General, advice

Is Self-Publishing For Real?

Today Maureen Johnson had an interesting conversation via twitter on self-publishing as a follower asked for thoughts on self-publishing vs. traditional publishing for e-books or new writers. Somewhere in the conversation the question popped up:

Does a self-published book count as an actually published book?

Having gone this route, I have some thoughts on the pros and cons, but first, let me catch you up to speed if you’re not familiar with my story. A few years ago, I wrote a book. And I loved it. And I had fans who wanted to read it. I tried good old-fashioned querying, and it didn’t work out, so I decided to self-publish. That book is now The Siren, and you can find it around… though not in a store. That was good enough for me. I was able to get this story into the hands of the small group of people who wanted it, and I was happy. After I self-published The Siren, I moved on to other ideas, found one I adored, and went to work. I polished it up, queried again, and got my choice of two agents. For the record, I chose the devilishly awesome Elana Roth. Be jealous. And now my trilogy, The Selection, will be coming out with HarperTeen beginning in the summer of 2012. I have an editor I love and all the energy around this book has me so full of excitement, I can hardly stand it.

So, self-publishing. Does it count as a real book? Yes and no. Yes, in that it's real and it's out there, but no, as in not a lot of people will take you seriously.

I’ve had quite a few doors slammed in the face of my first book, and there’s a good reason for that. When anyone can publish a book, that means you need to brace yourself for an onslaught of absolute crap. If you self-publish, even if your book is fantastic, you are adding it to a pile of mediocre writing. And, try as you may, you will never be able to shine up your book as good as a professional editor can. I knew that then, and I know it even more so now. I still love my book and having fans that still tell me it’s their fave or one they read again and again makes me so happy. But it’s not as good as it could have been. I didn’t ruin my reputation or anything, and no one has looked down on me for trying it on my own, but… it’s not quite as cool as having multiple layers of people confirm that you’ve written something good, want to help you make it better, and support you in your quest to share it with other people.

Still, there were some cool things about self-publishing. The speed was fantastic. The Selection is taking years to see in print, and The Siren took two months. And the power! No one could force me to change something I didn’t want to. Lucky me, my editor values all my thoughts, and we’ve yet to come upon something we disagree on. And there’s the fact that sometimes self-published books break the mold. The Shack, Still Alice, and Eragon were all originally self-published. So if you go that route, the question of your book being a breakout might linger in the back of your mind… but the chances are small. At the very least, it could be a learning experience, as it was for me. The things I learned from that season are lessons I absolutely treasure.

Advice: If you’re going to self-publish, go the e-book route. More and more people are checking out self-published books in this format because it’s low risk. Self-pubbed books can be expensive (surprise) and don’t always deliver on quality, but a few bucks for an e-copy? Not so scary. If you do go with a print book, do your research on companies and, for goodness sake, put some real thought into your cover art. If it's bad, you’ll kill your chances before people even look inside. And, if you happen to be doing something for a very small market (your church or something, or maybe you wrote a cookbook), it might be a nice path for you.

Otherwise, grow a pair and start querying. It’s scary, and you will be rejected a lot, but that’s a cool learning process too, and one that will get you a lot further along if seeing your book on a shelf is your absolute dream.

Please feel free to leave questions! I love talking about this topic, and I'm happy to help anyone considering self-publishing.