I received a great deal of private correspondence after announcing my decision to stop submitting work after this last set of publishers responds to my current submissions, so I thought I would tackle the subject of why it’s wise (or unwise) to self-publish work. The subject is a hornet’s nest, and regardless of who you ask, you’ll get different reasons for and against the whole endeavor.
Foremost to my announcement is the fact that I have no plans to stop working with outside editors. My personal decision is to stop working with editors I know nothing about. I have, to put it simply, made the decision to stop submitting blind. That doesn’t mean you will no longer see my books emerging from other publishers, or short stories featured in anthologies, because you will, only that I’ve decided to stop chasing agents and publisher and will be diverting my energies into more constructive projects.
The decision, for me, was a good one. It comes primarily because (for me) my writing career is my life. This is my main career, and I can no longer afford to beg agents or publishers I don’t know to look at my work when the decision to do so is holding me back in a bad way. If it was holding me back in a good way, helping me improve my work or knowledge, I wouldn’t mind so much. I based my decision not on feelings of entitlement, desperation or bitterness, but on the extremely mottled rejections I was receiving, rejections that told me editors were, in fact, reading my work but were confounded on how to respond, were behind on the emerging trends, or were trapped inside an outdated business model. Their rejections were telling me nothing constructive or were completely nonsensical with regards to the project. That does not mean that I will never run into a good publisher—because I’m sure they are out there—only that the search for one is no longer constructive for me, and, based on the sales of my work, no longer essential.
In the months since I initiated this system, I’m happy with it. I am able to concentrate on the art and business of producing marketable work rather than diverting my energies into the waiting game.
Mind you, self-publishing is not for everyone. And I say this with no lofty ego holding me up. It’s a tremendous amount of work, blood, sweat, and tears. It’s time-consuming—and investment-consuming, unless your learn to do every step yourself. The decision to self-publish your own work comes down to this: Do you see your writing as your main career or your side career? Are you approaching it as a business or as a hobby? Neither is “wrong,” but it is vitally important that you “know yourself.” If you are prepared to go the extra mile and find an editor, cover designer, and you have a flair for marketing and financial handling, you can make a profitable career of it, especially at the moment as the digital book revolution is quickly leveling the publishing field in favor of the clever entrepreneur. If, however, your secret desire is to concentrate only on writing, it’s still best to submit and submit again until you get that publishing deal.
I can’t tell you whether you ought to self-publish or not. That’s something you need to decide on your own. I can only tell you that your reasoning needs to be sound. Self-publishing “trunk material” that is repeatedly rejected will not result in a following or any form of satisfaction. Self-publishing needs to be approached reasonably and with knowledge and perhaps a gift for thinking outside the publishing box. I can’t tell you if you can do that. But I can give you a short list of guidance points that work for me. If you can answer yes to these questions, you’re probably ready to self-publish:
- Is your work marketable to a decent-sized audience?
You must be able to turn a direly critical eye to your own work. Without a good audience to support your career, you may as well scream into the wind. No one will be there to listen.
- Can you edit your book correctly, or get someone to do a good job of it?
I can’t emphasize how important it is that you have a clean book that looks like a book, not just a jumble of ill-conceived ideas or grammatically poor prose.
- Can you design a marketable cover, or get someone to do it for you?
Remember, with the advent of cheap ebooks, impulse buying is on the rise. You need to put a face on your book that makes your target audience want to buy your book. On average, a consumer takes approximately ten seconds to decide if he or she wants to buy a product. So you have ten seconds to wow your potential customer. Make it count.
- Can you format your work correctly so it’s readable on almost all ebook devices?
This goes almost without saying, and yet there are a tremendous amount of badly formatted ebooks out there. A bad ebook will deter a customer from buying future releases from you. And can you blame them?
- Do you know what proper distribution is? Can you take advantage of distribution channels?
If you know little about this, then you absolutely must learn. Getting your book in front of your target audience is the first, and most important, step. If potential customers don’t know it exists, or can’t get to your book, then all your marketing and work is for naught.
- Are you fully aware that self-publishing your book will likely not get you noticed by a big New York publisher?
It’s not entirely impossible, of course, but it’s highly unlikely to happen, so don’t waste your energy on this dream. You would need to sell your work in the thousands and pull down publicity like some sort of front-page-news terrorist to get that type of notice. Plus, remember, the book is already published, so you’ve pretty much blown your whole “First Rights” deal. Any book that a traditional publisher puts out at this point will be a reprint or encapsulate Secondary Rights, which large NYC publishers don’t generally favor.
- Are you prepared for a lot of disappointment, at least initially?
It won’t happen overnight. You must have patience, young Skywalker.
- Are you set up to handle a small, desktop business?
This includes an organized place to work at home, functioning equipment, declaring your business to your state and tax reporter, establishing a separate bank account for collecting your revenue, declaring your profits on your tax return, the possibility of paying into taxes at the end of the year, maintaining an attractive, up-to-date site, and managing your money correctly. And then there is the emotional aspect—will your small business interfere with your current employment or family life? You need to answer these questions honestly.
- Are you in this for the long haul?
Becoming an author/publisher means your life may change significantly. You will likely be joining a community of like-minded individuals, and if the initial book generates any amount of success, the desire to write more will be there. It may also take you years of writing and publishing to hit a stride, so be prepared for this.
You must take the time to decide if this is the right path for you. It’s hardly easy. It can be very fulfilling, if done correctly.