Going it Alone

Here’s a question that’s been popping up at a lot of writer’s conferences where I’ve spoken about book marketing: Would I ever self-publish a manuscript? Hm. If you’d asked me a year or two ago, I’d have said NO. Self-publishing seemed to imply that no one else would take your book. That it was inferior somehow. That it wouldn’t be professionally edited. It felt like a giant step backwards.

Things are starting to shift a bit, as some established authors are starting to think: Do I really need that publisher?  J.A. Konrath is an author with a following who is currently making a mint on titles he’s self-published.  Imagine no middleman. Imagine the writer being able to put his work out there and collect payment, big payment, for it, instead of royalties from what’s left after all the other folks involved take their cut. Seductive. Definitely seductive.

Now we do need to distinguish between self-publishing a printed title and an ebook.  With a printed title, you would ideally like for it to appear on bookstore shelves.  Think that will work? I recommend you ask your local bookseller about that.  Here’s the problem: distribution. First of all, how will you even pitch your book to all the stores nationwide? You will have no sales rep to do that. Say you do get a bookshop to stock your self-published title. But then it doesn’t sell. They typically can’t return it (especially if it’s a print on demand title).  It’s a total loss for them.  If they’ve got a book from Random House that doesn’t sell, they can return it to the publisher at no cost.  So, which do you think the bookseller will refuse stocking on their shelves? Yeah.

This problem has become so prevalent, that it’s actually starting to affect the traditionally published authors.  When I go to a bookshop to tell them about my title, they practically run away, convinced I’m one of the many many self-published authors who have come knocking on their door. I’ve learned to say my publisher’s name before I even say my own name.  It’s tough out there.

Now, with ebooks, it’s all about the online action. Problem is, how will anyone ever find your book? If you have a household name, it’s a different story.  I predict that with the rise of ebook readers, more and more big name authors will be jumping the publishing ship and going it alone. If a publisher won’t meet their pay demands, or otherwise pisses the author off, that author may not need the publisher anymore. They can just click a few buttons and their story is out there ready for purchase.

So what about me? I’d lie if I didn’t say I was tempted to self-publish. See, I’ve got three unpublished novels sitting on my bookshelf. And the wheels of publishing turn so slowly (especially with the recession), that deals are slooooow in coming. I’ve got readers asking for my next book. If I could just get it out there…

But wait. So much of this business is about faith. Faith in yourself. Faith in your writing. Yes, even faith in the publishing world. What if the next editor who sees my manuscript loves it? What if I were to self-publish the manuscript, and therefore that next editor never got to see it and fall in love with it in the first place?  Editors can transform a manuscript from good to phenomenal. Then the book will reach the shelves it needs to. It’ll get reviews. It’ll be seen. Would I really want to miss out on that?

The most important thing for me is to operate with faith, and not out of fear.  If you are thinking of self-publishing, I encourage you to ask yourself: Is this because I’m afraid it’ll never see the light of day otherwise? Or do I truly believe that this is the best way to reach my readers and continue on as a writer?

The answer won’t be the same for every author. If you are a non-fiction author with a killer way to reach your target audience that doesn’t even involve bookstore shelf space, then you can go for the non-traditional mode and do well.  If you have a personal family story you want to share with relatives.  If you have a collection of poems you want to print and sell at festivals. If you are such an unbelievable marketer that you know your self-published volume will get attention. If you are world famous and everyone is asking for your life story…

We all have our stories and our reasons and our personal goals.

As for me? I write fiction. I’m not famous. So I’m sticking with the traditional model.

And praying that it all works out.

14 thoughts on “Going it Alone

  1. I thought this was the most well-written and commonsense comment on self-publishing I have read so far. Some of my writing students (and retired friends) self-publish because they want to see their names in print and to be admired by friends, relatives and the local population to whom they give talks about their ‘life as a writer’. The audience doesn’t know the difference between writers whose work is marketable and those who are hobby writers fresh from seven years of tapping away in the bedroom and paying to have their unmarketable book published. If I were a publisher, I would ask to see your manuscript – you write very well. Many new indy publishers are springing up and they’re looking for authors, so keep going and you will be rewarded. It took 10 tries to get my first book published and I would have tried 100 times if I’d had to.

    • Thanks, Diane, for your thoughtful and kind comments.

      It is a complicated issue because different writers have different goals. And what is right for me, may not be the right path for another. The main thing is to get as much info about publishing before acting.

      Best of luck with your own work,

  2. It is an exciting time to be writing and the number of options out there are only going to increase. My first book was published by a publisher but as an ebook only and its been a really interesting learning curve trying to promote online.

    • Hi Cassandra,

      It is an exciting and confusing time, isn’t it? Ebooks are the big unknown. My publisher recently released my novel also in ebook form. Everyone is watching closely to see what’ll happen with this new technology. Only thing for certain? Change!

      Best of luck with your ebook,

  3. I’m sorry but this blog seems rife with naivety and misinformation. For one thing it assumes that self-publishing authors don’t have the smarts to hire good editors, use competent designers, or find effective distributors or good publicists. There’s also the assumption that any good manuscript will eventually find a publisher, which is empirically hard to to prove since it’s impossible to know how many brilliant manuscripts languish in obscurity simply because they’ve never found that one editor who “fell in love with it.” But I”m willing to bet there are hundreds if not thousands of unpublished manuscripts as good or better than most books that simply didn’t find a home. And of course most writers self-publish because they’re afraid their book will otherwise never see the light of day. And what’s wrong with that? Especially in this day and age when being published is only partly (an ever-growing part too) about the quality of the work, and more about the marketability of the author, or what’s already sold, etc. etc. I admit as a self=published author that I’d rather have had a publisher do all the hard work of book production, distribution and marketing but it’s perfectly possible these days for an author to fulfill these needs professionally and competently and to produce and market a book of which any “conventional” publishing house would be proud.

    • Hi Andrew,

      I did my best in my post to include what I personally experienced. Thanks for providing your point of view. Yup, you can hire editors and folks to distribute and promote. It can work out. I did point out that different writers have different goals. I wish you luck with yours.


  4. Hi Marie,

    You inspire me. I want to thank you for that. I was fortunate enough to meet you at The Doylestown Bookshop only a few months ago. Talking to you, really helped me.

    You stated that you’re not famous, but you’re a rockstar in my eyes. You greeted me with kindness and appreciation. I already knew and loved your writing when we met. After that day, I knew for certain that I wanted to follow in your footsteps.

    No matter how you publish, you are touching lives. I believe that if you self-published, you would certainly sell many books. And I would absolutely purchase a copy immediately. Nevertheless, I am glad that you have made such a calculated decision where your career is concerned. Each one of your fans will eventually open to the first page of your next book. We will share the thrill of knowing that we are about to be transported into a different place, for awhile. As we read the words that you toiled over, we will smile because we know that it was worth the wait. You’re career will be better for that choice. More fans will be touched by your words, and more lives will be changed. You are right to have faith, as so many of us have faith in you. I believe that a good story has power. And your writing is far beyond good.

    Much love!!

    • Angie,

      Thanks so much for your kind comment 🙂 It was a pleasure to meet you, and it means a lot to know that you are out there reading and supporting writers such as myself.

      Writing and reading are both such personal journeys. Thank you for being an important part of my author’s path.


  5. Great article – thanks. All of us are at different places and that’s important to understand. A small independent publisherer, published my first novel three weeks ago. After a 6 day booktour, we sold 314 books. Last night, the book went live on Amazon for Kindle. Through the Kindle for iPad software, the book can also be downloaded to the iPad. I have another two week tour coming up in which I will give at least nine talks. The people working with me have a motto: “Bookstores don’t sell books, authors do.”

  6. You’ve made a number of valid points in this post, and like your disclaimer, this is based on what you’ve seen and known. Issues like nationwide distribution are a challenge, definitely, as well as editing, marketing, etc.

    There are all types of authors with different goals. I am self-publishing because I want creative freedom to have the title and cover that I want. I’m skilled enough in graphic design, page layout, etc, that I can do this on a budget. I’m still new to the marketing aspect, but I feel I can learn. Self-publishing is a labor of love for me, and as I’m very entrepreneurial, it’s a good fit.

    If you’d like to learn more about what it takes to self-publish, I’m actually blogging my experience as I go. Zoe Winters, paranormal romance author, is another person to read if you’re interested in self-publishing and all the work it takes.

    • Hey Belinda,

      Thanks for your comment. Promotion is huge, and it’s something that all authors, whether traditionally or non-traditionally published, must do.

      Best of luck with your book!

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