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. 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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  2. 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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  3. 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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  4. 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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