Self-Publishing: It’s Not for Everyone

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I have written nine manuscripts. Four of them I have attempted to get published—three of which will likely never see the light of day—and four will need massive, book-altering revisions to stand a chance. Whether or not those revisions will take place remains to be seen.

Ten years ago, having nothing but a hard drive full of unpublished manuscripts and a dream wasn’t uncommon. Traditional publishing was just as hard to get into as it is today, and while self-publishing existed, it was extraordinarily difficult to be a successful self-publisher and was largely not taken seriously as an option.

But now things are different. Now self-publishing is a perfectly valid and wonderful option for many writers. Now you’re just as likely to hear about breakout indie writers as you are successful debut traditional authors. Self-publishing has proven itself, and there are opportunities for writers like never before.

And I’ve noticed for some time now, that there’s been a fair amount of pressure on writers like me—writers with books in the drawer who continue writing anyway without an agent, or contract, or other milestone of publishing success.

I’ve noticed people looking at writers like me and saying well, why haven’t you self-published? 

I mean, it’s a valid question, particularly for those with polished manuscripts and a lack of response from the traditional publishing world. But the thing is, self-publishing isn’t for everyone.

Those who have self-published know that going indie isn’t a decision you make on a whim—it’s a career move, and one that you have to be fully dedicated to in order to succeed. It involves taking full control of the book publishing process, from first draft to final, fully e-book formatted ready-to-publish draft. It means finding an editor and a cover artist and taking on the full responsibility of marketing, all the while writing the next book. It’s a lot of work, and for some people, it’s a fantastic choice.

But then there are writers who would rather trade the control over the cover and layout and marketing decisions for an opportunity to work with a publishing team—to have an agent by your side and some career guidance along the way. Some writers prefer the collaborative effort of creating a book, and don’t mind trading the lower royalties for the chance at wider, in-bookstore distribution. Not that there’s any guarantee of that, mind you, but for some, the risk is worth it. For some, that’s the choice that’s right for them.

I’m not going to say that I’ll never self-publish, because I don’t know that that’s true. Maybe one day I’ll decide that it’s time to wade into the indie waters, but for now, at least, I’ll continue to pursue the traditional dream. And if it never happens, then it never happens, but I’ll keep writing anyway and I’ll do it with no regrets because I’ll know I pursued what was right for me.

What do you think? For those who have self-published, would you agree that it’s not for everyone? For those that haven’t, have you ever been asked why not? 

Twitter-sized bites: 

Going indie isn't a decision you make on a whim. (Click to tweet)

Self-publishing isn't for everyone—and this is why. (Click to tweet)


Author Susan Kaye Quinn said...

First, I think it's unfortunate when any author is feeling the pressure from outside forces do to anything that's not feeling right to them - you have to listen to your inner voice, be smart, but also know your own self. Writing is filled with these kinds of external-internal conflicts.

For those who have self-published, would you agree that it’s not for everyone?

Only in the sense that publishing is not for everyone. I think much is made of how "hard" self-publishing is, how there are only certain personality types that are well-suited for self-publishing, when in fact, any kind of publishing is hard. Self-publishing is no barrier to getting an agent, in fact, most of my self-pubbed friends got their agent after self-publishing. And believe me that their contracts are better (more freedom) than the standard agent-contract - why? Because they had leverage when they signed them. Likewise with traditional contracts - the terms will be better, if you have leverage going into that negotiation. Do you want a team? One that will actually edit your book and then actually market it? And actually sell it to bookstores to get it on shelves? Those are the kinds of terms you have better leverage negotiating. And having a publishing team is something that every writer - indie or trad - has to have to be successful. The difference is that indie authors hire their team, whereas the trad-pub team hires the writer (in essence).

If your dream is to be in bookstores, trad-pub is still the more-direct route for that. But I won't say it's the faster route. Because I've seen too many authors only land that trad-pub contract after successfully indie publishing. Not that I recommend that - it's still unusual to be picked up, and you have to be a break-out success for that to happen (typically). To be clear: I don't suggest that authors go into indie publishing to land a trad-pub contract. You will most likely be disappointed in that outcome.

Every author has to make their own choice - don't worry about the pressures from other people. The decision is not theirs. Make sure you know your own self, and then you won't go wrong. :)

Ava Jae said...

So many great points! Firstly, I agree that the pressure is unfortunate, which is why I thought it necessary to write the post.

Next, I think you're totally right about publishing in general being difficult. You also make a great point about self-publishing not being a barrier to getting an agent--like you, I've spoken to and heard of many indie writers who got an agent post-self-publishing. There are so many options and different journeys nowadays, from fully self-published to hybrid authors and straight traditional--and there isn't really a wrong option. Just an option that's best for that individual. And I also agree that it's likely not a good idea to enter self-publishing with the aim of getting a traditional contract.

In the end, I think it comes down to what you said with your closing sentence: Make sure you know your own self, and then you won't go wrong. Wonderfully said.

Thank you for such a thoughtful response, Susan!

Carla said...

Becoming a self-publisher is commitment that you can take if you are ready to become a real publisher, a small one, but yet real. Yes, you publish your own work, but you must think and act like a publisher, be professional like a publisher. If you are not ready to do so, you are not ready to self-publish. Being a talented writer is defintely not enough for self-publishing.
I'm a self-publisher and I'm in touch every day with other indie authors who haven't understood that and continue to go nowhere, because they do not want to take that commitment. They like to see it as a hobby. Okay, they can do what they want, but I don't think it's respectful towards their readers who spend money and time to read their books.

Peter Dudley said...

I agree with Susan on all her points, particularly the disappointment with the pressure you feel. It would be so much better if people focused on facts rather than beliefs when discussing self publishing with writers pondering it.

My decision to self-publish had very little to do with what others told me. In fact, most of my writing community was pulling in the other direction. "If you haven't received 50 or more rejections, you just haven't tried hard enough." Like that makes any sense. Anyway, I have found throughout my life that people who pressure you do make the same decision they made are either zealots (my way is best always) or insecure (if you choose to do what I did, then that validates my choice). Either way, they are telling you what's best for THEM, not what's best for YOU.

My experience with self publishing has been wonderful, if not terribly lucrative. I get my lucre from my day job, though, so I was never looking for lucrative. It's all in understanding your own goals, capabilities, strengths, and desires. Once you're comfortable with those, then whatever decision you make you can make with confidence and just ignore all the nattering around you.

Morgan Shamy said...

Spot on post. I respect people who self publish. I think it's amazing what they do---but I also know that I have no desire to do it. So I totally get it. :-)

E.J. Wesley said...

Very well-said, Ava. I think, more than anything, you need to be prepared to publish (self or traditional) from a writing confidence standpoint. It takes a long time to reach a point where you KNOW you can write the story in your head to completion. Meaning, you're confident in your abilities to the point you don't need lots of reassurance, and if given some guidance, you can apply it.

We ALL get to the point in revisions/editing where we don't know how to fix what's wrong. But if you're still at a place where you can't figure it out even when others tell you, or you aren't willing to go through the pain of fixing it--i.e., re-writing EVERYTHING--you're probably not ready to publish.

You also need to be at a point where you've developed and at least somewhat grasp what your unique writing voice is. If every story you write feels like someone completely different wrote it, I'm not sure you've got the style part down. (I've got about five dead manuscripts myself, and I'm not sure readers of my currently published material would even believe I wrote them! lol) This is a very important part to writing for publication that often gets glossed over.

Basically, if you're going to be published, you have to be ready. And that readiness is pretty universal to whatever publication path you choose.

Ava Jae said...

I definitely agree that self-publishing takes a commitment. I also think that writers who consider their writing a profession--published are not--set themselves up for a much better chance at success than those who view it as a hobby. That's not to say that writing can't be a hobby, but then that's entirely different than pursuing a career as a writer.

Ava Jae said...

That's a really interesting point about why some people encourage/pressure their methods. I think there are a lot of well-intentioned people out there who pressure without really realizing they're pressuring, but I suspect the validation thing may have something to do with that. Interesting thoughts.

In the end, I agree that the most important thing is to make a decision that you know is right for you--one that you can feel confident about.

Thanks for your thoughtful response, Peter! I do appreciate it.

Ava Jae said...

Yes! Huge respect to self-publishers. They've really changed the game for writers. But it's not for everyone. Thanks, Morgan!

Ava Jae said...

Thank you, E.J.! That's a great point about developing a style--I hadn't really thought of that while writing the post, but I think you're right. It takes time (and a lot of writing) to really find your voice as a writer. I also completely agree that being ready applies to both methods of publishing--and it takes a confidence in your writing ability and yourself.

Dennis Vest said...

The chances of actually getting published the traditional route are akin to winning the Powerball lottery, and it takes years if ever. So self-publishing makes sense if you are determined to get your work out there. The number of publishers continues to shrink & they continue to scale back in many respects so this is going to be the future. It might take another 10- 15 years but the traditional "book", like a the old record album is going to vanish.

Ava Jae said...

Hmm, I'm going to have to disagree with you on a few points.

While getting published traditionally is indeed very difficult and does require no small amount of chance, I'm not sure I'd compare it to winning the Powerball lottery. Getting a multi-million dollar deal on a debut novel may have lottery-like odds, but I think getting published traditionally isn't so random--it's a matter of writing skill, timing, and yes chance as well...but not all chance. You're definitely right that it takes years, however--even after the book is written and representation is found, it takes years for the book to hit the shelves. That's unfortunately the name of the traditional publishing game.

As for books disappearing...I personally think they're here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. From what I've seen, e-books and print sales seem to be starting to balance out as people realize that it's ok to buy both e-books and print books. There's certainly been some decline (particularly with Borders closing), but at least as of late, the traditional book world seems to be staying afloat.

TL;DR: I think we should agree to disagree. :) But I'd be happy to continue discussing this. I'm always up for a (polite) debate.

James Garcia Jr said...

Hmm? All I can do is speak for me. Truthfully I'm hoping some big company will swoop in and rescue me from the Indie scene. It's just that I work a 10-12 hour day job and it is very difficult to maintain both that and the indie life. Ask my wife about the balance that I am maintaining.... Failing is probably a better word to use in this context. :(
You're right. It isn't for everyone.


Ava Jae said...

I can just imagine how difficult that must be to try to balance. Self-publishing is a full-time commitment, so trying to juggle that with life and a demanding job must be very challenging. Sorry to hear that, Jimmy, but I wish you the best nonetheless.

Rodney Wild said...

I started this company because a friend of mine asked me to build him a website to market his paperback novel. In the process of helping create his website I got involved in the digital publication of his book due to his current publisher wanting to charge him an astronomical fee to digitally print his book. Along the way I learned a great deal about digital publishing, traditional book marketing and thought to myself that if my friend was having this issue - most likely others were as well!

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