*Note* Though the information below is somewhat dated, and I’ve since adjusted my stance on a couple things, the “meat” of the article remains true in that self-publishing is hardwork and not simply “upload and go” like is being hyped nowadays. The below info is not just for e-publishing, but also self-publishing your material in print as well. I also want to add that I’m not longer interested in landing a traditional publisher for myself unless they can go above and beyond what I can do on my own.
The Truth About Self-publishing
Originally published on-line February 10, 2006
Those who self-publish non-fiction works or information productions will draw a different conclusion compared to what I’m about to say, but for those who put out their own fiction works, the following is guaranteed . . . at least at the beginning.
Self-publishing fiction is hard. If you are going into it with the view that you will become rich and famous, respected and popular, you will be severely disappointed. Because you are putting out your work yourself, you are forced to focus on all aspects of publishing, not just the writing. Right there your mental energy and/or mental well-being will be divided into several parts and the days of worrying about only your latest story or editing your latest yarn will be long gone. You might even find with all these new responsibilities swirling around your head that your creative juices might slow their flow. That’s a shuddering thought for any fiction writer, but it’s also a realistic one.
Self-publishing is no easy challenge. There is a great financial risk involved even if you use print-on-demand, a significant investment of time after your book is in its final edited form, and the looming thought that it might not yield any results—in any capacity—at all. If I had hyped self-publishing as a Godsend in my previous articles, I apologize. If you decide to self-publish your work, I can guarantee you a long, uphill battle in getting your book into bookstores (you will then have to do business on their terms using their discounts and their returns policy), but most importantly, you will have to fight to get your stuff into the hands of readers. You must be willing to hustle your butt every day to make readers aware of your work and, better yet, making sure they wind up with the book in their hands, bought and paid for. If you think setting up a website is all it takes, you’re in for a world of hurt. The sales will not come to you even if you had gone the traditional route and had someone else publish you in an effort to ensure sales as their responsibility (though I will add I believe every author big name or small should get out there and promote their work nonstop until—and this takes a good long while, if at all—their name on the cover alone is enough to sell millions of copies). You will be met by prejudice and rude comments if you begin hanging out with traditionally-published authors. Not only will such remarks come from them, but from bookstores as well. And if a bookstore does not express their distaste for self-publishing from their lips, you will see it in their eyes, in their expression. I’ve been there and other authors have as well. It won’t matter if your book is completely error-free, is the greatest and most intense story ever written, has the most beautiful cover—because you self-published it, the stigma that is primarily the fault of vanity and subsidy presses will haunt you.
I implore you, if you are one to be easily discouraged or if you lack the confidence needed to take a chance and put your work out on your own, your heart will be broken and it might be hard to pick up the pieces afterward. You will need a thick skin and an unshakeable drive to see things through even when things get so hard you want to throw your computer out with the morning trash.
Self-publishing in this industry is basically a declaration that you are doing things your way and are walking your own path toward your final publishing goal. To go back to the first entry in this little series, if you wish to use self-publishing as an entry point as I’m doing, that’s fine and I wish you all the best. But if you expect to self-publish and only self-publish and become as huge success like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, it’s not going to happen. I wish that wasn’t the case, but that’s just how it is. The publishing world is a huge one, and, at best, self-publishing can act as your small-to-medium-sized press entry point (depending on your success). To go beyond that, you will need that big traditional contract I mentioned back in the first entry. I will always stand by self-publishing as a great way to get started and get your name out there and build your resume (and even then, more often than not, a self-published book on your resume in the eyes of big publishing firms doesn’t count), but if you only wish to write and only wish to worry about your stories, seek a traditional publisher. Please.
The choice is yours.