Reece kindly asked me to share why I chose to self-publish in this changing industry. I know a lot of writers are sick of the debate, and other writers hang on every word, wondering what they should do when the time comes. I used to be in the latter group. I read every relevant blog post, weighing the pros and cons. For a long time, I sat on the fence. I saw the good and bad of both sides and waited for the decision to make itself. But before that decision came, there was a long, drawn out battle.
For my entire college career, I was taught that the only way to be a real writer was to publish a book through a publishing company. From the moment I entered the blogosphere, I was told that the only way to become published properly was to go through an agent, and then, if I made it that far, get signed on with a publishing house. Writers, agents, publishers, college professors… everyone, said that self-publishing was taboo. There was no validation in self-publishing.
So I disregarded it as an option.
My idea of success, at the time, was landing an agent. Obviously that changed, but let me walk you through it.
My first foray into the publishing industry was with a young adult adventure story that I wrote while in college. I finished the first draft, edited, sent to beta-readers, and edited some more. Before this, I had written numerous half-novels, ones that never got past 25,000 words, if they got that far. I thought that by finishing the adventure novel, I had accomplished something great, and that was true to an extent. That accomplishment, however, wasn’t ready to be published, and I didn’t realize that. Still, I queried widely. Two agents out of thirty-something asked for partials, and while they both had nice things to say about the novel, they ultimately passed.
Fast forward a few months, and I was halfway through my steampunk novel. It was then that I made the decision to self-publish. When I started the novel, I still had it in mind that I would seek traditional publication. But with the ever-changing industry, my resolve weakened, and after a lengthy discussion with writer friends and my husband and a ton of research, I decided that self-publishing was for me. Several things contributed to that.
E-readers were a big factor in my choice. As the e-reader market grew, and the ease of authors getting their work to readers became easier, the more I leaned toward self-publishing. Family and friends constantly asked why I didn’t self-publish, and when I was still on the fence, I explained how there was no validation in self-publishing. No one would take me seriously as a writer… etc. I reiterated everything that had been drilled into my brain for my entire writing career thus far. But as much as I tried explaining why self-publishing wasn’t the way to go, no one understood why. I chalked it up to ignorance of the professional writing world.
With the rise of the e-reader, the everyday reader can browse the Nook or Kindle shopping page, find a book that piques their interest, and buy it on the spot. They aren’t going to stop and see if the writer published with Penguin, Simon & Schuster, or HarperCollins. They’re going to see the cover, the title, and the blurb, just as they would with any other book. Most readers don’t care whether a book is self-published or traditionally published. They’re only interested in a good book. And when I realized this, I finally realized why no one outside of the publishing industry understood why I didn’t self-publish. In their eyes, it was just as legitimate as traditional publication.
Self-publishing first won the debate in my mind, because in the eye of the reader, it doesn’t matter.
So I continued writing the book, and in another few months, I had finished the first draft. This was about a week or two before this year’s WriteOnCon, and I was hoping to get some feedback on my pitch and first few pages to kind of test the waters. I was so confident with my story that I even joked with my husband: Hey, I bet that when I log in to WriteOnCon on Tuesday, I’ll have a message from an agent, requesting the book. It was a joke. But I believed that the book was good enough to go the traditional route and succeed. I had no doubt that it would be a success.
Well, to my utter, speechless surprise, I logged in to WriteOnCon that Monday evening and, sure enough, there was a message waiting for me. An agent had requested a partial from me, based entirely on my first five pages. I giggled like a slightly insane, silly little girl. I had dreamed of that moment for years. Yes, an agent had requested my first novel, but this novel was so much better than that one. I had faith that it might actually pan out traditionally. But after the initial hysteria wore off, I grew afraid. What if the agent did want to represent my work? And with a whole new basket of dread and fear and uncertainty, I reconsidered my stance on self-publishing and traditional publishing.
I believed I could find success with either of them, but I wanted as much success as I could. Which one would offer me that? I went back to the reader argument. Most readers just want a good book. That much is true. But I reasoned that most readers choose books based on word of mouth. When a friend reads a book, or two friends, most people who enjoy reading don’t want to be left out of the discussion. Why do you think Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games did so well? People talked the books up to their friends.
But how did they find the book in the first place? Maybe another friend recommended it to them. Maybe Amazon decided that they’d like it. But what about the person that just finds it in a bookstore? Bookstores don’t stock self-published books, and as far as I know, Amazon doesn’t recommend self-published books unless you’ve purchased a self-published book through their website. And, I reasoned, the majority of people who read don’t read self-published books. Why? Because they find their books at bookstores. Maybe, for every one-hundred readers, there’s one that just happens to search for a certain type of book online, and they find a self-published one. They like it. They recommend it. But for every one of those readers, there’s ninety-nine others that will never find that book. That thought process was slightly construed, but at the time, it seemed to be a valid argument.
So I swapped sides. I knew that my book was good enough to make it in the industry, as slow and convoluted as it is. In the meantime, I received a full request from that agent. The goal was in sight. If I could only land an agent… that’s all I ever wanted, right? I could be a successful writer. I could have a publishing contract. My book could be in bookstores. At the time, that felt like success to me.
Still, I had the mindset that if I didn’t get a writing contract with the steampunk novel, I would self-publish it, after querying more agents.
And only a week later, I decided to self-publish again. It just felt right.
Disregarding sales numbers and royalties and all that, self-publishing and traditional publishing come down to two things: control and distribution.
For a while, I thought I wanted the latter. I wanted my book to be in bookstores, where readers would see it. Traditional publishing could give me that. But no matter how good distribution is, what if my publisher gives me a bad cover? What if they don’t market the book properly? What if my editor or my agent decides that I need to change an integral part of my novel, which ends up making it worse? What if my publisher decides not to publish my second book? What if a huge bookstore chain decides not to carry my book? Even before all that, do I spend a year querying, and then another year to two years submitting to publishing houses, and then another year or two waiting for the book to come out? I couldn’t release control like that. I couldn’t depend on a business to have my best interests in mind.
Now, with self-publishing, I have so much more control. I design the book cover. I am in charge of marketing. I decide when the book releases. I decide whether or not to make changes to my book. I decide when and what I want to publish next. I make my book available for purchase. And I don’t spend years waiting for my book to reach bookshelves. I wait months. I don’t have to deal with the middle men. I have control over every aspect of the business, except distribution. I can’t guarantee that the random reader will stumble upon my book while wandering the Ocean of Kindle or the smaller Sea of NookBooks. It’s a risk on my part. There’s no way of knowing if my book will even find readers. But, the same can be said with traditionally publishing. I could be one of the unfortunate many who never see their book take off.
Publishing is a risk. It’s a matter of finding ways to reduce the impact of that risk. With traditional publishing, I would invest years of time before a book is even on a bookshelf, and I would undergo several cross-my-fingers-and-hope situations along the way. With self-publishing, I invest a fraction of the time, and I undergo only one cross-my-fingers-and-hope situation—when my book goes on sale. Whether my book sinks or floats depends entirely on me and the reader. If it fails, I have no one to blame but myself. I learn from it, and when I release the next book, I have a better chance of success. In traditional publishing, if my book fails, I fail. There is no second book.
The way I see it, there is less risk in self-publishing. And to be perfectly honest, I’m happier with that choice. Since I began, my goals changed. Originally, I wanted an agent. Now, I just want a reader. And I already have that. People have read my book and loved it. Maybe someday in the future, I will write a book with the goal of traditional publication in mind, but for now, I’m happy being self-published.
I'd like to thank Brooke one more time for putting together this post for me. The Clockwork Giant will be available December 13 from Amazon, barnesandnoble.com, and Smashwords. I'm currently in the middle of an ARC of the book, and it's really good!
Have a great day!