To Self Publish or Not To Self Publish—That is the Question
When is it the best time to self publish and is there really a best time?
As a writer, when I started building my collection of literary works, especially lyrical poetry, I started to think more about how to market them. When I became more involved with literary centers, I learned from published writers the truth about specific markets. In regards to poetry, it was difficult to find a publisher, since poetry books were not a big commodity in bookstores. A lot of poems were published in magazines, journals, and newspapers. To write a poetry book would be more challenging to publish by a publishing company, although not impossible.
As the internet world grew bigger and social media became popular, self publishing was born. As far as poetry, many writers I spoke to emphasized how self publishing was a better market for poetry. That is a major reason why I chose that path for my lyrical poetry. Despite seeking self publishing for my poetry, that didn’t bring instant success (I decided to take them off the self publishing shelves as a result). I was an unknown writer–I still had to do the work of marketing, which many publishers do. In a sense, I had to be my own company.
I am still working on marketing, and it is something that I may likely seek advice from other seasoned writers. But as I continue to work on that, I am thinking about my stories. Is self publishing a better choice for them? Should I seek publishers first?
My take on the self publishing world is this: it may not be a better choice for everyone. To find success in self publishing, not only do you have to have a product that you feel is valuable and will be valuable to others, you have to market it so people know it exists. Simply having it for sale on line is not enough. There are so many books, published and self published, out there that can drown your book into the deep depths. You have to have the dedication and patience to work with the marketing tools you have—best ones I know are social media, but there are others like joining writing communities where you can attend events and classes—network, have book readings, etc.
Knowing when to self publish will be dependent on some of these things:
- Have seeking traditional publishers failed?
- Is my book’s subject, theme, and style, sought in the publisher’s market?
- Do I have my own audience—have I built an audience already?
- Is being independent and proactive my strengths?
- Do I have the time and patience?
- Do I have the funds to create, market my book, and seek needed resources (i.e. editors)?
There may be other things to consider and you don’t need to possess all of these to know if self publishing is best for your work. It is important though to have most of these things in mind.
To go more into depth with these points…
1. Have seeking publishers failed?
Especially in regards to stories, but poetry can be considered for this too, it helps to make a deadline in your mind of how long you are going to seek publishers for your work. If you really believe that your work can find a publisher, you may seek publishers for many months, even a few years. The best thing to do, if you believe your work can find a publisher, is to exhaust all of your sources. Send your work to all the appropriate publishers you can find. Possibly resend work to publishers who didn’t get back to you (wait awhile to do this), or make revisions and resend work to publishers who showed some interest (the ones who encourage to you do make revisions).
2. Is my book’s subject, theme, and style, sought in the publisher’s market?
Sometimes finding a publisher for your work may seem impossible or the options may be limited or nonexistent. Your work’s subject may not be what’s popular now or its style may be a completely new concept. Personally, I think work that is out of the norm, or simply not popular or widely sought, are the ones most likely to have success. If you write about things or write in a way that is out of the norm, you definitely should not be afraid to publish it. Even if there are a handful of publishers who published your work, it doesn’t hurt to send your work to them and see if even one will be interested.
3. Do I have my own audience—have I built an audience already?
One thing I learned from the writing business classes I attended is the best way to get publishers to sign a new writer is for them to have an already established audience. This is obvious because by having an audience, there is already a group of potential buyers. The best way to build an audience is to have a site, such as a website or blog. You can also have social media sites, like Facebook or Twitter. As long as you have something that can connect people from around the world to your work, you can start building an audience. For writers, I think it is a good idea to have a website or blog, because you can create a place to showcase your work.
4. Is being independent and proactive my strengths?
If you are one who tends to procrastinate or find yourself too busy, it may be difficult or at least take a while to get started on marketing your work. In this case self publishing may not be the best choice. Seeking publishers does take a bit of proactiveness, but you can be flexible in when you send query letters to them and seeking publishers is often a waiting game—waiting to hopefully hear back from them. If you are fortunate to get a publisher, they will likely direct you on what to do and they will take care of most of the marketing. All the work is not in your hands.
5. Do I have the time and patience?
I like to say that self publishing is perfect for people who have flexibility or time. Some time will need to be invested in getting the word out there that your work exists. Success in marketing will not happen overnight and depending on how much time you put into marketing, it may take months to see results. But with patience, success is inevitable. I have yet to see a writer who has diligently worked hard in marketing their work fail.
6. Do I have the funds to create, market my book, and seek needed resources (i.e. editors)?
When deciding to self publish, funds will be necessary, though not as much depending on what you want to market and how you want to market it. For books, you may want an illustrative cover that depicts the story or theme of the book—that book cover may be elaborate and you may want to hire an illustrator if you are not an illustrator or drawer yourself. You also may want to seek an editor for your work to make sure it is free of errors and makes sense. You may want to purchase copies of your book to sell in person if you are one who goes to many events or have readings. Whatever the case, these funds will come out of your pocket if you are self publishing, since most publishers will provide those services in hopes they will recoup the money back through successful sales.
When considering these things and more, if is up to you, the writer, to decide how you want to market your work. In this day and age, there is no one way to successfully get your book heard by the world. Many have found great success self publishing and publishing. Quite possibly the best way of deciding what to do will come down to how much you believe in your work and what you can invest in getting your work known.