Self-publishing is when you pay to have your book published. You put the money into getting the book made. There is no editor to help you make it better. (A select few self-publishing houses now have editors you can hire.) On top of this, you often have to purchase a certain number of books. This means you have to store these books somewhere (your garage, your closet, your trunk) until you can manage to sell them yourself. Many people sign up with the wrong company. And while there are some great self-publishing companies out there, there are ten times more that are scammers wanting to rip you off. Do your research!
Teens often throw out Christoper Paolini’s name when this topic is broached. The fantasy novel Eragon was self-published by Christopher’s parents in 2003. (But he started writing it in 1999, so that was three years of serious dedication to his craft. He had already graduated high school by age 15, so he had lots of time on his hands. Click here to read Christopher’s biography.)
Financially backed by his parents with 10,000 copies, they went on a book tour to promote the book. Over 130 talks were given at schools, libraries and bookshops. (I can’t even afford to do that!) Novelist Carl Hiaasen picked up a copy of Eragon and told Knopf about the book, which led to a major publishing deal.
The thing is, there are always one or two over-the-top success stories that motivate people. But these kinds of stories happen as often as someone wins the lottery. It’s very rare. And the copy of Eragon that you read at your local library is not that self-published version. Check this out to see what the first one looked like. (Too bad none of us can afford to read the inside now, huh?) How many of you have parents who would quit their jobs, sell their house, and go on the road to promote your novel? Probably none. Nor should they! It’s just too big of a financial risk.
Now there are many teens out there with self-published books. I’ve met dozens of them. Sweet kids with neat stories. And I’m not saying the fact that they self-published is a bad thing. I’m just saying it is TOUGH to sell those books, isn’t it? It’s tough to sell any book.
I have never been a fan or Pampered Chef, Creative Memories, Avon, or Mary Kay, you name it. Because I hate selling things to people. And I hate only getting invited to someone’s house because they want me to buy something. I don’t want the pressure of 1000 books in my garage begging to be sold. I don’t want to look at everyone I come across as a potential sale. It’s just too stressful for me.
Self-publishing is best for people who have a speaking platform to sell their books. Say you survived a freak case of small pox and wrote your own harrowing tale. Medical groups across the country would be clamoring to have you speak at their summer retreats. So you decide to self-publish your story and sell it on the back table. Because you have gigs—a place to sell your book—it makes sense to put your money into self-publishing at this point.
Now with ebooks, there is very little cost to publish your own book. I think this is dangerous. Because there are now thousands of writers self-publishing ebooks who aren’t ready to be published. Buyers will not tolerate this for long. Because even .99 cents is too much to pay to read something filled with errors and no plot.
I’m not trying to be mean. I’m being realistic. Writing books is a business. It’s also an art. Most people don’t get good at anything without years of practice. So just because someone can self-publish an ebook—or a print book—it doesn’t mean they should. A person only gets one chance to have her first novel published. It’s her name, her reputation on the line. So make a good, smart, patient choice and wait until you are ready.
I strongly encourage writers to keep writing. To be patient. To practice, practice, practice and learn, learn, learn. Read books on how to be a better writer. (Some of my favorites are listed here.) Read books in your genre. Get involved in a critique group and learn what other people say about your writing. And save up and attend writer’s conferences. I’ve sold all my books at writer’s conferences so far. And writer’s conferences are the best place to show your writing to editors and agents who can give you feedback. The better you get, the better book you’ll write, the better chance you’ll have of getting published by a traditional, royalty-paying publisher, the better chance you’ll have of doing a whole lot of Snoopy dancing.
And when I see your book in print, I’ll dance too.