Should You Self-Publish Your Own Work?

Sunday, June 09, 2013
Photo by Gayle Shomer Photography
I have a journal with the following quote embossed into the leather cover:

“If you wish to be a writer, write.”

I remind myself of that constantly, especially when I feel discouraged that my career is stalled. Nowadays, I feel like there should also be some inspirational quotes out there relating to publishing. Two or three years ago, I wouldn’t have even considered self-publishing my own work. But lately, it seems like every time I turn around, I find myself face to face with writers who have taken control of their careers and followed successful and satisfying journeys into self-publishing. I find myself more intrigued and inspired by the prospect each day.

I know that when I first started writing professionally ten years ago, there was still a bit of a stigma attached to self-publishing, particularly through vanity presses that virtually published anything as long as the authors were willing to pay the price.

But times have definitely changed. There are still writers who would prefer to try their hand at traditional publishing first, and that’s perfectly fine. But there are some cases where self-publishing can actually help strengthen an author’s platform or garner enough attention to attract a traditional publisher down the road.

I recently interviewed a local writer who decided to publish her historical fiction novel after she had actually secured an agent. While the agent loved this author’s work and they had a great business relationship, the agent was unable to interest any publishing houses in the book because of the subject matter and genre. Instead of giving up, this author started work on a second historical fiction novel and pursued publishing the book on her own. She developed a marketing plan and drew up a list of book review blogs to contact and even garnered a positive review from the Sacramento Book Review. I checked on Amazon and as of this writing, the book has almost 30 reviews and has an average of 4.6 out of 5 stars.

Now, granted, this author has a full-time day job and writes fiction on the side like many of us, but she was positive and encouraging as she chatted with me about her experience. She did stress that you shouldn’t self-publish impulsively but that it is definitely something writers should consider if they are getting good feedback from agents and editors but are stalled at finding a publishing contract.

While I am in the process of shopping around my middle-grade novel, I’ve also begun considering self-publishing either a novella or collection of short stories digitally. I personally know a few writing instructors who have found success in micro-publishing resource guides as PDFs and it is definitely something I want to explore further as a way to help grow my platform before I hopefully publish traditionally.

Here are a few articles on self-publishing that I think are helpful:
Divergent Paths to Publication
Which Publishing Path is Right for You?
Self-Publishing: The Debate is Over

Have you ever self-published your work? What did you like or not like about the process?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who blogs at Renee’s Pages.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--I have NOT engaged in any self-publishing, but I have heard several workshops on it recently, and I am definitely intrigued.

Thanks for the post.

Margo Dill said...

I agree with you and your friend. I think that you should always consider your goals and your audience before you self-publish as well as learn about it. But I know several good authors who are enjoying themselves, their career, and making a living with their self-published works!


Anonymous said...

I have a different reason for self-publishing. While I worked full-time and reared a family, writing was a sideline. Now, retired and with four grandchildren, I have written three middle-grade novels and am working on a fourth. I wanted to complete these books for my grandkids to read and enjoy when they're old enough. Each book urged, even tormented, me to write it. The books are my legacy. I din't want to be bothered to shop them around at my age. I wanted them out there. I've had fun reading them to school children and have had some success in sales, as well. Local libraries and book stores carry them. One of them is an e-book and is carried by several on-line stores. I feel very happy with the success I've had and recommend self-publishing, if you can get by on your pension.

Shirley Brosius said...

I published one book (Sisterhood of Faith) through a traditional publisher and self published another (Turning Guilt Trips into Joy Rides). The problem with self publishing is getting the word out about your book. If I did not have a speaking platform, I would have no outlet for selling. People do not just "find" your book. And I've tried a blog tour, etc. Another problem is hidden costs, such as huge fees for editing, promotion and for shipping the books to you. For family and friends, self publishing is fine. Not ideal for the average person to reach a wider audience.

Anonymous said...

I met an author at a conference who secured an agent to represent her debut novel. After receiving a couple of offers from traditional publishers, the author decided to self-publish! She was unhappy with the terms in the proposed contracts and wanted to keep creative control. Her agent then helped her through the self-pub process. Apparently, this "agent-assisted self-publishing" is another growing trend in the industry.

Unknown said...

I wrote my first book (Shadows of Truth) because I felt a passion to share the message of hope and life after sexual assault. My primary purpose was to shout from the rooftops that things get better. I contacted several agents, but no one thought my book would sell to a publisher, so I decided to publish on my own. I didn't really care so much about the need for traditional publisher approval.

Now that it's published and getting positive reviews, and I've heard from readers who have been greatly moved, I can't seem to figure out how to get the word out that the book exists. I want to be happy that I've helped even one person, but realistically, I wanted to reach more people.

Writing the book flowed easily, self-publishing was manageable (yes, I hired an outside editor), but marketing as a self-published author is harder than I ever imagined.

Renee Roberson said...

I love reading all these stories about your self-publishing experiences. Thank you for sharing with us! Angie, I do think you bring up an interesting point. I have heard agents/editors believe memoirs are hard to sell if they are not penned by celebrities. That is where you have to heavily invest your time in marketing and building your platform, even if it is grassroots. In many ways, I fear self-publishing because it really does become a labor of love to get the word out about your book. Good luck to all of you!

dollsstory said...

My reasons for choosing self publishing I see are much like 'treewithroots'.
I will soon submit my manuscript to publish "The Princess Doll's Scrapbook," part memoir combined with family history. The porcelain doll my grandmother gave me as a young adult inspired and demanded this writing journey. I think I will be happy with my choice of going with FriesenPress, they publish on demand and are supportive of the transfer of the book over to a regular publisher if that happens.

Barbara Barth said...

I self-published my book The Unfaithful Widow in 2010. It was a memoir of my first year after my husband died. A quirky book as I look back on it now. It placed in the 2011 USA Best Book Awards. I kick started my marketing with a blog tour here on WOW. It was a wonderful experience. Most all of my marketing is online - and with the help of social media. I took a departure and opened a shop for two years, but am back writing. I most likely will self-publish again. I have many author friends (both self-published and traditionally published) and both have to work hard to get their book out to readers. I think there is a big ego boost to say you have a publisher - and I would love that myself - but I love the hands on approach to self-publishing. For me it is a total art project - from cover, to layout, as well as my story. I just helped my mother publish her book through Create Space. It was an amazing experience. A friend did the PDF and uploaded it - but within a week of pulling it together she has a paperback book and an e-book. Pretty cool if you think about it. I say take the plunge!

Anonymous said...

Just as the writer in this article, I got an agent with my book, "Happiness as a Second Language" (and a very reputable one at that), but he could not make anything happen with publishers. At the end of our 2-year contract, he presented me with a publishing contract that was ridiculous. It amounted to no advance and tiny royalties. During that same time, two friends were able to quit their day jobs due to self-publishing. I investigated, hired an editor, and interior page designer, designed the cover myself and hired a graphic artist to render it, and with very little outlay, self-published the book. It's made the money back already and the reviews have been wonderful, and most importantly, it's all been within my control. Yes, I wish the marketing was easier, and less crazy-making, but given that it's all up to me, I just have to do what is needed. Thrilled that this option exists. Would recommend it to everyone who is willing to do the work to succeed.

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