The Self-Publishing Question

I was talking with a friend at work the other day, and she waved a hand at her computer. On her screen was the cover and blurb for a book up on Wattpad, a site where you can post your stories for free, to be read for free. She wanted to know if I’d read the story, and then proceeded to tell me it was written by a teenager and she’d just landed a contract with a Big 5 publisher.

My first reaction was to scream and throw a tantrum like the two year old that I am. It seems to happen a lot, these self-published books, getting snapped up by publishers with big bucks for the authors, and when I go read the reviews of said books by sources I actually trust, I hear they’re fair to middling, with the occasional “hey, this shit is actually good” thrown in for spice.

(Excuse me, that would be the raging jealousy taking control of my mouth.)

It seems like self-publishing is the new “it” thing to do these days. But it’s not something I’m likely to do anytime soon, if at all.

Here’s what I imagine goes into producing a high quality self-published book:

1) Write an amazing story. Not a good story, or a great story, but an AMAZING story.

2) Edit the amazing story.

3) Find people to give you feedback on your amazing story, and have them read it.

4) Edit your amazing story again.

5) If you made a bunch of substantial changes to your amazing story, have your beta readers go over it again.

6) Edit your amazing story again.

Now, at this juncture, you’d probably start slapping together a query letter and a synopsis if you were going to submit your amazing story to editors and agents. But. You’ve decided to self-publish instead. Maybe you’ve already gone the query route and haven’t had any luck (and if this is the case, don’t give up after four rejections. Hell, don’t give up after twenty.) Or maybe you want control over the whole process. Whatever your reason, good on you, here’s what you need to do next:

7) Find an editor that will a) do a good job and b) won’t make you hand over your first born as payment. Give the editor your amazing story.

8) Edit (yes, edit again) your amazing story using the feedback you got from the editor.

9) You may decide to have the editor go over your book at this point. You may decide to hire a copy editor. You may say fuck it and decide you’re ready to publish. If that’s the case, move on to #10.

10) Find someone to do the layout for your amazing story. What font will you use? Are the paragraphs breaking in the right place? Do you want actual page numbers or not? Oh, and you’ll need a spectacular cover. Do not skimp on the cover. I’m not kidding. You want a cover that will look great both in a thumbnail line up and in a bigger blown up JPEG.

11) I’m probably skipping a step or four, but hey, I don’t know anything about self-publishing (so if you’re using this post as your research on how to self-publish, please don’t). But it seems to me you’ve got a finished product. Just decide how much you want to charge, and if you want to do POD (print on demand) that’s a whole ‘nother set of numbers, because the layout will be different, and a bunch of other shit that I’ve only got vague recollections of thanks to Hack’s chronicles of his self-publishing adventure. Slap that puppy up on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and oh, AllRomanceeBooks, if your book is a romance. Sit back, and wait for the money to start rolling in.

Not. Quite.

With the selling of books, self-pubbed or traditionally published, you must market your book. And I don’t mean tweet four and five star reviews repeatedly until you lose followers. If that’s your marketing strategy, frankly, your book deserves to fail.

With a traditionally published book (and I’m including small press in this category), you have at least a weak push at marketing behind you. It may be as small as providing you with a few copies to send out to reviewers. It could be as big as a blog tour, your book up on NetGalley for reviewers to grab, and ads in various places, from popular book review sites to print (newspapers and magazines). Plus you have the distinction of saying hey, this publisher published my book.

When you self-pub, you get none of those.

There are some self-published authors who, in my mind, have managed to garner a modicum of success. Kit Rocha and Elizabeth Naughton both have established audiences from their traditionally published books, so they’re known to reviewers and editors (it was because of Angela James that I found Kit Rocha’s Beyond Shame; Elizabeth Naughton’s Marked came up as a Daily Deal on Dear Author). Their fans will pick up their books, and they’ll recommend them to other readers. I’ve been hearing great things about Marko Kloos’ Terms of Enlistment (haven’t read it yet) and, according to Chuck Wendig, Kloos not only wrote an amazing story, but he had an audience for it that was willing to shout about its awesomeness from the rooftops.

And then there’s the money. You have to pay the editor, pay for the layout, pay for the cover. Wherever you put the book up, a portion of each sale is going to go to the vendor. You have to remind yourself there’s a distinct possibility you may not recoup your investment.

Here’s why I won’t be going the self-publishing route any time soon:

I don’t have the money. Ten years after graduation, I’m still living on a college-student-like budget. I have credit card debt and student loans to pay off. I have a car to pay for and a house to save for. I have shoes to buy. And occasionally, I like to eat. Sure, I could probably slap something together myself, but when you figure the cost to hire an editor is probably going to be a couple hundred bucks, well, that’s a couple hundred bucks I don’t have. Yes, I could save for it. But why would I want to do that when I could be saving for a trip to Ireland?

I don’t have the audience. While I would love to believe that there are thousands upon thousands of people out there who would love my snarky commentary, that’s probably not the case. Actually, I should say I do have an audience, but it’s not big enough. Not yet. It’s growing, and if I knew more about marketing and branding and all those fun buzz words, I could make it even bigger. Maybe some day, when I have the patience for it, I’ll put my head down and read up on that shit, and put it to good use.

And that’s what this is all about: patience.

The name of the game, whether you self-pub or avail yourself to the wonders of trad pub, is patience. Which ever path you choose, taking the time to do it right is what’s going to make the difference between you actually making a buck or two and sinking into obscurity.



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