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Self-Publish or Rot In The Slush Pile?

Self-publishing is one of the hot button topics among writers of all kinds. With Kindle, Amazon, and sites like Smashwords and CreateSpace, self-publishing is easier than ever.

I’ll admit, until I started writing my current novel and began my venture into social media, I didn’t consider self-publishing “real” publishing. After all, if you didn’t have an agent and a publishing house believing in your book, how could you call yourself published?

Hold on! Don’t roast me yet. Every one of us knows that for every fantastic and successful self-published book out there, at least five more never should have seen the light of day. And not for poor quality of writing, but for lack of editing. Too many writers – especially unpublished newbs like myself – are rushing to hit the “publish” button before having their work properly edited. That’s part of the reason people are still leery of self-publishing – a reader doesn’t always know what to expect.

Finding a good editor before submitting in ANY form is a must.

Of course, cheerleaders for selfpub believe the cheap prices of most e-books (usually anywhere between .99 and 2.99) are worth the risk for most readers. Maybe they’re right. But that’s won’t going to get a writer that’s striving to improve themselves good word of mouth, and that’s the key to ANY successful book. If I buy a dud for .99, I’m not sweating the money, but I also won’t go on Twitter and tout the book as a must-read.

Many insist self-publishing is the way of the future and that the big houses, agents, editors, etc. are doomed. I’m not sure I buy that, but I do think self-publishing has a lot more merit than it did just five years ago.

One of the key issues is royalty earnings and rights. Many newbs, (again, including myself), don’t fully understand exactly what they’re signing away when they go with a traditional publisher. Everyone of us has to do our research to better understand what rights we’re giving up, especially foreign, and compare the costs of self-publishing versus realistic earnings from the traditional route.

Another issue is the worry that by self-publishing, an author is sabotaging their chances at ever being picked up a by a traditional house. But Kindle Direct Publishing’s latest newsletter talks about Nancy Johnson, who originally published on Kindle and now has publishers seeking her out.

Self-publishing is becoming a viable and more respectable option for writers. Many old pros insist that the marketing a writer needs to do isn’t much different than what would be needed if a big publisher put out the book. Apparently, they don’t toss a lot of dough around for unproven writers.

Which brings me to my least favorite part of being an aspiring author: like it or not, publishing is business. Traditional publishers are going to sign the writers they believe will make them the best money, the ones that will (hopefully) fly off shelves and have great word of mouth. That’s why only roughly ONE PERCENT of all submitted manuscripts get printed a year (at least the traditional way.)

One percent. Kind of makes you slump in your chair, huh?

If you’re like me, you truly believe you’ve got a story readers will want to read, if they only get a chance. I don’t care about the business end – I just want to share my characters and their lives. I want to give them the opportunity to shine, and I know in my gut I’ve got a strong plot.

But will it ever see the light of day?

I hope so. If I self-publish, it most certainly would. But is that really the way to go? Call me old school, but I believe there’s some value in at least trying the traditional way, and not for the money (let’s be real) or the prestige, but for the learning experience. I know querying agents will be a wake-up call, and I understand that no matter how much work I put into making sure the proposal, query, and manuscript are just right, I’ll be shot down. Most likely a lot.

But what if one or two agents asks for a partial? Isn’t there value in that? Doesn’t that tell me that I’m on the right track with my proposal, and that I’ve got a marketable idea?

And if those agents reject me, for whatever reason, what if they offer something more than a form letter? What if they have real comments and advice as to how to make my book better? Isn’t that worth the effort? I do have my pride, and I believe in my work, but I know I can always improve. There’s always more to learn, and if I’m willing to do that, I believe my novel, however published, will benefit in the end.

So while I’m slowly building my file on self-publishing, I’m also building one on how to write great proposals and queries. Some might say I’m wasting my time, but I intend to go the traditional route first, for at least six months, simply for the learning experience. I realize the chances of getting picked up are slim and that I’ll likely have to take matters into my own hands, but I still believe going through the traditional process has too many learning benefits to just bypass altogether.

After all, nothing good is ever easy, right?

Where do you stand on the self-publishing issue?

For much more on self-publishing versus traditional and tons of great writing advice, visit Nail Your Novel. Roz Morris runs a great blog for writers in every stage!

13 comments on… “Self-Publish or Rot In The Slush Pile?”

  1. The notion that self publishing somehow limits you from traditional deals is definitely no longer true. I self published and my agent found me without my ever having to send a query. She will be using my sales numbers from my indie published work and my social media presence to wrangle me a larger advance with traditional publishers. I think the future of publishing is really going to wind up being a blend of both–hopefully a blend that leaves writers with more control and a bigger cut of the pie for their work.

  2. KaitThanks for the comment, and congrats on your finding an agent via self-publishing! I think that is the goal (and should be) for any author choosing to take that route. It's great that she can use your indie numbers for a better deal. If you don't mind, could you elaborate on what constitutes "good" indie numbers?Thanks!

  3. I think you've hit the nail on the head, to be honest. Personally, I'm going to query my most recent novel, but I intend to write novellas set in the same world and self-publish those. To my mind, having some of my work out there will get me seen, hopefully building my platform and if it proves in any way popular that can only help a publisher to see that I am capable of marketing my own work, which can't be a bad thing.In short, I think you can hedge your bets by trying both routes, as long as you're not self-publishing something you hope to later publish traditionally. I guess I'm looking at self-publishing as part of my submissions process, getting my work out there for people to see.

  4. Hi Anne-Mhairi! I think your strategy is a good one, and I know building a platform is essential. I do wonder tho, can self-publishing work AGAINST us in terms of numbers? How easy would it be for an agent or editor to say the numbers aren't enough? I honestly don't know WHAT a good number would be, I'm that green.I think you've got a great strategy:)

  5. Stacy,My critique partners at Writers In The Storm and I talk about this all the time! We're split 50/50 on the subject. Half are still convinced New York is the way to go, and half think the new writing model is self-pub, THEN possibly New York.Its been interesting to watch the opinions fly around the Twitterverse.Jenny

  6. JennySounds like you guys are where I'm at. Even though I say I should try New York, there's the nagging, impatient side that says just self-publish. It's a really difficult decision to make, and a lot of info to sort through.

  7. I'm exactly where you are in my thinking. I'm querying a debut novel while I buildy blog and social media presence, and will also be self-publishing a humor book this year to try out that model. A little bit of everything. It'll just give me more to offer a publisher if one eventually picks ms up. I think writers these days have an edge if they at conversant in every area of the business.

  8. The dust hasn't settled yet. Amanda Hocking made quite a pile self pubbing, then signed with a standard publisher. Plenty of well known genre writers jumped the other way. IMHO, if you've got a genre channel and can make yourself a well known presence in a smaller world, then self pubbing makes more sense. If not, do trad pub, build a following, THEN jump to self pub. I'm writing literary fantasy, so I'm right on the fence about the issue! LOL

  9. MelissaI think you've got a great plan. If your skin is thick enough, I think there are benefits to querying traditional way. You're right, the more you have to offer the better your chances.KarenAmanda Hocking is great example, but is she the norm or the exception? That's what I'm waiting to see. My genre is suspense/thriller, which sells well in stores, but would probably do great via ebook as well.I don't blame you for being on the fence, especially in your case. Isn't literary fantasy a more specialized genre?

  10. Heya Stacy, I had to pop over and say Hi! Roz has set the bar on this topic it seems! 🙂 I'm glad I'm not the only one fuelled up on this; but everday my thoughts change. I wonder if certain types of books/stories are more suitable for self-pub and others the trad route? This is what is playing on my mind currently, what do you think?

  11. Hey there! Roz definitely set the bar, and I've learned a lot from just that one blog post. Yes, my thought change as well. Part of me feels like I don't have a shot in hell at going traditional, and the other feels like I have to try.As for certain genres, I have heard agents/editors, etc talk about ones not doing as well traditional but are more suited for e-book. One thing to remember is that you can also go digital without self-publishing. There are digital house that still accept queries the "traditional" way.

  12. Heya Stacy, I am attempting a second try at replying -my last attempt was eaten up by the World Wide Web! Unfortunately, I can't remember all I wrote last time (should have typed in word first me thinks! Ah well, have to make do with what I come up with now.) so I hope this is close; but I think I wrote something longer then… :(Roz certainly has given us food for thought -it's a hot topic -I'd love to hear where it goes…I too have heard that and so I’m hedging my bets that I’d have to consider alternative routes due to my style; we’ll I’d have to wait and see. I didn't know about digital publishing; so that I will definitely look at that, thank you for making me aware.

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