Should I Self-Publish? A Motherfucking Checklist

Writing Advice

Depending on who you listen to, you’ll find that self-publishing is either:

a) The best thing since blowjobs and lip balm. “I self-publish. I sell a billion books a month. I can afford a Kindle made out of the bones of the last known Dodo bird. It is a magical panacea that cures all ills. Last month I self-published my new novel, HOT FLASH: A Spaz McGillicuddy Mystery, and after ten minutes of being posted it saved a baby from a house fire.”


b) The worst thing you could possibly do (next to thrusting your private parts in and out of a badger’s mouth). “You self-published a book? You are the bastard son of four publishing abortions. Your novel is a miscarriage of language. It is completely illegitimate. It is without substance. It does not have the gatekeeper’s seal of approval, and so I spit in your mouth.  I spit in your mouth. Ptoo!”

Of course, both arguments are generally put forth by proponents of either position — those with something to gain or something to lose on the either side. But most authors — like, say, me — are somewhere in the middle. We’re dizzy with confusion. Our mouths taste of vomit, and somehow, our pants are unbuttoned. It’s like we’ve been Rufied. Don’t know which way is up, left, right, or down. For us, what is the reality?

The reality — like with nearly all things ever — is in the mushy middle. Self-publishing is neither the next coming of Book Jesus, nor is it a self-inflicted perdition.

A few quick caveats.

First, I have a short story collection I will be self-publishing in the new year. (Irregular Creatures: see the cover here.)

Second, I have two books out on submission through my agent to traditional publishers.

Third, I have a novel due to a traditional publisher, Abaddon Books, in April.

Fourth, this post is inspired by J.A. Konrath’s YOU SHOULD SELF-PUBLISH post.

Fifth, I don’t know shit about shit about shit. I am no expert. I’m just a dude mouthing off into the void. Maybe some of what I say makes sense, maybe it doesn’t.

Finally, this is a long, long post. Hell, I just made it longer by writing “long” twice. It’s like I hate myself. And perhaps you, my audience. But seriously, you can just skip to end if you’d like. That’s where my conclusions scamper and scurry.

Now, should you self-publish? Let’s hit the checklist.

Do You Like Money, And Are Also Impatient?

Self-publishing is the way to Money Now. I punt my book up onto one of several marketplaces (from Amazon to Lulu), I can start earning coin pretty damn immediately. And in most cases, the author retains a greater percentage of the sale in self-publishing.

Assuming you suckle at the teat of that old equation (Time = Money), this makes the most sense. Finished my book on Tuesday, it’s up on Thursday, I have dinner by the weekend. Huzzah. Of course, that book is probably a giant hunk of crap, but hey, whatever.

However, look deeper, and things get fuzzy. Let’s say you make about two bucks per book sale, right? I’m just making up numbers, so roll with me. If you want to make a thousand bucks, you’re going to have to sell 500 books. Do you have 500 people who are willing to do that? Maybe. Could you amp up marketing around it and sell the book? Possibly. Five hundred sales isn’t an unholy number.

Still. I write free blog posts every day, and up until recently I was lucky to get 500 views on a post. Again, key word, free. Reading my blog costs you naught but a twitching index finger and functional eyeballs.

An average advance on a traditionally-published novel is… well, a moving target. Let’s just call it $5000.

That would necessitate 2500 sales of your self-published book. Not impossible, but not a snap-your-fingers-say-a-magic-word-and-that-shit-happens kind of task, either.

Let’s say it takes three months to write a novel, and three months to edit it. You could seriously tighten this time-frame up, but overall this lets you write two books a year. If you’re a fledgling novelist, the novel you wrote is going to take a long time to publication. I wrote Blackbirds in 2009 and got an agent for it at the end of that year. Went on submission very early 2010 after some edits. And it’s been there since. About to cross over into 2011 and… no pub deal yet. And if I get one, how long will it be before it hits shelves? Another 6, 9, 12 months? In the grand scheme, not a long time. But like Konrath points out, those are months where the book isn’t earning poopy squat zip zilch nada zero. At present the novel is this thing I can talk about but can show no one. It’s getting me little except my name out amongst publishers (which is nice, but doesn’t put food in my mouth).

Still. The money from traditional publishing is slow to manifest and slow to get into your hands. Self-publishing money is smaller at the outset, but hops into your hands a lot faster. Is the money really better for the self-published author? On average, probably not. Of course, here’s the secret: if you’re getting into novel-writing for the money only, I hope you savor the bitter tang of disappointment.

What About Legitimacy?

Self-publishing comes with fast money, and slow (to no) legitimacy.

Sorry to say, but self-publishing will forever have a hard time earning full-on legitimacy. It’s like that saying, “If everybody is special, nobody is special.”

If everybody can self-publish, no guarantors of quality exist.

As such, what comes with traditional publishing does not come with self-publishing. You don’t have easy access to reviews (whether in the local paper or in Entertainment Weekly). You won’t win awards or be able to join certain writer organizations. You probably won’t end up on a book tour or on speaking engagements (unless you’re Konrath).

Now, some of this is la-la-la ego-stroke fantasy unicorn bullshit. Awards? Awards don’t pay a mortgage, don’t diaper your baby, don’t keep you in chocolate, bacon, or beer.

Or do they? One could make a case that reviews, awards, and book tours are a good form of externally-driven marketing and, indeed, they may sell books. So, that’s a consideration.

Oh, legitimacy also brings with it a few other perks — financial ones, actually. Foreign rights, film and TV rights, transmedia rights. These are at present far likelier to come to the traditionally-published author and can represent a fairly large source of income.

Are You Willing To Compete With Utter Garbage?

Anybody can self-publish. Which means your book is going to compete with all that garbage — and that is what it is. I believe in my heart of hearts that most self-published material is the equivalent of a child’s drawing on the fridge — it’s bare minimum, lowest-common-denominator fol de rol. Hey, most blogs are crap. Most photos on Flickr are crap. Most fan fiction is crap. The world has always been home to a mighty heap of crap-stench, except the Internet has made it very easy for all that crap to splurch forth into the public space like so much formless Play-Do. No filter. Pure crap. Everywhere.

Now, on the one hand, that’s good. Competing with garbage is easy if you’re not garbage, right? Ehhhh. I dunno. I’d rather find a needle in a stack of needles than in a mound of wildebeest snot. Self-publishing runs the risk of creating a very real signal-to-noise issue. See, right now, if I walk into a bookstore? If I pick up a random book, I know that book has been vetted. It has passed the gatekeepers — which, by the way, is why those gatekeepers exist in part. Now, that’s still not an ultimate guarantee of quality and it’s damn sure not a guarantee I’ll actually like the book. But it does mean that the book has passed hurdles that the self-published book has not.

Of course, the bookstore also has its own signal-to-noise ratio. Shelves after shelves of forgotten books with no marketing oomph behind them, lost to the eye and forgotten to many. No clear win either way.

Do You Hate The Gatekeeper Model?

No better way to give those gatekeepers the ol’ double barrel middle finger — PACHOW, PACHOW! — than to skip them entirely, self-publish, and make a fortune! Yeah! Woo! *guzzle Pabst Blue Ribbon*

Of course, be careful you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. I’ve heard horror stories about agents, editors and publishers. I personally have had wonderful experiences with agents and editors — and all of my work, from freelance till now, has been made better by the presence of editorial agitation. Like stones in a rock tumbler, your work will in theory be made better by those outside the story.

Gatekeepers will also stop some authors from making a critical mistake: putting sub par work out into the wild. You put weak work out there, it’s like breaking a pony’s leg and then letting it wander out into the veldt where the lions lie sleeping — they will bring down the weak and whinnying beast fast as anything.

Also keep in mind that you might find a different experience by going with a smaller publisher. Smaller publishers may be better suited toward bringing your best work to light rather than making safe (read: boring) choices for the currently demented publishing marketplace.

Still, self-publishing remains a viable way to cobble together your own boat and launch it toward the sea without a care in the world.

Can You Do It All? (And Are You A Control Freak?)

Can you market? Can you edit? Can you sling together a kick-ass book cover? Can you write back cover copy? Can you advertise? Can you format? Can you this, can you that, can you *head asplodes*…?

Traditional publishing in theory (note that I’m saying those two words a lot here) handles a lot of things for the writer. Things that go beyond a writer’s day-to-day grasp of the industry.

For many, this is not only awesome, but necessary.

For others, this is stifling — and worse, unnecessary. If you can do it all — and, more importantly, you want to do it all — then self-publishing is for you. Your work is in your own hands. You can’t blame failure or lend success to anybody outside yourself. One might suggest this is a pure way of letting your work sink or swim: you won’t have a good book fail because Big Publishing forgot to market it.

Are You Willing To Spend Money?

There exists a sort of free-wheeling hippie indie vibe when it comes to self-publishing, but in my mind if you want to succeed at all, you’re going to have to view it like any other business — you’re going to have to pay in to pay out. You’re no longer just a writer, you’re now a publisher. You’re not an artist. You’re a business that supports an artist (who, ahem, also happens to be you).

I already spent money on my upcoming short story collection. I didn’t want some bullshit cover. I wanted a kick-ass cover. A cover that looks professional. Legitimate. Filled with the milk of awesome.

If I were to self-publish a novel, I’d run that through my agent (who is also an excellent editor), which would absolutely necessitate giving her a well-deserved cut.

If I wanted advertising, who would pay for it? Santa Claus? Me! Me. Me me me.

Do You Already Have An Audience?

This is critical.

The notable success stories in self-publishing have a platform. Now, to be clear, this can be a platform you have built — it can still be all indie and shit, but you cannot — repeat, cannot — just write a book, self-publish it, and expect the fat sacks of gold to come crashing through your roof.

You can, however, be an author without a platform and get an agent if your book is really kick-ass. But even there, a platform and an in-built audience will help you along.

Is Your Book Niche?

Niche books just don’t get publishing deals. Sad fact, but fact just the same. Publishers won’t take risks on really off-kilter shit (though smaller publishers may). “This is a children’s book about two homosexual wombats and it teaches kids about how to repair the engine on a 1993 Toyota Camry.” Smart money says no publisher is going to touch that with a ten foot pole. But — but! — hey, some one out there might damn well want to buy that book. Self-publishing is great for niche work. It’s why I’m putting my short story collection up there. Short stories are not big earners. Collections in particular. So, fuck it. I’m going to let that collection be the canary in the coal mine — see if it sings a song or dies in its cage.

Remember: Your Mileage May Vary

The truth, again, is in the mushy middle.

Self-publishing is not a guaranteed magical path to success. And, drum roll please, traditional publishing is also not a guaranteed magical path to success.

Neither is easy. Each path takes a lot of work and patience. Both have their own sets of trade-offs.

You like fast money and don’t give a rat’s ass about easy legitimacy? Self-publish. Love legitimacy, and believe that money doesn’t matter? Traditional publishing is for you. Can you do it all and remain unconvinced that traditional publishing will find the audience you already know you have? Self-publish. Do you only want to be an author and don’t care two fuzzy shits about creating ad copy or book covers? Aaaaaaand back to traditional publishing we go.

Do you want to be just a writer? Traditional publishing. Do you want to be a publisher? Self-publishing.

But you want to know the secret?

You want to know the best path through this crazy horsehair tangle?

Come close. Let me whisper it in your ear, all seductive like.

“Do both.”

Remember how I said you can write two books a year? “One for you, and one for you.” One for traditional, one for self. Write a mainstream commercially viable blockbuster, then write a more personal or niche book. Put the blockbuster in its battle armor and send that fucker on query, then suit up the  niche book to fight in the arenas of self-publishing. Hedge your bets. Don’t go “all in” in one or the other. This is a mad world out there right now and you need to know what works best for you.

Don’t listen to all the pundits and talking heads. They have agendas, too. And they’re not telling you the whole story. Applaud their success, but to their stories apply the mighty scalpel of scrutiny.

And in the meantime, carve your own way through the bullshit.

Chime In, Penmonkeys And Word-Birds

You. That’s right, you. The one with the experience in either a) publishing or b) self-publishing. Muddy the waters. Shoot us up with your brain-think. Tell us your experiences or expectations. Go!


  • /rant on

    Comparing the modern publishing world—and by world, I mean the books, authors and genres themselves—with the historical world is rather like comparing your Ford Focus’ mileage to a horse and carriage. It’s pointless (which, to be fair, isn’t exactly true: the point is fairly well illustrated that among all the other dreck of the time, those authors had to be “found” amid all the others).

    I also want to point at the many authors who were not well respected at the time. Jane Austen didn’t find critical acclaim until she was dead. Poe was known as a literary critic while he lived, not so much as an author.

    James Joyce is an author in the same way that Death Metal is music. Which is to say, it is, and he is, but that doesn’t make him reachable by the casual reader.

    Frankly, if I self-pub, I damn well want my acclaim to come now, not years after I’m ash.

    The point is about the viability of both self- and trad publishing. Not the vaguely-related-but-not-really details to be found in one over the other. Traditional publishing has given us gems like J. R. R. Tolkien and David Eddings, Robert Heinlen and so on. Look, we can drop names all day long, and bless both sides of the industry. But it’s still not the point.

    /end rant

  • What’s the difference between a blowjob and thrusting your privates into a badger’s mouth? I ask because the badgers round here are all still in that Sixties’ free sex mindset and some of them are right sluts. One of them has been giving me the eye every day. I don’t know where she finds them all but there’s one on my doorstep every morning. So, should I or shouldn’t I?

    As for self-publishing, personally I wouldn’t. It sounds like a lot of work and work is best done by other people. Having said that, I did self-publish a short story collection on Lulu, but not with any view to making money. The stories all appeared in online or print mags, many of which have since vanished or the issues disappeared. Since they are once-published they won’t sell for much second time around, if anything, so I put them together and made it a free download with a print option for the loadsamoney folk. I don’t expect to make anything from it other than to get my name bandied around a little. It’s an advert.

    Novels go to real publishers. I have worn the ends of my fingers flat typing them so I’m not going to let them fester on Lulu. It’s disappointing to pile up rejections but what I lack in talent I make up for in bloody-minded persistence and it’s paid off at last. The first novel is out in April and the second is ready to send. I’m just a beginner here among you writing people but I bet I’m fatter than most of you.

    Anyway. These badgers. Are they a safe bet, and what do I do if the wife finds out?

  • A. You are hilarious. I will buy anything you write because if your books are even a tenth as awesome as your blog, I’m in for a good read. So if you have a newsletter that will notify me of such things, please let me know so I can subscribe.

    B. Santa Claus pays for all of my advertising.

    C. I think self-publishing or “going indie” as is the “cool way to say it” is definitely not for everybody. It is for me and I’ve been very happy doing it. I’ve always been indie. I hope to always be indie, and I’m making a living doing it. For which I am profoundly grateful for as long as that lasts.

    I think over time more people will understand that it isn’t a shortcut to anything and there will be big success stories, big failures, and a lot of people in the middle (as it is in traditional publishing, and pretty much all artistic endeavors and career paths.)

    Over time I *hope* the argument will become less polarizing. When I started doing this a couple of years ago I was pretty strident about a lot of stuff. It was (and still is) important to me that people not judge a book by it’s publication method, especially when there are easy ways to judge a book based on the book itself that don’t require investing 15 hours to read the thing cover to cover. But at the same time, I feel less need for other people to consider me a “real author”. When you’re paying your bills, you stop caring if random people on the Internet want to validate you.

    I think the indie movement is still in its infancy, even though self-publishing and even successful self-publishing has been around much longer. Many did it successfully even back when you had to do it the REALLY hard way with print runs and big financial outlay. So I expect the movement to hopefully grow up a lot as indie music and film has.

    • @Zoe

      Yeah, I think you said it pretty well — it’ll eventually shake out that self-publishing has its success stories as does traditional publishing. And it’ll have its “mid-listers” and outright failures. Of course, for good and bad, the mid-listers and failures will continue to be able to publish. Good for them, sometimes good for the audience, not always good for the marketplace as a whole.

      Right now, the successes predominantly lie in traditional publishing. That’s fairly clear to me — if you line up 1000 trad pub authors and 1000 self-pub authors, I’d bet donkeys to donuts (what?) that you’d find a lot more monetary and authorial success in the traditional model. That said, self-publishing today is in a very different place now than it was even five years ago.

      Example: five years back, I went with my then-fiancee (now, wife) to get eyeglasses at the mall.

      The eye dude was nice enough — an older gent. Behind him sat a tower of books. When we were done he gave us one of these books — just gave it away because, as it turns out, he was having trouble selling them. The book was a self-published vanity press release. Some book about baseball and Jesus (seriously). It wasn’t the subject matter that bothered me, but the book was fuuu-huuuh-HUUUUH-cking terrible.

      That was self-publishing. The domain of the talentless and misguided.

      Today, those people are still out there — and I’m sure this guy is probably there somewhere, pumping his syphilitic fiction onto Amazon or Smashwords or something. But now there’s been a shift, because elbow-to-elbow with this guy are authors who are actually talented, who just chose to bypass the system and the gatekeepers (for better or for worse, I can’t predict how they would’ve done otherwise).

      It’s an interesting shift, and it’s fun to watch. It is not, however, the magical solution that some paint it out to be.

      (For the record, I have in the past been a relative admirer of Konrath’s, but his post today was over the edge for me in terms of the promises it made and the realities it ignored. I think he’s huffing his own Kool-Aid dust at this point.)

      — c.

    • Oh, and thanks, @Zoe — actually, thanks everyone who has commented so far. Keep ’em coming.

      If anybody has experience with a self-published product (or traditionally published work), would love to get your perspective.

      — c.

  • gosh! (guess that’s your first ‘gosh!) people have strong opinions here and have lots to sa and that’s brilliant..all I’ve got to say is..times they are changing..embrace everything….

  • Great idea all around. Approach your writing like a business. Some material is good for the traditional route other stuff good for self publishing.
    What I find amazing is how different creative outlets view the DIY model. In table top gaming (looking at you Sean P and Gareth), it’s almost a right of passage. In film making, it’s a badge of honor, But if you put words on paper and self pub,you’re danged near a pariah.
    There’s a lot of crap out there, both self and traditionally published. I admit that there’s a hell of a lot more self published junk available. I just like to think of it as the worlds biggest slush pile.

  • I wonder if readers even know who publishes their books? Oh, an SF follower is probably going to recognize a Baen cover, and some readers maybe pay attention, but really–if someone searching space opera finds on my book on Amazon, are they going to go to the Turtleduck Press site and discover that we’re a group of friends self-publishing together and decide not to buy? Are they even going to check the name of the publisher?

    I think not. I think if they’ve found Knight Errant and the blurb interests them, they will read the sample available and, if they like it, buy.

    Ms. Sabrina Ogden (I tip my hat!) is, I think, representative. She knows a good book when it crosses her path, however it got there. Readers-not-in-publishing don’t care. Yes, it matters if I can get my book under their nose in the first place, and a big publisher could help with that. But on the internet, keywords and such level that playing field.

    The stigma exists only in the publishing world. What matters to readers is that you wrote a good book.

    • @KD:

      I don’t know that that’s precisely accurate. I can spot a self-published book (made-up number alert) 7 times out of 10 on the Kindle marketplace. And generally, I gravitate away from them unless something about it (a pro-grade cover, f’rex) grabs me. Otherwise, I’m (perhaps incorrectly) going to suspect it’s amateurish.

      In the past, I’ve generally not been aware of publishing’s “inside baseball,” but even at age 18 I was aware of the stigma of self-publication.

      Now, again, I think that stigma is thawing, and rightfully so — but I think it still helps to be aware of it so, as an author, you know how to overcome it. And in my mind, a quality blurb and sample is only a small part of the equation. The book has to look and sound like something I might see on a shelf — that means pro-cover, that means authentic marketing, that means the whole package.

      — c.

  • For what it’s work, C-dubs, I would buy your shit no matter who publishes it…I would even buy it scrawled in crayon on the back of a kids menu from Shoney’s from a bearded hobo under an overpass.


  • Chuck,

    Why are donkeys and donuts your gambling currency? 😛

    I think right now what you are saying is largely correct. In the future I’m not sure. It may be that digital publishing fully dominates, in which case there will be a chance for some major indie successes even bigger than we’ve had so far with a trend toward “staying indie” instead of “selling out”. (And I put it in quote marks because there is no judgment in that statement.) Or indie success stories may be a bit of a gold rush that will fizzle out. Or… both paths may have an equal number of big success stories.

    I think what skews things a bit is that with self-publishing, the slush pile is “out there” (but also hanging out on the bottom where nobody really sees it), in trad pub the slush pile is kept hidden. I think the same percentages apply across the boards, it’s just an issue of whether or not you can see the slush as part of the whole.

    As for “you finding more success in trad pub” I’m not sure if you mean “you: Zoe Winters” or general third person you. If you mean ME, then I doubt that. I think if I had a print deal right now I’d lose a lot of control and probably wouldn’t make more money, and would sort of flounder around on the midlist. If I was offered a GIANT deal… like “splash my name everywhere til people are sick of seeing it” deal, then yes, that’s true. But I don’t expect anything like that to come my way, and if it ever did, I’m not completely sure I’d take it. Because there would be more issues to consider than just short term money.

    Also, it’s important to note that there would be a much bigger chance of something improbable like that happening with me having gone indie already. As a total unknown with nothing but a dream and maybe an agent, that scenario would have become even more improbable than it already is.

    If you mean “general audience you”, then I’m not totally sure either. Things are changing. I do agree with you that Joe’s post is a bit misleading to new authors. I agree with a lot of his points but… I’m not sure they all apply to brand new writers.

    I do NOT think 1,000 ebooks a month for one title is “conservative” for most indies. I think when you get to Joe’s level it might be conservative, but… I don’t think most authors will get to Joe’s level.

    At the same time, though… unless the deal is really good, and for most new authors, it isn’t, it might be better to go indie IF a given writer has the aptitude for it. Otherwise, better to go trad. It’s just very individual.

    I think it “is” true that some authors self-publishing would have more success if they went traditionally. But I also think it’s true that some authors traditionally publishing would have more success self-publishing. I don’t think there is a one-size-fits all path to success.

    As with everything it’s very much a “Your mileage may vary.”

    Though I do know for me that given my low tolerance for “working for other people” that I am not wired for traditional publishing. So I don’t waste my time wondering what would have been or could have been if I’d tried publishing the other way instead or in addition to. I’m too excited and focused on the path that I’m on.

  • Last time I am checking this post. Promise. And last thought. If you are going to self publish, do it professionally. Hire an editor. Hire an artist.

  • Exactly what I needed to hear (delivered colourfully as always), and I’ll readily join the chorus of the multitude in praising the middle of the road approach. You really don’t hear enough of the pros and cons of self-publishing; a lot of it seems to come off as voodoo mumbo-jumbo that invokes the gods of Amazon and eBooks. Conversely, you hear a lot about the pros and cons of mainstream publishing, but only in regards to the end result — not so much about the path you wind up walking to get there. It’s great (and enlightening) to get the insight on that, and to have it laid out in such task-specific terms.

    I suppose authors are also lucky in that both paths are fairly viable options, unlike with some other forms of media, and we should try to take advantage of that. Mainstream publishing tends to be more heavily weighted, sure, but it’s not as bad as, say, trying to self-release a video game, which I’ve heard can involve running a gauntlet of Herculean challenges with a fifty foot lava pit at the end. Or comics, which seems to have bizarre mainstream publishing practices that always look a little like cults to me, and which seem to be favouring very small publishers like Topatoco and 4DE. Compared to that, it’s almost like we’ve got our pick at the buffet.

    All very interesting paradigms to follow, in any case.

  • Great piece, but, alas, some of your readers’ genitals just won’t fit in a badger’s mouth no matter how hard we try. Maybe you could chuck the automatic assumption that your audience are all cock-equipped?

  • Hey all,

    As you said Chuck, self-publishing really doesn’t allow for the very long and tedious refinement and editing process (or gate-keeping, as you call it) and that probably is the main reason why self-publishing isn’t successful.

    So, this leads to the question: how can we improve the quality of self-published writing, on a larger scale? Recently I came up with an interesting possible solution:

    Collaborative self-publishing groups.

    For example, if you could become a member of a self-publishing group, with a requirement that each member put in a certain amount of time and effort to edit AND market other author’s writings. Just like a Wiki, really. Of course, it would remain at the author’s discretion whether to keep a certain recommendation or not, but it would probably really improve the end-product.

    Just a thought… could that work? It’s something I’ve been thinking of for a while…

  • In my opinion, online self-publishing platforms like Lulu or might be helpful for non-fiction authors (-> guidebooks, manuals, documents, presentations…).

  • I am a self published author born and raised in Mexico City. The game here is a little diferent. Its a fucking dog eat dog enviroment. Becouse self publishing is almost the only viable option to ever get your work in the public eye. Sure, the money comes fast to the pocket but the competition is as heavy as it can get. Writing, editing and selling your own books It can be a pian in the urethra but bits is also sometimes very satisfying.

  • “Also keep in mind that you might find a different experience by going with a smaller publisher. Smaller publishers may be better suited toward bringing your best work to light rather than making safe (read: boring) choices for the currently demented publishing marketplace.”

    YES. If you’ve got yourself a book that you don’t think will make it in the big (safe, boring) Big Six publishing world, give the smaller publishers and micropresses a chance. We’re every bit as professional as the big operations, and we can usually give more and more personal attention to your book…without YOU having to learn how to be a publisher.

    That, to me, is the best point you make in this post – if you want to self-publish, awesome, great, fab, more power to ya, cheers mate. But be prepared to do a LOT of shit that is not writing. Mostly marketing and promotion, but you’ve gotta edit, design, lay out, lay out CASH, and learn formatting and conversion. Or pay someone else to do all that for you. That’s basically what a traditional publishing contract is, anyway – you’re paying someone else to clean, design, and market your work for you. But you’re outsourcing it by selling your rights for an advance and royalties, instead of paying up front to hire an editor, a designer, a file conversion person, etc.

    Same deal, different methods.

    Gatekeepers for self-pub are going to become critical soon, I think – review sites for self-published work, Amazon reviews, Goodreads…they’re all gonna be what keep us from going mad with the shit-tastic quality of most self-pubbed books.

    But there will be gems out there, books that were good to start with, and that their authors found and hired good editors and designers for. I’m lookin’ forward to reading them.

    (also, I’m hedging my own bets, by running a traditional-ish small press, freelancing as an editor/designer for people who want to do the “pay as you go” self-pub model, and also being a writer experimenting with both traditional and self-pub models. Works for me, but then I’m a type A control freak)

  • Chuck, this discussion is exactly the same in my profession, only the subject matter has changed slightly. So here’s a perspective on this issue that is not from an author. To me, the key concepts/words in your post are gatekeepers, vetted, filtered and most importantly, audience.

    My job as a teacher is to transmit information to developing minds. There are traditional methods for transmitting that information (vetted, filtered, committee-approved textbooks), and there are now other, more “democratic” digitally transmitted ways of getting and sharing information. Many teachers complain about the loss of control over the information, the quality of said information, and the amount of work it takes to design your own lesson plans using “unfiltered” resources. My response is yes, it’s harder. It’s harder because one has to THINK for one’s self. Actually think and form an opinion based on facts, references, and critical thinking. This is a new form of literacy, and I expect all my students to step it up and to learn how it’s done.

    There is a whole lot of crappy information out there on the Internet, and available as literature online at self pub sites like Lulu. People have a choice. People have a responsibility to make good choices for themselves; to know what they like to read; to have a functioning crap detector. If you’re looking for facts about global warming, make sure what your reading comes from a peer-reviewed scientist. This is what I call freedom. Responsibility is a lot of work; should Random House do my work for me? Personally, I don’t buy into the belief that only publishers know what I like to read or how I like to read it. I prefer to make that decision on my own. The fact that I can click to Lulu and download a .pdf makes me much more likely to buy a book. I’ve bought many great books from Lulu. I’m a fan. Similarly, my students are far more likely to learn something important, far more likely to INTERACT with information and ENGAGE in learning when they have to do the filtering (work) themselves and when they have the freedom to relate information to their own lives. Vetted textbooks can not do this. The gatekeepers are ruining all forms of education. Twilight series? Shudder. Ugg.

    I’ll agree that it is comforting that there are gatekeepers at times, but I’m far more interested in my freedom of personal choice. We should all yell from the rooftops what Ben said: “The boulder isn’t lighter just because now anybody can push it.” Truest truth I’ve ever heard. I teach my students this concept every day. Wikipedia isn’t any less informative just because anybody can add to it – but, you have to do the work yourself. You have to push the bolder.

    You have an audience. You know how to write a great story. Publish something good and the money/fame/notoriety will come.

  • Dude – you are hilarious! I stumbled upon your blog while doing some research – what a treat. I’d say you pretty much nailed it. Loved the frankness.

    Going both ways for the serious writer is probably the way to go right now. Seems logical to me.

    While I’m not an author, I am in the business, and I do have a perspective.

    I do think that the self publishing options available to authors will only continue to get better and more compelling as time goes on. The technology that supports the self publishing players is continually improving, as are the business models themselves. In this sense I think that the self pub. options will keep moving forward and keep progressing, offering more value to the author (and reader). I can’t say the same for the traditional pub. model; they (big 6 & Co.) are still trying to figure out the way forward. No matter how you slice it, the balance of power is shifting back to the author, (where it belongs).

    Great post.

  • Started writing erotica full time Feb 2010, wrote 5 novellas in 4 months, sent them individually to 8 different publishers and got multiple rejections … not because they didn’t like my writing, but because my writing didn’t fit with their “model.” Got some good feedback and moved on.

    FFWD to June 2010 – Packaged 4 of my stories to self-pub as a book of novellas, got a professional book cover, copy edit, established my platform with a website/blog/Twitter/Facebook, became friendly with local bookstores, newspaper editors. It’s now almost a year later, and my book is on the net, available as hard cover, soft cover, and ebook. I have a launch in a few weeks in time for Valentine’s Day, and I’m on to writing my next book. Will I self-pub again? Yes. Will I continue to query traditional publishers – Yes.

    Nothing has changed in the publishing industry over the past year, but what has changed is me. I am no longer a novice. I have (slightly) more credibility if a traditional publisher looks me up and finds I have produced a book and have a following.

    My writing is my business, and that’s how I treat it once the creative part is done.

  • Just found your blog, and am having a great time reading past posts. Noticed in this one that you mention you’ve been on sub to editors since early 2010. My agent started sending my novel out several months ago. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for both of us!

  • Saw your site from an RT on my twitter. Nice post by the way and yeah, I totally agree with you. Do both is what I have in mind right now and I am pursuing it even though I live oversea.

  • Great Post. I totally agree with do both. I did both. I have niche work (that for some ungodly reason sells the best of all my work) that I self-pub’d. No marketing–no advertising–but ti’s selling. Not sure why or how, LOL. Good tags?

    My GOOD book–published with a small publisher–great 5 star reviews on review sites–and selling like total shit.

    two novella’s just out this month? Said screw it and self-pub’d–and they are selling. I’ve made more in one MONTH than i made with my publisher in a year. Seriously.

    I do think the key is “DO BOTH”

    My two cents.

  • I worked in New York publishing from 1982-1990 at several major publishers. It was an era marked by layoffs, downsizing, overpayment for “safe’ authors, and a wholesale hostility to much of the America of that time. Why? Well it reminds me of something a Chicago police chief said of poor Appalachian Americans who moved to northern cities. “They’re foreigners in in their own country.” (And as it happens, I was part of that internal migration.) Although young editors, writers, pr laborers, copywriters, graphic artists etc. did come from all over the country, they all pretty much sounded and thought the same when it came to what was publishable and why. “Gatekeepers” is too simplistic or mechanical a discription for a world view as inflexible as any “hillbilly preacher’s.” They too often seemed to me to be, not foreigners, but tourists in their own country. The decline of publishing began before the arrival of laptops, ipads, ereaders, epub, Amazon, email, texting, the WWW and so on. The reasons are varied and many. But nothing above seems to take this historical fact into account. That B&N and Borders overexpanded is just as important as the digital revolution to their respective declines. The question I’ve always had is, just as major publishers were shrinking or merging (and I went through two mergers), and then bought out by mostly Brits, Germans, and Australians, why would there be an massive expansion of outlets across the country? Then there is the real decline in literacy in this country. Heartbreaking to any working class babyboomer whose classroom experience was far more demanding and fullfilling. Someone above suggested a professional epub outlet. That would be nice. The humanizing affect of true diversity of thought and experience (something that doesn’t come automatically with color, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexuality, or national origin) would also be refreshing. In eight years I must have attended hundreds of editorial meetings — not counting marketing and sales conferences. And I can’t think of a greater waste of time outside of filing out a 1040 or watching a sitcom. The gatekeepers have gatekeepers as well. And it is not a pretty process.

  • “Is the money really better for the self-published author? On average, probably not.”

    I didn’t read many comments (maybe later), but I’d disagree with this. 99% of people trying to go with trad publishing make $0. At least the same 99% of people self-publishing make a little (although it depends on how much they spend on art, editing, etc.).

    I think an author is a lot more likely to earn a livable income via self-publishing right now, though. But as you said, that requires the author to wear a lot of hats and spend some money to get things going.

  • Wow! This is the best shoot-from-the-hip article I’ve read on whether to self-publish or not. I totallly agree with everything you’ve said here. Also, I loved the way you broke down the dollars and cents. Thanks. Hugs.

  • I know I’m coming in super late here, but one massive advantage of self publishing over trade, is that the pressure is not immediately on to connect with your audience. From my (admittedly limited) understanding of trade publishing, if your debut novel doesn’t “do well” (whatever that means), then you’re in a much harder position to publish your second. With self publishing, you can afford to develop your audience over time. That’s a big plus, I think.

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