Monday, December 13, 2010

Why I Choose Not To Self-Publish

With my recent post about being on submission, I've received a lot of questions about why I don't try to self-publish my book. It's a valid question. If traditional publishing has been so hard on me and I whine so much, then why not just do it myself? I will say this:

I have absolutely no desire to self-publish—but probably not for the reasons you think.

It's not that I think self-publishing is a "cop out." It's not that I don't think my book will have the validation or the reputation necessary to sell. I actually don't have a negative view of self-publishing at all. In fact, I have a lot of respect for people who do all that work themselves.

It takes a certain kind of person to be a good self-publisher. You have to be willing to sell yourself, which personally makes me very uncomfortable. If you haven't noticed, I am very low key on "publicity." Besides tweeting my posts on Twitter, I do not attempt to gather an audience at all. The following I have? All thanks to friends and, well, Nathan Bransford, my previous, extremely popular agent. Other people talk about me, which I am grateful for. But I have never asked anyone to do so. If I had to go out there and sell myself? Ummm, I would freak out. Seriously. Just the thought of asking someone to read my book—BUY my book—terrifies me. Which is funny, but true.

Having a publisher tell people they should buy my book? That, I can handle. It would be much easier for me to talk about what my publisher is doing, or to support their marketing efforts with some of my own. As much as marketing has been a stumbling block for me this year in acquisitions, I also have a lot of respect for those who are in that line of work. Soooo not my skill set. I would be more than happy to share that burden with professionals who know better than I do.

Also, self-publishing is a lot of work! There are some people out there who think it's just as easy as uploading your manuscript to Amazon and—tada!—you're making money! But it's not that way, and it can take a long time to build a following. I learned this from my very close friend Michelle, who has self-published.

She put in an incredible amount of work. Not only writing the book, but making it beautiful. She shot the cover photo herself, edited and sought professional editing help. She had to research reliable publishing options, choose the book's size and font and all the details. She had to figure out how to obtain an ISBN, how to do taxes properly, and how to offer different formats of her book. She held her own debut party, planned it, got bookmarks and business cards, sent out invitations.

I...couldn't do all that! I hardly have time to write, let alone tend to all the other details of publishing. I think there are a lot of writers out there who would love to have that control, who would be so good at it. More power to them! But just looking at the list of things to do scares the crap out of me. I want to share that work with others, and I don't mind losing profit to do it. That's a personal decision and nothing more.

There is also a financial issue. Currently, writing and trying to publish traditionally doesn't cost me anything. I never even sent a snail mail query! Oh wait, it did cost me about 3 bucks to mail my agency contract, but that's it. Honestly, I am not in a position to fund my own publishing. That advance thing? Yeah, I would need that money, and I'm okay admitting that. But for those who are in a position to invest more money? Why not?

And finally, the most shameful reason I choose not to self-publish: I like not having to shoulder all the blame.

Oh yes, I said it. As hard as traditional publishing is on me, as hard as the waiting can be, as hard as it is to hear "no" over and over, I personally would be worse off doing it myself. Why? Because any lack of sales or bad reviews or whatever would be 100% my responsibility. Or at least that is how it would feel to me—I should have picked a different title font, or changed the cover, or done that signing in Costco even if the thought made me want to throw up it's so scary.

In reality, for me, it's easier to not be entirely in control. It's easier for me to say "Oh, the market is tough, and I can't control that. It's okay, I'm still a good writer." If I put my book out there on my own and it didn't do as well as I hoped? The only person I'd have to blame is myself. Some writers love that idea, but I just don't! I want a team. I love having others to rely on, and I love the idea of my book ultimately being a team effort.

So, yeah, I think self-publishing is great for some people and they can be super successful at it. But it's just not for me, and I'm not afraid to say it.

41 comments:

  1. Self-publishing also lacks the distribution that you get from traditional publishing.

    Good luck with your submission...I'll be there next month.

    demitrialunetta.blogspot.com

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  2. I'm right there with you. I toyed with the idea of self-publishing, but one has to put so much work into it to do it properly. I'm not that kind of person.
    Fingers crossed, though. Hopefully you're long on-submission purgatory will be over soon. :)

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  3. I love your honesty. It terrifies me and inspires me :)

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  4. Thank you for being so honest. This was a timely post.

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  5. Thank you for this post, Natalie, and for the mention. Self-publishing has been a huge decision for me, an it has been a good one because it has taught me a lot and sent me down paths I wasn't expecting at all. You are SO RIGHT about shouldering all the blame. I just can't handle it anymore - constantly checking my sales and getting angry with myself for not doing better, comparing myself to other Indies, etc. This will happen with my traditionally published work as well, but not to the same extent, and not an every-single-day kind of stress. It hasn't been that way at all so far with my small publisher.

    It's great to work in a team. My self-publishing experience WAS a team effort, though. A lot of people pulled together to help make it happen. Still, I had to make every single decision. It's a lot to shoulder.

    I think you're smart to know where you stand and exactly what you want and what will work for you and your career. You know you've got my support!

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  6. This is a brilliant post, Natalie.

    I think it's great for people to see the other side of self-publishing, with the sheer amount of work and effort that goes into trying to self-promote your book, and I think your reasons for not wanting to are completely valid.

    I have undying respect for anybody that choses the self-publishing route and succeeds. All those jobs which are usually spread throughout a publishing team are taken on solely by you, and to manage to do that AND sell your book is incredible.

    I'm not sure I could manage it either.

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  7. I'm going to go out on a limb and admit that I'm snobby about self-publishing. I know, I know... but I think someone needs to admit that there are those of us out there :)

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  8. Great post and fair enough :) I'm choosing to self-publish and I have all those things to face, I certainly never expected to do this originally but I love to challenge myself and that's why self publishing appeals. Its all up to me and I can't blame anyone for my down fall. It'll be interesting to see how I do :)

    The Arrival, Book One of the BirthRight Trilogy. On Amazon 1.1.2011
    www.damselinadirtydress.com

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  9. Great post. Essentially when you self-publish, it's like starting your own business. It's definitely not for everyone, and I'm with you -- I do NOT have the right personality for that kind of thing!

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  10. I really considered self-publishing about 6 months ago, but then I started to follow people's blogs--yours in particular and Kiersten White's--and it was decided that self-publishing was NOT for me. It made more sense to me to go through an agent and publisher. Even though it might take longer, it is the best choice for me. Plus, all of the money I'd have to spend printing was NOT something I was willing to do. Plus, I am all about promoting my book, but to fly solo on that is terrifying. I agree that someone else to do the grunt of the work is best. I am totally there for marketing but with the help of an agent and publisher.
    Keep being patient. Your book will earn the credit it deserves. I'm sure of it.

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  11. Really interesting post. I don't think I'll ever self-publish for the same reasons as you. I want to focus on the writing, not the behind-the-scenes stuff. Having worked in book publishing, getting a book out there is a LOT of work and I don't think I have it in me. I want to be a writer, not a publisher.

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  12. That's just how I feel. I'm not good at self promotion. It just hit me that I should probably be tweeting about blog post going up. I'm way behind the media curve, and like you self-promotion makes me very uncomfortable. I want the team. I need the team. *crosses my fingers that one day I'll be able to get the team*

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  13. Especially now with Kindle formats and ereaders I think self publishing sounds more like an option. But, I do agree that you have to have the right kind of personality for it. We all are rooting for you!

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  14. These are all good reasons not to self-publish. I don't think I'd self-publish my work either; I didn't even like selling Girl Scout cookies when I was a kid, so I wouldn't feel comfortable selling my book. But on the other hand, it has worked for a lot of people, so I guess it just depends on what you want to do.

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  15. What most people don't get about self-publishing is that it's not the same as vanity publishing. And, I'd bet at least 95 percent of what's out there that people call self-published is actually vanity published.

    Self-publishing is just that - you do it all yourself. Your imprint, your control.

    Vanity publishing tacks the name of the vanity publisher (along with their reputation) onto the spine and they control the quality of the final product.

    People who want to legitimately self-publish have to be dedicated, and have the time to do the dedicating. I'd rather spend that time writing.

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  16. I 110% agree! I'm far too hard on myself, as it is. And self-promotion? *stops typing as I consider the run-and-hide...* I would need the help of team for sure!

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  17. Yes, it is lots of hard work, but when the books sell and you have reached your first thousand book sales there is the pride of doing it all yourself and this is a great reward. Today, publishers expect you to get out there and sell yourself anyway. Oh, and I enjoy receiving 70% income from my sales, not the 10% you might receive from a publisher. But I know this is not for everyone, as you say, it is very hard work. Carole.

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  18. Today, with ebooks and publishers expecting so much selling from their authors, it seems that the line between traditionally published books and self published books is blurring a little. That said, I NEED a publisher to say YES to me before I have the full confidence to go out and sell. That's why I can't self publish.

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  19. Well put. I couldn't agree more. There's no way I'd have the time to self-publish. It looks like it involves wearing a lot of different hats, and like Donea Lee just said, the idea of self promotion is mortifying!

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  20. So well said - echoes my thoughts exactly! I'm a writer, not an agent/publisher/marketer/publicist/salesman. Let those who are good at those things exercise their special talents as I do mine when crafting stories. That way we all win.

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  21. Well said - I am not a self publish kind of girl either. Same reasons. :)

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  22. I pretty much feel exactly what you just described, except I could go out there and try to sell myself. I have that ability in me if I had to. But I'd really, really rather not. I'd really rather have a publishing team behind me, doing it for and with me. I hope 2011 is the year for both of us!! :)

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  23. I think I echo your reasoning. I couldn't self publish. At least not at this point.

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  24. I'm not self-published but I'm with three different small publishers and I have to do so much promotion work sometimes I think I should just self-publish and take a bigger chunk of the money.

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  25. Yes, self-publishing means just that--becoming a publisher, with all the different hats that entails: author, editor, designer, marketer, publicist, salesperson, accountant, defender of copyright, and--I'm probably missing a bunch of jobs there.

    Authors think they have to do a lot of promotional work nowadays, and they do. But individuals still have a hard time duplicating the marketing and publicity efforts of a major publisher, not to mention their review and bookstore contacts. I view my promotional work as a supplement to what my publisher does, not as a substitute for it.

    Serious kudos to those who can navigate the self-pub route!

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  26. Thanks for this...makes me realise I don't want to self publish either, MOSTLY because I am NOT good at selling myself (that sounds bad doesn't it? LOL).

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  27. Funny, because although the idea of having that first 'published' book is utterly tantalizing, the thought of the money involved with having to publish it yourself scares the crap out of me! Like you said, with an agent comes less hassle, less wory and less out of pocket expenses.

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  28. Jennifer Hubbard sent me over here. I wrote on this issue on my blog today: http://tracy-d74.livejournal.com/68506.html (not that you need to read it, just saying.) You are right, there are people who think it is easy, breezy. I just don't have the skills, time, or patience to become a publisher.

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  29. Jennifer Hubbard sent me over here. I wrote on this issue on my blog today: http://tracy-d74.livejournal.com/68506.html (not that you need to read it, just saying.) You are right, there are people who think it is easy, breezy. I just don't have the skills, time, or patience to become a publisher.

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  30. I agree with you. I wouldn't be good at all the marketing and details that would go with self-publishing.

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  31. Oh you totally took the words right out of my mouth. All those reasons are my same reasons for not wanting to do it. I just couldn't- it's hard enough having to keep up with a blog! Plus I am absolutely terrified about going to conferences, signings and whatever I will need to do myself even with a publisher. SO having to promote my book all by myself?? I'd rather not even be published, it's just too scary for me because I get so much anxiety with stuff like that. But seriously, more power to those that self publish!

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  32. I enjoyed reading your thoughts and point of view. All good points! Thanks for sharing.

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  33. The amount of work involved is a tremendous turn off. I have no interest in doing that--at all. Couldn't agree with you more. I'm totally impressed with those who can pull it off though.

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  34. I feel the same way. It's just not an option for me. The idea of all the stuff I would have to do, of the things I'd be responsible for, is just too much. I'd rather have a team, others to give me feedback, than be going it on my own.

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  35. I agree with what you said. In addition, I suspect traditional publishing still reaches a wider audience, and I am all about reaching a wide audience.

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  36. Thank you! Self Publishing is all well and good, but if you want sales, that's a whole other story/ball of wax/whatever you want to call it. Like you, I can't stand selling myself, it just makes me feel self-conscious. I hope you get a traditional deal! Your mindset is certainly worth it.

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  37. I respect your decision to follow the publisher/agent path and I commend the way you outlined your arguements. They are truly heartfelt and sincere and reflect the deep thoughts of your position and I do wish you luck in your endeavour. However down here in the far distant Antipodes having gone through the similar submission treadmill, plus the added disadvantage of remote (from NYC) location. I will be following an indie publishing path

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  38. This is a great post Natalie! Thanks for crystallising the way I feel about it all.

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  39. I meant to add, especially while I have a full time job and can hardly find time to write, lte alone do marketing and accounting for my book!

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  40. 100% with you on this. I could do it all as I did do it all when I ran my own professional organizing business, but I'm not a marketer/salesperson and being one doesn't interest me. I will do what I need to, but if I can get a big name publisher behind me I'll be much happier and less stressed.

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