The Decision to Self-publish: A Terrifying Leap

The blogosphere is rife with essays about the war between traditional and self-publishers and the internecine feud among self-publishers, who belittle other writers and publishers alike. Everybody is mad at someone. Public venting may make some people feel better, but it demeans us all.

I left a comment on one of these posts stating those who say self-published writers have a choice is a little like saying I chose the over-40 basketball league at the local gym over the NBA. The NBA wasn’t offering a contract, even when I was 21-years-old and in peak physical condition. Upon further reflection, this comment missed the mark.

Most self-published authors have four basic choices:

Option 1: Keep pitching your book to agents, knowing each rejection chips away at your self-confidence.

Option 2: Work hard to improve your manuscript and then renew your efforts to pitch your work to agents.

Option 3: Consider self-publishing on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or the other popular e-book platforms.

Option 4: Abandon your novel and move on to a new project.

Most writers pursue Options 1 and 2 with vigor, but as time stretches from months to years without success, they move from Option 2 to Option 3. Having been through that thought process, I found the self-publishing option terrifying to me. It’s like the feeling I got the first time I dove off the high diving board. Don’t look down. Take a deep breath and just do it. The idea that my work would be out there for anyone to criticize was scary enough. The stigma associated with self-publishing (though that is changing) also gave me pause. The lack of a strong platform was an equally daunting thought.

I agonized over my decision. If you are facing a similar decision, here are some considerations:

Age. For an older writer, the self-publishing option may be appealing because time is not on your side. If I was 20 years younger (or even 10 years younger), I would be willing to wait up to 10 years to secure an agent and a publishing contract. As a writer in my mid-50’s, I don’t have time to wait. I want to write more novels. I may decide to shop these novels to an agent, depending on the marketability of the story and the quality of the writing. Or I may self-publish.

Genre. If you are writing Young Adult, Science Fiction, Romance, or Mystery, and you have a strong manuscript, you have a shot at publication. It’s a long shot, but an agent is going to pay attention to a strong pitch followed by an engaging sample. If you write family sagas like me, the odds are really against you.

Skill level. Some writers are ready for prime time, but maybe their book is the wrong vehicle or it doesn’t showcase their talents. These writers should keep at it and try to get published. Novice writers shouldn’t pursue traditional or self-publishing until they have honed their craft.

Tolerance for rejection. Writers must have a thick skin. Simply put, if you have no tolerance for rejection, traditional publishing may not be for you. However, that doesn’t mean you can take short-cuts in your desire to self-publish your book. Self-published books require the same level of editing, proofreading, outside review and due diligence as traditionally published books, if not more.

Marketing platform. Some self-published authors are not great writers, but they sell tons of books because they are expert marketers. Social media guru Jane Friedman has cautioned self-published writers not to publish their books until they have built a substantial platform. This calls to mind the axiom, “If a tree falls in the woods and there’s nobody around to hear it, does it make a sound?” A writer with a strong platform and lots of followers on social media is in a good position to self-publish.

Productivity/staying power. Are you a one-trick pony or do you have many novels in you? A lot of people wonder how Amanda Hocking achieved her astounding success at self-publishing. She worked extremely hard, pumping out novel after novel. She was prolific at writing and platform-building. Writers must ask: am I in this for the long haul? Am I willing to put my heart and soul into this? (Sorry, I must have turned off the cliche-checker today).

Self-publishing is a choice, but it is far from an easy one.

What considerations do you weigh when you are thinking about self-publishing?



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6 responses to “The Decision to Self-publish: A Terrifying Leap

  1. I like your NBA analogy! Very fitting! In my co-author and my case, we found our work was too niche for conventional publishing, so we made the jump! Thanks for the encouraging post!

    • Thanks for your comment. The odds of landing a traditional publishing contract are not good, but I think most authors would rather achieve that if the could. It’s a good thing there are other routes to publication. Thanks again.

    • Thanks for your comment. It’s tough enough to get published, but if a writer’s work doesn’t fit into a handful of hot genres, it’s nearly impossible to get published. Thanks again.

    • Thanks for your comment. It’s tough enough to get published, but if a writer’s work doesn’t fit into a handful of hot genres, it’s nearly impossible to get published. Thanks again.

  2. My decision to self-publish was sort of a “I give up” gesture that sort of backfired. After trying for several years to land an agent, while writing and holding down a full time job, I decided that I preferred to spend my spare time writing fiction rather that querying agents. I acknowledged to myself that I was probably never going to make a living as a writer, so I would simply be a story-teller. I published several of my novels on Smashwords, for free. My thought was that if someone, somehow ran across one of my stories, and enjoyed reading it, that was good enough for me — whether or not I ever even knew it happened. It seemed a better fate for my stories than keeping them hidden away in a folder on my computer.

    I was surprised that thousands of people downloaded my stories. I decided to post a nominal charge, one that would not make the reader feel cheated if they found typos in the text but one that would give me some (small) remuneration. Less people download the stories after I started charging, but I have earned some money every quarter for over a year.

    The arguments over the “right way” to publish are a waste of everybody’s time and energy. There’s room in the story-telling world for all of us. We each have to find the place where we can be the most creative, and then write our stories.

    • Meredith,
      Thanks for sharing your experiences with me. Actually your approach was a sound one because one of the chief purposes of a first novel is to create awareness and build a following–what blogger Bob Mayer calls ‘discover ability,’ An author friend enrolled his book in the Kindle Select Program, wherein you can designate five free promotion days. He had 5000 downloads in one day! He didn’t make any royalties, but he gained a wide audience. Thanks again.

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