Truths About Self-Publishing

I’ve been honest on this blog, sometimes embarrassingly so, and yet I feel I’ve also deceived. Sometimes it’s hard to decide what to share and what to keep to myself, but I’m going to be straight with you today because someone might benefit by hearing some truths I’ve learned from two years of self-publishing. Whichever side you’re on, please read to the end before you nock your arrows.

La Bocca della Verità (The Mouth of Truth)
La Bocca della Verità
(The Mouth of Truth)

In short, I’ve learned that I am not a successful indie author. Let me clarify that. I’ve succeeded at writing two novels, and I succeeded at doing the work necessary to self-publish them, but I’ve failed at giving them a real chance of being read.

Self-publishing is a fantastic opportunity—for some writers. It might be a no-brainer if you write certain types of non-fiction. And it’s almost that good a choice for certain genre fiction writers. Self-publishing works well even for non-genre fiction writers—with the right qualifications.

But I write upscale women’s fiction and I do not have the right qualifications to self-publish that.  What do I lack?

  1. Money: This is a biggie! I have a fixed, very limited, income. Right now, I can’t even afford professional editing or cover design, so I definitely don’t have the funds for professional blog tours, ad space, reviews, or elaborate giveaways to increase my books’ exposure.
  2. Influence: I’m not a member of any organizations (social, religious, political, etc.) virtual or real. I don’t even work outside the home. My few thousand followers on WordPress, Facebook, Twitter and the like amount to a tiny blip in the grand scheme of social media. I, and consequently my books, are invisible online and off. And visibility is everything.
  3. Confidence: I have the time, energy, and focus, but at this point, I just don’t have the necessary confidence to sell my writing—or myself. I need my work vetted by industry professionals. There, I said the forbidden word.

Did I know all this about myself before I published The Brevity of Roses?  Most of it, yes, I did. And yet I stepped in line behind the self-publishing pipers, the ones raking in the money, the ones who didn’t really talk about the qualifications I lacked.

They made self-publishing success sound like it was just hanging on the tree, ripe for picking. “Just write good books,” they implied, “and the readers will flock to them.” And that may be true for them, in part because their fan bases were already established from their traditionally published books, or a high-traffic blog, or international news coverage for some other career. It has not proven true for me.

So, what does all this mean for my future? I still plan to self-publish. I have a start on a novella, some short stories I’d like to compile, and maybe a novel that doesn’t fit under the WF umbrella. Those will be published by me. But my next novel needs to be one I can query to agents. I need a publisher who has the experience, influence, and money that I don’t have because if my book has the editing and financial backing of professionals, I’ll have the confidence to promote that book.

Every day I read how the stigma of self-publishing is fading. That may be true if your self-published books are on the NYTimes best-seller list—or even in the Top 100 Paid list on Amazon.  Mine aren’t.

Every day I read how authors are stupid to give part of their royalties to an agent and publisher. That may be true if your self-published books rack up 100 or more sales a day—or month. Mine don’t.

In my confusing post last week I talked about having a dream to keep me going. Well, my dream is to see my next novel basking in a ray of limelight. And I just don’t see that happening if I publish it myself.

Your mileage probably varies. This is about me, not you. Maybe you have all three qualifications I lack and a solid plan for your self-publishing future that will get you to the top. Yay! I’ll support you in every way I can. Or maybe you are perfectly satisfied with the scope of the current readership of your self-published books. Yay! I’ll raise a toast to your reaching a personal goal.

I’m thankful for every person who’s read The Brevity of Roses and An Illusion of Trust. And I’m thrilled the majority of them enjoyed the read. But I can’t help wondering how many other readers would enjoy those books just as much—if they knew they existed!

Is my dissatisfaction really just about money? Considering point #1, I can’t say I’d be unhappy with some of that, but no. It’s more about needing the satisfaction of knowing that something I created, something I love, is appreciated by others—many others. It’s about wanting to know to what level professional guidance could lift my writing. And it’s about needing respect from writing professionals—and also from myself.

Every day, I spend several hours working on some aspect of writing. It’s my full-time job. I’m devoting too much of my life to this effort to not give the result a real chance to succeed. I have to try. I have a dream.

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28 thoughts on “Truths About Self-Publishing

  1. Hi, Linda. How are you. Don’t knock yourself out. I have spent the money on professional editing! I have spent the money on the fancy covers! I have spent every waking hour killing myself trying to get the word out on three pretty good books, both in the virtual and physical world. The result after the first month – not much!
    I think there’s simply too much competition out there – at least that’s what I keep telling myself.

    -Jimmy

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    1. There’s a lot of competition out there for sure, Jimmy, and I’m sure that makes being traditionally published success harder nowadays too. Like I said, I have the time to write and promote, but I don’t have the time to write and promote PLUS learn, fund, and perform all the jobs of a publishing firm. I may not get a traditional publishing contract, but I have to try.

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  2. My first thought… two years is still breaking in time. I’ve been indie publishing for 10 years now. Am I seeing big sales? No. Is it frustrating? Yes. However, I think too many authors are focused on quick results these days – the current immediate gratification thing – and serious fiction doesn’t work that way, regardless of how you’re published. Serious fiction (what you and I are doing) is meant to be long term. It takes longer to get readers. There are fewer readers interested in serious fiction. But it also lasts longer. At least that’s how I see it and what I keep telling myself.

    If you want quick results, write vampire or werewolf fiction, shocking YA, or taudry short love ‘stories’ because that’s where the results come in. (If authors are doing those and promoting and still get no results, they might want to take a writing course.) In the traditional writing world, it can take 8 – 10 books before an author gets noticed, and that’s with professional covers and ads and such. I have 7 novels out now and am about to put out my 8th and yes, I am picking up steam even though I stink at marketing. I am getting more creative with my marketing and working around the fact that I don’t have thousands to put into each book to get it out there in front of readers. There are other ways.

    Still, go forth and submit to a publisher if that’s where your heart lies. There is no one good answer for every author. We have to do what we think is right for us. Good luck!

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    1. Yes, LK, I’ve heard the “8-10 books” rule many times, but only applied to self-publishing. From what I’ve heard, the big publishers nowadays don’t take on authors they don’t think will make them money on the first book. In any case, at the rate I write with all the distractions of promoting what I’ve already published PLUS performing all the jobs of a publishing firm—BADLY, by the way—I’ll never get that many books written. So, I may not get a traditional publishing contract, but I have to try.

      And the best of luck to you too. 🙂

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  3. I found I was ticking off every one of the points you made, saying, that’s me. I agree with everything you say but your last sentence sums the whole thing up, it is down to the luck of the draw and who you know. Does anyone else agree with me?

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    1. Well, Maria, that’s part of INFLUENCE, isn’t it? Yes, if you’re an indie who has powerful people promoting your books, you’ll be a financial success, at least. I don’t believe readers care a whit about who published a book, so that’s not my concern. It’s getting more exposure than I can provide, that’s my problem.

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  4. Go for your dream Linda! I think you have the talent to make it either way. But it doesn’t matter what I think. It’s what you believe that counts, and if you believe the traditional way is what will suit you better than go for it. GO FOR IT! 🙂

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  5. LK has a lot of good points about it taking time. It really does. Monarch hardly sells anything. It never has, but my other books do alright. I never know how a book is going to do, and neither does my publisher. We both guess, but it’s always a shot in the dark, it seems. It’s easy to think the grass is greener somewhere else, but I think you’re smart to try a different route. You never know what will happen until you try. I think it’s great you’ll still be self-publishing too.

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    1. For sure, Michelle. I have no illusions that I’ll become a household name with one traditionally published book—if I even get one. I simply need help with publishing responsibilities and the only way I can afford that is to be satisfied with a lower percentage of royalties. And thanks for the support. 🙂

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  6. I applaud your decision, Linda. Dividing your publishing goals into categories based on the work(s) in question is a solid approach to setting achievable goals as well as moderating your expectation level.

    Have you decided to divide your persona between self and professional?

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    1. Thank you, Kim. Actually, this decision is a step toward that division. By writing, editing, formatting, cover and interior print designing, publishing, promoting, and marketing the book myself, it’s impossible to have any distance from it. It’s ALL me. The one thing I could have done to give myself a bit of division is publish under a pseudonym, but I didn’t do that. *sigh*

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      1. I hear you and please know that I respect the fact that you have (and continue) to explore both sides of the publishing industry.

        Self-publishing a novel (or series) was a challenge that I knew I didn’t have the strength to tackle as soon as I self-published a tiny little poetry book. Only then did my path become clear to for me. Sometimes you have to test the water for salt to find out if you’re going to sink or swim. 😉

        I hope this new direction will lead you to clear water and if it does – MAY YOU BATH IN HAPPINESS!
        – back to my hole now.

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        1. Thank you, Kim. I’m glad you said bathe, not swim because I panic in water over waist-high. 🙂

          As I said, I’ll continue to self-publish work that I feel is more suited to that. I just think I gave up the agent search too soon with Brevity. I have a wise writer friend who tried to tell me that, but I didn’t listen. So I really have to try for that again.

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  7. HI Linda, love the last lines of this post. Very beautiful.
    I’ve been thinking about what you wrote here. Since I first began writing I didn’t think I’d ever self-publish for various reasons, the main one being the fact that I’m pretty certain I’d fail at promotion and marketing (which is a set-up for failure in itself). It feels like I’d need a phd in marketing to be succesful–it doesn’t come naturally to me at all. That said, in what way do you suppose your writing will change by deciding to sell to agents and publishing houses?

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    1. Well, Jen, the short answer is that my writing will be better edited. As most of us writers do, I have strengths and weaknesses in my writing. I get feedback from a few writer friends, which is immensely helpful, but I don’t think that’s a replacement for professional editing.

      What I don’t plan to do is write FOR a market. I’ve read three trad-pubbed women’s fiction books in as many weeks that are much like Brevity and Illusion, so I believe my next novel will fit firmly in that category too.

      Did I answer your question? 🙂

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  8. I agree with Ms. Hunsaker wholeheartedly. It isn’t about what we do or don’t do as far as marketing, it’s about writing the next book. I’ve heard 2-3, 4-6, 8-10 books before everything starts to get rosy. I’m in the same boat. I’ve done it all, writing, formatting, editing, (with the help of a few awesome crit partners) cover, marketing, all of it. It sucks. Big time. But it’s my job now too. I’m too Type-A to give that up to anyone else. We all know publishers don’t give anyone a marketing budget anymore. That goes to Nora Roberts, Steven King, James Patterson. But you know what I found, the one thing all those people have in common are the amount of books they’ve written. I don’t need the email that says Nora’s book is out. I’ll buy it when I’m ready. Marketing, in my opinion, is a waste of time. Blog tours don’t work. Twitter campaigns don’t work. The only thing that works in the long run is to just keep writing. Which I plan to do. Which you plan to do. I’m not sure you need the backing from a publisher to help you. You’ve already proven that you can do it all on your own. I think you just need to shut off the blogs and go back to the keyboard and remember when it was fun to write. That’s what I plan on doing. You can check out my other blog (the one no one follows and where I share my deeper feeling about writing) I’ve got a couple of posts you might want to read so you can see you’re not alone out there.

    http://robynnerandauthor.blogspot.com

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    1. I agree, Anne, that unless you’re extremely lucky, it takes a body of work to become a NAME. I understand the plan of having the next book ready for the reader who loves the first and then the second and so on. That’s what it takes no matter how your work is published.

      And yes, I know the marketing budget goes to the big names, but even the smallest names get professional editing, and a professionally designed cover, and professional printing, and professional distribution. I have ZERO budget, so I can provide NONE of that. So yes, I can write, edit, format, cobble together a cover, and upload to Amazon all by myself. But just the act of publishing 8, 10, 50 books doesn’t magically draw the readers to them. And if the first book never gets read, what does it matter how many others I’ve published?

      And maybe the fault is not in my method of publishing. Maybe the fault is in my writing, and if that’s so, what better way to find that out than to query agents?

      I do plan to return to the keyboard to write. What else can I do? The publishing question is moot if I don’t have a book written. And as I said, I have other things to write with the intent of self-publishing.

      I wish you all the success in the world, Anne, and I hope you’d say the same to me—even if I do go over to the dark side. 😉

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  9. “And maybe the fault is not in my method of publishing. Maybe the fault is in my writing, and if that’s so, what better way to find that out than to query agents?”
    Agents base their acceptance or rejection of a book on only one thing: whether they are able to sell it to a publisher and not necessarily if the writing is good or not. They are basically sales people not literary critics. Some are good judges of good writing, of course. Nothing against agents! But salability and good writing are not necessarily the same. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t query agents. But to think that an agent is the ultimately qualified judge of the quality of your writing is a HUGE mistake. I know you know that, but it helps keeping this in mind when you query. It takes the sting out of the rejection letters. However, if you find an agent and even a publisher and you are taken under the wings of a good editor, there is no doubt that this person can help you improve your writing. That is one of huge benefits of going the traditional way.

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    1. I understand what you’re saying, Christa, but I’ve been through this before, so I’m prepared for rejection. And because of what I write, most likely, I’ll have to query a LOT of agents before I find the right one—if ever. But I hope that if I query 300 agents and NONE of them thinks they can sell my book, by then I’ll have saved up enough money to hire a good editor to tell me whether the fault is in the business or my writing.

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  10. Linda, whether you’re on the dark, medium, or light side, I’ll always wish you the best with your writing. We women of a certain age have to stick together.

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