Should I self-publish my book?

Self-publishing is exploding! One bazillion books are being self-published every day! Indie publishers are raking it in!

Kidding about the last one.

To answer the question above, I must ask YOU a few questions.

1. What’s your goal?

Early on, your goal might just be to write the book.

But at some point the publishing decision must be made. A good way to decide is to think about your goals for the book and for yourself.

  • Do you want to see your book in stores and libraries?
  • Do you want it to be eligible for big serious prizes, like the Man Booker?
  • Do you want to have someone else manage things like cover design, copyediting, print costs, distribution channels, formats?
  • Do you want to teach in an MFA program?

If you answered yes to any of those (except maybe the first, for reasons I won’t get into here)…then you will want to aim for traditional publication. Go straight to the first “More Questions,” below. (Linked for your ease, because this is starting to confuse even me)

If those things are not super-important to you, then self-publishing might be your thing.

In which case, goal questions might be:

  • Do you want to publish at your own pace?
  • Do you want to retain all the rights to your work right out of the gate?
  • Do you want to keep most of the money your book brings in?

If you answered NO to the first set of questions and YES to these last three, go straight to the second “More Questions,” below. (Linked for your ease, because this is still confusing even me.)

2. What are you prepared to do?

More questions for those who answered YES to the first set of goal questions:
  • Are you prepared to meet the standards for traditional publication?
  • Do you know what those standards are?
  • Are you prepared to learn how to write a query package and pitch agents–knowing that this very first step can take months or years?

Stories about that: I have a friend who pitched 200 agents over a few years before she got one. I have another friend who got an agent she was not that excited about, then ended up finding a publisher herself. I pitched 29 agents over a 10-month period before I got an agent I loved. She put my book on submission for gosh, at least a year…and hit a wall. I have a friend who got a high-profile agent, had his book on submission for over a year, spent maybe 10 or 15 thousand dollars on freelance editors to help with the story structure, and decided in the end to self-publish because he wasn’t willing to drop the book.

Happier stories about that: I’ve had clients who got a publishing deal soon after they started querying. They got deals with and without agents. (The ones without agents published through small presses, since the larger presses don’t take unagented MSs.) I am acquainted with someone who’s writing her first novel and has 14 agents who’ve expressed interest in receiving her manuscript as soon as it’s done. I have friends with two, three, four traditionally published books. A couple of my writing mentors have written best-sellers. The dream can be real!

  • Are you willing to contract the rights to your work to the publisher for a period of time? (like, 5-10 years?)
  • Are you prepared to promote and market your book and yourself?
  • Are you prepared to beg your friends and family to review your book online?
Questions for those who answered YES to the second set of goal questions:

Or we might say, What are you prepared to do, Part II?

  • Are you prepared to manage a small business?
  • Are you prepared to either learn or subcontract the publishing trades?

(They are: editing the book to professional standards, designing the cover for all formats, laying out the text, proofreading, producing the formats (e-book, print, audiobook, etc.), registering for an ISBN, obtaining permissions, writing sales blurbs, keeping the accounts straight for tax time, asking readers to leave reviews… etc.)

  • Are you prepared to promote and market your book and yourself?
  • Are you prepared to beg your friends and family to review your book online?

(You’ll notice the marketing is up to you in both publishing scenarios.)

  • Are you prepared to assume ultimate control and responsibility for the success of your book?

Stories about that: I’ve known writers to go into self-publishing as a last resort, after a few weeks, months, or years of pitching agents / publishers and getting “no thanks,” or worse, crickets. The Sound of Silence. Sometimes they were borderline resentful of the amount of time and money it took to put their book out. Sometimes they didn’t want to learn the publishing business. Sometimes they were demoralized and didn’t want to promote or market their book. Sometimes they self-publish the first book in a series and then realize too late that it was going to be VERY DIFFICULT to pitch agents with a second book in that series…agents have so many great manuscripts to wade through already, and no reason to make the job of pitching acquisitions editors any more complicated than it already is.

Happier stories about that: About half my editing clients self-publish, and most of those who treat it like a business (as well as enjoy the pleasure of writing books) have achieved tremendous success, debuting high in their categories, making robust sales, getting good reviews. They like being writers and they like being in control of their stuff. They have readers, fans, and fellow indie writers and basically love the milieu.

Did this blog post answer the question about whether you should self-publish your book?

I hope so! If it didn’t, send me a note and I’ll reply.