Sunday, January 25, 2009

Why? Why?

Honestly, I'm curious. Are there any self-publishers here?
If so, why did you chose to self-publish? Are you satisfied with how that worked out?

I mean, I met a guy who had self-published a yoga/meditation board book boxed set (yes, 1. meditation 2. board book 3. boxed set), and now has approximately 3,000 of them filling his garage. He'd like to get rid of them, but can't find anyone willing to buy them.

And I've blogged on this topic several times, but nevertheless I see people on the net who when faced with the unlikelihood (or uncertaintihood) of publishers wanting to publish their Fantastic Whatever, think: "That's ok; I'll self-publish."

And I think, Why?
Answers are welcome.


Unknown said...

I never self published. But I do understand the temptation. I've been trying to be published for over five years. I want, more than anything else in my life, to see a book with my name on it.


The most tempted I ever was to self publish was with my first completed manuscript. Why didn't it get accepted? I assumed it was them--editors, agents--not me. But I gave it time, and spent that time writing more and joining crit groups and realizing that it wasn't them, it was me.

So it helps me, whenever I think about that time I seriously did consider self publication, to know how wrong I was then and how the best thing I can do is continue to improve myself, and not jump the gun.

Anonymous said...

Not the answer you were looking for but I met a guy at BEA who had self-published and was unhappy that his publisher had no distribution so he walked the aisles at the show, trying to find a new publisher.

All he wanted was a publisher with good distribution and someone who "won't touch my words, man." He ranted for five minutes about how editors always wanted to...edit him and he hated that. Of course I told him, "Good luck with that" and respectfully walked away where I could laugh without being rude.

I think many of the people who self-publish are the ones who are in love with the underdog. They want to be ERAGON, plucked from self-publishing obscurity by a trick of fate. They want to be that million and one book that gets discovered in the slush pile and goes on to fame and fortune. Mainly, they want to be able to tell the story about how they "beat the odds." Sure, some do it to maintain editorial control (and that's ALWAYS worked out for the best...) but I think in the end they want to be able to say "I did it myyyy waaaay" and gloat in any success. But how often does that happen?

Anonymous said...

I know two excellent writers who chose to self-publish, both for the same reason. When you are 85, you can't wait for the whole process of querying and rejection, or even for the final long delay between acceptance and publication. These two chose to put their work in book form quickly and make it available to their friends and family, and random people who stumble on their Amazon or B&N listings. They knew it wasn't the best way to do it, they just wanted it done in their lifetime.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Ugh, of course it had no distribution. It was a self-publishing house!

I feel self-publishing houses ought to have to have a big disclaimer on their web pages:

"If you publish with us, your book will be available to bookstores. But bookstores won't hear about it from us because we have no sales reps, catalog, marketing department, or reputation for publishing anything that will sell. And bookstores won't be willing to carry your book because of our short discount. If you want to sell your book, best wishes. If you want other people to sell your book, you're SOL."

Sarah Laurenson said...

There seems to be a lot more work involved with self-publishing. Even the success stories that I've heard about, the self-publisher spent a lot of time pounding the pavement in order to get each sale. I'd rather be writing.

Someone in one of my old critique groups self-published. I never did ask why. I bought a copy to be supportive and I read it, too. It was a memoir, non-fiction type of book that really needed fact checking as well as an editorial hand to help it out. It was the first of a trilogy, but I don't think the other two ever made it to book form.

I've seen other self-published books from people attending the International SCBWI conferences. I never saw one that I would buy.

Mommy C said...

Hello EA! I have a self-published book. I chose to do it because the story had a very limited market base, but there was a demand for it. It was PB to explain my husband's occuaption as a welder in the oil and gas industry. I found that none of the children in our area understood what their father's did for a living, and felt their was a need.

I checked into a few self-publish companies, and was completely unimpressed. They were "offering" me reviews in some of the top review mags. For a book about a welder, laden with technical jargon? Really? I scraped any idea of working with them.

I did all the work with printer, myself. What a nightmare. They tried to turn around and charge me 5X what their quote was and after a few months of email and phone arguments, I got the price back down (not all the way mind you).

I did not read over my contract thoroughly, and later discovered they changed my order to cut costs. The covers ended up being very crappy paoer quality. The most important part. And they ignored shipping instructions, so the shipment was returned to them and needed to be reshipped. They still want me to pay for the extra shipping.And, these people are a well established repuutable American printer.

I had planned on doing a series with other oil and gas industry occupations, but the experience was such a nightmare. For 250 lousy books.

They've been popular, but a lot more work than they are worth.I've had some problems with "consignment" and wouldn't suggest it to anyone.

Long story short: It was a labour of love. I did it for my family, friends and community. If that isn't your reason for self-publishing, write the queries and polish. Take a writing course if you have to. It will take less time and money.

On another note, I belong to Authonomy. I am absolutely shocked at how many people are ready to just give up saying, "publishers only want tripe." Though, I do know of a romance author who has had very good success with self-publishing.

Editorial Anonymous said...

mb, that makes perfect sense. Good to hear of a situation in which it worked.

Editorial Anonymous said...

That's a very telling story, MommyC. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I guess there are many different reasons for self-publishing, but here's one I see a lot. Writers have to have a certain amount of ego, to believe that anyone would want to read anything they have to write. Writers also read a lot- including success stories like Paolini's. Writers also have imaginations, so the imagine they will be the next success story.

ego + success stories + imagination= "let's self-publish."

Personally, I'm not tempted because there isn't enough space in my garage.

Now here's a related question. Why DON'T prolific, bestselling authors (think Stephen King) self publish. Seems to me he could hire his editor, a sales rep and a production manager, they could concentrate on only one book, and he'd make even more money than he already does.

Maybe I'll self-publish when I am Stephen King!

Anonymous said...

The only way I could see self-publishing making any sense is if you had a project like a family memoir/genealogy, collection of old family recipes, etc. and you want to have them to share with other family members and friends. (kinda like mh's post upthread. ) Of course, it's understood you''re not going to make any money on it.

Jill Murray said...

I think there are a few successful speakers (think motivational, business, personal finance, etc...) who self-publish because their main point of distribution is through their own speaking engagements, and they can sell the books as part of the price of admission. That works because they're basically adding on to an existing service for which there's already an eager market, and they get to pocket all of the profit on each volume. Sometimes traditional publishers or distributors might pick up on that and acquire the book. But this is a very specialized scenario that I wouldn't expect to apply to, say, my YA novel. A support network for what I do already exists, and its via traditional publishing.

Now, would you consider authors who launch publishing houses that publish many authors including themselves to be self-publishers, or are they creating a whole other category?

SWILUA said...

Second on the family cookbook thing. I thought of getting one of those done for our family as a Christmas present.

Anonymous said...

Now, would you consider authors who launch publishing houses that publish many authors including themselves to be self-publishers, or are they creating a whole other category?

Right, like Blue Apple Books, which I understand is almost entirely Harriet Ziefert writing under 50 pen names?

Anonymous said...

I know number of people who have self-published.

The only "successful" one did so when she turned 80. Her son worked full time on marketing the book - he even quit his day job. The printer had to print the book twice because of poor positioning of the print on the pages. I think she sold 1600 copies all together.

Other writers have shown up at my writing group to display their self-published work. When they're told that killing the main character midway through the story isn't ideal, and that the secondary character seems to act like three different people, we never see them again.

It doesn't matter how constructive we are, they only want acclaim.

Anonymous said...

And some people are just stupid. I've met more than one self-published author who didn't realize that there was a difference in the self-publishing companies they had gone through and a "real" publisher. They thought paying to get your book published was totally normal and just how it was done.

Anonymous said...

Hi Editorial Anonymous! :)
I am so glad to read your blog and the comments of others seeing through the "real deal" about self publishing!
Many talented and gifted writers settle for self-publishing because they are in a hurry to get their careers going--without paying their dues.:(
Another reason maybe that they are a "wanna-be writers" with a "hot" topic for the hour. They find this is method as their quick and ez step up to get into the literary "soap box" hall of fame --only to be the hall of shame.They are not willing to have their work or skills screened by the professional rigors of the publishing world--and that is where the rubber meets the road. Without this step these "soap box" writers are easy prey for self-publishing companies.
Furthermore, may I add my personal "beef" about some self publisher's ads that I've read.
There is a slogan that describes the bottom line of self- publishing companies, that I find extremely 'irksome'. They say to this effect: "If your book goes no where you can always bask in the afterglow of self satisfaction of looking at your work--your book being published."
Self-satisfaction?-- PAH-LEEZ! For the most part self-publishing leaves a serious writer with the short end of the stick, a big pile of books that are not sold--and an empty wallet.Lastly (and I do mean it)for the serious writer reading these comments on this blog: Be willing to wait and diligently sharpen your writing skills. Be willing to start out with writing where opportunites for writing will open up. Be teachable,learn and BUILD on your experience.DON'T be in a rush.If you rush to be in print that's when you'll become prey for the self-publisher.
If you are an aspiring and outstanding writer with serious goals--Don't quit on looking for the acceptance of your manuscript. Keep moving forward. Don't settle for basking in self-satisfaction while GOING NOWHERE with your great [inspiring people in a positive way] and promising writing career.:)
- from an Inspiring Writer
Check out

Mommy C said...

I've been giving this a bit more thought. I think most newbie writers are sorely mistaken about the fiancial gain to be had in writing. I believe an average advance is between $5000 and $10000 for commercial fiction. That means that is what the publisher expects to make for you, after the ms has been picked over by an editor, a copy editor, a marketing team, and an art director. Then there's the publisher's contacts, press releases, abillity to get your book in a store. Seriously, for $5ooo profit, is it worth it? How much will the self-publish company cost you? After putting on all the publishing company hats (hats worn by educated professionals at a traditional house) and paying an arm and a leg to a self-publish company, what will you have left over.

Remember, no matter what a sel-publisher tells you, they can NOT get you a review in Quill and Quire. Being published by HC or Penguin can't assure that.

And, for those who believe in the under dog, I know of a large (very large) publisher that is about to start selling POD out of their slush. Misunderstood by editors when you really do have a work of genius? You'll soon be getting your chance to prove it. Though I'm not that sure about it myself.

PurpleClover said...

I personally don't see the appeal to self-publishing. Besides you lose the feedback. Most of us need direction (agents and editors) that you probably won't get thru self-publishing. I would rather find out that my book isn't marketable by an agent or editor than to spend the money and find out the same thing the hard way.

Mr Steve said...

Why do people self publish?

At the end of the day, they have told a story they believe in. They believe in it so much they would sell it out of the back of their car if they had too.

Slowly (and probably quite painfully) they will realize that if it was rejected by numerous industry professionals it may not be a story that connects with a large group of people. "But," they convince themselves, "if just one kid sits up in the branches of a pepper tree reading my book, drinking lemonade out of a mason jar, immesersed in the world I have created for even one lazy summer afternoon--- then it was all worth it."

And, as much as I cringe when i hear people talk about self-publishing, I have to believe them.

Now, I have never self published-- but I am more than happy to put my snarky disdain for the technique on hold and hope that they are right-- hope that even one kid feeling that a story was written just for them, trumps all the rejection letters and makes all the work worth it.

As a tool to build a career, no. As a tool to share a story...if that's what it takes.

Because the story, takes precedence over everything else.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Mr Steve:
Agreed. If it's worth it to them, then it's worth it.

But from what I've heard, it doesn't end up being worth it to a lot of them.

Genevieve Netz said...

Over the past several years in my blog, I've written many stories about my childhood on a Nebraska ranch and other bits of family history. I'm thinking about self-publishing them with a collection of family pictures in a hardback book. I will give it to my children and offer it at cost to my extended family. If more than 20 copies are produced and sold, I will be surprised.

It seems to me that a book is a better way of preserving the documents for my great-grandchildren than an electronic document or a sheaf of photocopied pages.

I suppose I could try to get it published, but it sounds to me that it would take a more time and effort than I'm willing to give to the project. I am not sure that American readers would be interested in my personal memoirs. and I don't feel like "paying my dues" (as one commenter put it) for half a dozen years just to find out for sure that no publishing house will touch the manuscript.

Anonymous said...

Part of it is certainly ego, but let's remember: there are also self-publishing success stories. Back in December, PW did a piece on kidlit successes that began as self-published pieces: Patrick Carman's fantasy novels, Nancy Tillman's picture books.

There are equivalent stories in the adult publishing world, where self-published authors establish a local fan base (and sales record) that they're able to leverage into contracts with national publishers. Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain is one (insanely lucrative) example.

Because publishers don't always know what's right (David Kirk's Miss Spider books were turned down by everyone until Calloway packaged them for Scholastic), self-publishing can also be a way for authors who believe in their ideas to end-run the gatekeepers and try their luck in the larger marketplace.

Hard bet to win, of course, but not impossible.

Laura said...

I'm very happy I just stumbled across this post. I'm looking to get published (like everyone and their dog) and have been contacted by self-publishing companies! Now I know to steer clear!

none said...

My sister paid to publish a book of rhymes and pictures by my father and uncle, mainly because my uncle was dying, and she thought it would be nice to see the book "in print". It was only for the family. (And the book wasn't commercially publishable, truth be told.)

I have a copy, and the printers did a decent job, and my uncle got to see it, so we're satisfied. Achievable goals :D.

Debbie Barr said...

My sister dated a guy who self-published a fantasy book under the discretion of a rather well known fantasy author's wife. He said that it was the best way he could think of to get his foot in the door in the publishing industry, that since all the other ways were so hard, maybe this one would work. Sort of a back-door-to-the-castle thing.

My sister passed on this wisdom to me, and I politely told her No Thank You, not for me, but I do somewhat understand where he's coming from.

(Consequently, she broke up with him and is now married to someone else. Thank goodness.)

Anonymous said...

We chose to self publish because we were building a brand and wanted to retain licensing rights to the characters in our series. In addition, we had an illustrator who was the perfect fit for us. So far, it has been successful for us.

Anonymous said...

If you're going to self publish, then just go through Lulu. They are the cheapest and least scammiest (not a word, I know) out there.

Anonymous said...

While I haven't gone the self publishing route yet, I'm not above doing it if this may be the only way my manuscripts can reach an underserved cultural population. I started writing for just that very reason and I've been doing the query and sample pages route, like everyone else. And I've been patient while polishing up my material. No, I don't relish spending the money to self publish, but if school districts and librarians are looking for multi-cultural MG & YA scifi, fantasy, and historical novels reflecting their diverse student population, then I want to be that author. Especially one with a worthy product inside the cover as well as outside.

Sherryl said...

Australian thriller writer Matthew Reilly self-published at first - he was very lucky that a book store stocked some copies and an editor saw it. But he is the exception.
I've done a lot of work with people over the years, helping them to self-publish, but always their projects have been sensible and they do small print runs. It is a great way to preserve things like family histories and personal memoirs for future family members. I've also had teachers publish school language workbooks and guitar lesson books.
The key is to be practical about your market (usually tiny) and know why you're doing it.
If you're doing it to get rich and famous (these are usually novelists or children's writers) I tell them the realities of publicity and distribution, and mostly they decide not to go ahead. The problem with unsuccessful self-publishers is they never wanted to hear the reality check. Selling your book is a full-time job, and before you even start, you have to have something that people will pay money for, and feel they got their money's worth. The worst self-published books I've seen (I collect bad examples) were always novels. Some of the best were hand-made books of poems, given as gifts.

Anonymous said...

Stories about people who self-publish and then hit the jackpot may have some influence. Have a look at "Books Gone Wild: The Digital Age Reshapes Literature" in the current online edition of Time.

Simon said...

My grandmother self-published her memoirs. But that's because she only ever meant to print up five copies of each volume (four volumes, if you were curious), distribute one to each of her children, and keep one for herself.

Since then, my parents set me to the task of converting the whole thing to HTML so the grandkids could each have a navigable CD copy.

KJ said...

Motoko Rich wrote an interesting article on this subject in yesterday's NYT:

Anonymous said...

A writer friend of mine had some poor experiences with publishers in the past (before we met) and had two books that were pretty much ready to go. He revised and updated them, I proofread them and edited them. We gave ourselves a name, registered with Bowker for ISBNs, set it all up through Lightning Source, all at a fairly minimal cost. We're on Amazon and he has a webpage. The interested readers are devotees of treasure hunting, southwest history, and searching for gold mines. The hard part was publicity and marketing, which we don't have the ready funds for. We did get some free publicity in New Mexico Magazine.
Sales are nearly all through Amazon, print on demand. I get the order, send it to LSI, they ship it. It's easy, now that it is all set up. We designed the whole thing, including covers, and it worked very well. Sales are not high, but they are consistent. We thought they would be better, but it's the publicity thing, I think, not the quality of the result. We no longer do much promotion (after 5 years). It's nice seeing even a tiny deposit in my bank account at the end of every month. We certainly covered our investment, and still have some ISBNs left over (cheaper to get 10 for $250, since he had more books in mind for later).
We also put two ISBNs on e-books, which were not a success, but were different in subject matter. One was poetry, and one was a subject covered in depth by other people.
We've had positive feedback from many readers and made some very helpful connections as a result.
However, the writer refuses to write for any further publication, since our method was not an overwhelming success, and his distrust of publishers (mainly financially related) persists.
Jeanne Kasten
NineLives Press

Anonymous said...

I don't understand the hostility toward self publishing. If you use an excellent editor, both for copy and content why not go for the print on demand option, which is not expensive. At least then you don't have a garage full of books, as you put it. Some of the best films and music put out are independent projects. I think it is daft to assume that only large publishing houses can spot talent. Remember Kate Dicamillo & experience? She stated she received 300 rejections for because of Winn Dixie. It was a friend who got her book to a candlewick publisher that finally landed her the deal.

Anonymous said...

I'm not into self-publishing myself, but after reading this post and most of the comments, I had to check the date on the blog and make sure it wasn't 10 years old.

These days, people who self-publish don't have hundreds of books printed out sitting around in a garage while they wait for people to buy them. It's called POD, which stands for Publish On Demand, the latter 2 words being the key. You don't print a copy until you sell a copy. DELL Computer uses the same business model with PCs. They don't build 'em until you order 'em.

So the successful self-publishers today aren't printing copies and selling them out of their cars. They're going POD and gaming the Amazon system...getting everyone to buy on the release day so the ranking spikes, then they use that artifically high number in their promotional materials (website, MySpace, Facebook, twitter) to tell the world about it.

THAT's how you self-publish today, not the dinosaur model you guys have been making fun of. That was 1980's 90s.

Anonymous said...

I guess this question makes me want to ask you, EA, why do you think self publishing is so hopeless? Is it because,

A. It's too hard. The workers (writers) just don't have access to the channels of distribution.


B. Your book sucks. Publishers know readers' tastes, so if they don't want to buy your work it's safe to say readers wouldn't either?

or C. something else entirely?

(I'll admit here that I'm published by one of the big houses, and I would never self-publish because of reason A.)

Kimber Li said...

I just wanted to share my story with the world and got sick of submitting it to the paying publication world. After the recession hit, I didn't see how it stood a chance anyway. It doesn't obey genre conventions or trends at all. Since money and fame mean nothing to me, I chose to publish it as a free eBook. I've spent no money and I've made no money. However, I do have my very own readers now and that's what I care about the most.

Becky Mushko said...

In 2001, I self-published a novel that won a contest sponsored by a local arts council, which underwrote a third of the cost of printing and set up several readings and signings. The novel was set locally, I marketed locally, and I made a profit on the 1,700 copies sold (two press runs). Without support from the arts council, I would never have self-published.

I've also used a vanity POD publisher for two collections of my previously published newspaper columns and two collections of previously published short stories. This method worked because I already had a readership in place, the books were of primarily local interest, and the books fit too small a niche to interest commercial publishers.

That said, even though I made a profit, I am unlikely to go the self-published or vanity published route again. The middle-grade novel I've recently completed is best suited for the mainstream, as is a YA novel that I'm working on.

Self-publishing can work for small projects of primarily local interest if the author already has a readership in place. It also helps to have a several gift shops in the area who are willing to sell a local author's books. (My county has no bookstore—nearest one is 40 miles away.)

It also helps to have a really good crit group, too.

Anonymous said...

My company has self-published books for two reasons. One, they had a long-time series of books that had a large subscription base with libraries, so they had a built-in readership. Two, they published books that were not meant to be sold, but handed out when the company SEO made speeches. I can't see self-publishing a non-fiction work, though, unless you wanted to give it out to your friends.

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking about a couple comments while reading this, and it's been weeks since this comment thread began, I know, but my thoughts finally coalesced into a question...

If self-publishing isn't the answer, what about companies that are selling their editorial services NOT selling self-publication services?

Prices range HIGH but is it worth it for an unpublished writer who has a 'finished' manuscript to hire an editorial company (not one of the many scams out there, but there are legit companies doing this I believe)?

I have always looked at criticism (constructive) as a good thing: ANYTHING that makes the manuscript better is a good thing. After multiple drafts, feedback from multiple readers/crit groups/etc, and constant self-editing would hiring a 'professional' make more sense than giving up on being published and self-publishing?

Anonymous said...

I have a self publishing success story to share. I'm an illustrator and I was hired by a woman who wanted to self publish a children's book. I'll admit that when she contacted me, my expectations were low because no jobs from self publishers have ever worked out. But this woman had written a story for a very specific market and she had a plan for selling it. She had hired an editor to work on her manuscript and she wanted to hire a professional illustrator to do the illustrations and the design of the book. She also had a budget for the art and was willing to pay what it's worth. The book itself turned out great - it looks professional and can easily stand up to any other soft cover kids books on a shelf.

To date, she's sold over 10 000 copies and is in talks to sell a lot more.

Her story is a rarity and only worked out because she created something to fill a void and had a plan for selling it before she got her book published. That's usually not the case.

Anonymous said...


My uncle is a self-publisher in non-fiction reference, and I've often tried to convince him to seek a traditional publisher. My usual argument is that with larger publication and marketing, not only will you reach more people with that particular book, but your subsequent books will see a bump as well.

His argument has been consistent. The publishers he's been in contact with have a pricing scheme in place where he'd need to sell many multiples of what he's currently doing on his own in order for him to make the same amount of money.

I guess it boils down to this: if your niche is small and densely packed enough, self-publishing may be the way to go, even if publishers see how they can make money off of it too.

Anonymous said...

I self-published one book two months ago. I'm thinking about doing it for a children's book series as well.

Why? I spent 20 years in advertising and Hollywood, where I had to pitch everything. (Usually over and over and over, each time resulting in a new set suggestions on how to make whatever it was better.) So doing that for this project made me want to throw everything in the trash.

Sales are slow so far. And I hate self-promoting. On the other hand, I've had some good radio interviews, and the book is going to be included in some holiday gift guides.

One problem that a professional might have helped with is the title ("Death by Suburb"), which is the same as a Christian self-help book. (It also doesn't help that his website is more optimized than mine, so even though I'm at and he's at, he shows up first.)

But I'm changing the title, so we'll see.

Will self-publishing work? I don't know. I'd certainly like to be plucked from obscurity to the NY Times best seller list, but if it doesn't that's okay.

Marcia said...

Will try Print on Demand for these reasons:
1. Enjoyment of the process
2. My readers want print copies NOW
3. I am almost 60...who knows how many years I have left?
4. I will be able to write, illustrate and design it myself. (am published professional artist and graphic designer
5. I am a prolific writer
6. I don't need to make any money off of it (work part time in another field)
7. It won't cost anything
8. I do not take myself too seriously or have high expectations
9. I am aware of my minuscule chances of being traditionally published
10. Did I mention it will be fun?

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