The Case for Self Publishing


My life–as my students know–has been one big experiment.

I come from a traditional background in publishing. I spent five years as a weekly newspaper managing editor, and ten as a book and magazine editor. I have eight books published under two different publishing house brands. And so I am not unfamiliar with how the publishing world works, at least with the two publishers I have worked with.

Since that time, I have gone into teaching writing at a university, and I have written several titles that I haven’t had published yet. And now I come to the choice of once again following the traditional route versus what used to be called self-publishing. And I am just about ready to take the leap into the great unknown.

And I am going in with eyes open. One of the big reasons why I haven’t done it before this point is the general assumption that if you self-publish, it’s because your work wasn’t good enough for a publishing house. Well, as I tell my students, there are many, many reasons beyond quality that an editor might find to reject your manuscript. And seeing what I have seen with regular publishing, the arguments against self publishing grow weaker and weaker.

Consider this:

* Generally speaking, when a book is accepted, a publisher’s job is really limited to editing and prepping your manuscript for publication, printing it, and getting it into bookstores. If you are lucky, you might get them to pay for a display ad or two, and perhaps even get you on some talk show to promote your book. But the reality is, for the most part promotion is on the shoulders of the author. As I read in one publisher’s writer’s guidelines: “We expect you to first develop a following, then come to us for publication.” This goes hand in hand with the agent’s attitude that you should first get a publishing deal, THEN contact them for representation. The risk is all on the author, and in this market, few publishers or agents want to take any on themselves.

* Self publishing–thanks to websites like Smashwords and CreateSpace–is becoming easier and easier. What’s a challenge is getting your books into bookstores. And looking at my own buying habits for books, that becomes moot, thanks to Amazon.com and BarnesandNobles.com. My habit is to find a book in a store, write the title down, then order it online. And I suspect many others do the same. Ebooks are still in their infancy, but give them five years and they will give print a run for their money. But even going with the paper version, CreateSpace makes it possible to print on demand, thereby saving you money up front.

* Promotion. This is what it all comes down to these days. Whether you self publish, or go with an established publisher, you will spend a great deal of time in self promotion. As a fellow author and editor told me recently, “Authors are expected to spend at least 50% of their time in self promotion.” That being said, it doesn’t leave a lot of time to write that next novel, but it gives one less and less reason to go with the publishing house.

And I know that I might be making a terrific mistake is starting this little enterprise. But like I said earlier, my life is an experiment.

I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

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2 thoughts on “The Case for Self Publishing

  1. I will be interested to see how it goes, being an independent copy editor who contracts with a publishing house. I would be interested to see the differences between the self-publishing outlets. I know Amazon is also starting to offer a self-publishing service.

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