343 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, MN  55102

Ph: 952.807.3649      Fax:  952.314.4858

Email:  laurie.authorbiz@gmail.com

The Little Whisper. . ."Should I Just Self-Publish?"

In the vast land of author dilemmas there lives a persistent, harmful reflex thought that short circuits an author's patience for, and belief in, the traditional publishing process:  Maybe I should just self-publish.
At the moment this thought rolls through your brain, it's a relief. Relief from rejections, from the roller-coaster of hope and despair, from the seemingly endless stream of voices in The Publishing World saying You Are Not Good Enough For Us. You are not It.
But there is so much wrong with this thinking. For starters:

Book at sea

  1. No matter what a publisher rejection actually says, it is rarely meant to say You are not good enough for us. It is not personal, and this is critical for every author to accept. There may be problems with the writing, or the concept, or the market for this idea. But no one is saying YOU are not good enough to be published. Once you engage in the publishing process using a business mindset instead of a personality-contest perspective, you won't feel so beat up and the rejections will not sidetrack you.
  2. The submission process is as much a way of getting editor and agent input/feedback as it is for asking Do you want me or this book? You can find out if your positioning in the market makes sense to publishing people; if your premise is interesting to them; if there is competition in your area that you didn't know about, etc. Use the submission process for more than papering your office with letters. [I know what you're going to say about form letters! But when agents and editors have something to say, they will say it. I know many agents and editors who try to offer insights and suggestions.] 
  3. It isn't that a writer should never self-publish; it's that this decision should be intentionally made, not because you are frustrated with the publishing process. You always have the option to self-publish, but unless your goal is to be a Publisher, the self-publishing option should be left as your last option.

Traditional publishers have offered a compelling defense for themselves over the last two years:

Dominique Raccah, President and CEO of Sourcebooks and leading innovator in our industry, offering a must-read blog:  A Publisher's View of the Digital Transformation

Penny Sansevieri, CEO of Author Marketing Experts, Inc. is specific in her Huffington Post blog about what traditional publishing does NOT do: Understanding How the Traditional Publishing Model Works

Carole Baron, formerly of Knopf, emphasizes Ten Things an Editor Does for the Author:

  • Choosing the book
  • Negotiating the deal with the author or agent
  • Editing the book
  • Working with copy editing, design, and production
  • Writing jacket copy and catalog copy; work with the art director on the jacket
  • Positioning the book within the company as an advocate to sales and marketing
  • Being aware of what is happening in the publishing business so you can make informed decisions
  • Communicating to the author and agent what is happening to the book along the way.
  • When the book is published, cheering for the good reviews and commiserating for the bad ones (and explaining that even Jane Austen and Herman Melville got bad reviews).
  • Being there for the author's next book. 


"So before you, as a writer, decide to bypass the publisher and the editor, remember it is the role of the editor to be the author's advocate in the arduous publishing process so that the book will get the readership it deserves.

For those who have never worked behind the scenes in a publishing house or in a bookstore, it is impossible to fathom the multitude of things a publisher and sales force is doing for an author to launch that book into the world. The very least of it is printing it.

William Petrocelli, veteran bookseller from the San Francisco Bay Area wrote an extensive Huffington Post article on the absolute need for publishers and booksellers today, stating:

"Most authors work in isolation. Unless they are famous, there is ordinarily no ready market for the books they write. There may be a large potential readership, but the great majority of authors have no practical way to reach that audience. For the vast majority of writers, the cost of doing this would be prohibitive. This is where publishers and brick-and-mortar bookstores step in. Their principal role is to help authors reach readers that they aren't able to find on their own.Publishers are the key to this process, because they make it financially worthwhile for authors to spend their time and energy writing books. Most people think the publisher's major expenditure is the money they pay authors as an advance against royalties. But the advance is often a small part of the publisher's overall expenditure. Publishers pay for editors to suggest textual revisions and correct mistakes. They pay for text designers and cover designers for the book, and they employ other designers to create catalog copy, website information and promotional materials. They have publicists who arrange media appearances and author tours. They have printers, binders and shippers who get the book out to stores. They have web experts to convert the book into an e-book format. And they have sales people who call on book stores, go through the publisher's catalog page-by-page with the store buyer, and sing the praises of the books they really like."  read more

Random House has a Youtube called "Bringing Our Author's Books to Life." Do yourself a favor an watch it.

Bestselling author Peter Straub weighed in on self-publishing, talking to Edan Lepucki of The Millions:

"Most of the editors I have worked with over the past thirty-five years have made crucial contributions to the books entrusted to them, and the copy-editors have always, in every case, done exactly the same. They have enriched the books that came into their hands. Can you have good, thoughtful, creative editing and precise, accurate, immaculate copy-editing if you self-publish? And if you can’t, what is being said about the status or role of selflessness before the final form of the fiction as accepted by the audience, I mean the willingness of the author to submerge his ego to produce the novel that is truest to itself?"

This should help quiet the little voice whispering Just self-publish and be done with it. If you are passionate about your writing and your book, and believe you have a future in publishing, this would be a terrible waste. Instead, (1) Take a small break, (2) Rethink and study what has happened so far, to get some new ideas, (3) Send your work out to a whole new crowd of people. Try again.


Leave a comment. I love to hear your thoughts and questions.