To self-publish or not, part 1. plus, Rejection Party

I started to address my thoughts on self vs. traditional publishing and realized that it is definitely a two-parter. In part one I’ll start to tell why a lot of the reasons writers choose to self publish are wrong. In part 2 I’ll wrap up the list and tell you why I’m going for it anyway.
When I tell people that I’m going to have a book (or 2) coming out this year, they get really excited/impressed/etc. When I tell them I’m self publishing, the lights go out and it turns into a bland “oh. That’s cool, too.”
There are many different reasons why writers will self-publish, and unfortunately for the reader they aren’t always good reasons. Some common reasons I’ve heard are-

  • “It’s easy”
  • “I’m sick of looking at rejections”
  • “You get to keep more money”
  • “I just want my story out there”
  • “I’m a control freak”
  • “I’m bad at writing outlines/synopses/queries”
  • “I’m a writer, I’m shy, I don’t want to deal with people”
I’m going to address these one by one and tell you why I think they’re (usually) the wrong reasons.
“It’s easy”

Here’s the thing- it’s NOT easy. There are a lot of things to consider and a lot to keep track of. There are a lot of companies that will help you self publish and weeding through them all can be daunting. You can spend more money and have someone else take care of all the formatting, cover art, editing, etc or you can spend a lot less and DIY. Prices I’ve seen range from $0 to $12,000. I don’t know what you get for $12,000 or who has that money to self publish with. It was called the diamond package, maybe it comes with diamonds!

Either way you have to decide on distribution channels and method, price, and a million other tiny details that can make or break your books success. I recently had a fellow writer say “I thought writing it was the hard part.” I laughed with a little bitterness at when my innocence was lost and I learned for real that the writing is the easy part.
After writing it, revising it, and even choosing a publisher comes the hard part. Even if you choose to utilize the companies editor, cover copy writer, cover designer (or, shudder, online design software), and format service, you still need to market your book and yourself. This means, websites, blogs, social media, mailings/emails, setting up your own book tour/launch party/blog hop. It means letting as many people know, as efficiently as possible, that your book exists. It means finding people who will review it and asking them to do that. It means a while lot of footwork, phone calls and abusing your Google privileges (or racking up Bing points). Sure you can hire a marketing company, or use the companies marketing service, but what do you get for your money? A press release and some cover copy? An announcement in the paper?
“I’m sick of looking at rejections”

I know I’m in the minority here, but ever since I decided that I wanted to take my story writing and world building to the next level and get published, I’ve been looking forward to my first rejection. I was going to jump up and down and twirl around with my arms up and kiss a stranger like it was an acceptance letter. Because you’re not a real writer until youve been rejected. When I decided to self publish I was kind of bummed that I’d be robbing myself of the experience.
I was wrong.

Editing is a non-negotiable part of publishing in my opinion, and having a real live professional editor who can correct all the mistakes while respecting my “voice” is necessary. I talked to quite a few editors to get quotes and sample edits, so obviously they all read the first few pages of my manuscript. While most of them said things like “you’ve created a very interesting world. I’d be delighted to work on this with you”, one of them took a pass. She said:
I have read your pages and do see the beginnings of a very interesting novel. You’ve created a unique world, but I don’t get enough of the characters. I’m not compelled to follow them — and that’s something you want to establish in the very first pages. I’m going to pass on this project, but wish you all best wishes. Keep up the good work.”
 
“Your writing is so bad, you literally CANNOT PAY ME to read the rest of this.”
 
Of course part of me started panicking- was my writing too passive? Did I not include enough inner turmoil? Was it the POV thing again? Should I have started in the middle of a DIFFERENT conflict???? OMG WHERE DID I GO WRONG??????
Of the 10 or so editors I’d contacted, 2 or 3 had specifically pointed out how much they liked the characters. When I read “good job” “interesting” and “I really want to read the rest” type comments I kind of assumed that they a.) found it at least mildly interesting/readable and b.) want my money. These are people providing me a sample of their work in the hopes that I will HIRE them. I wouldn’t expect to hear “Your writing is garbage” or “This is too boring to work on”. So I wondered if she was right, and if I SHOULD do something about it. 
Then I took a breath, sent back a really REALLY brief email to the tune of “Thank you for your response” and thought about it. I feel that my characters are fine. I feel that the ratio of world building- character building- conflict is about as good as it can get without throwing in a lot of “Anala is X tall, with shoulder length brown hair and light brown eyes- a mild variation of every other Sky Town female.” and “She liked to solve problems, so much so that she hung out with Velena, Janie and Khatzi solely because they created problems” and “Velena was an Alternative Energy tech who really wanted to escape a marriage that shouldn’t have been legal in the first place” type TELLING statements. 
 
“We interrupt this action to tell you about the character’s childhood pet”
 
That’s not me. That’s not what I’m about. I’m about- let me take you on this ride and I will show you everything that is relevant or even a little important. I’ve been called out for passive statements, bad punctuation, not describing appearances enough (not naming the main character in the entire first chapter- The Beast), and occasionally word choice, but this is the first time that I’ve heard that my characters fell short. Granted, she said she didn’t get enough of them- but there isn’t a line in the first chapter that doesn’t involve them, so it’s THEM that’s the problem. I re-read it to make sure that we were seeing the same thing; that she was seeing the same thing as all the other editors. Then, when I was satisfied that I still stood by my ratio and presentation of the characters, world, and action- I patted myself on the back and moved on. I posted about it on Facebook, I told my parents, I high-fived my boyfriend and I hugged my kids. I hadn’t realized that even choosing the self-publishing route opens you up to rejection before it’s ever even published. My boyfriend is the one who translated it to “Your writing is so bad, you literally CANNOT PAY ME to read the rest of this”, with a huge, proud grin on his face. 
I’d faced my first rejection, took it with a rain of salt, and moved on. My writing isn’t for everyone, and I’m okay with that. 
 
The other half of the rejection issue is that even if you bypass the publisher/agent/and even editor (please don’t), you’re still submitting your work to the public, who can and will reject it. Loudly, publicly, and will turn other people away from anything with your name on it. If you’re okay with that, then the opinions of an agent or publishing house shouldn’t bother you at all. At least their rejections are polite, unlike reviews which would be anything from “why isn’t 0 stars an option?” to “this is the biggest pile of garbage I’ve ever tried to read” or the cold, distant one star rating with no review at all. 
If you can handle the fact that not every reader will like your book, then you should be able to handle that publishers, agents, etc ARE READERS. And, quite often they are looking for something very specific to put their name on. I mean VERY specific- “erotic romance featuring motorcycles which takes place during the holidays” or “military romance thriller set in a foreign country with one party being a soldier and the other party being a local.” or “urban fantasy coming of age story with a paraplegic hero who can shapeshift into a paraplegic goat.” (At least 2 of these are real.) You COULD be getting rejected alongside a JK Rowling. 
Rejection isn’t so bad when it leads you down the path to the right agent or editor.
 
 
“You get to keep more money”
If you’ve got a built-in audience ready to shout your praises from the highest rooftops (a’ la 50 Shades of Grey) or if you’re established and a fan favorite and your rabid fans will follow you wherever you go and write papers about whatever you decide to scribble on the back of a napkin (a’la Stephen King), then this is a valid reason to self publish.
If you’re like every other debut author who MIGHT sell 50 copies of your first novel, then this is 100% irrelevant or maybe even not true. By the time you’ve paid for publishing, cover design, editing, marketing, and any other bells and whistles (release party, domain names, business cards, bookmarks, giveaways…), the amount of money you get from your royalties (after printing costs and the distributors cut, which could be anything from 30%-80%) is basically negligible. If you make enough sales to cover a cup of coffee- SAVOR THAT COFFEE. Maybe you sell 20, maybe you sell 500. Either way,it’s not enough money to surpass the support in other areas that doing it the “traditional” way would afford you. 
So there’s part 1. What do YOU think? If you self-published, what were your reasons? Do you think I’m selling these ones short or overlooking others? If you self-published, is there anything you wish you could have done differently? If you didn’t self publish- do you ever wish you HAD?
Post a comment, and if you’ve got a self-published book, post a link to it!
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