Books, Opinion, Publish, Writing

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. “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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  2. 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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