To Self-Publish or Not

The other day, I indulged during my break time and did some reading on self-publishing. This is self-publishing in the literal sense, meaning that I would handle the interior and exterior layout design, select the printer for the book, obtain my own ISBN, set up a business account, find the printer, and handle distribution.

In other words, to self-publish, I would be a micro press, a.k.a. small business owner. I’m not sure people realize that, in order to be a true self-publisher, you are effectively going into business. This is very different from publishing through Aventine Press, for instance (their services are excellent, but have high retail prices).

Why Would You Self-Publish?

There are multiple reasons for self-publishing, the first usually being that the author doesn’t want to jump through hoops to find an agent, an editor, and then shop around the big name publishers. In the 1990s, this was seen as the extreme vanity of selfish authors, hence the name “Vanity Press.”

A vanity press, also known as a subsidy press, is where the author pays a fee for the publication of the book. The press owns the ISBN, provides a template cover and interior (some packages provide more customization), and prices for small print runs are large due to the print-on-demand technology.

So there is a stigma against self-publishing authors who do it simply because they want to see their name on a book. These authors are seen as “cheating the system,” as it were. And then there are the authors who believe in the very spirit of self-publishing, like Zoe Winters.

Authors like Zoe and myself take great pride in our work, and turn to self-publishing because of this very fact. We also have an entrepreneurial spirit, which we apply to our passion for writing.

These are the two extremes of self-publishing authors: those who self-publish because they’re tired of the rat race, and those who self-publish for the sincere pleasure and pride of having self-published. There are other reasons for the authors who fall between these extremes; all are stigmatized against by the big name publishers and chain bookstores.

Is Self-Publishing for Me?

It depends. Do you have money? Because you’ll need it, to set up your accounts with Lightening Source, a wholesaler, for instance. Do you have storage space to hold your copies? Because if you go through Lightening Source, you are your own distributor and marketer.

But here is the most important question: what is more important to you, seeing your name in print, or putting your name on a book that you guided from draft to publication, hiring professionals as needed? A self-publisher invests in their book the same way a company invests in a product. If the product (your book) fails, you’ve lost the money you invested. If it succeeds, you receive all profits.

Zoe knows a lot more than I do about self-publishing, so I suggest checking out her blog. My experience is with vanity publishers, but for my next book, I do plan on releasing self-published print and e-book versions.

Which, by the way, I’m up to chapter 22 in the second draft! Things are coming along pretty well, I think, considering I’m a full-time graduate student.

18 thoughts on “To Self-Publish or Not

  1. I think the "cheating the system" idea comes from a misunderstanding of the difficulties associated with the self-publishing gig. Everyone knows that getting published via the traditional method is difficult. People aren't so well educated about independent publishing. There's this pie in the sky notion that its somehow easy and that you're skipping steps (steps that, to many writers, would be consider rights of passage of a sort) to getting your name in print. Erroneous, but I think how many people perceive things.

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  2. hehehe Belinda, I just think people need to stop drinking the Kool-aid on the whole “OMG Vanity, Run!” thing. All writers have egos. It’s vanity just to think the entire world cares to read your words. It’s vanity if you go the traditional way for the prestige of being able to say (insert name publisher) published me.

    Only in the publishing world is it seen somehow as a character flaw to create a product you believe in, put your own money into it, and bring it to the market. In every other industry that’s just business as usual.

    And thank you for specifying the difference between “vanity POD presses” and actually starting your own micro-press.

    No one has ever jumped on someone for opening their own flower shop rather than working for a flower shop, but the second you want to start your own publishing company and create your own products, holy crap, the fur starts flying and everybody wants to come up with a zillion reasons why you will fail.

    Of course few want to get into how bad the odds are for everyone, no matter how they publish, to make good money. This is passion driven, IMO. And this is America. And no one needs permission to publish. That’s too goofy for me to even acknowledge as a reasonable idea.

    Sure, people fail and small businesses fail, but the entrepreneurial spirit is kind of what our country is about. Squashing it for whatever well-intentioned reason, IMO is just unacceptable.

    I also don’t understand this “cheating the system” concept. If someone self publishes and fails, how did they cheat anything? If they self publish and succeed, they worked damn hard for their success and deserve every bit of it. Because publishing is a hard business, for everyone. There are no short cuts.

    Also chain bookstores aren’t even on my radar. Their market share falls every single year and Amazon grows. More people buy books online. And if you’re in the Ingram catalog (which you can do easily if you go with Lightning Source) a bookstore can order your book. And if someone walks into their local store and requests it, they’ll order it or lose the sale.

    With Lightning Source you don’t have to warehouse or store books. I’ll have likely 25 copies at a time ordered for when someone orders directly off my website, but… with LSI, you pretty much can sell everything straight into distribution. There’s no need to store anything because it’s print on demand. You also get a shorter discount into Ingram, Baker and Taylor, and Amazon. Though I think using Create Space for books sold through Amazon is a good option as well.

    I still have a lot to learn about self publishing, but I’m working on a website right now for authors interested in their options. There are many different ways and reasons to go indie and one can also put out a podcast or ebooks. It’s not always necessary to go to print first. So people can play the game on the level they’re comfortable with, if they think it’s right for them.

    Sorry for being so verbose on your blog and thank you for linking me!

    Viva La Resistance! 😉

    Zoe

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  3. hehehe Belinda, I just think people need to stop drinking the Kool-aid on the whole “OMG Vanity, Run!” thing. All writers have egos. It’s vanity just to think the entire world cares to read your words. It’s vanity if you go the traditional way for the prestige of being able to say (insert name publisher) published me.

    Only in the publishing world is it seen somehow as a character flaw to create a product you believe in, put your own money into it, and bring it to the market. In every other industry that’s just business as usual.

    And thank you for specifying the difference between “vanity POD presses” and actually starting your own micro-press.

    No one has ever jumped on someone for opening their own flower shop rather than working for a flower shop, but the second you want to start your own publishing company and create your own products, holy crap, the fur starts flying and everybody wants to come up with a zillion reasons why you will fail.

    Of course few want to get into how bad the odds are for everyone, no matter how they publish, to make good money. This is passion driven, IMO. And this is America. And no one needs permission to publish. That’s too goofy for me to even acknowledge as a reasonable idea.

    Sure, people fail and small businesses fail, but the entrepreneurial spirit is kind of what our country is about. Squashing it for whatever well-intentioned reason, IMO is just unacceptable.

    I also don’t understand this “cheating the system” concept. If someone self publishes and fails, how did they cheat anything? If they self publish and succeed, they worked damn hard for their success and deserve every bit of it. Because publishing is a hard business, for everyone. There are no short cuts.

    Also chain bookstores aren’t even on my radar. Their market share falls every single year and Amazon grows. More people buy books online. And if you’re in the Ingram catalog (which you can do easily if you go with Lightning Source) a bookstore can order your book. And if someone walks into their local store and requests it, they’ll order it or lose the sale.

    With Lightning Source you don’t have to warehouse or store books. I’ll have likely 25 copies at a time ordered for when someone orders directly off my website, but… with LSI, you pretty much can sell everything straight into distribution. There’s no need to store anything because it’s print on demand. You also get a shorter discount into Ingram, Baker and Taylor, and Amazon. Though I think using Create Space for books sold through Amazon is a good option as well.

    I still have a lot to learn about self publishing, but I’m working on a website right now for authors interested in their options. There are many different ways and reasons to go indie and one can also put out a podcast or ebooks. It’s not always necessary to go to print first. So people can play the game on the level they’re comfortable with, if they think it’s right for them.

    Sorry for being so verbose on your blog and thank you for linking me!

    Viva La Resistance! 😉

    Zoe

    Like

  4. I think the “cheating the system” idea comes from a misunderstanding of the difficulties associated with the self-publishing gig. Everyone knows that getting published via the traditional method is difficult. People aren’t so well educated about independent publishing. There’s this pie in the sky notion that its somehow easy and that you’re skipping steps (steps that, to many writers, would be consider rights of passage of a sort) to getting your name in print. Erroneous, but I think how many people perceive things.

    Like

  5. True Kait, anyone can have a book printed, but that’s not really publishing. (self, or otherwise.)

    And I think you’re right about this ‘rite of passage’ thing. To many writers, having your book “accepted” and published by someone else is a part of the process, but it’s really not the only valid way to get a book out there.

    And doing it the other way isn’t “easy.” In fact I think I’m fairly crazy for doing it the way I’m doing it, but…I can’t justify doing it the other way because it’s not where my passions lie.

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  6. True Kait, anyone can have a book printed, but that’s not really publishing. (self, or otherwise.)

    And I think you’re right about this ‘rite of passage’ thing. To many writers, having your book “accepted” and published by someone else is a part of the process, but it’s really not the only valid way to get a book out there.

    And doing it the other way isn’t “easy.” In fact I think I’m fairly crazy for doing it the way I’m doing it, but…I can’t justify doing it the other way because it’s not where my passions lie.

    Like

  7. I think it’s easy for people to discount self-publishing/independent publishing because there isn’t that additional level of trying to get the “in-crowd” of agents, editors, etc, to slaver over your book. People don’t seem to realize, as both of you have said, how difficult it can be to self-publish, and that there are many reasons to go either way… traditional or independent.

    It’s taken me a couple of years to figure out what I want to do, and this year I decided that I strongly believe in self-publishing. I’ve never been too keen on rites of passage, which is one of the many reasons why I doubt I’ll ever traditionally publish from the outset for a work.

    Among other things, I like the idea of the challenge that comes with being an independent publisher. It’s right up my creative alley.

    Like

  8. I think it’s easy for people to discount self-publishing/independent publishing because there isn’t that additional level of trying to get the “in-crowd” of agents, editors, etc, to slaver over your book. People don’t seem to realize, as both of you have said, how difficult it can be to self-publish, and that there are many reasons to go either way… traditional or independent.

    It’s taken me a couple of years to figure out what I want to do, and this year I decided that I strongly believe in self-publishing. I’ve never been too keen on rites of passage, which is one of the many reasons why I doubt I’ll ever traditionally publish from the outset for a work.

    Among other things, I like the idea of the challenge that comes with being an independent publisher. It’s right up my creative alley.

    Like

  9. Hey Belinda, your feelings on this mirror my own a lot. I waffled back and forth for about four years on the issue. I couldn’t make myself buckle down and submit things the traditional way. And it wasn’t “fear of rejection.” I’ve received rejections. Some of course form rejections, but some personal and very nice. And rejection doesn’t really crumble my world in writing.

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  10. Hey Belinda, your feelings on this mirror my own a lot. I waffled back and forth for about four years on the issue. I couldn’t make myself buckle down and submit things the traditional way. And it wasn’t “fear of rejection.” I’ve received rejections. Some of course form rejections, but some personal and very nice. And rejection doesn’t really crumble my world in writing.

    Like

  11. * This is a copy of a response to an e-mail from Zoe that I thought was important to also post publicly.

    So it seems to me that there are multiple views on publishing, right? Of course writers will want to be published in the traditional sense. There's something prestigious that comes with "making it," because everyone knows how bad the odds are. We can't deny that, nor should we demean it.

    For those writers who vanity publish, they have their own reasons as well. Sometimes they only want a small print run, and don't want to go through the business hassle that inevitably comes with the traditional definition of self-publishing. Like you've said before, that's understandable. And as a vanity-published writer, I will never demean others like me. I had my reasons for vanity publishing, just as I have my reasons for not pursuing a traditional publishing career.

    What I think is most important, however, is that we not feel personally insulted that there is a stigma against self-publishing, the same way we shouldn't feel personally insulted that there is a stigma against romance. It is frustrating, yes, that there are people who will never respect what we do. But these people are limiting themselves, and missing out. I've always felt it's better to win people over with patience, because I would hope that others would give me that benefit. And if they don't, then that's fine. I know who my audience is, and I know what and why I'm writing. Those who understand, will. Those that are willing to try something new, I'll welcome them with open arms.

    But I'm definitely not willing to judge those writers who go the traditional route simply because I'm going the self-publishing route. Because I know that I don't want to be judged for going the self-publishing route, despite the fact that I know it's going to happen.

    I know it's goofy, but I just want all of us to be friends. 🙂

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  12. hahaha, and since it got posted publicly I feel compelled to also state publicly that I was in no way demeaning going the traditional way. There are plenty of good reasons NOT to go indie. I just personally don't get the hostile reaction from "some" unpublished writers toward self publishing.

    If it's not for you, that's fine, but some people get very angry and hostile about it. I could almost understand someone with a traditional publisher being hostile, but I really don't understand that reaction from the unpublished.

    I mean why would you be against more options to get your work in front of people? bands without record labels never went around putting down bands who chose to put out their own record. Film makers without big industry moguls behind them, don't denigrate other film makers who create their own small indie film.

    Why is this negative attitude so prevalent amongst unpublished writers? It makes literally no sense.

    Like

  13. I've got to admit that I'm surprised by the fact that people are angry and hostile about going indie. I've never had a negative response to the fact that I published. Most people are simply impressed that not only have I written a book, but that I had it published. It's a feat to accomplish that much for many people.

    I love your analogy about indie bands, though. It's funny how there's a stigma for writers, but not for artists. Hopefully things will change over time, like you said in your e-mail.

    I'm pretty sure that the big publishers who unpublished writers are trying to publish with have, in some way, "brainwashed" them into believing that self-publishing is the wrong way to go. Not entirely sure what to do about that, really.

    Like

  14. * This is a copy of a response to an e-mail from Zoe that I thought was important to also post publicly.

    So it seems to me that there are multiple views on publishing, right? Of course writers will want to be published in the traditional sense. There’s something prestigious that comes with “making it,” because everyone knows how bad the odds are. We can’t deny that, nor should we demean it.

    For those writers who vanity publish, they have their own reasons as well. Sometimes they only want a small print run, and don’t want to go through the business hassle that inevitably comes with the traditional definition of self-publishing. Like you’ve said before, that’s understandable. And as a vanity-published writer, I will never demean others like me. I had my reasons for vanity publishing, just as I have my reasons for not pursuing a traditional publishing career.

    What I think is most important, however, is that we not feel personally insulted that there is a stigma against self-publishing, the same way we shouldn’t feel personally insulted that there is a stigma against romance. It is frustrating, yes, that there are people who will never respect what we do. But these people are limiting themselves, and missing out. I’ve always felt it’s better to win people over with patience, because I would hope that others would give me that benefit. And if they don’t, then that’s fine. I know who my audience is, and I know what and why I’m writing. Those who understand, will. Those that are willing to try something new, I’ll welcome them with open arms.

    But I’m definitely not willing to judge those writers who go the traditional route simply because I’m going the self-publishing route. Because I know that I don’t want to be judged for going the self-publishing route, despite the fact that I know it’s going to happen.

    I know it’s goofy, but I just want all of us to be friends. 🙂

    Like

  15. hahaha, and since it got posted publicly I feel compelled to also state publicly that I was in no way demeaning going the traditional way. There are plenty of good reasons NOT to go indie. I just personally don’t get the hostile reaction from “some” unpublished writers toward self publishing.

    If it’s not for you, that’s fine, but some people get very angry and hostile about it. I could almost understand someone with a traditional publisher being hostile, but I really don’t understand that reaction from the unpublished.

    I mean why would you be against more options to get your work in front of people? bands without record labels never went around putting down bands who chose to put out their own record. Film makers without big industry moguls behind them, don’t denigrate other film makers who create their own small indie film.

    Why is this negative attitude so prevalent amongst unpublished writers? It makes literally no sense.

    Like

  16. I’ve got to admit that I’m surprised by the fact that people are angry and hostile about going indie. I’ve never had a negative response to the fact that I published. Most people are simply impressed that not only have I written a book, but that I had it published. It’s a feat to accomplish that much for many people.

    I love your analogy about indie bands, though. It’s funny how there’s a stigma for writers, but not for artists. Hopefully things will change over time, like you said in your e-mail.

    I’m pretty sure that the big publishers who unpublished writers are trying to publish with have, in some way, “brainwashed” them into believing that self-publishing is the wrong way to go. Not entirely sure what to do about that, really.

    Like

  17. I really believe in the next decade it will change. There are too many factors converging.

    I think it might be partly a generational thing. As a writer you sort of grow up wanting one particular thing, but now, getting closer to it, some people, including myself are re-evaluating that. Like what do I really want out of this? And at this time I don’t feel that traditional publishing meets my needs of what I’m really looking for right now. I don’t know where I’ll be or how I’ll feel about it in ten years though.

    I think that 10 or 20 years ago, it was absolutely true that if you were a good enough writer, someone would publish you. But it’s not true anymore. Yes, you MAY be able to find a small press to publish you, but they suffer the same distribution issues that I will have to deal with going indie. There’s no real benefit there, for me anyway, to going with a small press that isn’t run by me.

    Why on earth would I publish with a small press just to avoid “stigma” when I’m making 1/4th the money on the back end that I’d make publishing myself? It’s illogical.

    Which isn’t to say small press isn’t a valid way to go. It is. Especially if someone doesn’t have the time or inclination or funding to publish their own work.

    I guess I think there are plenty of valid and legitimate reasons to go with a small press or try the agent route, that there is no need to denigrate self publishing as “what bad writers” do. There’s no real need to justify “not” self publishing.

    Like

  18. I really believe in the next decade it will change. There are too many factors converging.

    I think it might be partly a generational thing. As a writer you sort of grow up wanting one particular thing, but now, getting closer to it, some people, including myself are re-evaluating that. Like what do I really want out of this? And at this time I don’t feel that traditional publishing meets my needs of what I’m really looking for right now. I don’t know where I’ll be or how I’ll feel about it in ten years though.

    I think that 10 or 20 years ago, it was absolutely true that if you were a good enough writer, someone would publish you. But it’s not true anymore. Yes, you MAY be able to find a small press to publish you, but they suffer the same distribution issues that I will have to deal with going indie. There’s no real benefit there, for me anyway, to going with a small press that isn’t run by me.

    Why on earth would I publish with a small press just to avoid “stigma” when I’m making 1/4th the money on the back end that I’d make publishing myself? It’s illogical.

    Which isn’t to say small press isn’t a valid way to go. It is. Especially if someone doesn’t have the time or inclination or funding to publish their own work.

    I guess I think there are plenty of valid and legitimate reasons to go with a small press or try the agent route, that there is no need to denigrate self publishing as “what bad writers” do. There’s no real need to justify “not” self publishing.

    Like

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