To Self-Publish or Not to Self-Publish?

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So, you have this book and you don’t know what to do with it. Let’s say it’s your 100,000-word masterpiece and you’ve just finished it off. You want to do something with it, but you aren’t sure what. As far as you know, you have two realistic options: begin the traditional publishing process or self-publish. This assumes that “finishing it off” includes a respectable amount of editing until absolutely perfect.

A number of different factors go into making this decision, but before we go into all of them, let’s tackle patience, because most of it boils down to that. Some people self-publish simply because they want their book published now rather than having to wait long periods of time going the traditional route. This is a deterrent from doing it the “normal” way for sure, as it is widely known that you’re going to be saddled with a lengthy timetable. From the minute you finish your book to the minute the book appears on the shelf, you are probably looking at several years before people have their copies.

Of course, there is a long process with which a would-be author must contend before getting to that point. If you’re submitting to a literary agent, and you probably should if you’re going traditional, you must first prepare a query letter. If you’re unaware of this or don’t know how to write one, you’re in luck: there are some terrific websites that handle these topics, including AgentQuery and Query Shark. The former has all sorts of information on how to prepare query letters and contact information for lit agents in your genre, while the latter is a blog started by an agent who tears apart user-submitted queries she receives to help writers improve upon them.

Then, once your query is completed, you must send it out to agents. Unless you have prepared one of the best queries ever penned by a human being or you have some other inexplicable “in” with an agent prior to sending, prepare to receive rejections. Lots of rejections. They don’t have anything against you, but they might against what you just sent them, and remember, if they’re going to attach their name to it and represent it, it has to intrigue them and blow them away. In any event, make sure it is absolutely perfect and start distributing to agents — if you’re lucky, you’ll eventually move onto the next stage: sending pages.

From sending pages to sending a full manuscript, from the full manuscript to representation, from representation to the publisher — I’ll save the rest of the process for another day, but the bottom line is that it is a long, multi-step procedure. Still, there are a great many people to whom it appeals.

With self-publishing, the middlemen are eliminated; it’s just you, the book, and the internet. There are options available for self-publishing, such as Amazon Kindle Direct and Smashwords for digital copies as well as Lulu and CreateSpace for print copies. You will spend time formatting it perfectly and then uploading, but remember, cover design and advertising/marketing are 100% your responsibility, and some find that off-putting. At the same time, if you traditionally publish, you can’t always count on an advertising blitz by your publisher on your behalf, but the work will be out there for people to see.

When it comes to money, which is a universal language the whole world around, if you make it through the rigorous gauntlet, you will get an advance. For a first-time published author, you could be seeing anywhere up to about $10,000 as royalties come into play. Even though you’ll get your money, at the outset, it isn’t likely to be anything off of which you can quit your job, and you’ll be waiting a while to get it. For self-publishing, you aren’t guaranteed to make a dime, but in controlling the marketing fate of your work(s) and doing it right, you can make some change and do it on a faster timetable. This isn’t likely to be big money — for example, if you sell a 99-cent ebook, you’ll probably make about a 35-cent royalty.

The last big issue we’ll explore is content. If you send to an agent and get it in the hands of a publisher, you will probably have to make edits. When you self-publish, you have complete independence with regards to what is in your book.

I haven’t assessed the “stigma” attached to self-publishing, because that seems to be on the wane as of 2012 and is becoming regarded as an acceptable alternative.

The bottom lines are these:

Traditional publishing: Long process, representation (unless sending directly to a publisher’s slush pile), guaranteed money (advance), limitations on editorial control, distribution
Self-publishing: Shorter process, no representation or guaranteed money, unlimited editorial control, ebook distribution, self-marketing

The choice is yours. What’s your approach to publishing?

About Joe

Joe is a writer; that should be perfectly evident to you by now. If, for some reason, it is not evident to you, you should probably contact Joe and tell him that he's not trying hard enough. Joe is an author and freelance writer from New York. He has a B.A. from Boston College and has blogged for a number of years. Joe released his debut novel in 2012, and also has penned a number of short stories.