Thursday, July 26

Posted by Laurel Garver on Thursday, July 26, 2012 12 comments
Self-publishing. How do you decide if it's for you?

I'm a cautious person, so deciding to publish my novel Never Gone on my own wasn't something I arrived at overnight. I spent a lot of time researching and soul-searching. As I was considering the option, I found it incredibly helpful to read about others' decision-making processes. So in the coming weeks I'll share some of the factors that went into my decision, in hopes that it will be educational for those still weighing the pros and cons.

Here are some of the questions I had going in:

What does success look like to me? What's my ultimate goal?

What's happening to publishing? What trends seem to be emerging regarding models that are sustainable and models that aren't?

Am I willing to give up the cache of being approved by gatekeepers?

What are possible downsides of legacy publishing?

Am I temperamentally suited to being an entrepreneur?

What other networks might substitute for the support a legacy publisher might provide? Can I find them or build them?

What skill sets will I need to develop to build my writing business?

Is this particular project better suited for independent or legacy publishing?

Is the book actually ready? How will I know when it is?

These are fairly broad-strokes areas of research. You can see why I've spent the better part of eight months reading everything I could get my eyeballs on that could provide some perspective on the topic.

One of the most helpful things I kept hearing was this: It's not a forever decision. You can self-pub some projects and seek legacy publication for others. Learn your market and where your project might fit and make a business decision.

I can tackle these questions in order as I proposed them, or in whatever order you like.

Which of these questions intrigue you most?


  1. I think the most difficult thing for me has been the marketing aspect. I'm quiet by nature and saying, "Hey, here's my book. You'll love it." is anathema to me.

    So it's been a real stretch. I can't say that I'm good at marketing. But I keep trying. And my sales aren't brilliant. But I'm content because my novel is selling, and strangers are enjoying my it. And that's what I've always wanted.

    1. I know what you mean, Connie. I'm quite introverted by nature and I know that I will have to face some fears there. But I'd have to do that just as much if I were legacy published. There's really no avoiding it. I have found a particularly helpful book called "Sell More Books: Book marketing for debut and low-profile authors" ( Lots of creative ideas that don't require you to become a raging extrovert.

  2. I think -- What's happening to publishing -- and the cache of gatekeepers -- were my two deciding factors.

    Everything I had read prior to my own decision last summer, it seemed self-publishing was the way to go. I mean, they weren't going away, numbers were climbing higher every month for e-books and readers.

    And the cache of having an agent or a New York publishing house just wasn't what it used to be. I spent two years querying three different books and although 98% of them said, the writing was great, they just couldn't sell it.

    So what was the point in trying to find an agent if they couldn't sell my book. I didn't want to be one of those people who worked the same novel for years. So I bit the bullet and self-published.

    Believe me, it wasn't easy. I had to learn a whole new skill set when it came to formatting and cover design and the difference in venues, and even e-pub and paperback.

    I asked myself what I wanted from this. No, I'm not a millionaire, but I do make a small living off the income generated by sales. And what I wanted was to be a mid-list author with an income that would be able to support me and my daughter. And that's what I have. And that's fine. I don't need to be famous, or well-known.

    Sorry about the lengthy response.

    1. Thanks so much for your thoughtful respsonse, Anne. I love getting a good conversation going! I hesitated to bring up the fact that small presses--where my book might have been a good fit--are folding everywhere. It seems like more and more it's either write to fit the desires of an international conglomerate or do it yourself. Several small presses I'd considered initially to try if the agent route didn't pan out are now gone.

      I think you went in with healthy expectations, and I hope to do the same. I have a day job, but I'd like to supplement our income to afford some extras.

  3. The question that absolutely jumps out at me is "Am I temperamentally suited to being an entrepreneur?" My own answer is no. I do hope more and more SP-ers will ask themselves that question. Good list!

    1. You do have to treat it as a business or run the risk of getting into tax trouble among other things. I agree that some don't consider that deeply enough.

  4. Am I suited to be an entrepeneur? - that and "Is my book ready?" are both questions that I'm struggling with over this question . . .I decided that I'm going to self-pub my first trilogy (yes actually the book I'm working on now is book 1 in a trilogy that I have rough drafted out). It's Christian fantasy and the Christian fantasy books out there are written by 1)authors who've previously published other genres 2)self-pubbed authors 3) self-pubbed authors who've had their books bought by traditional publishers.
    I just have to prepare myself as much as possible to be an entrepeneur and whip my manuscript into shape . . . possibly with some major help.

    1. It's wonderful to hear you've really put in the time researching the market, and seeing what's happening with your genre in publishing. That's SO essential.

      Some entrepreneurial things can be learned and many can be outsourced. So take heart. And as far as a ready manuscript--that takes lots of eyes and many drafts. No shortcuts around it.

  5. I could see why this decision was a hard one Laurel. I myself have been asking almost the same questions as you. For three years I have been pondering whether I should self publish my first book, forever hoping it will be snagged by an agent.

    But I must agree that this ISN'T permanent and you can do both. So why not get your work out there. If the book has a strong target audience it should do well. Yes, it is hard to self promote, but in today's world ANY person in ANY business must be aggressive. Our economy is fragile right now, and NO One is willing to take a chance on an unknown. SO self publishing at least puts your name and work OUT THERE. You just never know who might happen to pick up a copy.

    TIMING is everything and THIS maybe your time. Good luck and all the best!


    P.S. I miss the Thestral Gazette.

    1. Thanks, Michael. Like Tyrean was saying above, it was in researching what's happening in my genre that was foremost in the decision. I don't at all regret taking the steps to attempt the traditional route. It made me revise deeper and deeper.

      Not only is the economy an issue, but the whole legacy pub model is undergoing change. You have to decide for yourself whether your project would thrive in that environment or would be likely to die prematurely or undergo radical reworking to a degree it's unrecognizable and something you can't own.

      I kinda miss Thestral Gazette too. Maybe we could resurrect it with less frequent posts.

  6. All of these are great and helpful questions. I'd ask myself if I was ready to market my own book (which I know I'm not). The industry is going in so many directions that I think self publishing is the best option for many writers. Props to you for taking your dreams forward, Laurel! Can't wait to read your book.

    1. The one thing I've learned in all my research is that you can't avoid marketing your book, no matter what publishing route you take. Publishers help a lot with only a handful of books--everyone who didn't get the big advances has to do quite a lot themselves. That discovery made it, well, seem more sane to step out. There's a learning curve with a first book no matter what.