So let’s assume you’re not one of the lucky few who gets swept up into the arms of an effective agent and generous publisher. You’ve been sending your queries and the occasional manuscript out to every agency or publishing house (large, small and everywhere in between that accepts submissions from writers without agents) listed in Writer’s Market that even skirts the fringes of your type of novel, and you’ve run out of options.
Is it time to look at options for self-publishing?
The world of self-publishing options is broader and more sophisticated than it was even ten years ago. What are some of the advantages of paying to have your book published?
First, there is the total control over how it’s done. Your choice of hardcover or soft. Your decision about page size and font size (although it may cost a bit more). No one tells you to cut the word count, and no one edits out that humorous scene in chapter five that made you chuckle as you wrote it. In fact, no one tells you what stays and what goes or what must be rewritten in another way.
Second, unlike traditional publishers, the turnaround time from submission of your manuscript to holding your book in your hand is measured in weeks or months rather than a year or more.
Third, you can control your costs by choosing a print on demand publisher, or keeping the initial run small until you’re able to generate some demand.
Of course, then there are the down sides of self-publishing.
When you have a traditional publisher, your book will go through multiple rounds of editing. As mentioned previously, this can be a negative if you really don’t want to let go of some of what you’ve written. However, the truth ( admittedly painful) is that professional editors do know what flows well, what really contributes to moving the story forward, and what content helps or hurts a book’s marketability. No matter how precise your grammar is, or how many friends you had read your book to pick up on inconsistencies or other problems, a professional editor will make recommendations that will make a better book.
One round of edits isn’t enough to find all the potential issues. When my book, Autumn Colors, was going through the third round of edits, my attitude was “what could possibly be left?” And yet, we not only found misspellings and grammatical issues then, but again on the following two reviews. And when the book was published, I found three more. There’s no denying the value of careful and multiple edits. This is not done with self-publishing. Some self-publishers will say they do copy-editing, which is usually no more than the same grammar and spell checks you can do with your own word processing program.
The editing process also picks up on licensing issues (like if you quote the words of a song or poem) and may identify questions of accuracy. During one of the edits of Autumn Colors, my editor questioned a reference I had made to the drinking age in New York State in the mid-seventies. I lived it, so I knew I was okay, but I had to research when NYS raised the legal age for drinking to reassure her that the reference was accurate.
Another (big) downside of self-publishing is the credibility with which the book is viewed. Lots of excellent writers have their work rejected by traditional publishers. Chances are, if they self-published and were meticulous about their own editing, their book could be as good as any that are on the market. But it will not be viewed that way. Self-published books, novels in particular, have an uphill battle in the marketplace. While almost anyone can get their book on Amazon, getting into the major bookstore chains is next to impossible unless you are already famous or a highly acclaimed expert in the subject of the book. Even then, the chains look for endorsements by famous individuals and reviews by the likes of Publishers Weekly or Kirkus. Without those, you have little chance of getting your book out in the mainstream.
And the double whammy – it’s almost impossible for a self-published author to get reviews by any of the top reviewers. Some reviewers say up front that they don’t review self-published books. Others don’t say that, but ignore your book when you send it to them. Autumn Colors came from a traditional publisher, but the publisher doesn’t assist with getting reviews. So even though my novel was published traditionally, it didn’t appear that way when I sent over 400 copies out to reviewers, newspapers, magazines and celebrities (authors and actors). At the publisher’s recommendation, I used a marketing entity (a dba of my own) to send them. But with them not going out from the publisher, they had the appearance of being self-published. The recipients are deluged regularly with such books, and they don’t take the time to read your cover letter which points out that you have a traditional publisher.
The point is, when you self-publish, you and your work do not receive the same respect as a book published by a major publishing house, with the possible exception of your already being a celebrity or being in a field where you can access celebrity endorsements and major reviews. And the side effect of that is you don’t get your book into the major bookstore chains. You’ll make more money on each book you sell directly, but you have little or no chance of selling enough books to make either a living or an impact. There are exceptions – the Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books started out self-published. But that is the rare exception.
The next posting will deal with what you need to anticipate after your book is published. There are ample resources out there, although most deal with non-fiction books. Novels are a tougher sell. We’ll continue scaling Author Mountain next time.