To Self-Publish or Not to Self-Publish: That is the Question

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

Loads of people dream of becoming celebrated authors, seeing their books prominently displayed in bookstores and airports across the globe. It’s the fantasy equivalent of moving to Hollywood and becoming the next Julia Roberts, Scarlett Johansen, or Jennifer Lawrence; something that only happens for one person out of every hundred thousand hopefuls.

After writing my first book, I queried a slew of fancy New York City agents—only the best for me and my future literary stardom.

After receiving enough rejection letters to wallpaper my powder room (distastefully), I hooked someone. My agent submitted my romcom masterpiece to ten major publishers and one of them bit. Sadly, before my editor signed on the dotted line, she switched genres and moved onto something less mainstream like eastern religion or astrophysics—either way, it was as far away from chick-lit as you could get. After months of excitement, my dream was dashed. 

Despondent, I put my publishing pursuits on hold to try to get on with the business of starting a family. Four miscarriages and two babies later, I was ready to get back at it when my husband was diagnosed with stage-four tonsil cancer. Once we got him stabilized, I had a new drive to see my work in print. Life was short and I resolved to achieve my goal sooner rather than later. For me that meant self-publishing. 

I didn’t make much money on my first book. As a result, I once again longed to find a traditional publisher who would take over the copious non-writing related aspects of authordom. But in the meantime, I started to network with other writers. 

One such author reached out to me to gently suggest that my cover looked homemade and that if I wanted to be taken seriously, I should give my future audience a better image to first judge me by. We wound up forming something of a friendship and chatted on the phone a few different times.

This author, let’s call her Lizzie, told me that I needed to decide why I wanted to write and then make my decisions about traditional publishing accordingly. “What do you mean?” I wanted to know. “I want to write because I’m driven to tell stories.”

“But are you writing because you want to validate yourself by seeing your work in bookstores or because you want to make money?”

“Both,” I assured her. 

“That’s a tough one,” she’d told me. It turns out most traditionally published authors, without a history of already successful books, were lucky to get a five-thousand-dollar advance. It’s suggested that money be used to promote their book, and not spent on a fabulous Parisian vacation or new countertops. 

“Doesn’t the publisher pay to promote your book?” I was good and confused. My vision was for Random House (or some other big five publisher) to love my work, give me a six-figure advance and then immediately offer me another deal on a book that wasn’t even written yet. Apparently, that was not going to happen.

Lizzie said, “I’m in it for the contract. I don’t need the money, so it’s straight vanity for me.” She’d already self-published two books and spent thousands of dollars more than she’d made just to get them out into the world.

. . . .

I have a friend who is a New York Times bestselling author and her agent won’t allow her to blurb my books for me. There are book bloggers who soundly refuse to consider reviewing or promoting self-published books. It’s often an us vs. them situation that can leave you questioning your abilities.

Lizzie asked if I’d ever consider a traditional contract now that I’ve figured out what I’m doing. The answer is heck yeah! That’s always been the dream. The difference is that I know a lot about promoting books now, I have a good-sized fan base, and I’ve created a decent online presence. But I’m not signing on the dotted line for any five thousand dollars. 

Am I sitting on my hands waiting for such an offer? Nope. I’ve got my eye on several indie authors who are easily clearing seven figures a year, and I’m going to spend my time figuring out how. Onward and upward!

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Women’s Books

PG gently suggests that boarding the Titanic that is traditional publishing in 2020 is a poor business idea. The author that does so will be signing a poor contract that will last forever and likely be swapped around through multiple bankruptcy proceedings and/or mergers/acquisitions.

At some point in time, publishing contracts will be traded like distressed goods and Russian bonds and more than one “publisher” will send out all its royalty reports without any accompanying checks. Why spend money on bookkeepers when it’s cheaper not to worry about royalty payments at all?

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2 thoughts on “To Self-Publish or Not to Self-Publish: That is the Question”

  1. PG: you left out the best part: “… I read, took classes, and wrote like a fiend. I made mistakes, I course-corrected, I nearly gave up, but I eventually hit my stride. I’ve published eleven romantic comedies, one thriller, one non-fiction humor memoir, two middle reader books, and a children’s book all in the last six years. I’m comfortably making six-figures in a career that I love. Two of my books are currently being considered by different studios; one for a feature film and the other for a television series.”

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