To self-publish or not to self-publish?

Indie Author News has published “Should You Self-Publish Your First Book?” seen on Scott Berkun’s website. I am in no way The Expert, but I believe, as a self-publisher who has won two awards for my first novel City of Woe, I can offer some perspective, if that will help.

So, here goes.

Let’s be real, the biggest difference between going with a publisher and going forward as a self publisher, is, first and foremost, money. Everything costs, brothers and sisters, simple as that. As a self publisher, all those expenses are coming out your pocket. So, the primary question has to be, can you afford it? If the answer is no (and if you are seriously considering competing with the Sisters, the realistic answer for 99 percent of us is no), that might potentially end the conversation before it even begins.

How do you know if you can afford it? Research, research, research. On amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, bookbaby.com, and dozens and dozens of other places. Industry websites must be read, pricing must be done, blogs must be followed. You need to learn all aspects of publishing, which Is the exact kind of work a publisher does for you. And you will be doing most, if not all of it solo, while publishers have a team. So, again, the advantage is obvious.

You might be thinking why am I self-publishing if I see a publisher as a better business partner? Good question. First, Berkun is correct when he writes that publishers “provide funding, expertise, co-ordination and guidance. They have in-house editors, designers and proofreaders who will help you. For those things you will pay them a fair share of the possible income the book generates. This is a good deal if you don’t want to find those experts on your own, or have no interest in co-ordinating the entire project yourself,” (Read the full article at ScottBerkun.com). But publishers do not offer this to everyone, and that speaks to where many of us are.

I am a former award-winning reporter who was once named “Columnist of the Year” by the New York Press Association, a big honor for me. I am or have been a teacher, public speaker, and former comedy writer with accomplishments in each arena. As a screenwriter, I have earned some nods, and two small indies have been produced. My short stories earned a few honorable mentions from Writer’s Digest. And the novel City of Woe was named “Book of Exceptional Quality 2013” from Bookcast.com and recently earned me “Best New Voice 2013” from the Independent Book Publishers Association.

And that is both my blessing and my dilemma. With the exception of the last two, all accomplishments have been small market awards or honorable mentions from bigger entities. While I am proud of them, the publishing industry still sees me as a writer without a platform. And today, publishers want the platform, need the platform, demand the platform. In a real sense you have to have made it before they will invest in you; you almost need to be published before you get published.

And I understand this; any publisher is going to invest serious money on a new writer, and especially if they plan to market him or her into best seller status. Any edge a writer brings eases that burden. Thus, the “What else have you done/what kind of platform do you have” aspect of getting signed has become a hard reality.

As a result of the publishing industry seeing me as promising but without a platform, I have been forced to go my own way. But I didn’t jump right in. A veteran editor, a book club who read the manuscript, and sage reader whose opinion I deeply respect all argued extensively that my work was “as good or better than most of the stuff being self-published” before I even considered stepping forward on my own.

I didn’t run to self-publishing, and you shouldn’t either. I i am going to be helpful, i have to speak the truth; too many writers are (not you, of course, so please don’t be mad at me) rushing to publish these days before their works is ready. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of poorly executed self-published novels glutting the market right now, and you do not want to be part of that sad parade. Take the time to write and rewrite and rewrite again. Proofread carefully, painstakingly. And then have someone better than you at it proofread your “corrected” manuscript. After at least five rewrites, beg a real editor to bludgeon your work. Consider hiring an editor (not a ghost writer) to critique your work, and LISTEN CAREFULLY. Rewrite again, proofread again, and then organize a small group of early readers who do not necessarily love you. My wife prereads but she’ll be a cheerleader until I ask her specific questions, however, a cop buddy of mine happily brings a cross and nails to the reading. You need both.

When I did take the step, I continually discovered how much work there is, much more than I can convince you of here, and significantly more work than you are imagining right now. And all of it takes you away from the writing. A freelance editor I respect deeply told my that I had to start splitting my professional time 50% writing and 50% working the career as a publisher and promoter (including writing stuff like this, in all honesty). What she didn’t tell me was that I wouldn’t be splitting the same time I used to commit to writing but doubling it. This is reality; how else can you produce much-needed new work if you write less?

So be prepared to sacrifice social life, television, family time, sleep. And if you are unwilling to sacrifice, say, family time, then jettison more you your social life or sleep.

Publisher or self-publish? The answer might be out of your hands. If you need to get your writing out there, have done the hard work to make sure it is of quality, and the Sisters still aren’t showing the love, you might be ready to self-publish, but understand all that entails.

Self-publishing has forced me to move my career much further forward than I may have gone otherwise, for exactly the same reasons I offered as reasons a publisher is preferable. Self-publishing has made me a better professional, has forced me to blog on issues that have earned me more readers, got me to tweet and expand my readership, and inspired me to experiment in many other areas of publishing, from marketing to advertising to creating and booking public speaking events. But I would prefer Donald Maass as an agent and a publisher’s deadlines, to be honest,

As Mick said, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need.”

And so, the platform builds, one plank at a time.

Christopher Ryan is author of City of Woe, available on Kindle and Nook, and in print. For more info, click here.
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About chrisryanwrites

My name is Christopher Ryan. I am a former award-winning journalist turned high school teacher, and I have written since reading S.E. Hinton's THE OUTSIDERS when I was in elementary school. I have independently published an award-winning debut novel, CITY OF WOE, plus the prequel short story collection CITY OF SIN, the sequel novel CITY OF PAIN, a high school thriller novel GENIUS HIGH, and several high adventure novelettes for the Rapid Reads series featuring Alex Simmons' African-American adventurer BLACKJACK All are available via amazon.com, as is my children's book, THE FERGUSON FILES - THE MYSTERY SPOT. Additionally, I was nominated for a supporting actor award for my work in the multiple award-winning independent film, CLANDESTINE, from Feenix Films. I blog about writing, life, pop culture, the journey of learning to promote my independently published work, my efforts to secure a traditional publishing contract, and my career as a teacher.
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