Wednesday, February 3, 2010

To Self-Publish or Not To Self-Publish?

Now I have not self-published, nor do I have any such plans. However, I know people who have self-published, some happily, some not so much. It all depends what you want. So this week I’ve written my findings in response to questions posed by some friends of mine. I’m open to any other suggestions or information anyone else may wish to add, but based on what I’ve read (both in books and online) and seen amongst other writers these are my current conclusions on self-publishing.

If you write a book or story and plan to circulate it amongst your local community or circle of acquaintances, then self-publishing might be just what you want. However, if you have starrier eyes and envision your book in Barnes and Noble someday self-publishing is probably not for you. Don’t get me wrong, both options have their pros and cons.

Advantages of self-publishing include actually getting your book out there for people to see. For instance, I’ve had people online ask me where they can buy the current book I’m promoting. I get excited when my writing genuinely engages someone I’ve never met before. But when that happens it’s difficult to have to say to these eager readers, “I’m sorry, but this story isn’t published yet.” However, before you jump on the self-publishing bandwagon realize that there are two potential drawbacks of going this route. One, you have to do all the promotion, management, web work, touring, salesmanship, etc. required to get your book out there by yourself. Some people thrive on this, and some not so much. Two, and possibly the most important, literary agents will not want anything to do with your book once you self-publish it.

Why should you care? Well, for better or worse, the publishing industry works in set ways. To get a book out in a bona fide bookstore usually requires three major steps (and I’m simplifying here). One, you need a literary agent. They handle the business side of things, and they have the contacts to get in good with a publishing house. Two, most reputable publishers wont even talk to you without a respectable literary agent. Three, the publishing house then gets your book to the next stage, the actual Barnes and Noble, Borders, and other major stores where you can really promote your book. Since most literary agents look down on self-publishing, getting immediately rejected by them for self-publishing can be a major drawback if you want to ever see your book make the big time. The vast majority of successful books go the agent route and not the self-publishing one.

This doesn’t mean that self-published books never go big or get picked up, but it’s extremely rare. It may discourage you to have to wade through the tedious journey and numerous rejection letters that lead to securing a literary agent who will actually agree to represent you, but it’s usually the only viable long-term solution. This is the key difference between self-publishing and not self-publishing. In the short-tem self-publishing can be satisfying because you can actually get your book out to people you know. One fellow writer of mine self-published and actually sold over 1,000 copies of his novel online, checkout his site at However, most major authors that you’ve probably heard of went the other route via a literary agent, and they almost certainly wouldn’t have gotten that agent if they had self-published. Such is the stigma.

Neither route is a bed of roses, whether you run your own self-publishing site or you attempt to court a prominent literary agent. I myself am trying the latter, and although I’ve generated some genuine interest and gotten good feedback it’s been a long journey and one I will continue to pursue despite the difficulties. I hope that this blurb has helped and if anyone has other experiences or books they’ve read on the subject that may shed some light on this please let me know. Thanks.

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