The pitfalls of self-publishing, part 2

Me, enjoying an after-dinner beer with my wife.

Me, enjoying an after-dinner beer with my wife.

There are a lot of reasons to self-publish, but only one that I think matters, which is, you get to control everything.  The editing, marketing, distributing, cover design…everything.  Ev-er-y-thing.  If the book succeeds, there’s no one else to credit.  If it fails, there’s no one else to blame.  Which is damn appealing to a control freak, and let’s face it, what writer isn’t?  You think normal people go around, creating universes?  No.  I’ve asked.

So, if you’re worried that your publisher might change your book title (which happens more often than you think), you marketer might insist on cover art you hate (which happens even more often), or your editor might force you to endlessly rewrite until every extraneous detail is sheered away (which WILL happen), self-publishing is for you.  Which means, if you want a prayer of your book doing anything at all, you need to hire an editor, a cover artist, and, if you have a lick of sense, a press agent or public relations wonk or all-around communications god.  It’s been a while since I’ve researched Amazon’s self-publishing rules on their website, but I seem to recall it was free (or at least inexpensive) to upload a book, and that’s true-ish, but my point is that it’s really not, unless you’re only interested in selling twenty copies to your friends and family.

In addition to money, it’s a LOT of work.  Being an author is always a lot of work, anyway, with publishing houses setting up interviews and book signings and updating your blog and getting the word out.  But now, it’s a lot MORE work, because now it’s you, calling the reviewer to convince them to read your novel.  It’s you, calling the bookstore to convince them to schedule a reading.  It’s you, looking over the proofs of the cover and sending them back to the artist with notes.  It’s all you.  All of it.

And, it needs to be said, no matter how much dough you shell out and work you do, you will NEVER have the resources of a publishing house.  You will never be widely distributed.  You will never appear in a bookstore more than twenty miles from your house.  You will never be on a shelf in Barnes and Noble.  You will never be reviewed in the New York Times.  You will never be asked to speak to the writing class in a university.  You will have an icon on a page on Amazon’s website that someone can click on, and, if you’re smart, a website and a Facebook page and a Twitter account that ties into it.

After all that work and the money you spend on your team, you might break even, but most self-published authors don’t.  Probably, the vast majority.  If it’s about money, your odds are WAY better playing blackjack at Atlantic City.  But, of course, it’s not about money.

I don’t download self-published books from Amazon, but my wife does because she’s a reading addict and self-published books are famously cheap.  In her estimation, most of the books she downloads are “enjoyable enough,” a large chunk are “awful,” and occasionally one will float to the top as “good.”  So, I don’t doubt they’re out there: good books that get overlooked by agents and publishers and end up floating in the ether, waiting for someone like my wife to relish them.  That’s the real reason to self-publish, and I think that’s valid.

There are several other reasons, which I regard as various levels of bullshit, and I’m happy to address them next time.

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