Self-publishing used to be for losers. It wasn’t even called self-publishing – it was called “vanity publishing.” Even the name meant you were a loser: “You’re so vain… you prob’ly think this book is about you!”
In between staring at the mirror and primping your nails, you wrote a book; how cute!
Who’s a loser now?
That “loser” reputation was well-earned in some cases. Companies out to “help” writers publish their books would sell exorbitantly-priced packages of legitimate-sounding “services,” from editing and illustration to layout and promotion. But mainly what they’d “serve” you with, often for thousands of dollars, was a useless box of poor-quality books that would sit in your living room for years, doing nothing to sell themselves.
(A few of these companies have “successfully” transitioned to the Internet. Visit the Writer Beware blog for a guide to some of the more heinous among them.)
That is NOT today’s self-publishing environment. Today, self-published books are of great quality. They look and feel super-professional, and they’re cheaper than ever. For under $10, including delivery, you could be holding your finished children’s book in your hands next week.
Why self-publishing may not work for you
So there’s no shame in self-publishing anymore. But that still doesn’t mean it’s for everybody. Here are four signs that self-publishing, even in today’s easy-entry market, might not work out for you.
- Nobody’s seen your book. Sure, lots of people self-publish because they’re sick of rejections from swamped publishers. But what about the opposite scenario? If you have never even tried showing your book to a publisher, editor or agent, perhaps it’s because you know it’s flawed. Bypassing the “gatekeepers” isn’t the answer if the book itself isn’t great. (Start with this post about getting rid of the “yes-men” in your life and finding honest criticism.)
- You’re in a big hurry. Traditional publishers can take months or years to get your book to market. You want it on sale TODAY. Think about why. Wouldn’t it be better to step back and plan, letting the book steep on the back burner (which probably couldn’t hurt) in the meantime? (Putting it on the back burner doesn’t mean failure!)
- You want hand-holding. Need someone to walk you through the process every step of the way? Even traditional publishers don’t do as much of this as they used to. If someone does offer to hold your hand, they’re probably just sidling up to grab for your wallet. Be suspicious… very suspicious.
- You’re only in it to “get discovered.” Odds are, you won’t be, but there are enough stories out there to give us all hope. That’s probably false hope, and the passive verb here annoys me to no end – writing today is a more active pursuit than it ever has been before. If “discovery by a major publishing company” tops your list of self-publishing goals, you’re doing it wrong. Don’t let go of the dream, but keep it somewhere down near the bottom, below things like holding your own book, reading it to children, and promoting it in whatever way you can. (Want to find out which of the two kinds of children’s-book authors you are?)
I can’t believe how harsh this all sounds. I take comfort in knowing it’s probably not news, if you’ve been hanging around in the world of writing kids’ books for a while. There is a path to self-publishing success, but it depends on how willing you are to do things for yourself.
How DIY are you?
Before you think about self-publishing, you should know where you fall in the DIY spectrum. Which of these profiles fits your personality best?
- I’m fully comfortable with terms like html, jpg, and pdf and prefer to be left alone to turn my manuscript into a book..
- If you show me how a couple of times, I can probably do it myself the next time, especially if I’d save money.
- I can do a lot of the formatting myself but would be more comfortable if someone else gets it ready to publish.
- I can type my book; someone else should take it from there.
How much you pay to self-publish will depend on where you see yourself on this spectrum.
If you’re a #1 or #2 personality, you are ideally poised to self-publish your book.
Take me, for example.
I like to think of myself as a techie, and when I’m not writing, I’m happy to fiddle around in my graphics program tweaking images to reach the ideal 300dpi or creating multiple PDF copies so I can see which is truest to the formatting I hope to achieve. This involves a lot of staring at online digital proofs. It sometimes involves swearing at Microsoft Word or some other program to get it to do what I want.
If you’re not comfortable with that… you may secretly be a #3. For you #3 and #4 personalities, I’ll be honest: you’ll have to pay more for your “self” published book – maybe a lot more.
You’ll probably be better off with a “package,” which will include design and layout services. It’s self-publishing in the sense that it probably won’t include promotion, so you’ll still be on your own to sell your book.
Beware! This scenario can easily morph or be taken advantage of by one of the still-around “vanity press” type companies still out there on the internet.
If they offer promotion or book jacket copy or reviews or other services or mask what they do and pretend they’re a “traditional publisher,” they’re probably a vanity press in disguise. This is vanity publishing in the truest sense: they will take your money, and take advantage of your trust, and probably stick you with a garageful of books… and not much else.
The long and the short of it: if you’re a high-techish go-getter, self-publishing is probably going to be an easier road. If you’re not, it’ll be tougher, and you’ll end up paying more. But that doesn’t make it impossible; just know what you’re in for, find pros you trust… and even then, it may not be a smooth ride.
Actually, however you do it, self-publishing is rarely a smooth ride. Which is fine; if I wanted one of those, I could probably find many ways to get it.
The most important sign you’re not cut out for self-publishing, then, is needing someone to promise you an easy ride.
On the other hand, if you’re open to adventure, to learning, to exploration (however steep the learning curve may be)… welcome to the wonderful world of today’s hands-on self-publishing.
Share your self-pub horror stories – or glories! – in the Comments section below.