To Self-Publish or Not to Self-Publish, Part 1 (Post 5)
Posted on December 5, 2012
I’ve been wanting to talk about this subject for quite some time. However, it’s such a large topic that it’s hard to know where to begin sometimes. My current book proposal is being shopped about. It’s STILL within that process, even though I finished the proposal months ago. My guess is that it will make the rounds of the big publishers and then maybe, MAYBE get picked up by a smaller one. Perhaps, a big publisher will take a risk with it. I say take a risk because I am not a known author and it seems to be more and more that big publishers want someone who has sold something already.
Currently within the process, some of the big publishers are saying the same thing about this book that they said about Oprah-Drunk, which was my first foray into the traditional publishing market. (Here are two essays from the book: 1 & 2)
Oprah-Drunk did not sell. Yet, the feedback was “She’s hilarious. I love her platform. God, so funny. I love the way Sweet Mother writes. We just can’t do a book centered on Oprah right now.”
I’m hearing a lot of similarities in regards to my second proposal.
I’m hearing a lot of fear. (and probably some of it is my own!)
It has led me to think A LOT about self-publishing.
I’ve shied away from the idea of self-publishing in the past for one reason: there is the idea that if you can’t sell to a traditional publisher then your writing is not worth a sh*t at all. Perhaps, this idea is not voiced out loud much, but it IS the pervasive train of thought.
Yet, my opinions on self-publishing are changing everyday. It’s a constant evolution for me. Again, the topic is a big one, but I thought it might help to sketch out my current philosophy in a series of pros and cons to see what all my fellow writers out there think.
Final note: I actually have so many thoughts on this that I’m going to include the cons today and the pros in a post tomorrow, so that this particular piece doesn’t get too long. So, here they are. The self-publishing…
If you self-publish, you aren’t good enough to get a traditional publisher. Maybe I feel this way because I’m a stand up comic. In the stand up game, if you don’t have a half hour of your own material on Comedy Central by year 10 then a lot of people look at you sideways. There is this underlying idea of…if you don’t have THAT by THEN it means you’re not good enough. For the most part, I think of it as being in the minors verses the majors or being on a junior varsity team verses varsity. Sometimes it IS because you’re not good enough. But, other times it is because you happen to be on the same soccer team as David Beckham and you happen to play the exact same position that he does. As a result, you will never play. BUT, if you were on another team, you’d play all the time. You’d be their starting MVP. In fact, you’d play exactly opposite Beckham. Publishing seems similar to me in this way. Maybe it means you’re not good enough, but maybe it’s just a timing thing.
Still, being able to say, “Hey, I just got published with Harper Collins or St Martin’s Press,” does give one bragging rights. Then again, so does becoming the next Amanda Hocking.
You won’t get the help of a publishing house. There’s the idea that if you get a traditional publisher someone will actually edit the book for you. Someone else will do the cover art. And yet another person will promote the book and schedule your book tour. From what I’ve heard through friends who have published with traditional publishers, almost all of that is now hogwash. Regardless of whether you are attached to a publishing house or not, you do most of the work yourself.
Self-publishing may work best for fiction and not for what I do. I’m in this loop recently where most of my book proposals are what I call, “subject based memoirs.” This means they are about something – the first one, Oprah, the second one, babies of the LGBT movement – and at the same time, I interweave my own life through the subject matter. I like writing like that. I like writing about stuff where we (myself included) can all learn something and through the research and the studying of the material, I also learn things about myself that through humor I am more than happy to display for the masses. The “subject based memoir” is a genre that I have basically made up. There is no “subject based memoir” section on Amazon.com, as far as I can tell. The self-published books that I have seen do exceptionally well are almost all FICTION. But, alas, “subject based memoirs” are what I like to read. I would say Caitlin Moran’s “How to Be a Woman” is one or Elizabeth Wurtzel’s “Prozac Nation” or “Bitch: In Defense of Difficult Women” or anything by Mary Roach. Another fave of mine is, “Tiny Women in Shiny Pants,” which is half memoir and half of a How to Succeed in Hollywood type of book. They say write what you’d like to read and this is undoubtedly part of the reason I keep writing things along these lines.
How do you rise above the noise? Self-publishing is the new youtube. I find in almost ANY entrepreneurial pursuit, timing is a factor. There was a time where youtube was in its baby stage. If you got into making videos then and if your content was any good, you were going to get seen. If you were smart, you’d build your audience and by now you’d be making money. It’s hard to know what stage the self-publishing industry is in. Can you leap into that market and get read at all? Or will your best laid plans make hardly a ripple? In other words, are you just substituting one slush pile for another? The publisher’s for the audience’s?
I like talking to my book agent. If I self-publish, it seems to me that I will no longer have that really sharp mind who knows about the publishing industry (like my book agent does) to weigh in on things with. I enjoy the idea of a partnership. I write something and she goes out and sells it. Together we make the book a hit. If you self-publish, it’s a cold and lonely road with maybe only the thoughts of other self-publishers to keep you warm.
Those are my thoughts on the cons of self-publishing at the moment. Tomorrow I will share what I think are the pros. As always (and especially on this, since I think a lot of you have a great deal of knowledge on this topic) I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments section.
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