Why You Should Act As Your Own Author-Publisher (At Least Once)

Notebook From Nepal
If you are a writer:

Consider self-publishing.

Not everything.

But at least one thing.

A short story. A novella. A novel that’s too weird and too risky to crack the carapace on the traditional system. A sex manual. A cookbook. A baboon fart story. Something. Anything. It’s like achieving carnal pleasure from a vibrating home appliance: everybody should try it once. I’ve spoken to plenty of authors who are increasingly going in the hybrid mutant miscreant deviant direction of making out with all forms of publishing, and they seem pretty damn happy doing so.

Here’s why, in short, you should at least dip your toes in these warm waters:

1. Because Yay Money

Selling through most online outlets nets you somewhere between 35-70% of the cover price of your work. This percentage is even larger when you sell direct (and do believe me: you should consider selling direct). It’s easy to conflate this with suggesting that self-publishing will earn you more money overall — this isn’t automatically the case, mind you, because while traditional offers lower percentages, you might sell more with them (and further, the advantage of an advance is notable for many authors who can’t foot the bill to self-publish everything).

Just the same: acting as your own author-publisher gives you a greater return per individual books sold. It’s a good deal, not a bad one, and while it cannot replace the advantages of what you get by being with a larger publisher, it brings this as an advantage all its own.

2. Because Yay Steady, Fast Money

The money isn’t just good — it’s pretty close to immediate. (It really is immediate when you sell direct.) Traditional publishers pay more slowly — some pay so slowly you’ll think they’re shipping your check on some icebreaker sailboat shattering its way through frozen polar waters. Even if the money you earn from your author-published releases is small, it remains steady — steady enough to potentially supplement income, maybe even enough to let you do what too few authors can: go totally fucking pantsless. Uhh, I mean, “go full-time.”

3. Because The Sweet Taste Of Freedom

Publishers, understandably, have a stake in what you publish with them. They are, for better or for worse, your partner in the endeavor, so they want to sign off on what you’re doing. They’re invested in you, but like any stakeholder, that gives them a say into what you actually do.

Self-publishing offers you total freedom. Which is scary and dumb sometimes and might lend itself to drunk-publishing (“I GOT BLITZED ON GIN AND TONICS LAST NIGHT AND ENDED UP PUBLISHING EVERY HALF-FINISHED ABERRATION OF A TRUNK NOVEL I WROTE SINCE I WAS 13. IS THAT BAD?”), but it also grants you a weird breath of fresh air. Publishing is about business, but writing is about craft and art — and if you want to take the risk to publish some really off-kilter genre mash-up: that’s your right to do so. Erotica featuring your favorite NPR on-air personalities? Go you! Shine on, you kooky cubic zirconium.

4. Because The Iron Glove Of Control

When you’re with a publisher, lots of things remain out of your control. This can be blissful in a lot of ways — because not every author wants to be involved or invested in every step of the publishing process. Just the same, eventually you might hit a point where you feel like your publisher isn’t doing everything you want them to, regardless of your expertise (or, equally likely, lack of expertise). You think the cover is ugly as a possum’s asshole. You think they should be targeting libraries more. You’re persnickety about fonts. Whatever. When you’re an author-publisher — ta-da! All that falls into your mashing, sweat-slick hands. You set the price. You determine all of the marketing and advertising. You can design the prettiest cover or just put a picture of a dog humping a bunny rabbit on the cover. The control is yours. You have all the levers, all the buttons. You’re the Doctor and this is your TARDIS. Flip switches! See what happens.

5. Because You Actually Learn What A Publisher Does

Once you publish yourself, you start to learn more about what publishing actually entails. Which means when it’s time to talk to your other publishers, you’ll have a real clue what they’re doing, and why, and if they should be doing it better. Listen, part of why publishers have power is because they own that power. Deservedly. They know how to do the things you don’t do. That is, frankly, part of the arrangement. But — but! — if you learn more about their role, you at least buy yourself a greater investment into their role, and can determine more completely whether they’re actually working for you or abusing the arrangement.

Learning more about the business side of your writing life? Never a bad thing.

6. Because Faster, Pussycat — Kill Kill!

You should not hastily self-edit your work, slap on some kind of horrible stock photography as your cover, then flick your literary booger onto Amazon’s windshield in the hopes that careless readers will get drunk enough one night to lick it off. That’s what bad author-publishers do (*swats them with a newspaper*). Right? Right.

But, even if you take the proper amount of time to outline, write, edit, edit, edit, rewrite, edit, re-edit, format, design, and then post — you’re still doing it faster than larger publishers. This is often a knock against those publishers when it really shouldn’t be — the time it takes them to put together a book is a team effort, and requires a lot of careful threading to marry it into the schedule with all their other books while simultaneously helping to ensure it gets space at the bookstore shelf level. What this means, though, is that in the gaps between traditional releases, you can slot in books you are publishing yourself. You are the mortar between bricks.

6. Because More Pebbles Means More Ripples

A creative career — meaning, actually making money being a person who crafts the fuck out of art — is a a hard row to hoe, but despite what many might say, nowhere near impossible. Part of it just means throwing a lot of pebbles and making a lot of ripples. Ripples run into other ripples and have interesting effects — some go far, go wide, and reach the shore.

The more pebbles you throw?

The more ripples you make.

Author-publishing affords you the chance to make more ripples.

It might lead to new and interesting deals with larger publishers.

More importantly: it might actually earn new readership. Gasp!

(And remember: we do not build our audience. We earn our audience.)

7. Because You Might Like It

It’s like with anything. You need to try new things because, hey, guess what?

You might enjoy it. You might decide you enjoy the opportunity to be bit more independent. It tickles some part of you — maybe it’s the freedom, maybe it’s the control, maybe it’s that you can write a fictional instruction manual for a time-traveling VCR and post it to the Internet and charge three bucks for it because why the fuck wouldn’t you?

As always: diversification is rad. Publishing with publishers large, small and so itty-bitty the publisher consists of you-and-only-you brings a host of advantages and disadvantages unique to each path. The truly amazing thing about being an author right here, right now is that you aren’t required to pick one path: you can multi-class like a dungeon-traipsing dragon-hunting bad-ass. You can explore every aspect of publishing and mine them for their advantages — which further helps to obviate their notable disadvantages.

You don’t have to go all-in with author-publishing. (I’d advise not doing this, actually. This is business, which means baby-steps to see if the ground if stable beneath your feet.) But it remains an opportunity — a real option. But how will you know that if you don’t try?

Would love to hear about your experiences as an author-publisher. Good and bad!

Drop ’em in the comments below if you’re willing to share.

* * *

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72 responses to “Why You Should Act As Your Own Author-Publisher (At Least Once)”

    • It’s an interesting experience! And while the point holds that YOU MIGHT LIKE IT, the point is also true in the reverse: you might *not* like it. (Tiffany Reisz, author extraordinaire, pointed this out on Twitter.) But again: won’t know till you try.

      — c.

    • It scares the crap out of me, and was something I decide I would never, ever consider until I had a book traditionally published.

      Then, during the normal “write a book, query it like a mofo” process, I got an amazing new idea. It was heartbreaking. It was horrific. It would be best told in a shorter episode format like TV. I realize the best medium would be a series of short novellas, and the only way to make that happen was to self publish them myself.

      I put that idea on the shelf, with the other idea I had that would suit that format, but a week later a book called “Write. Publish. Repeat” by Sean Platt and Johnny Truant caught my eye. They explained their process for self publishing in a simple, easy to understand way that made it seem suddenly possible.

      The extra benefit of building readers and earning a little money was extra incentive.

      So, I dove head first into research, and I’m drafting the first novella. I still worry I won’t be seen as legitimate, self publishing before traditional publishing, that people will think I suck and couldn’t hack it with traditional publishing. But mostly I don’t let it bother me, because I know I’m making a rational decision based on the book, and not just publishing on a reflex.

  1. Really cogent argument for giving it a go — thanks for posting this. I’m self-pubbing right now — actually working on formatting my documents today — for a magic realism novelette of about 12,000 words (a.k.a. many traditional pubs won’t touch it due to genre and length), but I’m also pursuing more traditional publishing avenues for my novel and a collection of poems. Viva the hybrid authors! Good stuff.

  2. I’ve found self-publishing is like getting a tattoo. You obsesses over it, you pray it won’t look like everybody else’s, every mistake is torn out of flesh and it’s excruciating and you spend large chunks of it thinking “What in the name of bunnies was I THINKING?!”

    Then a month later you’re like “You know, I kinda want another one of those…”

  3. I’ve really enjoyed my experience as an author-publisher thus far. I’ve met some great, creative writers and have been able to network with some people whose work I truly enjoy and can learn from. I’ve found the indie community to be really supportive and helpful, so no complaints there.

    My long-term goals are to go hybrid, but for now I’m pretty comfortable with the solo act. I almost went traditional, but that story is kind of a long slog. At a certain point, the waiting game grew too obtruvise and I had a book that was not only ready to go, but one that I believed in and that had earned some credibility (in my eyes, anyway) in a few different circles. Eventually, I broke down and self-published, and I have not regretted it at all.

    At one point, Angry Robot expressed interest in my book thanks to my entry in their open door period, but I had already moved on and did it on my own after a pretty prolonged silence post-submission. I think the contest was back in October, and I didn’t hear from them until June, so by then it was too late for me to reverse course and the book had gone into the wild. Maybe it was a missed opportunity, or it could prove to be a chance at a better opportunity with them later on. I’m holding on the contact’s e-mail, though, and have a few ideas to pitch when there’s a bit more work to show for it.

    I’ll be self-publishing a second and third work soon-ish. After that, we’ll see what happens.

  4. Totes agree. Self-publishing will teach authors a buttload about the publishing bushiness and ultimately, for some, help explain what publishers (those who invest in and publish the books of other authors) do. I do it on the side from my small press and it’s fun to play with, but gawdalmighty I would hate to try to make my living that way. They don’t make that much xanex.

  5. Baboon farts? Uh, I think kitty farts are MUCH worse. [puts on HAZMAT suit to scoop litter box]

  6. I self-published some poetry and honestly, I think it was a great decision, even if I barely break double figures for sales. It’s not like I’ll ever get poetry traditionally published — it’s just one of those things that, like, doesn’t sell. But given that the whole thing cost me nothing as an experiment, every penny I earn is technically profit, so I figure it was worth it.

  7. The first time I did it, it was basically because I was at a point where I didn’t know what else to do. But my relationship with self publishing is a lot more nuanced now because of points 3, 4, and 7. Point 7 was a surprise — I didn’t expect to *like* it, exactly, I just figured it would be satisfying. But actually building a book is a lot of fun. Each time I try to figure out ways to optimize the process, so now I have access to a number of home-grown templates that I can dump my content into and then tweak as necessary.

    Editing is the biggest challenge obviously, since self-editing is painful and less effective than getting someone to edit it from the outside, but if you’re self-publishing you really need to do both as much as you can (“as much as you can” is the trouble–if you’re publishing a serial you’re probably not going to be able to budget for an editor unless you’re already raking in ducats). Cover design is where I am the most hopeless, which is unfortunate, but I’m improving over time. I’m a lot better with eBooks than print books because there are fewer cultural expectations about how an eBook is supposed to look, and for basic fiction the best bet is to keep it as simple as possible so it’ll work equally well in all formats (epub, mobi/kindle, etc) and there are a lot of little things about print books that I miss every time (I doubt that people who create books professionally will be terribly impressed with any of mine).

    But fun, yes. Absolutely fun. And intensely frustrating when when I find myself ordering yet another test copy from CreateSpace to see if I really did fix a problem with the front or back cover, or something similar to that. But fun.

    Next thing I have to figure out are audiobooks. Not sure where to start there.

  8. I went the traditional publishing route in the beginning, because even a few years ago when my first book was published there still seemed so much stigma attached to self publishing. But as I’ve seen that changing, I’ve tried my hand at self publishing and I have to say I really like it much more than I thought I would. I like the creative control as well as the higher percentage rate. Being able to see my sales almost instantaneously and receiving money on a monthly basis is a bonus as well. I also like the speed with which I can publish my books. I’m not doing anything different in terms of the actual writing and revising, it’s simply that the manuscript doesn’t have to sit around for a year or two before being released. Not to say I’m unhappy with my publishers, because I’m not. I’ve worked with three different companies and I’m satisfied with the work they’ve done. But I think from here on out I’ll be sticking to the self publishing thing.

    • This post is a huge eye opener. If you go on writing forums, they talk as if self publishing would be the worst most career destroying thing an author could ever do. I have been looking for a literary agent for such a long time. All my beta readers gush over the two novels I have finished. I’ve had agents love my work, gush over it but say it’s not mainstream easy money marketable enough because I tend to cross genres. I have been thinking traditional publishing is the only way, yet here you are having not only been published once, but worked with three companies… what I have been conditioned to think is the dream, and you say you like self publishing better. You really have me thinking about going for it. I’m already an artist and I “self” publish my art work. The commissions are tiny on Society 6, but my Etsy site has very small fees. Why not self publish my writing too? I may just try it.

  9. I was weird, before I dipped my toes in the Traditional Pond, I self-published my first three novels. This was back in the Dark Ages(TM) of 2001-2001 before e-books became THE THING. The books were POD (print-on-demand) back then. I set up an LLC, hired cover artists, a typesetter, bought my block of 10 ISBN’s, the whole nine yards. The only mistake I made was not to hire an editor (a mistake I have since rectified). What did I learn? I learned how the industry worked, how a publisher gets a book to the readers and what could possible go wrong while you’re doing that. Which is a lot, trust me on this. This prepared me for when I took that next step into Traditional publishing, because I knew what happened behind the magic curtain and I knew when someone was bullshitting me about the process.

    Fast forward to today — e-publishing and CreateSpace (an Amazon subdivision that produces POD books) have made the process a bit easier. The same attention to detail is required for every book I publish and I’m getting more savvy with each one. But why would I DIY if I have a traditional contract? Because of what Chuck said — I like the control. I can plan everything from cover art to type font to when the product hits the (virtual) shelves. I like that. If it’s effed up, it’s totally my fault. And I can yell at myself at lot easier than someone in New York.

    This indie publishing gig is not for everyone. Some people can’t handle the juggling required, some can’t afford the upfront costs (because your self-made cover, unless you’re a graphic artist or incredibly talented, is probably going to suck). And oh lord, the TIME you will spend. Because believe me, Skippy, owning your own business is a TIME SUCKER of giganto proportions. One big black hole.

    But like Chuck suggests — give a whirl. Find out what happens when a book is birthed, how many steps and players there are behind the scenes. That knowledge is invaluable if you decide to work with the Big Boys. And there’s a great sense of pride at knowing your very own book was lovingly created by you.

  10. I self-published one book to see how the business worked. It was a great experience all in all, but in the end, it helped me decide to go back to publishing with small presses. I love the control and all that, but I couldn’t afford an editor, and putting out self-edited stuff (because that was what I did) gave me the hives. Some readers might not care about errors in the final book, considering how much I priced it, but knowing it wasn’t properly cleaned up mortified me.

    I pulled that book after a year, and it’s been re-released (properly edited and all that) by a small press in its second edition. It’s been selling modestly, in fact. Better than it did when I self-published it.

    I’m still keeping the doors open to being a hybrid author, though, and maybe down the line, I’ll self-publish shorter works, not novels. But for the time being, I’m quite happy where I am.

  11. After making many mistakes with my first 2 self-pubbed books, I recently had an experience with a small publisher that was very valuable. I met some great people, garnered some credibility, and learned much more about the business. I took what I learned, and my recent book, self-pubbed with my own imprint, has been so much more fun. I was able to sell four times as much on my own the first month as I had with the traditional publisher. It is much easier to pursue advertising when you’re getting 70% rather than 10% to 30%. The work has been the same, I just get more back my way. I’ve done what I can to diligently reach out to other self-pubbers for help who are “doing it right” and hire the best folks to make the book the best it can be.

    Policemen are just people dressed up as policemen. And publishers (especially the really small publishers) are just self-publishers dressed up as traditional publishers.

    Someday, I’d like to see a Terrible Minds post about how the Horror Writers Association denies membership to self-publishers who meet the rest of their criteria. I say this not to be snarky, but that it seems quite archaic.

    • HWA and SFWA continue to discuss the indie author situation, though I don’t know if that needle will move, or how fast. I suspect that part of the trick is sussing out exactly *how* to get them in.

      As I’ve noted here, once you open the gates to author-publishers, THEY ALL COME IN. And a lot of them aren’t worth the 1s and 0s they’re printed on. That is a sad reality, but a lot of it really is garbage. Folks claim the shit volcano “doesn’t affect them,” but it does, because it’s things like the quality control problem in self-publishing that makes the HWA/SFWA situation all that much harder.

      They have thresholds in place for published authors — sales, publishers, etc. — and my guess that part of the complexity here is figuring out equitable thresholds for indie authors.

      One hopes they’ll look to the RWA for examples.

      — c.

  12. I was convinced to self-publish last year when I went to see Hugh Howey speak. Now, everyone knows how well he’s done. Everyone also knows that to get the deal he has would require moving to an alternative dimension, because no traditional publisher in their right mind will ever be convinced to sign away the digital rights of a book. But what Hugh said made sense, so I published my first (or at least my first well-written book) THE CANDIDATE’S DAUGHTER on Amazon, and thus embarked on a very steep learning curve.

    As it turns out, this route suits me. I love that I can oversee the design of the cover. I love that I can change the price at a moment’s notice. I love that I can choose how and where to advertise. Do I sell as many as I would if I were with a traditional publisher. I doubt it right now. But the book sells reasonably well, and self-publishing also allows me to publish work that’s a little more experimental. I published my second novel, THE CONTESTANT, to a waiting audience under a pen name. Some don’t get it. Others love it and want more. But that’s what happens when you step outside the normal parameters for a novel. Actually, it’s what happens even when you stay within the parameters for a novel.

    So the money from THE CONTESTANT may not be as great as my first novel. But how great is the freedom?

  13. After being told no no no by everyone I submitted my first novel to, discouraged that no publisher seemed to want it, I just went ahead and self-published the damn thing. Stupid 21 year old book needed to just step aside and let me work on other things, self-absorbed bastard that it is. And hey, technically now I can call myself published. It’s like a light switch of confidence that has boosted me into writing feverishly, steadily, and consistently.

    Before, I was feeling constantly beat down by the publishing machine. My self-esteem was terrible. It still isn’t great, but look! I published something, and that makes a tiny bit of difference. Writing isn’t a lost cause road of starvation anymore! Okay, it probably still is, but I feel better about it.

  14. I self-published my first couple of books–paperbacks, audio books, ebooks. It was informative (as you’ve outlined in point 5) and the feedback I received gave me the encouragement I needed to continue to write. I agree it’s a worthwhile exercise for all writers.

  15. I plan to do this some time in the future. Just, as you said, for the experience. Unfortunately, finances keep me from doing so right now. But, yes, definitely something to look into.

  16. I decided to self-publish my first book last year and I’ve just gotta say, the awesomeness still hasn’t worn off. Book two will be out in a couple months. I love working with my team of pros (editor, photographer, cover artist, formatter), I love the freedom, and I love being in control.

    But I’m a bit of a control freak.

  17. I’ve just had my YA thriller traditionally published in the UK and it seems to be selling well – I’ll have a better idea when I get my royalty statements. But my agent didn’t find a US publisher so we’re self publishing the same book for US readers, as a number have added it on Goodreads.

    I’m really excited about driving down both routes at the same time. Should be an interesting ride.

  18. You self-pub, you get a sales record. You are that sales record.

    Use a pen name. You can get a name tag made if you sell 40K books in a year.

    You can divorce the name if you sell 3000.

    Sure, traditional publish might find out later. It won’t be the first thing up under your name, though. It won’t be looming there against you.

    A poor showing doesn’t make you “like a newbie” in the representation world. It makes you worse.

    Give it a try like Chuck says. You need to be writer,inc. anyway. This is writer,art director,publisher inc. Meh.

    Astronaut advice: don’t screw the pooch. You can write about pooch screwing, just don’t do it yourself for authenticity.

  19. A couple of comments up there mentioned the so-called stigma of self publishing, that a self published author won’t be seen as legitimate, as Yule Brynner said, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. But I think if your self-published book EARNS MONEY, that would pretty much blow up that stigma thing into bloody, chunky pieces, don’t you think?

  20. I find the timing on this post quite fortuitous, as I just dipped my toes in the self-publishing pool Monday by posting my first short story collection. I figured, what the heck, I’ve been writing very fringe niche erotic horror for about 15 years and posting it for free, I may as well see if anyone will pay for this stuff, since the up-front costs have dropped enough for the gamble to be worth a try.

    I found the process quite educational – as you said, it teaches a lot about what goes into publishing a book. I’m still in the stage of being amazed that anyone will pay for what I write, and have no idea if I’ll make enough to pay for the cover art, but I think the lessons were worth it even if I lose a little money. Mind, I’m not actually interested in making my living as a writer, since I really enjoy my day job, so I may be in a different position than many reading this. The part I liked the best was working with an artist to get my vision for what I wanted on a cover to become reality. It was fun to see it take shape, since I’m not a particularly good artist myself.

  21. I’m about six weeks away from querying my YA scifi novel. I’d consider self-publication, but I hear lots in the YA space about an author’s “debut” novel. If I self-pub the book now, does that hurt my chances with agents and publishers later on because they’d prefer a “debut” book?

    • Nope.

      First off, plenty of authors “debut” in different ways. It’s a marketing term, there are plenty of other marketing terms they can apply to you, and plenty of ways to still call any book they buy a “debut.”

      The only way self publishing hurts you with agents and publishers is if what you publish looks slip-shod. Agents and publishers know people have different tastes, they’re not going to judge your creativity. Think about it as a feature of how you dress for a job interview. The hiring manager may not care for yellow ties or silver brooches, but they will care if you show up in a torn t-shirt and dirt-caked jeans. Similarly, agents and publishers will only be turned off a self publisher if what you put up is a grammatical failure, littered with misspellings, with a stolen image as a cover.

      • Lots of yes in what you’re saying here. I was introduced two local self-published authors recently and both had clearly not employed the services of a crit group, let alone an editor. I cringed through half of one guy’s novel just to be able to discuss it with him socially. The text on his back cover literally said, “You will meet lots of interesting characters in my book and in the end, you will even know what the title means!” o_0

    • Depends on the agent, honestly. Some will frown, others won’t. But if you plan on including self-pub in your publishing diet going forward, you’re better off courting agents who are friendly to that than not.

      • Thanks, Chuck. You bring up an idea I hadn’t considered. When making my query list, I it didn’t cross my mind to seek out agents who are self-pub friendly, as well.

  22. Absolutely! But I would caution writers who self-publish against doing everything themselves. You should invest in a good editor and a good book cover artist, the two most important aspects of the independent publishing process–besides marketing.

    Book covers do sell books, so make sure yours is damn good. If you’re not an artist, spring $300 for a damn good book cover. You can get a good editor by trading services with another self-pubbing author. Edit each other’s books. Done deal. Just because you’re doing it yourself doesn’t mean you should skimp.

  23. I just finished watching “Non-Stop” and I read this whole piece in Liam Neeson’s voice. You know what? It totally works.

    But on topic, I’m wondering whether those who are hybrid publishers maybe feel like their self-pubbed works are the ‘extras’, the things you publish between the real, honest-to-hamsters trad published books? I ask as an as-yet unpublished author for whom being accepted by a trad publisher equates to YOU REALLY LIKE ME.

    • My books, self-published or traditionally published are the same–I put the same amount of work into the story, and (especially since my series has both types of books) they all can hang together.

  24. I wholly agree with your comments. Although the money part may not be the best reason – invest in an editor, an artist and someone to finalize your format for publishing. I chose to self publish in order to meet a publication deadline of less than a year.

    I’d like to add that as author-publisher, you have the ability to create unique partnerships. My first book, a memoir about my premature baby fighting for life in the NICU, “Growing A Rainbow”, officially hits the electronic shelves next month (print in time for World Prematurity Awareness Day Nov 19th). I’m proud to say that a portion of it’s sales go directly to the Canadian Premature Babies Foundation. I don’t know that a traditional publisher would give me free reign to negotiate that directly.

    Finally, what a fantastic way to network with other indie authors! My next work is fiction and a very different demographic.However, I’m already working within the Indie Author network anticipating more good things from author-publishing in the future!

  25. I was first published with digital first publisher in 2008, learned a lot from their stellar editors, etc. Made somewhat of a name for myself in sci fi romance. Made lots of money for them, less for myself.

    In 2013 I decided to begin self-publishing my sci fi romance. Surprise, my readers followed me over … they don’t care about the ‘stigma’ of self-pub. They care about getting more of the stories they want to read. Now I’m keeping the larger share of the pie.

    The former publisher is still happy because my backlist with them sells with each new book I self-pub, and because they have hundreds of other authors. I’m happy, and readers are happy.

    This is a win/win/win. Eventually I’ll get the rights to my backlist from the publisher, and I’ll be even happier. The publisher will be busy with their new authors, so they’ll still be happy. Readers still won’t care where the stories are published, just that they’re available.

    Authors need to get over the ‘stigma’ notion, and figure out where they are best suited to begin their publishing career. You can always shift gears and directions, just don’t give away ridiculous amounts of rights in the process. There has never been a better time to be a published author, and you can make it happen for yourself in a number of ways.

  26. Frankly, I never really saw my decision to self publish as a choice. If I wanted to see my books in print, it’s what I had to do and to be honest, the idea of Things 5, 4 and 3 was also very compelling although I fall horribly at Thing 7. It takes me 2 years to write each book.

    Am I enjoying it? Yes and no. I like that people get to read my books. I suspect no publisher worth his salt would touch them – too many different genres rolled into one and I can’t produce them fast enough. And I like that I have a chance to put them out there and let people vote with their… er… mice? I use a design agency to do my covers, I get my stuff edited, I have beta readers who read after editing and go through it for typos (a couple of whom are professional editors themselves). And yes, I’m currently thinking seriously about adding a second edit after that lot and a second wave of beta readers. In short I take a lot of pride in my work and I get a big kick when people enjoy it.

    However, I really dislike the politics. I loathe and detest that I am working with an assumption that my books are of snot-flicked-onto-the-Amazon-windshield standard. I really, really try not to take it as an insult to my intelligence; this assumption that I would put out something that crap. But even Mr Wendig, who strikes me as a very level-headed and sensible kind of bloke, will not countenance looking at books from author publishers or for a spot on this blog without the endorsement of a publisher. It’s sobering when even the man who fights our corner can’t deal with the mountain of crap he would receive.

    Naturally, following on from that, I also worry my arse off at the same time. Have I unknowingly, made some hideous grammar gaffe like I did in my first book – yes punctuation today is not done the way it was taught in British schools in the 1980s. Have I made some other ignoramus, unwitting rookie error that has screwed my books in some way, of which I am unaware? Have I insulted my readers without even knowing it? Have I, indeed, flicked a snotty splodge onto the windscreen of Amazon without realising? After all, just because I like it, it doesn’t mean it’s any good. Etc. If you’re going to be an author publisher, you need to believe and I mean REALLY believe in your work. In your soul. You need to be able to put your reputation on the line without fear. If you can’t do that, get a trad deal first.

    So, as an Author Publisher, my ultimate aim is hybrid. Because while I love the control and the entrepreneural bit, a trad deal opens doors. A trad deal is a short cut that will bypass years of trying to prove to people that I am not the stereotype their prejudices paint. A trad deal is that crucial difference in perception. The difference between people thinking I’m doing stuff wrong and, instead, just thinking I’m doing it differently.

    That said, I suspect my only hope of a trad deal is to keep on writing more books and hope that one of them gets picked up.

    Do I regret it? No.

    Would I have preferred to go trad? Initially, yes.



    • I think it’s not ideal for new writers, usually — for me, something that’s free indicates its value, which is to say, zero. Something too cheap and I think it’s probably trash.

      That said, you can use those things as part of an overall strategy — a sale point for a few days, or making the first book in a series free for a short time to entice folks into digging the rest.

      But it’s gotta be part of that strategy — it isn’t the entire strategy, I think.

    • I haven’t self published yet but I have owned a couple of businesses. Pricing is so incredibly difficult and it’s also crucial to your success. Perceived value is a real thing, and it’s true that people will see your work as trash if you price it too cheap or give it away with no purpose. I have no desire to read free ebooks for the most part because of perceived value. My time is more valuable than saving a few bucks on a good book. If I’m going to take the time to read a book, I’m not going to read something somebody just threw out there.

  27. Interesting points on here Chuck, especially the parts about learning the industry and what publishers have to do. I’m sure that will be invaluable. Certainly something to consider when I’m in a position to publish something.

    Traditional, self publishing, online – all tools an author should look to embrace rather than choosing one over the other.

  28. I write all kinds of weird shit. Short ass crime stories? Check. (Hired Gun) Weird Lovecraftian Sci Fi Horror? Check. (That Way Lies Madness) and a trio of short stories (weird western, sword and sorcery, and ww2 pulp adventure) about strong women? Check. (Love And Vengeance)

    How many publishers want these? One, Me. (under the title Blammo! Books)

    How many readers want these? More than I would have thought. (Thank you readers!)

    I sell at least one of these a day, sometimes 20 + but EVERY DAY someone buys something from me that a publisher wouldn’t take. And with self publishing and POD (no not the band) I can take MY books to conventions and handsell them at a reasonable cost and STILL make a shekel or two.
    Hell to the yeah.
    Give it a try.

    • That’s inspiring James! Do you think conventions are a must? I have young kids and I can’t see conventions in my future at this point. I would have to market online mostly. Maybe do one event a year… and that’s a big maybe. I used to own a baby sling company, and I did find that doing a few events really catapulted the business in some ways, but then some events were a bust and screwed me over financially.

  29. It is true, these things can be awesome, but there’s a slight error with the processing:

    Some people aren’t interested in marketing, publishing, or cover choosing because it isn’t their strength.

    Yes, give it a try and dabble. You might enjoy it.

    However, there are reasons why successful self-pubbed authors let their “publishing house” get bought out by the big boys because they miss the ability to simply write.

    You have to have a personality, a passion, and a drive to do the entrepreneur thing. It isn’t easy. I’ve taken quite a few courses from business colleges and it certainly wasn’t easy to keep everything in mind when creating a business plan, much less jumping into creating your own business.

    it isn’t to discourage you if you are thinking about doing it, but to remind you that sometimes you will be opening Pandora’s Box instead of a Treasure Chest filled with a hookshot, you know?

    Also: Do try to stay away from should. Should implies someone might be doing something wrong instead of giving them an option. Just my own thing, I’m sure no one else cares.

    Also Also: The ripples in a pond is good, except when everyone else is throwing boulders in the same pond.

    • Yes, but many people do not anticipate or understand their strengths until they try them. Further, practice makes perfect — so, if you want to make it a strength, you make it a strength.

      I use “should,” not “must,” but obviously, writers are free and encouraged to do as they please with their work. Their art is not my art and they should handle it as if it is precious to them, not precious to me.

      — c.

    • I see your point, but then at the same time, I am acting like an entrepreneur when I have to work so hard at my pitch and spend countless hours research agents to see if my work fits their likes, researching what they want to see in a submission since they all want something different, and then putting submissions together for them. After reading this post, I’m wondering if all that time spent wooing literary agents would be better served wooing readers. I do have an advantage. I am a graphic artist and I have owned a couple of businesses. But when I think of how much research I put in to learn how to submit to agents and publishers, and all the time wasted waiting on them. I’m considering self publishing after reading this. I’m scared! But I’m also losing patience with trying to find an agent or publisher too.

  30. Chuck, this post was so mind-bogglingly brilliant that I had to reach for the bottle of Cotes de Rousillon. Thank you for putting this up. I’m saving it to my archives so that I’ll always have it, and reach for it when I feel low.

  31. Really bad experience: ASI 1st time. Didn’t learn the lesson so used ASI yet again (yeah, I know, I know, I know). Really good experience: Smashwords with a short story trilogy. Ridiculously easy to format/create and spent my money on where it was supposed to be spent on. I plan on using them again to re-release my debut later this month/early next month.

  32. I think ultimately it’s the IRS who acts as my gatekeeper. I know art people who can do a rad cover for me. I have people who can read for me, and edit. I can scrape it together to pay these people, because they deserve it. But. If I self publish, that means that income counts as self employment. And those taxes are the pits, n’est-ce pas?

  33. I have been brainwashed to think traditional is the only way, but this post is opening my mind. I am frustrated with the snail pace of traditional publishing. I still don’t have an agent and I have read so many horror stories from people even after they get an agent or publisher. I have a specific question for you guys. I already self publish my artwork on Etsy and Society 6 so I have a bit of a web presence with that. Do you think I should tie my writing to my artwork and use the same name for my self publishing? I am new at self publishing my art and getting the hang of marketing, which is not easy. Sort of overwhelmed by the idea of marketing my own book. I feel like using the same name could be a bonus since I already have an audience for my art, although a small one at this point still, or it could be confusing. “Wait, is she an artist or a writer? What the hell am I supposed to be buying from this person?”

    Also, what are your favorite ways to market your books? Obviously your blog, but what else?

  34. I have so many questions. For those of you who have had success with self publishing, do you find that you sell more e-books or more printed ones? Is it possible to just sell them electronically only? I don’t really have the money to invest in a bunch of printed books. Are you physically shipping printed books yourself?

  35. Everything I’ve published so far has been self-pubbed. I started with stories donated to anthologies making money for charity…that built my confidence in terms of the quality of what I was writing and taught me a hell of a lot about what the finished product should look like (And what it shouldn’t look like…) Most of that stuff used Createspace.

    Then I decided to self-pub a collection of my own short stories for kids. Print this time…Found a local publisher prepared to put their name to it, sourced a local printer, did most of the formatting myself. I was told at the launch ‘it looks like a proper book!’ Since March, I’ve sold around 160 copies and am still only half-way to breaking even. But…

    That experience meant I was confident enough to submit work to other people where I now get paid a royalty for what I’ve written! I was chosen over other authors to produce the work! Granted I’m receiving pennies rather than pounds at the moment, but it’s all helping to build a profile, gets my name out there and recognised as an author, as well as improving my style with every word written. I’m not someone who’s playing with words now, but someone who’s serious about earning from them.

    Currently planning to self-pub a novel in print and digital, plus a second collection of short stories about Granny Rainbow in print.

    Tips for self-pubbers?

    1. Pay for an edit – I thought I was pretty good at editing myself, but there were still lots of things wrong that I was completely unaware of. Like apostrophes facing the wrong way at the start of a word and whether you should have a space before a hyphen if your dialogue is interrupted…
    2. Get a one-off cover designed – something that ‘fits’ your book and doesn’t look like you used cut and paste to create. Pay for it if you have to. I was lucky – a friend with experience in photoshop pulled mine together for free.
    3. Don’t be impatient – if I’d put Granny Rainbow out when I wanted to, it would not have been the book it is now.

  36. […] Why You Should Act As Your Own Author-Publisher (At Least Once) from Chuck (NSFW) Wendig. Pay close attention to #6 though! There really are no shortcuts. If you’re new to writing, you must never assume you actually have a clue – because in the beginning, most of us really don’t! 😛 […]

  37. I’ve been self publishing short stories and novellas set in the same world as my Micah Grey series. I like it because it’s a bit of supplemental income, is fun, and is giving me a solid foundation in how it all works. The third book is going to be self published because Strange Chemistry went under, and it’ll be a lot easier once I’ve done it 4 times on a smaller level.

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