How to Find Out If Self-Publishing Is Right for You
By Miguel Flores, Guest Contributor
My life was nothing but questions.
We writers question lots of things in the writing industry because nothing is set in stone. What if I were to include a prologue? What if I used an adverb this one time? What if I were to write this in third-person point of view instead of first?
As time passed, and my confidence grew, I started adding other questions to my list: Am I ready to submit this piece? Am I willing to invest money, time, and other resources into this submission? Am I brave enough to take a risk and actually publish something? For many years, the answers were all No, No, and HEAVEN FORBID, NO.
But, like writing, our lives are not set in stone. In May 2016, I took a very deep breath and said, Okay, I’m ready.
With that shift in perspective, my questions changed. They turned from what ifs and am Is into how cans. “Dear Internet, how can I publish a book?” The Internet replied with things like this:
Each method of publishing a book is its own mix of goods, bads, and surprising uglies. On the one hand, traditional publishing offers better access to exposure, expertise, and a vast number of resources. On the other hand, self publishing gives you more control over your choices and is much easier to get into. Is one objectively better than the other? I don’t know.
+ Help with marketing
+ Help with editing
+ Help with publishing
+ Assistance with “all the things!
– “Assistance” with all the things…
– Hard to break into
– Self-editing or hiring someone
+ Self-owned business
– Responsibility (“I have to do and pay for everything myself…”)
+ Autonomy (“I get to do everything myself!”)
+ Easy to get into
Eventually, I decided to enter a novel into a contest hosted by Penguin Young Readers and We Need Diverse Books. Because I am good at planning, I also decided to self-publish a poetry book.
My reasons for submitting my longer works through more conventional means (in this case, taking a wild shot in the dark at a contest) were pretty simple: Print distribution is still perfectly geared towards traditional publishing. There’s nothing quite like having a proven team of qualified professionals to work with.
And then there’s the allure of someday being a lofty, widely-known author… about thirty years after I die. That seems more likely if I were to be traditionally published.
Despite all this, I still chose to self-publish my collection of poetry, A Head Full of Flowers and a Heart Full of Lies. It’s a quirky little book with 31 poems, and I wrote it mainly for my friends and family. It was a much simpler project with much smaller goals. I didn’t make very much money from it. I (intentionally) did nothing more than word-of- mouth marketing.
But none of that made self-publishing it any less scary.
I did a lot of research. Regardless of the publishing route you decide to take, I encourage you do the same. Realize, however, that researching can only get you so far and that there are many things you will have to learn through the process of doing. This is why I hesitate to give anyone advice on this. Although many blogs and sites will give helpful advice on what you can do, so much of it comes down to what you as a person are able and willing to do.
For instance, self-publishing a book really is running a business. And because of how business works in our society, running a business often means becoming a brand. It’s not enough to just submit a couple of ads or build a few webpages. You have to really know your audience—who you want to start a dialogue with. And, more importantly, you have to include them in the conversation. (Using cat gifs is probably not the most effective way to do this).
Another business challenge I never expected is the number of different options to choose from for distribution. CreateSpace and Lulu are the two biggest contenders, but there are so many companies cropping up. The thing is, most of these other companies tend to have a lower ceiling for how far you can go. And you will end up having to put even more work into the marketing side of things.
Oh yeah, and you may have to pay for stuff. I ended up paying a lot more for ISBNs than I might have because I owned the publishing company, and I wanted my imprint’s name to be on the book. I paid the government so that the company would be legal. I paid an amazing font designer so that I could use her typeface on the cover of my book.
Other important things you should definitely consider paying a qualified person to do include: editing the whole book (seriously, please don’t ever skip this), formatting the manuscript (once for each format you use), designing your cover. Not everyone has to pay a professional for all three, but there are enough embarrassing examples out there of poorly self-published books that I should mention them.
Best thing to do is set a budget. The lower the budget is, the more work (and learning) you should expect to put in yourself.
At the end of the day, I honestly don’t think that self-publishing is for everyone, but I do believe that anyone can do it. And I believe that the best way to find out if it’s right for you is to try it yourself.
By most measures, this year might have been considered a year of failures for me. All the money I made from that little book went straight toward two college textbooks, none of my short story submissions have gone anywhere, and I won’t hear anything about the contest for several months. The rest of my life hasn’t looked so hot either.
Despite all this, maybe because of all this, I’ve developed a strange appreciation for those failures.
When I first started writing, I did it because it seemed safe. It left me room for error. Using written language gave me the opportunity to reconsider what I wanted to say—to say not the first, but the second, third, or fourth thing that came to mind. Writing also gave me a false sense of protection from the world. I had this romantic notion of a person scribbling at an oak desk in isolation, hidden in his own private corner of the world.
Writers are not meant to be safe.
Who we are, whether we realize it or not, are breakers of boundaries, seekers of opportunity, builders of worlds, takers of risk. If I learned anything out of this whole process, it was more than just how to get a book out there. It was how to put myself out there. Is it scary? Yes, and it probably always will be. Is it hard? Yes, but it’s only as hard as you make it. And is self-publishing better than traditional publishing? Both yes and no.
Is it worth it? I suppose that’s something you’ll have to answer yourself.
Have you ever considered publishing a novel or other creative writing? Which method most appeals to you, and why?
Miguel Flores has been a member of The One Year Adventure Novel community long enough to be considered an “oldie.” He enjoys answering story questions with reference to deceased writers and food. Once he finishes his B.S. in Business Information Management, he plans to start up a writing consultation business. When not busy working or studying, this Floridian poet spends his days with a cup of tea in his hand, a cat in his face, and a lot of ink on his fingers.
* Please note that links on The One Year Adventure Novel Blog to other websites, blogs, and publications do not constitute an official endorsement. We are not intimately familiar with all the writing and opinions contained in outside links.
Great stuff, Miguel. And challenging, too. I haven’t gotten too far into the process of looking at publishing, since I’m not really there yet. But I hear plenty of stuff all over the interwebs. To be honest, either rout is intimidating: traditional because of how hard it is to get into and self because of the immense risk you’re taking on.
That being said, self-publishing is great for stories that don’t fit the mold, and, with my penchant for mixing genres, it could be a good route.
You’ve definitely given me some food for thought. Thanks, Miguel!