To Self-Publish or Not to Self-Publish, Part 1 (Post 5)

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 obsessed

I would’ve bought a book with this cover. Maybe I’m out of my mind?

 

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…

 

Cons:

 

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.

 

amanda hocking

The face of self-publishing success.

 

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.

 

caitlin moran how to be a woman

I simply love this book…

 

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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Sweet Mother is on a mad quest towards 365 consecutive posts.  She has 80 posts left.  If you’d like to join this pilgrimage, please click the “follow” button at the top of the blog.

 

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You might also like:

The Death of Live Entertainment

 

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Photo creds:

oprah-drunk copyright Sweet Mother

Caitlin Moran, Amanda Hocking

 

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53 thoughts on “To Self-Publish or Not to Self-Publish, Part 1 (Post 5)

  1. I have one overarching issue with your words: “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.”

    While I don’t deny that many feel this way, the thought in itself is bullshit (no offense to you, momma). I never once considered going the traditional route with my initial works.

    The reality is that most traditional publishers are only as good as their own sensibilities and leaning in literature. For instance,

    Twilight – rejected 12 times at least.

    Harry Potter rejected – a publishers child demanded to know more and he published a “LIMITED TEST RUN” before committing whole sale.

    Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Rejected 120 times!

    Self-publishing is simply cutting out the middle man.

    Those who fail at self-publishing either really are putting out shit or they are failing to wear the hats of the business behind the scenes of publisher, proofer, editor, cover artist, promoter etc.

    I do have a book contract, in fact I have three, and I’ve gotten more results from my self-publishing so far.

    1. love, love, love this commentary, tin. but, then again i knew i would from you. ;) first off, let me say that i didn’t say I felt 100% that self-publishing means your work isn’t worth a shit… i simply said that that IS a pervasive train of thought. and unfortunately, it is. however, i am forever the rebel. believe me, if i felt that only the gatekeepers of big industry could predict talent, then i would’ve left stand up long ago. so, i know all about people “choosing” works based upon their leanings. with that said, I think there can be benefits of a traditional publisher when you can get them. HOWEVER, i do not think it’s the end all, be all. AND i’m starting to think that self-publishing, indeed, may be a better venue for me. not sure yet though. not sure at all. thanks for your awesome commentary, tin. i am hearing it and appreciative of it, fully. xoxo, sm

  2. I’ve always thought the opposite–that it would be easier to market a non-fiction self-published book than a fiction one. If you have a definite platform (which most non-fiction books do and fiction ones don’t), it’s easier to think outside the box and get your book into unconventional places. For example, a local physician near me independently published a book on nutrition, and I’ve seen it in the produce section of the grocery store. No one is going to put my flu novel in the produce section, regardless of whether I went with a small publisher or not! (Guess I should have started with non-fiction… ;) )

    1. great, great, GREAT, commentary, Rubes. i suppose i should’ve been more specific in my labeling of the non-fiction i was talking about. i suppose it would be better said, what i have not seen excel is a humor book. but, then again i could be utterly wrong on that. i may just not know about it. the amanda hockings though – the people who are really written about – from what i can see, it’s mostly fiction. also, for example, i looked at your list of e-publishers the other day included within the interview i did of you and not one, not one was looking for humor books… i don’t know. i really am sussing my thoughts out on this. so, forgive me if i’m not 100% clear. xo, sm

      1. Good point–humor may be harder to market than a very defined niche, but given the LGBT movement on campuses and such, I would think that there would be a market, especially if you did stand-up gigs and sold your book afterwards.

  3. I am pondering these things too, but find I am in a really tight niche market these days and self publishing and giving away for free seems to be the order of the day. Poetry seems to have had its day to the masses ho hum, I will still write I guess

    1. loooool, bruce. we are in the same boat for sure. but, i do think -in the end- the important part is to get the stuff out there for the widest amount of readers… while at the same time, not selling your soul. by that i mean not selling yourself out for very little or changing the very heartbeat of the work for a medium amount of scratch. if that makes sense… i’m not sure if it does, right now. ;) sm

  4. There is an interesting blog that made the FP list today: T.W. Dittmer. He is a self-published author and may be a resource for you. If you go to the ‘About the Valley Walker’ tab and then drop down to ‘Mt Self-publishing Saga’ you will be on your way.

    Good luck.

  5. So first, I don’t know the industry or anything related to it. Second, I have a keyboard and will type an opinion: Third: You’re a pioneer, SM. Clearly, the publishing industry is undergoing a huge change, and you, as well as others who have something to say and a vehicle to deliver it, are in the vanguard of that change. Why not create an arrangement whereby you still have a relationship with your wonderful agent, self-publish, and both get paid somehow. I know, the devil is in the details. Nonetheless, it seems to me that it’s time to look at the details from a different perspective. Just sayin’, sweetie! xoxoM

    1. a different perspective, indeed, margarita. i think you very well may be right. if this second proposal dies, i’m going to talk to my agent about self-publishing and maybe ‘re-imagining’ our relationship. my other thought is that i shouldn’t let oprah-drunk go. it’s very, very funny and i think helpful in an odd way. i worked on the damn thing for close to 8 months and lately i keep picturing both it and a new book up in an amazon store… i don’t know. maybe there’s something to that daydream. as always, thank you for commenting. it means a lot to be able to work out my thoughts here first. xo, sm

      1. Go with your gut, SM. Conventional wisdom is just that: conventional. Follow your inner wisdom! Oprah Drunk sounds hysterical – go for it! xoxoM

  6. “If you self-publish, you aren’t good enough to get a traditional publisher.” Not true at all. If you self-publish you maintain more of your rights, have more artistic control and actually make money from your work. The same stuff has been said about the music industry and it’s just not true. There are pros and cons to both, but self-publishing vs traditional publisher has nothing to do with the quality. Traditional publishers publish both crap and great stuff, the same as self-publishers.

    “You won’t get the help of a publishing house.” Once again, if you design your artwork yourself (or work with someone to), do a lot of your own promotion, etc. you will do a lot of the same stuff the publishing house will. Plus, there’s no guarantee the publishing house will do those things for you anyway. I once had a record label approach me. They agreed to sign me if I 1) redid an album I already released independently 2) let them choose my producer and 3) paid for everything myself. What do I need them for? I already paid for and released the album – why would I pay to have it done again?

    “How do you rise above the noise?” Quality.

    Just my two cents. I’m not a writer, but I am a musician and I think the two are quite comparable. If you want to talk more, you know where to find me.

    XOXO Moms

    1. Also I agree with Tin Woman

      “Self-publishing is simply cutting out the middle man. Those who fail at self-publishing either really are putting out shit or they are failing to wear the hats of the business behind the scenes of publisher, proofer, editor, cover artist, promoter etc. ”

      Amen!

    2. sk, as always, brilliant commentary. i know, i know, i know, i am a do-it-yourselfer through and through, published my comedy album that way. but, alas, i WAS trying to avoid it with publishing a book. i will say even if this current book DOES get a publisher, i’m sincerely thinking about self-publishing Oprah-Drunk anyway because I just can’t seem to let that book go. AND i think there’s something REALLY to be said about building up a catalog of work that is of quality that can be sold. meaty works, not just blog posts, but sink your teeth into them books. if we all wait for publishers to publish these “catalogs” of work… well, we’ll all be dead… xoxo, sm

  7. Sweet Mother,
    I know nothing of this process, but wanted to just shout out my virtual support in your decision-making. Timing seems to be a big factor (as shown by Tin Woman’s comment).
    Tania

  8. I’m with Tin Woman on this one Sweet Mother. I know how you hate comments with links so I won’t do it, but I have written about my self-publishing experience for the past year, all over my blog. The frustrations, the popular opinions, the painstakingly long and hemorrhoid inducing search for that elusive “word of mouth,” how self-doubt is a relentless saboteur, striking up conversations with strangers in the produce section at Tom Thumb hoping to just give a promo copy to someone who looked like they knew how to read.

    I poured my heart into writing my book and decided to put it out there without agent or attaché because to do otherwise was certain rejection. I was thrilled when it was finished; even more thrilled when someone who didn’t know me personally read it, said they loved it and wanted to know what happens next. My feeble analog self was ecstatic when I was able to format the ebook version without needing to seek therapy.

    You are talented; obviously, you know the ins and outs of the entertainment biz. Go with your gut. Many well known, traditionally published authors are choosing to self-pub using a pen name. That says to me, there’s something to it. Quantity over quality issues abound. Let’s face it, a million copies of crap is still crap no matter how much money it makes.
    All the best to you Sweet Mother. I enjoy your writing.

    1. honie, i do NOT hate comments with links. especially from you! so, link away, in fact, PLEASE put the links to your self-publishing saga in the comments section of my new post today, if you don’t mind. i’m going to read it and i know a lot of my readers will too. this conversation is very, VERY interesting and i’m going to continue it today. xoxo, sm

      1. Hey Sweet Mother, I must’ve misunderstood the whole comments with links thing. AND I am HAPPY to share my self-pubbing highs and lows….must warn you, there aren’t as many highs….yet. :) links forthcoming!

  9. Another ‘con’ is that you won’t be able to get your printed books into the big bookstore chains. That is the single area at which the traditional publishers excel. Of course the big chains seem to be dying so that may not be a con at all. ;)

    As for the perception of quality? How many readers ever look to see the imprint of a book? Or choose to buy one because of the publishing house that produced it?

    I think that bragging rights about who published what is something only authors care about! And even that is changing. :D

    1. there is a lot of truth in what you’re saying, meeks. i’m going to talk about it further today. i, in fact, just said to wifesy that NO ONE checks whether an e-book they buy is self-published or published through a traditional publisher and i mean no one. and that is very interesting… more on this today… xo, sm

  10. I think selling humor non-fiction is freaking difficult, especially when it’s coming from a woman. People want compelling stories, and they don’t see a funny woman as compelling. I saw an author talk who has made a somewhat lucrative career off of doing this exact thing, and she admitted it is a very narrow channel for writers.

    Still, don’t give up. Look how STUNNED Amanda Hocking is in that picture!

    1. loooool. amanda hocking IS stunned in that picture. you know, jen, it’s hard to find figures on humor writers AT ALL, as so far as self-publishing goes. i’ve googled and googled and googled, so if you know of anywhere where i can read anything on that subject, please, send me to the link. i will say though, for women, (and let’s not even get into whether or not the humor thing for women is fair) there is the option of writing under a pen name, IF being a chick is an obstacle or you believe it will be. i’m not sure what in the feck i’m going to do, but i will say i’m going to do something and i will say it’s going to be interesting… xoxoxo, sm

  11. Self-publishing is the avenue I consider more seriously every day for all the reasons already mentioned. Yes, there’s a lot of garbage in the e-realm. But that’s true of the traditional print realm, too. Some traditionally published books leave me flabbergasted how the author got an agent and then a press to publish a crappy book. That’s not sour grapes or thinking a book that isn’t my cup of tea is bad! The books were genuinely not very good.

    Cut out the middle man, keep more of the profits and artistic control…. Those are great reasons to go indie. Most traditional presses make the new authors do 90 percent or more of the work anyway. Why not go solo and reap the rewards?

    1. a lot of truth here, jm, a lot of truth. i’m going to talk about this some more today BEFORE i even get to the pros of self-publishing because it’s such a meaty subject to bite into… xo, sm

  12. I am driving myself insane with this one Mom. Bat shit crazy. Every time I think I’ve made up my mind about what direction to go with my first novel, I panic and run the other way… only to panic again and run back the other way… etc. I’ve heard strong pros and cons for both sides, and the lists just make my head spin faster. I don’t think the answer is easy or black and white. It will be interesting to see what each of us does…. Good luck! You certainly have the tenacity to see it through.

    1. second mother, YOU are not alone. just read through the comments here and you will see that half of us are toying with the very same thing. yet, how many of us will jump into the self-publishing pond? and is that a good thing… anyway, i’m going to talk about it some more today before i even get to the pros… xo, sm

    1. such an interesting point, val. it’s hard to find those inbetweeners who would go after something like my oprah-drunk book tho… it’s hard to find that inbetween publisher who truly understands the online world to jump in bed with a humor writer. a humor writer who REALLY researches a topic. but, something’s going to give… i can feel it. and it’s going to be very interesting. xoxo, sm

  13. I’m struggling with EXACTLY the same thing. I keep wanting to just bail out and self-publish. My wife keeps pushing me to hold on. She’s usually right (which I think is rude), but I’m to the point where I just want to have the stupid thing in my hands to shove at people and say “here’s my book, God damn it!”

    1. byronic, i so hear you. and initially my wifesy said the same thing – stick with your book agent, she’ll get you published. but, this world is changing so fast that i’m having a hard time seeing how the traditional publishers are going to keep up. a really hard time. AND though my wifesy is usually correct most of the time, she was also against me starting this blog, which she has now apologized for over and over again. it’s really hard to know when to go with your gut and against your biggest advocate. believe me, i know that struggle all too well. it’s part of the reason i’m writing this series of posts… xo, sm

  14. I was going to mention Hocking, since she came to mind within your fist paragraph. E-book might be the way to go. Almost no overhead and if it bombs, you’re not stuck with a spare room full of paperbacks. Do you have to break up with your agent if you self-publish? I don’t know how these things work.
    Social media is your free PR friend. It would be a buttload of work, but you’re savvy.
    I say DO IT. And then tell me all about it because I’m about to embark on writing a graphic novel. You heard it here first. I am so fucking scared. You the pro I look up to. No pressure.

    1. YOU have got to publish something. i mean your animation capabilities alone, coupled with the network you and clowny have… i mean, it’s unstoppable. when i think of you also, i think of the oatmeal… have you seen that guy? have you ever thought of doing anything like that? anyway, i’m scared too. but, i’m itching. and itching with me is the build up to action. you should see what happens when i get a uti, i can build a whole feckin’ house. loooool. xo, sm

  15. Girl, you need to give your head a shake. I honestly believe that traditional publishing houses are in trouble and it is only going to get worse for them. The worse it gets the less likely they are to take a risk on someone unknown and that is only going to make it worse for them. Also, I believe that their main players are going to start saying, “Why am I giving them a piece of the pie? I should just do this myself.” Trouble with a capital “T”.
    On the other hand I am hearing more and more success stories about self publishing. I have friends who have self published and are now being offered the big deals and they continue to encourage and guide people through self publishing (Sean Platt). Also, you have look at the following you have built up on line and know that is only golden for you as a self publisher.
    I would also have to wonder if the “big guys” (great misnomer) weren’t just a tad bit nervous at the wrath of “Oprah” if she didn’t approve of your book.
    (Full disclosure … I confess I am not an Oprah fan … there I said it. Don’t hate me.)
    Seriously, you have so much to offer with your writing … and now I am ranting …

    IMHO
    M

    1. mg, first off, you are RIGHT. what a lot of publishers said was, “the oprah fanatics won’t buy it because they worship at the altar of oprah and they don’t like anything being said against her…” and my book doesn’t really insult her in anyway, but i do challenge the notion of putting her up SO on high. i mean, i think that’s the comedian’s job. the publishers also said, “and the people who hate oprah won’t pick it up because it has oprah in the title and they don’t buy anything with oprah…” i disagree with this completely. i feel like women and gays will pick this up, laugh themselves silly, and then recommend it to their friends. maybe i am wrong. but, if i’m not going to gamble on myself then what in the feck is the point. so, believe me, i’m not against self-publishing, BUT i am going to play devil’s advocate for a bit in this series of posts because i think that helps me to best tease out the idea in my mind… those are my thoughts for now anyway. xoxo, sm

  16. Sweet Mom i have no expertise in this field…but i think if you are considering Self Publishing think of it as this way…a self published book may not give you the stamp of a publishing house like Harper on your first book but …a self published book will give you an advantage for your next book.. its like adding to the resume…

    You are good…the stuff you write, the opinions you have, the balance you maintain between your posts and the readers…you are a star…and self publishing will only help you gain…

    maybe next time you walk into a publishing house with a new project…the self-publishing might prove to be a feather in the cap…

    i dont know if it makes any sense…bottom line, you are good with words..you are talented…

    1. lil miss, i have missed you here. i hope you are well and thriving. i hear what you are saying. COMPLETELY. it is not falling on deaf ears. this is such a big topic though that i’m going to continue to rant about it for a few more posts… i hope you’ll join me. looool. xoxo, sm

      1. Sweet mom, i know i have been away but m back now… :)
        everything is okay…i was just struggling with a weird phase…
        plus i was busy with NaNo…Did you know i almost made it but loss of around 4000 words due to some PC issue screwed my NaNo….

        im looking forward to the part 2 of this post…. will be here

  17. I’m following this with a lot of interest – I am down to editing and am clueless about what to do next. Reading a lot about self publishing makes me think that for something like I am writing there may not me another way it ever sees daylight.

  18. One of the blogger I read started self publishing via the Kindle and in a year, selling her titles at 2.99$ a book, she was able to cut down to part time and then basically work at will. I guess it works for some people.

  19. I’ve been on this decision treadmill for awhile. These days I’m leaning more towards self publishing, but your points about having a knowledgeable partner in the process are way up on my list of things I fear about self publishing because I’m exceptionally ignorant. Then again being exceptionally ignorant didn’t stop me from having children so…

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