Why am I avoiding self-publishing?

There’s been a little flair up over the past few days about an article regarding Amanda Hocking and her incredible success with self-publishing her books. I imagine the talk will continue, and we’ll keep having surprising stories about writers finding success. Amanda did a wonderful followup to that article on her blog, letting us all know that no, she did not find a magic solution to self-publishing success. She’s a bit baffled by it all actually. She basically busted butt and hit the right combo of elements to coincide with success. What hit me most about her blog post however, was the fact that she is now finding it difficult to make time to write. She is spending huge amounts of time on all of the aspects of publishing besides writing. This, to me, is the conundrum of self-publishing.

When you self-publish, everything is on your shoulders. Editing, covers, formatting, marketing, and so on, is all on you. Huge responsibility. Huge investment in time. Skimp on these and you skimp on your chances of success. You are pretty much going into business for yourself. If you don’t have the time and money to do it right, you won’t be selling many books. This is time away from writing. It’s time away from everything. If you already have a job or have children or other obligations, making the time to do it right is next to impossible. Personally, I’m not willing or able to take on what is essentially a second full time job to do it. I need the daytime job. I need insurance. I have children to take care of and be with. I’m also going to school. While some writers may enjoy the lack of many of these obligations, I suspect the majority don’t.

This is why I am avoiding self-publishing and will be for the forseeable future. If I’m going to do it, I want to be able to pursue it properly. This is also why I am content and quite satisfied with the trade-offs in going with a traditional publishing house. They take care of many things I just can’t afford to do and do it better than I.  Most importatly though, it allows me to focus on what is most important. Writing.

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13 responses to “Why am I avoiding self-publishing?

  1. This is an interesting discussion which doesn’t state one important fact: Traditional publishing is not an option for many would-be authors. Generally, an author is traditionally published after obtaining a literary agent (through whatever voodoo that requires), having the agent sell the would-be author’s manuscript to a publisher, and then successfully negotiating the vicissitudes of the publishing process. Some authors do manage to sell directly to publishers, but not many.

    Until a would-be author jumps through the above hoops the options are: don’t publish or self-publish.

    After attempting to write the magic query letter many times and being rejected, I hired my editor to write the thing. She has thirty years in the business and was the editor-in-chief of a major writers’ magazine for many years. Her version was rejected just as fast as mine.

    I gave up trying to get an agent. I now have four books published by an indie press––mine. I’ve won twelve national awards in contests for independent presses. My life has changed. I can speak definitively about “self publishing.”

    For one thing, “self publishing” doesn’t exist. A zillion ways of getting one’s words in print and between covers exist, from doing all the design and composition yourself to hiring top designers. From the one-stop approach at your local print shop to setting up your own LLC and sinking everything you’ve got into the effort. The quality range of “self-published” books is amazing.

    One thing I can say about writing and producing one’s own books is that it takes MUCH MORE WORK than any of the discussions of the topic that I’ve seen indicate, including this one.

    If you have any quality standards at all, “self publishing” is a license to work 24 hours a day.

    That’s not just social networking time, that’s conferring with editors and designers and proofreaders and printers. It’s selecting and supervising professionals, setting up distribution, warehousing, and shipping. It’s writing and rewriting manuscripts, handling publicity and marketing. Producing brochures and ads. “Self-publishing” involves doing everything a publishing house would do either by yourself or with whatever staff you can conjure.

    A smart indie-publisher will find ways of doing these tasks effectively, but the process is still an orgy of work with absolutely no guarantee of getting ANYTHING back.

    Sound appealing? Some people do really well as indie publishers/authors. They have a magic ability to charm via the Internet. Plus they work even harder than I do. One fellow I know writes on 40+ blogs, promoting is close to twenty books. I don’t know when he sleeps.

    Will I “self-publish” again? Yeah. I finally know what I’m doing. It will be with extreme reticence based on the experience of pain, however. I’ve got a couple of series going. I want to finish them.

    The other factor operating for me, is my age. I’m 65 years old. The publishing industry is notoriously “age-ist.” I don’t want to spend thirty years trying to woo an agent, and then see what happens if I finally get a contract. I don’t have time for that.

    Why fight it? I’m doing what I want to do, and well. Fortunately, I’m a work-o-holic from Silicon Valley. It’s a cultural thing.

  2. There are avenues around what you’ve described. Amanda Hocking said that a lot of the time suckage is coming from self-promotion via social networking…which any traditionally pubbed author worth his/her salt better be doing as well or else they’ll find their book floundering in oblivion. Particularly first-time/midlist authors, who will get little to no promotion from their traditional publishers. (She also takes time to personally answer each and every email that comes to her – and with 100,000 books sold in January, I can imagine there’s quite a few of those.)

    This is being said as someone who is traditionally published, but looking very, very seriously at indie publishing. I actually think indie publishing will give me more time to write, has definitely given me more inspiration (I don’t have to worry whether or not my book will be accepted or hits a certain market or is what someone else is looking for – I just get to write what I want to write), and I love the idea that the title I pick will stay the title of the book.

    • True, there a definite advantages. I also think it makes a big difference going into it if you’ve already got some kind of established readership. Going in with a blank slate is going to be really hard going for most anyone, I think.

  3. Pingback: Why am I avoiding self-publishing? | The Passive Voice

  4. FWIW, JA Konrath says that he has *more* time to write now that he self publishes and doesn’t have to deal with a lot of the book touring, promotional stuff he used to do. He hires people to do much of his formatting, cover art. It’s different for every author, I think.

    • Oh, I’m sure. I’m gearing these thoughts more toward those new to the process. Konrath is established and generates enough income with his writing now to afford to farm out some of the detail work. Hocking could do that too, and I’m sure her situation will change in the future after the media hype calms down. Though, I think Konrath also did a lot more with the touring/promo stuff than most authors do as well. Anyway, your point is valid. It’s different for everyone.

  5. Despite all the recent hoopla about self-publishing e-books, traditional publishing may still yield some benefits, like more time to write.

  6. I’d like to go the self-publishing route, but without the big outlay on marketing. I think what sells most books is word-of-mouth. I enjoy designing and artwork so covers and book appearance are no problem. I’ve got projects that I’ve been dallying with for decades, so ideas that were once fairly original are not anymore. Sometimes I wonder what the point is, but I’ve received so much joy from these activities. It would be wonderful if others could, too.

    I’m amazed at how you juggle so much so well, Jim.

  7. Good points and I think those are things everyone needs to be aware of when they decide to self publish. It’s not easy. It’s a job, a business and you have to put the time in. It’s not for everyone just like traditional publishing isn’t forever.
    Each his own.

  8. Self-publishing doesn’t have to take as much time and energy as she’s apparently put into it. I suspect that most of what she’s spending time on these days is coping with the media exposure. Plenty of people are doing well with self-publishing without having to run themselves so ragged that they can’t write.

    • You’re right, Catana, Hocking’s success has likely added an extra burden of timesink to her workload. Everyone wants to talk to her and find out how she did it. Regardless though, there is a lot more work involved if you are doing it all on your own, and there are authors out there successfully making a go of it.

      I stress this point though, and likely will everytime I talk about self-publishing, because I don’t believe a lot of writers coming into this with their first book, have a real grasp of what it will take to achieve any kind of success. It’s a good deal of work even through the traditional channels, and aside from relying on luck and timing, the only thing in your control is putting as much time and effort as possible into it in order to maximize your chances.

      • You’re absolutely right. I’m on the verge of self-publishing my first novel, and it’s taken a lot of time and energy already. Luckily, I know someone qualified to do the cover, or I’d be struggling with that, also. One thing I’d like to mention, and this is advice that’s been given by a lot of people, start building your platform as early as possible. If you wait until the book is out, you’re going to exhaust yourself trying to get it in front of potential readers. Slow, steady work will get you where you need to be when the book comes out, and without sacrificing all your writing time. I think Hocking proves that point.