Thursday, January 23, 2014

Why I Self-Published, and Why I'm Going to Keep Doing It

Disclaimer: I wrote this post to share my reasons for self publishing. I am not trying to say that these should or should not be anyone else’s reasons. In short, this post is not about you – but if any part of it happens to speak to you, maybe you should take it under consideration.

Before I begin, I want to share an incredible post that Jennifer Armentrout wrote yesterday entitled, “Stockholm Syndrome.”  In it, she expresses her desire for us to end the which-way-is-best-to-publish wars, and I applaud her for that.  Go read.  

My self-published books have enjoyed a very modest amount of success in the nine months I've been published. Because of that, or their presentation/packaging, or because someone read a sample and thought my writing was good, or a dozen other reasons I can’t imagine, a lot of people have assumed I decided to self-publish “for the right reasons.”  

From what I can gather, “right reasons” to self publish fall in the category of making the right business decision for me and my book, independent of any other factors, and “wrong reasons” include self-publishing because my book couldn't sell traditionally. Because I gave up.

So I wanted to write this post to clear that up.

Why I self-published, originally:

1. Traditional publishing was too hard.

Yep, I said it. My book wasn't selling for what seemed to be, according to my rejection letters, completely arbitrary and inconsistent reasons. Neither I nor my agent knew how to make it ‘good enough’ to sell, and worst, I didn't even know how to improve when I wrote my next book so THAT one might sell.

My agent told me that some clients of her agency had been on submission for four, five, and six years with multiple books before they finally got that prized offer from a Big Five publisher.

I knew my limits, and I knew that if I continued down that road, I would wither and die as a writer. I just couldn't stomach the idea of writing books that were, by all accounts, good, but which would never be read, never be loved, because the Big Five didn't think they were marketable.

Sure, I threw in the towel. I very consciously gave up on traditional publishing. But I didn't give up on my book finding readers and, with them, success.

2. I believed my book was good.

If I hadn't believed that my manuscript was well written and crafted, I would never have been able to move forward with self-publishing confidently.

For me, that belief came from one shelved ‘training wheels’ draft plus years of writing, learning, and honing my craft, awesome feedback from dozens of critique partners and readers, high agent interest, and eventually multiple agent offers on the book. Not only that, the Big Five editors’ feedback on the concept, writing, and story were all glowing.

I knew in my gut that I had a publishable book on my hands.

3. I had the money to lose.

I had my ideal picture of what my book and its release would look like. I drew up a budget, and I had the cash to fund it. Moreover, it was okay if I didn't make that money back within a month, or a year, or two years, or ever.

Just like with any other kind of publishing, I knew I couldn't count on my book doing well enough to make a single cent. Publishing isn't a science, and it’s barely an art – it’s more like a well-informed, super-prepared lottery. I wanted to know that, even if I lost the money it took to publish the book, I would be okay. (Maybe a little sad and ashamed, but still okay.)

Why I will continue to self-publish:

1. I know that every story I labor over will be published.

At minimum, a novel takes me six weeks of intense work to write. I don’t have time, energy, or resolve to put my heart, soul, blood, sweat, tears, and every second of free time into writing a novel that won’t sell because the market is horrible.

2. At final publication, my book is exactly what I want it to be.

From cover to content editing to layout to bonus chapters in the back, I am one hundred percent behind every aspect of the product with my name on the front that I’m releasing out into the world. For me, there is tremendous peace and pride in that.

3. I can do whatever I want.

If I can afford it, or have the right contacts, I can make it happen. 

Send a paperback ARC to that random blogger in France? Write side stories and novellas and poems and haikus related to the novel and post them for free on Wattpad?  Give away an ARC every week on Goodreads until release?  Publish the novel as a serial in ten parts over three months? Make a humungous magnet of the book’s cover and put it on the side of my car? Price my book at $3.14 just because it’s about math? Cultivate a street team of 65 people and give them all swag and put them all in the book’s acknowledgements? Commission a photo shoot for the cover? Do a month-long book tour? Do NO book tour? Create five different trailers? Commission an original song to go along with my book? Make and publish an audio book? Publish five books a year? 

Yes, yes, yes to all of it. There is no standard in self-publishing – we are creating and re-creating it with every single book we publish. It’s innovative, it’s exciting, and business-wise, it’s exactly where I want to be.

4. The royalties are good, and I like my chances of making money.

Online retailers pay 65-70% royalties which, on a $3.99 book, works out to around $2.69 on each copy sold.  Money is a touchy subject, but I’ll just say I've far more than “earned out” on my initial investment in publishing my YA books, and I've only been published for about nine months.

So, if you’re thinking about self-publishing, don’t worry about “the right reasons” and “the wrong reasons.”  What other writers and people in publishing think about why you published your book the way you did matters not at all to the hundreds of people who will pay you to read your book, enjoy it, and leave you a nice review.

If you, like me, are doing it for the readers; if you know in your gut your book is good; if you've been rejected for no reason that makes sense to you;  if you have the resources to present in a way that will make you proud; and if you have initiative and a head for business and marketing - maybe self-publishing is right for you too. 


  1. Very brave post, and I do agree that whatever works for each author is the right path for them, and more power to them for it. Traditionally published of self-published, I'd read anything that sounds like something I'd enjoy! I support a lot of authors, and some are self-pub and something are trad pub, and guess what? I love what they write! And that's the important bit!
    I'm very happy that you decided to self-pub cause otherwise I would have missed your stories, and that would have been a pity!

  2. Applauding! Great post. I agree 100% and I, too, I'm happy I took the self-publishing route ;)

  3. I'm planning to start self-publishing this year, after years of putting my dream of publication on the back burner. I love the idea of complete creative control, and that I don't have to play the rat race of querying. Long, serious historicals aren't as in demand as they were a few decades ago, and now I don't have to worry about not appealing to someone else's sense of trends.

  4. Love this post - totally agree with every bit of it :) Self-pubbing is tough, but the rewards are worth it. Just knowing that I have the freedom to publish whatever I want, instead of being at the mercy of whatever the trade publishing market happens to want at the moment, is priceless.

  5. I think you have done a stellar job with your books and marketing. This post shows why. You know why you're in it. Good for you!

  6. "...innovative, exciting and business-wise...." These are the exact words I said to my husband three weeks ago when I told him I wanted to self-publish--and he's all for it! I've been reading up on the business side of it non-stop ever since, including wonderful blogs like yours. Thank you so much for sharing. I hope that all of you who have self-published and share your journey with us know what a service you are doing. Without you all I'd never have learned so much and gained such courage and excitement to give it a go myself. I'm a ways off yet, but it's fun to have it in my sights. Thanks! And HUGE congrats to you! Christy

  7. Thanks for sharing your experience! As you said, it's your experience and yours alone, but other people can certainly learn from it.

  8. Of your articles is very interesting