Sunday, December 28, 2008

Self-Publishing for the Self-Aware

So, I wrote a YA novel. Revised the crap out of it (repeatedly). Started querying it, got mostly rejections. Revised query, sent it out some more, and got more rejections (or just no response). Repeat, repeat, repeat. This is nothing new for me, as I've trudged down this road with two previous novels. The difference now is that I'm still in love with this one. I just want it to be read. Now, we know how you feel about self-publishing through outlets like iUniverse and such, and truthfully, I feel the same way. No distribution, no go. But what about on a personal website (after, of course, I've run through the rest of my agent prospects and been soundly rejected)? Teens do a lot of reading at the computer, anyway, and if even ten kids read it and enjoyed it, I'd be happy. And the Internet can be its own distribution if you work hard enough to get the word out. I have a few promotional ideas, and yes, the endeavor would cost me a bit, although the fruits of that would go to the reader (and hosting service) instead of a vanity press. I'm willing to spend the money. The only drawbacks I can think of: the possible regret in ten, twenty years when I cringe at my early work, as we all do; and utter failure to get even one person to read it. I'll have other novels ready to query within the next six months, so it's not like I'm focusing all my energy on this one. And maybe I should just let it go...or maybe I should follow my instincts and put it out there for the readers to decide. Your thoughts?
If you'd really be happy for just a couple people to read it, don't want any money out of it, and are willing to work to get it out there... then yes, I think the internet is perfect for you.

If you go into any form of self-publishing (from vanity presses to running a blog like this one) with the understanding that it's your time/money you're investing, it's extremely unlikely you'll ever make them back, and you're just doing it because you want to share something with people, then that's fine.

My sincere good wishes in finding your readers.


Sarah Laurenson said...

I agree with EA to a point. It depends on what your ultimate goal is though. And from what I read in the rest of your letter, it sounds like getting published is still what you are seeking.

If you have other books that are almost ready to submit and you really want a writing career, maybe holding off on this one just a bit longer to see if the others take off might help. If this one is good, but needs a little more work, you might get to the point of seeing where it needs help in the course of working on other books. As you said, you could look back and regret putting an early work out there. You might find an editor/agent who falls in love with your work and is willing to help you with this one that is not grabbing their attention in its current state.

On the other hand, building a readership might help you get published with a different book. There are people who put audio recordings of their novel on the internet (in segments) and others who put the first several chapters out there prior to publication. The audio book people were not previously published. The one author I know of who put actual chapters online was previously published but maybe not very well known.

There are many paths to publication, but the percentage of successful writing careers is proportional. The traditional method still seems to work best for the most people. Lots of choices and each has it advantages and disadvantages. You sound like you've got a good handle on the realities. Best of luck whatever you decide.

Anonymous said...

If all you want are readers and feedback, I strongly recommend you post the novel on FictionPress. It's free and has an existing reader base (it's a place people go to find books to read, where your personal website is just one of a billion) and it has a nice built-in mechanism for comments. If you're nervous about how you'll feel about it in ten or twenty years, use a pen name. Then put the link in every profile, email signature, and comment signature you have, and find some like-minded communities to promote the hell out of it. You won't be published, you won't get money, you'll be one among thousands. But you will be read.

Anonymous said...

I wish this person luck. It is so hard to write a book and have it not sell or be unable to get an agent. We've all been there. Some of us, myself included are still there. So please understand that you have my respect and compassion. But...

I just think that writers that say, (quoting from the original question) that they "just want it to be read," really, really, really need to understand that most bookstores will not carry self-published fiction books. Without visibility in a bookstore it's very unlikely to sell. Marketing is hard. Even midlist published books don't get great support and they have the pub companies built in catalog and review system at their disposal.

The cost to you is going to be extreme, not just financially but emotionally, going to all this work and STILL having no one read it.

When people talk to me about self-publishing I often ask them how many self-published books they read last year. Gulp. The answer is envariably, none. Zip. Nada. And yet, somehow they expect to defy the odds? To expect others to flock to a book that they themselves wouldn't bother with as a consumer?

Anonymous said...

Come to Listen to a few books and start poking around the Community section. In addition to the self-publishing crowd, the podcasting community contains authors who became published as a result of their podcasts and midlist authors who came to podcasting as a self-marketing tool. Creating an audiobook is a lot of work, but it's not expensive. If you go this route, you _will_ have an audience, and it will include a whole lot more than ten people. Truly. For other ideas, listen to Michael Stackpole's _The Secrets_ Podcast. It's searchable in iTunes, and it's free. The reader who suggests that you consume what you wish to produce is also correct. If you're looking at podcasting, consume some podcasts. Try T. Morris, P.G. Holyfield, and Chris Lester for some really excellent audio drama. Try Nathan Lowell, Scott Sigler, Mur Lafferty, and many others for some excellent single-reader audio books. And you could always try mine. :)

Seriously, know your options. It will make you feel less helpless. I just got an email from a person whose kids wanted toys of my characters for Christmas (characters from my homemade audiobook, which they found on They want to discuss my book in their book club. Your audience is out there. Make yourself available, and they will find you. However, "available" does not mean buried in the depths of Lulu or in a largely un-linked blog. Get into the social networking sites, and cross-pollinate. You will have to do this anyway if you end up with a small press (maybe even with a large press). Start practicing now.

graywave said...

If you want readers, and opinions, and you're willing to put in some marketing effort, and you don't yet want to step outside the church of mainstream publishing, you might try putting a few chapters (or the whole novel) up on the Authonomy site.

People I know swear by it and think it's the best thing ever. I tried it with one of my own books a while ago but found it was taking up too much of my time.

Brigid said...

I say FictionPress. Also, join the Yahoo Group called "SKoW Awards" and advertise it there, and maybe the group called "reviewers-found" (although for reviewers-found you have to review others' stories before yours is read).

If all you want is ONE person to read it, email me (Brigid) at I'm quite fond of YA, being 18 and all.

Good luck.

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