When Self-Publishing Makes Sense…And When It Doesn’t

"Of course I love your book, dear. Just please don't write another one."

Some would argue that self-publishing always makes sense, no matter what. And when you hear of mega success stories, ala Hocking, Konrath, and Eisler, it’s hard not to side with the indies. And yet, I’m not self-published. Not today, anyway. So why the heck not?

For one, I’ve been writing longer than self-publishing has been a viable option (that’s viable, not available). This allowed me to make a lot of private mistakes with my prose, the kind that should never, ever be inflicted on the public. And because I’ve been at this a number of years, I’ve got enough perspective to judge–at least 80% of the time–when something I’ve written stinks. Maybe not at first, but after a month or two, after that crushy “This is brilliant!” feeling wears off, I can see when something isn’t up to par and needs to either be revised or buried in the backyard, usually because of lackluster response from my family, my critique group, my agent, editors, or even my own gut feeling of “meh, it could be better.”  Anyway, I suspect many new writers either neglect to seek feedback or dismiss it too readily. Why? Because I did the same thing myself back in the day, and because I’ve seen it happen time and time again across different critique groups. And before you leave something in the comments about how Grandma just loved your Born Again Bondage novel or how your third grade class couldn’t stop howling when you read them chapter 2 of Binky Goes Potty, realize that readers MAY be less than candid with you when you a) have power of attorney over them or b) have the power to revoke their bathroom privileges. Or both. Sorry Grandma.

There’s a popular blog I read that advises writers to just write it, publish it, and keep going, not stopping to worry too much about quality in the early years. But from a business standpoint, I’m not sure that makes sense. Think about it. If you self-pub a real stinker (and you may not realize that you have), then anyone who buys your book probably won’t buy another from you again. Your second book may be a little better, but still mediocre. Again, you pull in a few hundred suckers, er, readers, they quickly figure out you don’t have chops, and put you on their DO NOT BUY list. And so on, and so on. Not to mention any bad reviews you might garner as a result. Even if, say, after your third or fourth novel you become passable (or even terrific), within a few keystrokes, the brand new “I just got a Kindle!”  buying public will discover your lousy Amazon ranking, your one-star reviews on Goodreads, and your desperate “buy now!” Twitter stream from your first two novels and will pass you up faster than a plate of turnips at a barbecue. Let’s face it, as the publishing wars rage on, buyers are becoming more and more savvy. To put it another way, would you cobble together a tap dancing routine, rent out space for your performance, and sell tickets to the public after only taking lessons for a few months? No rational person would. Except hundreds of people upload their freshly penned still-wet novels to an audience of millions every day.

The other reason that I haven’t self-published yet comes down to strategy. I didn’t want to jump on the bandwagon just because it rolled by my house; I wanted to jump on it when it made sense to my career. I won’t go into detail at this point because I’m not ready to share yet–probably a hold-over from my marketing days where information is kept close to the vest and revealed only when one is mobilized to execute. But I hope to write more on this soon.

Without further delay…

You Know You’ve Published Too Soon When:

  • Amazon had to create a new sales ranking system–just for you–that accommodates infinity
  • Your fans share your DNA
  • The six people who bought your last book formed a support group
  • You’ve collected enough flaming reviews to start a small forest fire
  • You find nothing wrong with this sentence: Its to bad they went too the store, and left they’re money behind.
  • You earn 4 digits a month, except two of the digits are on the right side of the decimal
  • Villagers with pitchforks gather at your mention of a sequel

Okay, okay. But surely there’s a right time to self-publish, isn’t there? In all seriousness…

You Know It’s Time To Self-Publish When:

  • People who don’t owe you money (or live under your roof) actually like your book
  • Your critique group zeros in on errant commas because they can’t find much else to gripe about
  • You’ve gotten rejection letters that started off so positively that they sucker-punched you into believing your work had been accepted
  • You’ve already published books traditionally and have a languishing out-of-print backlist

I’m not against self-publishing. What I am against, however, is RUSHING to self-publish before the book and/or the writer is ready. If you’re just putting stuff up for some voyeuristic thrill, then more power to you. But if you’re looking at writing as a long-term career, then treat it with as much care and consideration as you would with any other. And if you decide that your work is ready, I wish you the best of luck. If not, well, there’s always tomorrow.


What about you? Did you rush to self-publish? Or did you take your time? Also, how did you decide the time was right to take the indie plunge?


6 thoughts on “When Self-Publishing Makes Sense…And When It Doesn’t

  1. I’m on my seventh or eighth draft, and now it’s just small tweaks. I do get back good comments but …..
    And all the time you read about how the publishing industry is struggling to come to terms with new technology. Thats where I think some of the problem lies, no one knows how long that will take, and in the meantime one doesn’t know if it’s your writing or your age, sex or genre.

    • I hear you. It’s a tough call to know what’s legitimate criticism and what’s not. My stand-by is this: if I hear the same comment more than once, then it’s something I need to look at changing.

      As for whether or not your age, sex, or genre influences your success and/or acceptance rate, I’m certain it does unless you remain anonymous. Sucks, am I right? If you ever turn to self-publishing, it might be interesting to experiment with pen names if think your gender’s not working for your genre. As for your age…people lie about that all the time. 🙂

      • Thanks for that. It’s good to get some ideas on self publishing as I am still pursuing the normal route, but find I’m getting more & more frustrated with the process.

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