Is Self-Publishing Right For You?

© Jami Garrison | Dreamstime.com

© Jami Garrison | Dreamstime.com

It’s recently come to my attention that I’m doing pretty darn well as a self-publisher. My sales numbers have been steadily growing, I’m gaining more followers every day, and my latest novel, Fool for Love, has been sitting in the top ten on iBooks list of paid historical romance for over a week. Not too shabby! Plus I was recently talking to a group of traditionally-published mid-list romance writers, all of whom were eager to know how I did it, since they’ve either started or are considering starting self-publishing themselves. Yep, that’s right. Traditionally-published authors are curious about self-publishing.

I’ve long seen teaching workshops at writing conferences and beyond as part of what I want to do as a writer. What better way to start that ball rolling than by sharing my knowledge and experience of self-publishing? I am, apparently, good at it, and after nearly two years and five novels, I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work, what you can expect from this path and what you can’t expect.

So for the next few Wednesdays I’m going to be blogging about self-publishing as a way of gathering my thoughts on the subject into topics that I can use as lessons in workshops of the future. Yes, you are my guinea pigs. Here goes….

Self-publishing. Once a one-way ticket to notoriety of the wrong kind in the publishing world, now it’s the hottest thing going. The digital publishing revolution has made it possible for anyone – and I mean anyone – to publish whatever they want to. On the one hand, self-publishing has given us giants like John Locke, Bella Andre, E.L. James, and Amanda Hocking. On the other hand, it has given us thousands of cringe-worthy, half-baked, forgotten novels by well-meaning writers who don’t quite know what they’re doing.

And of course each of us thinks we’re the next sizzling sensation, not the next big yawn. But how do we know? How do we decide whether we’re ready to jump into the self-publishing waters to tempt our fates or whether it would be better to pursue the classic publishing route of agent, editor, deal?

How do you know if self-publishing is right for you?

I wanna be like Frank!

I wanna be like Frank!

I believe that the answer comes down to personality. Contrary to what you might think, I don’t believe that self-publishing is the choice of the excitable and adventurous. It’s easy to think that people who would be attracted to this route to publication are the independent ones, the rule-breakers and the envelope-pushers. This is cutting-edge stuff, right? So the doers and the shakers are the ones who should take advantage of it, right?

Not quite. Writing a novel, working it through its paces through draft after draft to form it into something suitable for curling up in bed with on a stormy night is a hard, hard business. It requires focus, dedication, and more self-awareness than you might be comfortable with. It requires waking up early to write before work or staying home while your friends go out to finish the chapter. It requires networking and participation in writers organizations, attending writing classes and conferences and studying books to hone your craft. Writing is hard work!

If you’re self-publishing, that’s only the beginning of the work you have to do. There’s still formatting, revisions, building a platform – not to mention maintaining it, networking, combing the web for marketing opportunities, and lots and lots of money.

Doesn’t sound like the kind of thing a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, thrill-seeker would have much patience for, does it. Because it’s not. Writers who get too excited about the ease of digital publishing and who don’t have the patience to follow all of the steps that a book goes through when it has been contracted by a publisher the traditional way are the ones who end up with wince-worthy efforts that drop off the map as soon as they hit it.

If you can’t hold yourself to a rigid schedule, if you don’t have the patience to let a manuscript sit in order to gain perspective, then to go back and edit it five or six more times, if you don’t have skin thick enough to hand your half-baked prose around to a plethora of beta-readers, if you don’t have the humility to hire a professional editor and cover designer, and if you aren’t willing to mirror every step those big, bad publishing companies take before shipping a book out to brick-and-mortar shops, then self-publishing isn’t right for you.

writers vacationBut what if you are willing to put in the work? What if you are serious, determined, patient, and dedicated … but also broke. I said above that one of the things you need to self-publish is money. Really? Can’t you self-publish without money?

Sure you can. But if you want your book to look and read like a traditionally-published novel – and don’t we all, really? – then you need to treat it as an investment. I’ve spent roughly $300 on each of my novels to get them published. That includes hiring a professional editor and cover designer. That’s also way, way cheap (I got lucky). I’ve spent more than that on marketing, some of which worked, some of which was a waste of money, but that’s a story for another day. So yes, you do need to invest a little if you’re going to self-publish.

So are you willing to buckle down, make sacrifices, and do the work? Are you willing to follow every step, even the boring or painful ones? Are you willing to put up some capital? Then self-publishing might just be for you.

Next week, we’ll take a closer look at what self-publishing is and isn’t, and we’ll examine the essential things that you’ll need in order to do this thing. Ready?

If you have any questions or anything specific you’d like to know about self-publishing, go ahead and ask and I’ll include it in future lessons/posts.

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20 thoughts on “Is Self-Publishing Right For You?

  1. Merry–This is the most concise article on self-publishing that I’ve seen. I’d love to share it with my RWA chapter, with your permission, and full credit to you.

    • I’d love that, Becky. This is the first in what will be a series of articles on the topic. Hopefully I’ll be able to bring something new and useful to the table! =D

  2. I’m VERY excited to read your Wednesday posts. You seem to be where I want to be someday (after ten years of revision, etc). I finally self- published, and like you I called in a few professionals. I designed my own cover first because I really just wanted to take the plunge with a rough-cut of my book as an e-book (this took much patience and courage!) but was never really happy with it. The professional did a perfect job! I’ve learned so much! I hadn’t realized how once you have the hard copy of a book in paperback (the proof) you notice even more things to edit and even more little typos! I spent many, many weekends avoiding the family to read the book over and over–my butt hurt! But it was so worth it. I have a book I’m very proud of. Now comes the real marketing! Yikes!

    • Yay! Congratulations on getting it done! I’ll definitely be talking about marketing (what works and what is a total waste of time and money) down the road. Stay tuned! And thanks!

  3. I am shakily tossing my hat into the self pubbing ring next month. Granted, it’s a novella series (each book is approx 40k words), but even I, a professional editor, have taken my work to other editors, am working with a pro on the cover, and sit here wondering if I have the ovaries to do this. Luckily, I have wonderful friends willing to put up with my neurotic questions so I do this *right* out of the gate. Then it’s fingers crossed.

    Keep going on the Wednesday posts – I’ll be here checking every week!

    • Way to go, T.J.! I can’t wait to see your novellas. And you’re right, it takes chutzpah to self-publish. And next week I’ll be posting about what you can and can’t expect from the process once you click that “publish” button. 😉

  4. Looking forward t this series. Your blog is among one of the top 10 most shared by me and I’ll bet each of your post on this topic will find its way to my twitter and FB feed.

    • Thanks so much, Tasha! That’s such a wonderful compliment and it means so much to me. I hope I can continue to live up to your expectations. =D

  5. Sorry! Late to get here, but I’m so glad I could make it! Self-publishing is near and dear to my heart. I never would have thought of doing it, if it weren’t for some brave friends who took the leap before I did. If I had stayed with my publisher, I wouldn’t have the royalties or rights I now have. And I couldn’t agree more about writing being an investment–of time and money. Plus, this way I can tell my cover designer what I want on my cover, and she does it!!! Beautifully, I might add. If I had stayed I wouldn’t have had a say in any of that. Well, maybe a little, but not like now. But I think, Merry, you are absolutely right in saying that it is not something to jump into. Taking your time and learning your craft is indispensable. I know what it’s like to be a new writer, and just want my story out there so bad! But learning to write it in the most careful, eloquent, and yet concise prose is SO worthwhile!

    Looking forward to your next post!! Please let there be marketing tips soon!

    • You’ve hit the nail on the head exactly, Lani. I think the biggest mistake I see from self-published authors is that they jumped into things without really learning the craft or making sure their book was ready. That’s definitely something I’m going to talk about later. And I’ll be talking about marketing too, although I’m not an expert. It will be what I’ve learned so far from experience. But self-publishing has made me want to go back to school and get a degree in marketing!

    • Thanks Kimberly! Well, my long-time editor just moved on to a position where she wasn’t able to keep her freelance clients, so I’m looking for a new editor myself at the moment. I’ll be doing a post about that in a few weeks and I’ll try to get some recommendations and come up with a list of suggestions. Stay tuned!

  6. Pingback: Essentials of Self-Publishing: Expectations and Needs | Merry Farmer

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