Thursday, February 09, 2017

Will self-publishing doom me?

I have a novel that is nearing the end of it’s querying life. It’s not a bad novel—it’s been extensively beta-read (i.e. >30 people, most of whom don’t know me well, many of whom are published themselves), and I’ve learned things in the query and rejection process that I can change to make it better, but like it or not, it’s nearly at the end of the road.

I would normally stick it in the drawer, BUT I read (and researched) a lot in the genre, and I think it’s in an area that’s on the upswing. If I put it aside and work hard / get lucky enough to get an agent on the next book, it will be awhile before I could potentially sell it again, and it might be like trying to sell vampires or dystopian the past few years. So I would like to be traditionally published, but I also may be passing up an opportunity. Is there ever a time to try a different route, or am I just dooming all future work if it doesn’t sell?

Self-publishing does not doom you.

BAD self-publishing gives you baggage.
GOOD self-publishing gives you luggage;  a spiffy luggage cart, a uniformed porter, and Gucci valises for your unmentionables (errant adverbs, homonyms, stray "thats" and all those apostrophes you'll need for the its and its twins.)

When I say good self publishing I mean you hire a book designer for the interior and the front and back cover of the book. You make sure the size of the type doesn't scream amateur hour (that's one of the ways you can often identify self-pubbed books--out of proportion type.)

You make sure the book is laid out correctly. (The copyright is on a left side page, the table of contents on a right side page.)

You make sure you print ARCs and send those out for review.

You treat this like a business. You plan to devote a certain number of hours a day to your small enterprise.

You learn from other people's mistakes (a google search is the starting point here.)

And then you undertake a very very difficult job: you sell your book.
If you self publish you are essentially telling your sturdy little novel that you will devote time and attention and resources to getting her into the hands of readers. Your novel can do the rest on her own, but she can't sell herself.

And if you sell well, you'll have luggage, not baggage.

And if you just throw your novel against the wall and say "it's up on Amazon, buy it" well, your novel will weep bitter tears and so will you.

You must be brutally honest with yourself here. Are you fully prepared to be in sales for a year or more? If the mere thought drives you to drink, please please please do not self-publish.  What's hot and not changes over the seasons and years. Your novel will not wither and die if she isn't published.


Lisa Bodenheim said...

Baggage or luggage. And the hard work of marketing for the self-pubbed author.

Best wishes for you, Opie, as you sort which direction you wish to go with your novel.

I have a non-fiction book published by a small U.K. press. It has sold well over there. I've tried to sell it/make it more visible here in the U.S. but being a sales person has never attracted me. I became easily discouraged and I was working full-time at my paying-the-rent job. Knowing that about myself, I will seek traditional publication with my novel.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

BAD self-publishing gives you baggage.
GOOD self-publishing gives you luggage;
NO publishing gives you an empty suitcase, on the shelf, in the closet with all the totes and bags and shirt-boxes full of effort.

OP, go for it, but do it 'write."
Keep us posted because many of us are weighted down with the same stacked cart.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Yep, the mere thought of self-publishing and all the work it entails drives me to drink.

But then again, most things drive me to drink. At the moment, morning is pushing me to drink coffee. Lots of coffee.

Colin Smith said...

Here's a thought, Opie. What if your next novel finds an agent, sells to a publisher at auction, and ends up being a runaway success? Poke out my eyes with sticks of hot celery if I'm wrong, but I would imagine your publisher will be inclined to look at just about anything you give them next, even if it's your novel that you think may have missed its market. My point is that at that point, your name is what sells the book, not the genre. Granted, this is a bit of a long-shot scenario that few achieve. But if you have any doubts about self-publishing, you should consider the fact that your novel may end up being your second, third, or fifth of your published canon, depending on how well the other books do.

As Janet cautioned, however, if you're going to self-publish, show love for your work by doing it well. And it takes time, money, effort, and a bit of the entrepreneurial spirit. Just ask those here who are self-pubbed writers. Honestly, I would say (and this is just me) that if you're saying "I want to be traditionally published," then self-publishing is not for you, because you will always look at self-publishing as second best, or another way to get the attention of one of the Big 5. In other words, you will always measure success in terms of traditional publishing, and you won't give self-publishing the attention it needs. Being a successful self-published author won't be good enough. Again, that's just my thought, and I could be wrong.

In any case, all the best to you, Opie! :)

Lennon Faris said...

Self-publishing has crossed my mind (so has world domination, for writing) but I never did hard research and always vaguely assumed it wasn't for me. Now I know.

"Poke out my eyes with sticks of hot celery if I'm wrong, but..." Colin I hope you incorporate your sense of humor into your writing.

DLM said...

After a week and a half knocked for six by bronchitis, I'm exhausted merely sitting in my desk chair awake right now. This post leaves me winded!

That said, the prospect of self-pubbing still appeals to me quite a bit. I've said that for too long. Way to make TODAY the day I feel guilty about that, O Queen!

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

This is well timed, as I've more than once considered self publishing my werewolves, but have a number of misgivings, some highlighted here. Granted, I want to have the trilogy done before I do so, and really, only book 1 is currently finished.

Hope anybody who's experienced/experiencing storms today weathers them well!

Sherry Howard said...

My biggest concern with self-publishing is the problem with getting your book to libraries and schools. From what I understand, maybe incorrectly, that is impossible to do.

I have a good number of writer friends who happily self-publish. However, all work very hard at it, and all said it took multiple books before they gained momentum.

Publishing is not for sissies! No crying in publishing.

Mister Furkles said...

You didn't say whether you had requests for the manuscript. If you did have several, it is not the query. If you had none, it's the query.

If it is the query, you might revise it and start over. Query Shark and Evil Editor can help there.

If it is the manuscript, you may want to consider a book doctor. One very successful agent said that most novice writers don't know where to start their story. Others writers haven't mastered suspense. One friend of our family writes beautiful prose but all of his character feel like the same person. If it is the manuscript, at least determine the major problems with it.

Kitty said...

Self-pubbed books have a certain look to them, even the professionally prepared ones. For me, the covers are the give-away. I’ve read several 5-star self-pubbed books and wondered why the writers couldn’t/didn’t snag agents. I think it’s why self-pubbed books still have that second class taint.

One of the books garnered 75 reviews on Amazon with a 4.9 star rating, all “verified purchases,” and is one of the highest rated books on goodreads. The writer has been an established writer for years with a healthy social media presence. He never passes up a chance to plug his book, and he has another one coming out. So why self-pub?

Colin Smith said...

Kitty: There are a number of reasons people prefer to self-pub, and I'm sure the self-published authors here can name a few. Among the most common reasons (and best) I've heard are:

* Love of the process: There are writers out there who enjoy the business side of publishing. Self-publishing allows them to be more involved.

* More creative ownership over the publishing process: This includes decisions on book design and promotional materials that are often in the purview of the publisher.

* Greater profit margin: Obviously since you're doing most of the work, you get to keep more money. The royalty rates are much higher for self-publishing.

* Publishing to your own schedule: If you're a prolific writer, you can publish as often as you want. You aren't beholden to a publisher's schedule. If book two is ready to go six months after book one, you can go ahead and publish--you don't have to wait a year or more.

Those are the main reasons I've heard. But remember, as wonderful as that all sounds, it still requires a lot of work and a significant investment of time and money to get started, if you want to do it well.

lamandarin said...

Answers to some of the questions:

I did have requests. All my rejections so far except one were personalized and most expressed confidence another agent would pick the book up. I am not quite done yet, but I figure researching self-publishing and finding the right people will take at least six months.

My query request rate was 29%. I did have an initial query that didn't work as well. Current query request was 36%. Not fantastic, but solid.

I did get some feedback that I can use to strengthen the story, which I intend to incorporate.

The thought of selling doesn't bother me. I have been in sales and economics, so I've done many business plans, can keep my (accounting) books, and develop marketing plans. I would have to learn more about the business, but that's possible.

Colin's comment is a good one and worth considering, but I don't know that I would be unhappy with self-publishing yet. More research is needed, but I wanted to test the shark-infested waters of wisdom first. :)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

"Poke out my eyes with sticks of hot celery," indeed.
Colin where you get this sh**? I'm stealing this and calling it mine.

Wipes spewed coffee off keyboard while watching it snow.

DLM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DLM said...

I'd argue that fewer and fewer people actually consider independently published work second class anymore. I'd also argue that "better" and "worse" can be relative to what you put into and expect out of ANY form of publication. There are plenty of authors who look more askance at traditional publishing these days, for precisely the reasons Colin has laid out and others as well. I'm not so sure the hierarchy is what it once was, or that there are upper or lower echelons anymore.

More and more, it's my sense that you need to know both sides of the publication coin. Hybridization is proliferating, and expecting to leave out one form or another may mean missing out, *either* way.

Susan said...

To be fair, writing itself would drive me to drink if I were a drinker. I think Hemingway et al must have been onto something.

I haven't tried throwing my book at the wall yet. Must make a note to try.

A few months (weeks? It was fairly recent) ago I created a free resource for authors about choosing their publishing path, laying out the pros and cons of each and emphasizing what I usually repeat here: there is no right or wrong path, it's just a matter of your end goals and what you're willing to put into it to meet them.

It's available as a PDF download via my business site. Janet, if this isn't OK, please let me know and I'll delete my comment. I figure since it's free and we're debating traditional versus self-pubbing, I'd share my research and experience so maybe it can help people become more informed, but I don't want to overstep my bounds here.

Colin: At the risk of bringing you to Carkoon with me, could you kindly linkify? Also, thanks for your comment yesterday, which I really appreciate. Fever broke last night but is back today. Do they have soup on Carkoon?

OP: It's tough knowing which direction to go down, but ultimately you'll know which feels the most right to you. No matter which path you choose, don't give up. Good luck!

Colin Smith said...

Susan: Here's your link: Soup on Carkoon? Lima bean and kale, of course. If you can call it soup... :)

Jessica said...

I feel OP's pain here. My novel is also one that I feel like it's now or never--zombies, no matter how unique, are on the way out. So I feel a certain amount of pressure to publish it somehow, even if traditional doesn't work out.

But like everyone said, there's no right or wrong way. And it looks like you like the business side of things OP, so it might be a hit for you! Good luck with whatever you decide :)

Unknown said...

I really enjoyed this way of thinking about self-publishing!

To Colin's point about an author's "backlist" manuscripts being picked up later, I am curious about your experience with this, Janet. Have you had many cases where manuscripts your clients had on the shelf were picked up after later ones broke through? Do you explicitly ask clients about projects they may have temporarily abandoned? I know that not every project on the shelf has a future in the wider world; sometimes they have taught us what we needed to learn, and it's time to move on.

I was interested to read that Damien Chazelle had no takers for La La Land until after he found critical and commercial success with Whiplash.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I wonder how long we'll have to wait before vampire novels are considered 'hot stuff' again. (By hot stuff, I mean agents don't shudder at receiving another vampire query.) 10 more years? 20? Ever again?

I know the self-publishing road scares the stuffing out of me. I'd approach it the same way I'd approach raising a kid - don't do it unless you're really, really sure you want it.

Karen McCoy said...

Sherry Many libraries are now participating in what is known asIndie Author Day.Options are more plentiful than they used to be, thank goodness.

Empty luggage, here. (Thanks 2Ns for that beautiful analogy). But, the cupboards are full of back stock, meaning, that if I did choose to self-pub, I'd have a lot of fodder to do so.

A good reminder that self-publishing doesn't doom. I've heard that one has to be careful about what is considered their debut novel, though. If one self-pubs before traditionally publishing, does the self-pubbed novel count as the debut?

Craig F said...

I think that you need a break lamandarin. I think I understand how emotionally draining querying can be and I think you have been drained. Don't rush into self publishing at this point. It will be hard to find the energy to do it properly.

There are many small signs in you letter that you should address first. You have Beta readers (who are published) that gave you pointers that you have not yet exercised. By your own accounting the novel is running close to a meh.

Address those things first and try querying it again. I expect it has been a year or so since you queried the first few. Go back to them.

If you didn't already write something else, use what you have learned and do so. See if your writing is progressing. If it is make use of it.

Just do not rush into self publishing as a last resort. It will make that book baggage from the git-go.

Craig F said...

Hot damn, I finally figured out a bold.

Colin Smith said...

Karen: If I recall correctly, Janet said that if your novel has an ISBN number, then it is considered a published work, self-published or otherwise. So, a first book with an ISBN would be considered your debut.

Correct me if I'm wrong, my chums! :)

JD Horn said...

Depending on your genre, you might find an organization that can help guide you through the marketing and promotion pitfalls BEFORE you self-publish. For example, the Romance Writers of America is full of some of the most marketing-savvy writers you will ever meet.

Unknown said...

This conversation makes me think of a house we once almost bought. We loved it, our friends and family urged us to buy it, the professionals (realtors) pushed us to make an offer. Everything seemed perfect. Then we hired an inspector. Below the surface, lots was wrong. The house would never have lasted us a lifetime.

The analogy isn't perfect, but agents are like realtors, so busy with showings (queries) and sales that they can't inspect each house thoroughly. Book doctors are like inspectors. They know what to look for and how to fix it. They can tell if a book will go the distance. I never planned to use one, but I'm seriously considering it. I'd never buy a house without an inspection. Why would I sell a book? They're both big investments, especially if you equate time and money. Better to end up with something profitable instead of a money pit.

Kitty said...

Colin, I agree with your reasons why people choose self-pup. Lee Goldberg couldn't malign self-pub enough until Kindle came along. When he couldn't get some of his back list titles reissued, he did it himself on Kindle and made a handsome sum of money.

Scott G said...

Let's say you decided not to go the self-publishing route, my question is: does a novel ever reach the end of its querying life? I mean, there are more agents out there than stars in the sky. If you keep improving and don't make the same mistakes, you can always keep querying. I think its got more to do with your tolerance for rejections

Kate Higgins said...

Non-sequitur: Did I miss the results of the kitten picture caption contest? We had some power outages here so maybe it went to Catkoon er Carkoon? Colin: Lima bean and kale soup?!? That is worse than Cream of Slug Soup...

Matt Adams said...

Carolynn: This is awesome!

NO publishing gives you an empty suitcase, on the shelf, in the closet with all the totes and bags and shirt-boxes full of effort.

Elissa M said...

A writing acquaintance of mine chose the self-pub route because she wanted to control pretty much everything (especially pricing and release dates). She makes a nice six-figure income off her writing alone--and works her butt off. She actually enjoys analyzing which promotional efforts work and which aren't worth the effort. She doesn't mind offering the the first book (or two) in a series for free if it will draw in more readers. Connecting with her readers is something she does constantly through various social media outlets. She doesn't skimp on paying for professional editing, design, and cover art. And, of course, she writes prolifically and extremely well.

Yeah, no. I realize authors have to carry a load even when going the traditional route, but it's still a fraction of what my friend does. Self-pubbing is an option that works for some people. I already know I couldn't dedicate the required time and effort and still have enough soul left to write.

AJ Blythe said...

>>Are you fully prepared to be in sales for a year or more? If the mere thought drives you to drink, please please please do not self-publish.

So I'll never self-publish. Got it. Major decision made and it's only 9am. *dusts hands*

BJ Muntain said...

Kitty: I'm wondering if you aren't thinking about James Scott Bell. He's well-published traditionally, but he decided to self-publish his zombie detective series for a number of reasons. The biggest reason is that it's outside of his normal brand - so he also used a pseudonym. Rather than trying to convince his publisher to publish this off-brand series (or convince his agent to sell it) he decided to self-publish it. I think it was more of a 'for-the-love' project than profit, though I understand he was fairly successful.

Karen: Janet has said previously that yes, a self-pubbed novel counts as a debut novel. So if the sales tank, that could make future novels less interesting to the traditional publishers.

BJ Muntain said...

Susan: Thanks for that resource! I have friends who are bagging at me to self-publish, but I honestly don't have the energy. This will show them what I'm talking about.

Colin Smith said...

Kate: No, you haven't missed anything. I figure Janet just hasn't got around to it yet. She seems to be quite busy these days, which is good for her, I presume! Oh, and the lima beans and kale are really just for that special green color. The soup's flavor comes from that special combination of rotten flounder and moldy potato. Carkoon is a very special place. :)

AJ: Major decision made and it's only 9am. *dusts hands* It must be quite surreal following this blog from the other side of the world. :)

Kitty said...

BJ, no, I was talking about Lee Goldberg. If you google "Lee Goldberg self-publish," you'll find lots of links to Lee's blog on the subject. In 2011 he said he was a guy who for years has been an out-spoken, and much-reviled, critic of self-publishing. But that was before the Kindle came along and changed everything. I was absolutely right then…but I’d be wrong now.

I used to read his blog back then, and he would rant about self-publishing. I was shocked when he changed his mind, but I understood why he did.

AJ Blythe said...

Colin, I cling to the fact that should I ever be banished to Carkoon I will never make the boat because it always leaves tomorrow, and that's my yesterday.

BJ Muntain said...

Kitty: Ah. You also described James Scott Bell there. :) And he did have his reasons for self-publishing, even as he continues traditional publishing.

Karen McCoy Books said...

Ah, thanks, BJ! I was pretty sure I read that somewhere. Thanks for confirming.

Alex said...

"One of the books garnered 75 reviews on Amazon with a 4.9 star rating, all “verified purchases,” and is one of the highest rated books on goodreads. The writer has been an established writer for years with a healthy social media presence. He never passes up a chance to plug his book, and he has another one coming out. So why self-pub?"

Kitty: Presumably because that self published author is making more money and prefers having control. One undeniable thing about self publishing is it is more agile. Successful SP authors usually put out more books, and can price more competitively. As someone said, its tough getting into bookstores and libraries... but that usually requires economies of scale that are out of reach of SP authors (currently).

It also comes down to the fact that a self published author is 100% invested in their own career. If they do it well, they can truly kick ass. A publishing house, no matter how dedicated the editors and so on, is not 100% invested in that authors success. They're invested in their own success (and fair enough, they're running a business). So if you're doing well and making good money on your own, why would you go with a publisher? Unless you got a great print only deal (ie covering the currently insurmountable bookstore hurdle), I'm not sure what the point would be.

Susan said...

Thanks, Colin! Looks like I might be saved from a trip to Carkoon. Whew! No Lima beans or kale tonight, though I did make my grandmother's zucchini and egg soup. Sometimes you need comfort food on cold, snowy nights.

BJ: I'm so glad it can be of help!

Colin Smith said...

Alex: t also comes down to the fact that a self published author is 100% invested in their own career. I'm sure you don't mean to imply that traditionally-published authors are not 100% invested in their careers, because I'm sure they would beg to differ. They may not have 100% control of every aspect of the publishing process, but they are invested in doing whatever they can to make sure their books are successful. :)

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

I find this post comforting.

(I have luggage!)

I also drew a metaphor from it.

I've given birth naturally. I've given birth caesarean. Both methods are very different, both methods involve a great deal of effort, one method is not "easier" than the other, and regardless of how she arrived, you do get a baby after all the effort.

Does that make me a hybrid mom?

Colin Smith said...

Heidi: My wife's a hybrid too! I guess that means she's environmentally friendly...?? ;)

MA Hudson said...

Susan - thanks for the Trad vs Self resource. I'm pretty set on traditional publishing at this point but you never know what the future holds.

John Davis Frain said...

I love the thought of luggage over baggage. Can't wait to use that comparison in real life.

This was a great post, thanks.

I'll hit the lights.

Wait, no I won't, kdjames hasn't wandered through yet.

UPDATE: We'll leave the light on for ya.

Anonymous said...


Why is it so bright in here?

*hits light switch*

Still... so... bright.

Oh, duh. It's coming from the comments.

[Thanks JD(MS)F. But I've got my head down writing, nothing to add to the topic. Well, nothing that wouldn't take up way too much time/space. And get me sent to Carkoon. :) ]

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

Death and his cat, Brewster, walked in the red oak forest.
“Did you dig her up?”

Before him a pretty little wren lay uncovered in a shallow grave.
The cat shrugged and gave an innocent eye blink. A rear paw suddenly needed cleaning.

The tall man bent down.

In his palm the wren shuddered. He blew a soft warm breath. Felt a tiny heart beat. Saw a bright eye.

Light shimmered and chirped. Wings spread.

Fly away.

Death smiled.

Alex said...

Colin: Sorry for the late reply.

Yes, of course traditionally-published authors are 100% invested in their own career. But as you say, they don't have total control over the publication process. If a traditionally published novel isn't selling well, and the publisher has moved on to focus its resources on other books (fair enough), there's only so much the author can do to get the book selling. For example, the author cannot change the pricing of the book to make it more competitive. Sure, they may be able to put some money behind the book's marketing, but as the publishing house themselves is taking most of the cut, it sort of seems like at that point the author is actually working for the publisher, not with the publisher. Perhaps if publishers were willing to hand back the rights after a certain time, or once they'd stopped actively pushing it, I wouldn't feel so miffed about the idea. Sort of like a movie option, maybe.

But we covered that in another thread :)