Self-Publishing, to wait or not to wait…

In my last installment on the concept of waiting in a writer’s life, I wanted to address self-publishing.

There are plenty of good, successful self-published books out there. There are also a lot of unpolished, error-filled drafts, which people rush to publication before the manuscript is ready.

Here’s some thoughts I would encourage those interested in self-publishing to think about before they shell out the money and put their work into the world.

First: Why self-publishing? If you don’t want to deal with large publishing houses, loss of control over your work, and finding an agent, then self-publishing may be a great way to go. If your work is quirky, cross-genre, or unusual in some way, and you’re hearing “this is a great manuscript, but it doesn’t fit into any of the categories we handle” then self-publishing may be the only way to go. Lastly, if you’re wanting only a few copies for friends and family, as a “hobby” or a one-time product, like a family genealogy or something specific to a very small group of people, then self-publishing will do exactly what you need.

But, before you make that decision, there’s a few things to consider. The first is, have you looked at small independent presses? These are not the same as self-publishing outfits. Independent presses are NOT part of the big conglomerates, they are boutique, often specialized, publishers with the same submission, editing, and support process as a big name publisher (except you don’t usually need an agent to submit). They may have fewer resources than a big publishing house, but they still put out a polished, professional product. Authors working with an independent publishing house will have an editor, through rewrites if needed and the all important line-edit for that final error-proof copy. There will be support for finding cover artwork, layout, and some level of PR. This will vary from house to house, but keep in mind, first time authors don’t often get a lot of support from the big houses for PR, so that’s not a guarantee regardless of the size of the publisher. Lastly, the author won’t have to foot the bill for production. And, while Independent publishers typically don’t pay out a big advance like one of the big houses, they will pay some advance, and often pay a higher percentage as sales continue over the life of a book.

Independent presses are more likely to take risks with genre, style, and new authors, in part because they DON’T pay out those huge advances, so they aren’t on the hook for all the books that don’t sell.

It’s true, you do have to go through a submission process with an Independent press. They may turn you down. You do have to wait while they consider your manuscript. Many of them require exclusive time with your material, so you can only submit to one at a time. This, I would argue, may be time well spent waiting. If they say yes, you’re work will be in experienced, professional hands.

If, however, you still want to self-publish, I say, yay you! Take control of your writing and make your work available to the public. There’s nothing wrong with that — but I caution you to take your time, even with your own “process.”

Have you truly proofed your material enough? If you’ve been the only reader, I can almost guarantee you that the answer is no. The first option open to you is to get those all-important beta-readers. Find a group of people who are willing to read your material, and give you solid, honest feedback. Make sure they are people who understand writing. They should have skills as proofreaders for typos/grammar errors, but also big picture concepts, such as story arcs and character development.

If you have these people in your life (writers groups are a great place to start) make sure you are clear with them about what you need. Ask them to look for specific issues, and explain how you’d like notes.  Even if all you want to know is “did you enjoy the book” — it’s still helpful for your beta readers to know what will help you. Then, take all their notes! You don’t have to use them, but be thankful you’ve got people who will do this for you. It’s up to you how to use the info they give you, but hopefully you’ve chosen these individuals because you trust them, so listen to what they have to say.

Take the time to think about their feedback, even if you don’t agree at first. I have discovered over the years, the feedback I most disagree with to begin with, is the most important feedback I get, I just have to take the time to figure out why.

Then, make sure someone, other than you, does the final line edit. Even professional editors have trouble finding mistakes in their own work. We’re just too close to it. If you don’t know anyone with those kind of skills, get yourself professional help to do that final edit of your book.

Putting the time in at the end of your writing process to polish your material will pay off in the long run. You will be happier with the final product, and so will your readers.

Writing is a marathon, not a foot race. We all want our work published and on a shelf, real or virtual, so I understand the impulse to publish TODAY! But you’ve worked long and hard on your manuscript, waiting just a little longer while you make it the best you can, will be the icing on the cake.

and we all love cake!

Elena Hartwell

Author and developmental editor.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Ma well

    Informative, clear, helpful, helps in making a decision, includes what to consider about yourself, and the touch of humor. Sherry Hartwell, a devoted follower.

  2. Anonymous

    It is a marathon- that is such a great reminder! Great post!

  3. rachel

    So what would be the best way of finding a competent, reputable editor?

  4. Elena Hartwell

    Rachel, this is a great question. Because other people may be interested, I'm going to do a post on it. Check back soon.

Comments are closed.