And the Winner Is…Self-Publishing

Yesterday I took a deep breath and withdrew my novel from the consideration of various agents I’d queried, then sent off my entire manuscript to an editor in New York to begin the process of self-publishing.

I thought my dream was to write a book and have it published by Random House, distributed to shelves across America. I just took it for granted because it was how I always pictured it.

But then I wrote a book and paid closer attention to my dream. I realized my dream, of course, is for readers to enjoy reading my book. No doubt, the more the better. But now the choice of how to publish it is not the dream itself, it’s just a way to get there.

Used to be, in order to get published new authors had few choices, the two main ones being:

1. The “traditional” route: Send query letter after query letter, hoping to find an agent willing to believe in your work; that agent then had to find a house willing to publish it; that house then spent the better part of a year or more editing and producing your work, over which you had varying degrees of input. Maybe three years after you began, you’d have a printed book—and reap little of the profit.

Or, after receiving the usual dozens and dozens of rejections from agents and/or publishing houses (which offered little actual feedback), you could put your manuscript in a drawer, having been convinced that it wasn’t worth showing to the public.

2. Self-publish with a small, independent press and order a set number of copies that you were in charge of selling, most of which ended up in your basement. You also had to endure the prevailing belief that because you self-published, you weren’t a good writer.

The old paradigm has changed. Writers can self-publish—and sell—e-books online within minutes, and many have. (Many, many, MANY have. Writers are putting stuff out there without professional editing. But part of me says, so what? It’s just growing pains—readers will continue to decide what they want to read and once the newness of e-publishing wears off, more will recognize the need for better editing and design. I also think the market is just waiting for a company to come in and organize professional reviews, as opposed to reader reviews, which can be fake or biased…I’m getting off on a tangent here.)

Many people still prefer Choice #1 for various reasons, one being publishing houses can get your book into more places, another being that agents and publishing houses serve as gatekeepers, that they are professionals who can separate the wheat from the chaff. That is all true.

But so is this: The reading public can also separate the wheat from the chaff. The market will adjust.

Some very successful authors and agents have gotten huffy about self-publishing, claiming that publishing a book is an arduous and grueling process for a reason (quality) and that it can’t be short cut. Frankly, this argument sounds like sour grapes, as though everyone has to climb the same long ladder.

There’s a shorter ladder now. That doesn’t mean self-publishers are lazy, or too impatient, or terrible writers. It just means the ladder is shorter. We have another avenue for producing our work and putting it in front of readers, the people who really matter and the ones who don’t give a whit how a book came to them as long as it’s entertaining and affordable.

I tried the traditional route, albeit for a short time, and it just never felt right.

With that, I’ll give you my reasons, after much research and thought, for deciding to self-publish:

  1. Philosophy. If I write a book, why do I need someone else’s permission to show it to the public? And why do readers need someone to keep the gate for them? Can’t they decide what they want to read?
  2. Impatience. But I’m not impatient because I think my book is perfect and ready now. I’m not impatient because I decided a mere six months ago to write a book and I want instant gratification. I’m not impatient because I believe I’ll hit pay dirt as soon as I publish. I’m impatient because I’m a grown woman who has been writing seriously in one way or another for twenty years. I finished my first novel and now I’m ready for the hard work of partnering with a professional editor, designer, publisher, and marketer. Because I want to advocate and MOVE with my book, not email queries and wait, wait, wait. And despite the good intentions and professionalism of agents, I find the traditional process demeaning.
  3. Logic. I might wait, wait, wait if I thought it was worth it. But I don’t. While the odds would be better in traditional publishing were I to find an agent and publisher, in an industry in which hundreds of thousands of books are published each year, the odds are against me either way. Publishing houses rarely take on new authors anymore. If they do, they largely expect you to sell your own book. If I’m going to have to market myself, I’d rather take most of the royalties.
  4. Control. I want a partnership, but I also want final say over what is essentially my product.
  5. I want to be part of what I believe is the future of publishing. For someone who refused to believe that Facebook or Twitter would catch on, that’s saying something.

For all of us writers, what we do with our books is a very personal decision and there are many right answers. This is mine.

It’s an exciting time in publishing.

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55 thoughts on “And the Winner Is…Self-Publishing

  1. You have brilliantly described the true conundrum of today’s writing industry. Without question, this is THE major subject and at times controversy discussed and argued on a daily basis. In my opinion, there is no right or wrong answer from an industry perspective. However, the right answer from an author’s pespective is what works best for author and what they believe in. If you believe in this route, then it is the right path for you. Go forward with conviction and passion! I applaud you for taking a stand and doing YOUR thing. That is all that matters. Remember, quite a few authors have been discovered by the so called “big houses” through self publishing. Don’t let anyone kid you…they ALL scour the self-publishing stores to see who is popular and who is not…who is selling, who is not, who writes well and who doesn’t. Querying agents and publishers is NOT the only way to get the attention of a major publishing house, an agent or an editor. Do your thing Jess! if there is one thing i have learned on my journey is this…WRITE WELL….Network professionally and YOU WILL be discovered..whether be by tons of fans or a publishing house! I will be rooting for you! As proud as Katie is for you…and we all are for you….be that proud for YOURSELF! Go get ’em Jess!!

  2. Hi Jessica, great post! And you’re right; traditional publishing: someone else thinks you’re good enough to be published. Self publishing: you think you’re good enough to be published. Good luck to you. Keep us posted on your journey!

  3. Hey Jessica, wishing you all the luck in the world!!!!!! Its a brilliant and bold decision you are making!!!!!! To me the publishing world is a confusing world; even getting the opportunity to begin to climb that ‘long ladder’ seems slight and remote. The internet option seems more fair, less limited and to be honest at least your work will be out there!!!!! Keep us updated, as I am interested to know how you get along. I think not enough personal journeys in this area are documented; so many people just need good and honest advice on this to save wasted time and frustration! Oh, I have a question; do you know whether there is a ‘collective’ of writers who are looking to be published? What I mean is, other people in similar situations who want to get published, and who can pull together pooling their resources; knowledge, contacts and abilities, which could aid a publishing objective?? Does that make sense or am I rambling?? It would be like a group of people working together for a common purpose; making a website to put the work on, to do the advertising and networking to get interest for ALL of their work?? I don’t know, might be a crazy or illogical idea, but more minds might be better than one to unravel the publishing conundrum; online or via a traditional route! More voices shouting out louder surely have to be heard!
    I don’t know! Just a thought I came up with!

    • Thanks so much, Savvy. It is an overwhelming industry, so as I figure things out, I’ll be sure to post.
      I know exactly what you mean, and I’m not sure. It’s a good idea, in terms of “There are 5 of us who need a cover designer, so will you give us a lower per person price?” But each writer would have to be in the same place writing-wise at the same time. It would have to be a pretty large collective of writers. Hmmmm, let me know if you find anything!
      PS. Have you been on She Writes? Check it out…

      • No problem, I’m happy you are trying your utmost to get your stuff out there, its a great thing to do! Glad you’ll keep us updated, it would be good to know how you find things. An advice page on stuff like this would be great too, I’ll see if I can find anything on the net. Ahh, yeah that is it, and yeah there are those draw backs to it. I’ll look into it a bit more, and see if I find anything! No I haven’t and I will, thank you!!!!!!!

  4. Good for you Jess and Good luck to you! I’m not a writer but since I’m married to one I know the struggles that go with it and trying to get you name out there and getting someone to take notice! Frustrating!!

  5. Jessica—you and I have talked about this a bit by email, and I am impressed with your thoughtful and thorough post. You’ve highlighted some of the key thoughts that have popped into my head on the issue as well, though I’m not ready to venture in this direction (yet). My fear is losing the writing time to become the publisher, which may or may not be valid. Regardless, I can’t wait to hear about your journey and am proud of you! Lots of luck and keep us posted!

    • No, I think you’re right — it’s a valid concern. I thought I had the same one, but I’m just too antsy and I like being proactive even when it comes to the business side of this. I want to be involved, even if it means I write less than I’d like for awhile. Thanks for your support, Eva!

  6. I have had similar thoughts about self-publishing and am still examining why I might want to (or might not). What keeps some writers from self-publishing is possibly the cost, but it does allow greater control over the final product. It’s similar to indy musicians having to self-produce to get their songs to the ears of potential listeners. No longer is signing with a powerhouse record label the first route for songwriters. But that’s not to say it’s easy either. The internet has increased the niche marketing for plenty of creative ventures. The only drawback that I can foresee is the potential for copyright infringement. Publishing houses undoubtedly have legal departments at hand that the independent publishers don’t readily have available.
    It’s great that you’re willing to share your experience – thank you for doing so.

    • Thanks for reading. The cost is scary, for sure. And so is the thought of finally publishing and then….crickets. But I’d be scared about that with a big house, too. I decided this for good reasons (for me) and so I keep reminding myself. I do take a longer view of all this, so I picture that I’m starting at the bottom rung to start building an audience. We shall see!

  7. Good for you! I think it is great that you are self-publishing. I have to tell you–I have read many a book published by the big houses that barely seem edited. A book should be judged by its quality, regardless of how it was published.

    • Thanks, Mel. Editing is difficult–can’t tell you how many times I’ve read my ms and sometimes I still go–“I wrote what??” But it’s true, you can hire editors that are just as good as the editors at big houses, or better.

  8. Thanks Jessica! I love this post! It is something a friend of mine has been urging me to do for years for the same reasons – and you pretty much echoed much of what I’ve been experiencing, feeling, musing…I hope you keep us updated on your journey. Maybe, when I’m ready, I’ll take the same plunge. Good luck!!!

    • Thanks, Karen! I’d love to stay updated on your decision as well. There is so much information out there; I’m going to try my best to document my experience so it’s helpful to others. (OK, back to researching!)

  9. I’m in the same boat – I guess we all are – and after writing for about 30 years I’m finally getting ready to publish. I might try the traditional path first, just for the experience to see how it goes, but like knowing I can back out at anytime and self-publish. It gives us some leverage and puts us in control, at least to some degree. Well written post about what we face these days. Good luck!

    • Thanks very much. I felt the same — I wanted to try out traditional; I didn’t want to close any doors before I tried them. And I’m glad I did.
      Like you say, authors have more control than ever, which can only be good. Best of luck to you, too.

  10. “And despite the good intentions and professionalism of agents, I find the traditional process demeaning.”

    Oh, my heart sank a little at this true but sad remark! If I hadn’t spent over a decade in product design, wherein 99% of ideas hit the floor and two dozen people have a say in every little thing, I would not have the tolerance for the process. It does take conditioning, and that has to be voluntary…though it never feels GOOD.

    • I know — I hesitated to write it because I understand it. I get that a large percentage has to hit the floor. So I don’t want to demonize the process or the people involved. But for me, it’s the truth–it’s just not the right process for me at this time. I’m glad we have more options now.

  11. Sorry I’m so late to comment. This is EXCITING, Jessica. Like the others, I can’t wait to hear how the story unfolds. You’re so very correct that things have changed. When I finished (and queried) my first novel back in 2010, there still was a stigma attached to self-publishing. Things are SO much different now, and authors have so many more options. I hope you’re right that the market will adjust (in terms of quality on SOME of the books; I mean, in addition to you, I know some FABULOUS writers — and I mean ultra talented — who are considering the same paths, or who already have. It’s nice to have options!). I simply cannot wait to read your work! You must be bursting with excitement. I’m so, so happy for you!

  12. So glad Melissa Crytzer Fry told me about this post. I am trying to decide how to proceed with my just-completed mystery novel — with many of your same thoughts. So it’s good to read about someone a little further along the path I might take. Thank you, Jess. And congratulations , I’ll be following your journey!

  13. I just convinced a writer friend of mine to go the self-publishing route as well. he had already basically realized (but I think needed the push), that the old paradigms are dead, that traditional publishers just aren’t equipped anymore to cater to the full market, and that going your own way is really the only option right now.

    • For me it is, anyway. And many others. I’m so glad we have the choice. I do think traditional publishing needs to catch up. Right now, most of them are looking a little slow, like my grandpa.

  14. You are so right. Publishing houses do make you do all the work these days so why not take a route where you would get more money? Good luck! Sounds exciting. Looking forward to the big unveiling.

  15. Hey Jessica,
    Good luck with your self-publishing adventure. A note of caution about the retail price, however. Make sure you retain some control over that. Self-publishers typically like to set the price much higher than traditionally published comparable books, so they can recoup their costs more quickly. But, guess what, buyers hate that! It’s worth checking what the options are for keeping the retail price manageable while at the same time ensuring that you get the lion’s share of the profits. After all, you wrote the book.
    xxZ

    • Thanks very much. That’s actually the first I’ve heard of self-pubbers pricing too high; usually they seem to get lambasted for pricing too low and “devaluing” books. I’m hoping to be able to be somewhere in the middle. (As usual.)

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