Q&A: What are your thoughts on Self-Publishing?

Q&A: BookBlogger asked: What are your thoughts on Self-Publishing?

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.

12 Responses to “Q&A: What are your thoughts on Self-Publishing?”

  1. Jenna says:

    I’m generally not a big fan of self-publishing, so I agree with this. I think you’d really have to have a knack for selling — or have a platform, like you said — or the time you’d have to spend promoting it would interfere with writing time. At least, that’s what would happen to me.

    • novelteen says:

      True, Jenna. The promotion side of writing takes a lot of time for me too, and I’m traditionally published. I get so frustrated that all I want to do is write, yet weeks go by and I just keep doing marketing/publicity-related things. I imagine it would be worse for someone who self-published.
      Jill

  2. Book blogger says:

    Hmm… I hope one day I’ll see my books in print. Self publishing is too expensive and too risky. Though I do know one person whose books are doing pretty well…

    I know some people who automatically look down on a book if it is self-published, me included. One person I talked to said that self-publishing was fine and that they never even bothered trying to get their book really published. I guess everyone has their own opinion though…

    ♥Book blogger

    • novelteen says:

      That’s true, BookBlogger. Everyone has an opinion. So the best thing to do is research it for yourself. But also keep in mind, writers often say their books are doing well. But unless you see their actual sales, it’s hard to know what they mean by that. 😉

  3. Pam Halter says:

    I agree with what you said, Jill. Considering the years it can take to get traditionally published, I can understand why some want to self-publish. But we have to be careful. I know of one independent house that claims to be traditional (because they pay royalties and tell you you’re investing in your own book) but if a publishing house asks you to pay even one penny, it’s a self-publishing house.

    Some independent publishing houses (that’s what they’re calling themselves today) use print-on-demand. You only pay for the set up costs and only for the amount of books you want. You can order one book or a ten thousand books – each book costs the same no matter how many you order. For a small yearly fee, you can be listed on amazon. For a higher fee, you can get your book into a distributor like Ingram.

    Still, ALL the marketing/selling falls on you. But if you have a niche book with a great outlet, you can make more money self-pubbing. If you choose to do this, please, please, please hire a good freelance editor! If you’re going to spend the time and money to self-pub, you want a strong, well written story.

    Thanks, Jill, for a great blog site!
    pam <

    • novelteen says:

      Pam- Thanks for pointing out about the POD self-publishing houses that don’t demand high minimums. I didn’t think about that. The writing industry is sure changing a lot. I agree with you about editing. Editing is the most important thing missing in self-published books–and not just any editor. A well-trained editor. There are just as many freelance editors out there as there are self-publishing companies. If a writer is going to self-publish, he should do his homework in finding a freelance editor and not take the publisher’s word for it and use who they say. I recommend paying extra to find an editor who comes highly recommended.
      -Jill

  4. Rachelle says:

    I agree. You’ve made some excellent points that I had heard before and yet not had truly clarified. Thank you!

  5. I think I agree with a lot of what Pam said and a lot of what you said, Jill. Publishing houses (real, LEGIT publishing houses) shouldn’t have the author pay a single penny towards the publication of the book. Or so it’s been said.

    I’m not published yet it’s true, but I like to think I know what to look for in a good publishing house. However, I can understand a small press, just coming out, that might have the option open for authors to help towards certain parts of publication, if the author decides that is really what he or she wishes. I’m by no means an expert, but suppose that some regular person (could be anyone: you, me, or your neighbor Joe…) decided to start a legit publishing company but was hard up budget wise to start; I would understand them offering options to the author concerning certain elements of the book… I mean, they would handle most everything for the most part, but if the author wanted a more expensive cover picture than the publisher could afford to commission on their own, I don’t think it would hurt terribly for the author to consider pitching in to help with the commission, or else figuring out another way to get the cover done right. They wouldn’t HAVE to, but it would be an option… a sort of half-way point that the author and the publisher could meet at. (Is this making any sense? O_o) I don’t think the publisher should continue to do this once it gets on its feet, but for the first couple of lists it might not be a terrible idea. As long as the publisher isn’t actually making a profit from the author’s attempts to meet him halfway — as long as the publisher’s main profit comes from the actual sales of the book — then I could understand a compromise like that.

    However, I only think that for a few, new, small presses just coming out. Well, for the most part. One would have to be on the ball though and really KNOW what the publisher was about in order to make certain that he or she was not being cheated. Check it out on Predators and Editors… stuff like that.

    What I think is the most appealing aspect of self-publishing is the control that the author has over the finished product. Authors like having the chance to have some, if not a very substantial amount of say, in what their book looks like in the end. Some traditional publishing companies give authors this, but self-publishing offers total control and for many authors this feels like the real deal… know exactly how the book is going to look in the end and get at least 80% of the profit from sales, if not more. The trouble comes when one looks at the business aspect of self publishing. Not all authors are artists, or formatters, or editors, or even (though I hesitate to say it) good writers. (I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the just plain ugly… O_o) However, a lot of “new” and unlearned authors think that they are all that. I’m not trying to offend anyone, but I know from a first hand experience with a guy who did think such of himself, that this just is NOT the case.

    Thanks for this post Jill. I’ve noticed that the debate between self publishing and traditional publishing has really gotten hot-headed lately. It can be confusing and daunting sometimes, and for an author who isn’t published yet, self publishing can absolutely be appealing. I personally think I will end up going the traditional rout, but it’s so good to read posts like this that just confirm to me what I’ve already decided. Thank you. 😀

    Nichole White

    • novelteen says:

      You are welcome, Nicole! Thanks for all your input on this topic. And you are correct when you mention the idea of an author pitching in for better when working with a small publisher. I know that there are small publishers who would allow that. And with Marcher Lord Press, we need to pitch in some dollars if we want to enter certain contests because our publisher can’t afford to enter everyone on its own. But one must be smart about it. And it must be the author’s idea–or at least not something the author is contracted to do.

  6. Katia says:

    Hmm. To be honest, I was thinking about self-publishing an e-book, but now I’m sort of on the fence. Even if I do the best self-editing possible, I feel like the quality may be a bit lacking. Of course, if I feel that way, I’m sure the publishers would feel the same. I think my manuscript will spend the rest of its life on my nice, little, glowing desktop.

    • Jill Williamson says:

      Katia,
      Why did you want to self-publish an ebook? For me the temptation is to see how it would do. But if I were going to publish my own ebook, I’d still pay an editor and a cover designer. I wouldn’t trust myself alone on any project.

      Don’t get discouraged, though! Have you considered attending a writer’s conference? I’ve sold all my books at writer’s conferences and I’ve learned so much at them too over the years.

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