Why I Chose to Self-publish:
This post is many years after the fact, but I had always wanted to blog about why I chose to go the self-publishing route. But after many years into this journey, I understand more of why I chose to do it. My perspective has changed immensely. I used to hesitate to admit I self-published my books but not so much anymore.
When I first started, the stigma against self-publishing was greater than it is now. Some believe it has disappeared almost entirely, but it hasn’t, not really. Some writers, librarians, and review sites see it as lesser than, a last resort, or an easy pass for simply showing up. Some writers simply want that stamp of approval they believe only a traditional publishing contract will give them. Librarians want to know the books that they are adding to their collection have been vetted by reputable sources. With their limited budget, it makes sense to buy books that have been reviewed.
I was reluctant to self-publish because I was one of those writers. I wanted/needed someone to stand behind my work because, at the time, I didn’t have confidence in myself to do it on my own. But I also wrote for kids and wanted the physical book in the hands of the reader that only comes from browsing a bookstore. Kids are more about the physical book than an e-book anyway. Plus, I wanted my books to be that impulse buy. A kid sees the cover and it’s all Mooooom, I want that.
Up until 2011 or 2012, I was actively seeking agent representation. I tried with two middle-grade books, and although I had some interest and had gotten some feedback, it was a pass for them.
My mind began to change after I shopped my second book around. The economy had tanked in 2009 and things in the industry felt…different. I was also a different writer after writing the second book. For one, I had worked with an editor and learned a lot about structure and story and character development. I had more experience and was getting a better feel for who I was as a writer and what I wanted from writing.
I just want to take a quick second to point something out, especially to writers who have been in the trenches for many years: You’re not a failure if you don’t get an agent. Your writing doesn’t suck. You don’t suck. Publishing is a business that needs content that they believe will bring in money in order for them to stay alive. Books* are probably chosen more for their ability to sell big than on their literary merit (*not all books). The acceptance rate is very low in the best of times and with the constant changes in the publishing industry, the chances have gotten slimmer with every passing year.
So, what are the big reasons I chose this path?
It has surprised me to learn that I am a take charge kind of person when it comes to my creative endeavors. Even if I employ outside opinions, professional or otherwise, I like to have final say in what I put out there. It’s not perfect, nothing is, but it’s mine and no one is going to believe in my books more than me. Self-publishing puts you in the driver seat. You get to say when and how. And I like that.
I started writing for kids at the age of 32. By the time I knew enough about the craft and wrote and revised a complete novel a few times, I was close to 40, which is when I started seeking an agent. I spent the next 3 to 5 years writing and revising and shopping around and learning as much as I could. I’m not sure if ageism is a thing in the publishing industry, but I have seen some agents say they were reluctant to take on an older client. Ironically, one comment came from an older agent. Anyway, I get it. I do. Publishing moves at a glacial pace. It can take years to land an agent. Then it could take almost a year to get your manuscript ready for submission. Then it could take years to find a publisher. Then years to get it ready for publishing.
Let’s put it in numbers.
A writer starts the agent search at the age of 45.
If everything goes well, they land an agent in a year. Writer is now 46.
Agent and writer get book submission ready. Writer is now 47.
Agent submits to publishers and they get a contract within a year. Writer is now 48.
Writer works with editor over the next two years getting the book ready to release. Writer is now 49.
They say it takes the average author 10 years to build a successful career. Author is now 59. And this is if everything goes perfectly, which it never does.
If there is some ageism in publishing, I get it. It’s not nice, but it’s a reality. The converse is also true, at least for me. I don’t want to wait 5 to 15 years to become an author — I’m running out of time. And I certainly wouldn’t want to work with someone who didn’t want to work with me because of my age. 😊
It would behoove all authors to hire an IP lawyer or a publishing lawyer to read over their contracts. Beware of things like “in perpetuity” and “noncompete clauses.” Fight for your work. This is your career. Agents, although they are there to be a champion for your work and to help you negotiate on your behalf, they aren’t lawyers. I don’t want to sound like I’m bashing them, because I’m not. But contracts are legally binding and authors are eager to be published. Don’t let the dream blind you. Don’t sign away everything because you want to see your book on a shelf in a bookstore.
Kristine Katherine Rusch has quite a few detailed and educational posts about contracts on her website:
Check them out here . They’re meaty reading.
4. Career longevity
I’ve been hearing that it’s getting harder for debut authors to build a career because publishers are abandoning books if they don’t sell well on release. With a traditional contract, you don’t get much time to make a splash. You aren’t allotted much time to find your audience. With self-publishing you have time to find your audience and build a reader base. You can keep your books on the virtual shelf as long as you want. Like I said before, no one is going to believe in your work more than you…especially when you’re not selling well. That is something you have control over, sort of. You can change covers, tighten the cover copy, work on marketing, buy ads, etc. but you can keep at it until you decide when you want to stop.
5. I am not for all markets.
It didn’t take me long to figure out agents weren’t interested in my books and why. My books aren’t high concept with strong commercial appeal. I started out writing more plot driven books than character driven books, and judging by agent wish lists, they’re more interested in the latter, especially when it comes to kidlit. I’m okay with that. My books are sometimes odd and I have a strong interest in the supernatural. My books are a little on the quiet side. I doubt I’ll ever write a blockbuster book. My characters aren’t always likable or maybe even relatable, which is really the goal, I guess. I write what I like to read and to be honest I have a hard time finding those books on the shelf. What does that tell you? That brings this blog post full circle. It’s mainly about control. I get to write the stories I want, to explore the themes I want, to create the characters I want, and to release when I want.
Self-publishing is punk rock, a rebellion against the mainstream and the status quo (at least it was in the beginning). It’s DIY at its best. If you succeed. It’s on you. If you fail. It’s on you.
If you’re considering self-publishing, I hope you might have found some of this helpful. I can’t tell you what to do. It’s not a decision to be made lightly. Look far into the future at what kind of career you want. If you are really wanting a traditional contract or are thinking about being a hybrid author, agents will look at the sales of your self-pubbed books. No, you can’t shop a book that’s already published around, but if you aren’t selling the ones you have out, an agent might be reluctant to take you on. That’s something to think about. And don’t do it under a pen name, thinking you can’t share that bit of information with your agent. That’s just bad business that could come back to haunt you in career killing ways.
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