You met the amazing panel last Friday and I’m betting you’re just as curious as I am to hear what they have to say about the question people submitted. So, let’s dive right in!
Meet the Panel
DAY 1: Why they did it AND Who should consider it
DAY 2: Editors (who, what why) AND Finding your vendors
DAY 3: Processes & Timelines
DAY 4: Promotion
DAY 5: Resources
DAY 6: Things I’d do differently & Myths and Advice
Why did you decide to self-publish and how did that fit into your overall publishing plan?
I’d read the timelines related to landing agents, finding publishers, signing contracts, getting books on shelves, etc. Most of those timelines, optimistically, included the word “years.” I read an article or three about self-publishing, decided that the timelines, control, and lack of gatekeepers were a better match for my goals and personality.
I’d been involved in a monthly group called Excerpt Monday. For my excerpts I did a serial called Cami’s First Kiss about a YA writer who had to research kisses to write the story. It was actually fairly well received and people asked for more, but I was working on other stuff and let it slide when it was done.
Flash forward a few years and a lot of people were starting to talk about self-publishing. I thought it was something I should understand. I strongly believe Indies need to understand Trade pubbing, I think Trade people need to really understand self-pubbing. And, so I took Cami’s First Kiss (changed the name to It’s in His Kiss and used a pen name for Reasons) and published it before walking out the door to RWA for the week. I was shocked to come home to a bunch of sales. But, the best thing it did was help me to learn. The plan was to do both…now, after pulling my Golden Heart book (Secret Life) off submission and diving in, the plan has shifted. I’m loving self-publishing and it will take something interesting to woo me away.
I was already on submission with two other books at the time, and during the process I had another book sitting on my laptop that I wanted to do something with, but wasn’t sure what. My husband was actually the person who suggested self publishing it, and after lots of researching how to do that, I decided to give it a go.
In 2011, I got the rights back to five books I’d published with Dorchester. I knew I couldn’t sell them to another publisher, and self-publishing was just starting to take off in the States. Instead of allowing the books to simply disappear, I decided to self publish these backlist books to see what would happen. For me, self publishing really started off as an experiment. At the time I was under contract with a traditional publisher, but I quickly realized I was going to make a lot more money self publishing than I was writing for New York.
My agent had one of my books on submission, and I already knew that if we didn’t get a print offer (I didn’t want to pursue an ebook only deal), I would jump in to self-publishing. My husband is a federal employee, and a year ago, under sequestration, we were facing the prospect of a 20% cut in our family’s income. I decided I couldn’t afford to wait to self-publish any longer and moved forward with two completed novels (Concrete Evidence and Grave Danger) while my agent shopped the other one.
I had always dreamt of being a writer but I didn’t think it would ever be possible. All of the stories I heard about breaking into traditional publishing had me convinced getting published just wasn’t in the cards for me—it was too much like winning the lottery, something out of my control and so unlikely. Once I learned about authors self-publishing I realized writing could be more than a hobby. Self-publishing put the control back in my hands and I was really excited to get started.
I was at a point in 2010 where I was uber-frustrated with my financial services career and wanted to make a switch. I looked into traditional publishing, doing a lot of Googling about, “How much do writers make?” By that point I’d written something on the order of a 140,000 word manuscript in the course of three months and I was totally obsessed with it. It was taking up all my free time, I was thinking about it all the time at work, and I wondered if there was any way I could stop doing what I hated (selling financial services) and start doing what I loved – writing, writing, writing.
When I found a few web pages that explained the traditional publishing advance system to me in some frightening detail, I got pretty depressed. The downturns in the housing market meant I was already making part-time income for full-time work, so the prospect of taking away from my writing time so I could submit queries to an agent in hopes of eventually finding one that would shop my book around was completely disheartening. Also, I was self-aware enough to realize that my high fantasy novel was very off-genre and probably would not be a huge seller. After reading all that, I went back to work in financial services having given up on ever being able to make a living as a writer, which was what I wanted more than anything.
A few months and ten tons more of frustration and I was back to my old friend Google. This time, I stumbled onto stories of Amanda Hocking and JA Konrath, making oodles of money, being in complete control of their careers and the key ingredient to their success seemed to be doing a lot of work. Within a month I’d folded my financial services business so I could be a stay-at-home dad and write with every available hour.
And suffice to say, any plan I might have crafted at that point has been well and truly shot to pieces by now. But it all turned out all right.
I had originally planned to submit to agents, but found that I was always changing the way I told the story to try to make it what an agent would want, rather than the story I really wanted to tell. I knew then that self-publishing was the right path for me. I realized pretty quickly that it was the best decision I could have made and that my publishing plan from then on would be to continue self-publishing.
I decided to self-publish because there was no interest in my books from literary agents, and I was tired of submitting my books around to no avail. I heard about Amanda Hocking’s million-dollar success around the time that I was getting all fed up with submitting. Though I understood she would be an extreme outlier, I figured that a market that could support one million-dollar success could also support many smaller successes, too. I don’t need anywhere near a million dollars a year to survive, let me tell you. So I jumped in.
What should someone consider when looking at if they’re the right person to self-publish?
I think the biggest thing aspiring writers need to know is this: self-publishing isn’t “settling.” You are not choosing self-publishing because your work isn’t good enough for selection by a traditional publisher. It’s a personal choice, one of equal legitimacy to traditional publishing. I think the primary reason to not self-publish is an overwhelming desire to see one’s work on the physical shelves of large chain bookstores; self-published books aren’t likely to get there. If you’re not one interested in extensive project management (arranging for covers, editing, proofreading, formatting as needed, plus promotion, all in addition to the actual writing process), then it’s probably best to look to work with a traditional publisher. Self-publishing is probably the best choice for those who want full control over the production process (cover art, editorial decisions, story plot, etc.), desire higher royalty rates, or who wish to retain full control of their ownership rights to their work.
Self-publishing takes a lot time, a lot of energy, a lot of drive and a lot of self-motivation. So does publishing Traditionally, but as an Indie, there’s no deadlines except the ones you set yourself. Sometimes a bless, sometimes a curse. You have to be willing to dive into a huge learning curve. Find people who know more than you, learn something new every day, stay excited about it. AND, remember that to be successful at it, it’s a business. You’re going to have to invest more than your time. Dividing myself into Writing Bria and Business Bria is probably the most tiring part of this gig. But, in the end, I love the excitement of it all.
It’s hard work. You do it all yourself…cover costs, editorial costs, promotion, etc. But they should also know that it doesn’t *have* to drain your wallet. I couldn’t afford any of that, but I worked hard to make sure I was delivering a quality product before putting it up for sale.
First and foremost, I think an author should ask him/herself if they want to do things the easy way or the hard way. Writers I talk to seem to think that self publishing is the easy way to become an overnight success, but I’m here to tell you that is a major MYTH. I work harder on my self published books than I do on my traditionally published books because I’m responsible for everything when I self publish—covers, jacket copy, promo, formatting, editing, etc. There’s no one holding my hand, no one to tell me how things are “supposed” to be done, no one pushing me to finish writing a book by a certain date. I carry a lot more stress, I spend longer hours working, and even when I “finish” a book, it never feels done to me because there’s so much extra work besides writing that has to get done. Any author who thinks self-publishing is easy doesn’t have a clue what they’re getting themselves into.
The flip side, of course, is that in self publishing, you can see where your hard work is paying off. And once you start having success, it encourages you to work harder. As I said before, I work harder on my self pub books than I do on my traditionally published books, but I don’t mind the extra work because I see the pay off a lot faster than I do with my traditionally published books.
I’ve heard authors say that self-publishing is a lot more work than traditional publishing. I have never been traditionally published, so my knowledge is only anecdotal, but I have enough friends who have had labor-intensive experiences with traditional publishing to think that assessment is only true some of the time. Yes, a publisher will make your cover and write your back cover copy, but you may not be happy with either, and getting your publisher to make changes can be difficult to impossible. Both publishing tracks (should) have an editorial process in which the author makes revisions. (Also, that “should” is a dig at both traditional and self-published works. Not all houses edit, nor do all indie authors.) As an author, whether self or trad pubbed, you still need to create your own website and social media. And a publishing house may arrange for a blog tour, but the author still has to write the blogs, which let’s face it, is the hard part. With either route, you need to be prepared to work and manage your writing career like a small business.
Self-publishing takes a lot of hard work but I imagine writing for a traditional publisher does as well. I think the hardest thing, and aspect you need to be more ready to tackle, is the lack of guidance. In a lot of ways you’re kind of floating on your own, trying to figure out what’s the best path for you. You can minimize that by making connections with other authors, asking for advice, reading up on how-to-guides and blogs and forums—but in the end you’re the one making the decisions about your career. That can be really fun and liberating but it can also be really scary and overwhelming. This is a relatively new area of publishing and things are changing everyday. It can be hard to know what to do. You have to be ready to jump into the unknown, to a certain extent, and not everyone is comfortable with that.
It really depends on what you want from publishing. If you just want to write a book every once in a while, get it out there so this can be a hobby that maybe will make you a few bucks every now and again, your considerations will be different than mine were walking into it as someone looking to make a career of it post-haste. There’s really room in self-publishing for hobbyists, full-time obsessive writers, and all steps in between. Ultimately, whether you self-publish or decide to query for an agent and go traditional, you’re going to need to learn the business and take responsibility for your career either way.
I think it always has to start with some soul-searching about your own personal goals. What do you want most out of publishing and why? Once you can answer those questions, I think the right path will become clear. As long as you know what you truly want, the rest will fall into place. Talking to people who have already self-published and being aware of what’s involved–decision-making, speed, stresses, royalties, rewards–will help you to make the decision that’s right for you.
Nobody will set your deadlines for you. Nobody will organize your time for you. Nobody will tell you what to do next. There are no managers in indie publishing. If you want to be productive and successful, the only way to make that happen is to kick your butt into gear all on your own. If you’re not the kind of person who can set goals and deadlines for yourself, then take decisive action to meet them, self-publishing may not be the right path for you.
WOW – I knew they were amazing, but I love hearing their stories. Stick around! For the next two weeks M/W/F they’ll be answering questions about writing and promotion and processes and a whole bunch of fun stuff!
Want to check one of the authors out? Just click on their name. 🙂