Sunday, April 05, 2009

Should I Self-publish?

Many people have suggested self-publishing as an alternative to selling to an NY publisher. (Others have suggested e-publishing...which perhaps I'll address at another time.)

First, a question, fellow readers: how many self-pubbed novels have you bought? My guess is zero or less than a handful.

The Pros:
1. You will get to hold a copy of your book in your hand, see your name on the spine and show it to your friends and family.

2. According to my research, self-publishing often works better for non-fiction. I am considering self-publishing a non-fiction book I'm working on with a friend. We wrote a proposal and got this feedback from a couple of big agents: great proposal, great idea. But you have no platform.
Platform means you're already well-known and highly established in your field, via the Internet, TV/radio, print media. My Web site gets a fair number of hits, but not enough (yet?) to equal a platform. My co-author and I haven't yet decided whether we want to try to build one.

3. If you work hard enough, and spend enough time/money/energy on promotion/publicity, you can probably make a little money.

The Cons:
1. It's not called a 'mass market' novel for nothing. In today's world you still need mass market distribution, availability in bookstores, any publisher support you can get to grow readership and sales. Most self-publishers I've researched charge extra for each service/benefit you'd receive from a traditional publisher.

2. I'd have to hand sell almost every copy. Sure, someone could stumble across it amidst the zillions for sale and buy it, and these days you can get an ISBN number via various self-publishers so you can sell your book in online 'stores.' Sure, my mom and some of my friends would buy my book. But though I know a lot of people, it could take a year to sell even 1,000 copies, which isn't very many to the agents and editors you might want to represent or buy your next opus. And if I'm spending that much time self-marketing, when will I write the next book? Some self-publishers offer various types of marketing packages, with separate fees for each type of media. These can run into the thousands of dollars.

3. It seems that anyone can self-publish almost anything. There is almost no vetting of quality or marketability, though some sites will evaluate your manuscript...for a fee. Traditional editors/agents won't buy or represent you if they don't love your work and see $ dollar signs when they read it, because they are putting their reputations on the line. Just because you and your best friend think your manuscript is amazing doesn't mean it is.

5. Only a VERY few self-pubbed novels are are picked up by an NY publisher.
But then, someone wins the lottery every week...

6. Will you get reviewed if you self-publish? There are hundreds of traditionally published books out every month competing for increasingly limited review spots in major newspapers and magazines. Sure, online sites can review more books, but how will yours stand out if they do?

The jury's still out on this topic...

For good news about self-publishing, see:

More Self-Publishers Hit the Big Time in Publishers Weekly

The Lace Reader in Publishers Weekly

On the other hand,

SFWA has this to say here

Tess Gerritsen's thoughts

And agent Nathan Bransford offers his pros and cons, with lots of reader comments.

Interested in self-publishing your Great American Novel?

Wikipedia says

LifeTips on self publishing

Check out these self-publishers:





Gregory said...

There is such a negative tone to this blog. I found it condescending and unhelpful. I really hate when these so called experts say things like, " Just because you and your friend think your manuscript is amazing, doesn't mean it is."
Well, just because you don't think its amazing, doesn't mean that isn't.
This is what I have to say about self-publishing. If you want to do it, then do it! and have fun and screw the industry, and the experts, and the naysayers!
joy to the world

Karen said...

This is a question I am grappling with also, so I enjoyed seeing your perspective on the subject. I tend toward optimism, though. My co-author and I are still undecided with regard to self-publishing. But I am reading a great book on the topic and it is quite helpful. Check out Dan Poynter's Self-Publishing Manual.