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.