the extra push to go ahead and write “The Emotional Component” post. I’m “lucky” that I have several short stories and three unsold books to put up while writing my next book. That will help me gain momentum faster than if I didn’t. I don’t think a stockpile is necessary, though. Good luck! I hope I see our books up online together soon!

  9. “I could learn to format my books for Kindle and Smashwords, but I’d rather be writing my next masterpiece. ”

    This made me laugh and nod in agreement. For me it’s worth the investment to have it done and done right. AND avoid the frustration. It’s time better spent writing.

    I also agree that a professional cover artist and professional editor are a necessary investment if a writer is taking her career seriously. Which is why I also invested in both.

    I don’t want to be “as good as” trad publishing. I want to be better. 😉

    Another thought on the comments that the reason a writer isn’t trad published is because she isn’t good enough. The truth is MANY writers write stuff that doesn’t fit into a particular fad or category. Take Westerns, for instance. They’d all but died out in trad publishing. Yet suddenly indie Westerns are selling like hotcakes and the trad publishers are wondering what happened.

    • The truth is MANY writers write stuff that doesn’t fit into a particular fad or category.

      And if it doesn’t fit in the box, they won’t buy it. I had to hear this story from several sources, along with other horror stories of books stripped before they even made it on the shelves, or never ordered in the first place before I became convinced that right now self-publishing looks LESS risky than traditional publishing.

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