I have a confession to make: I was a book snob. I thought that the only books that were self-published were the ones that weren’t good enough for a traditional publishing deal. There was no way that I would be self-publishing my book! Until it came time to find an agent. Was my book good enough for a traditional deal? Yes. Would I get an agent and secure a publishing contract? That was in the lap of the gods, or so said my editor.
Getting a traditional publishing deal isn’t as simple as writing a good book. There are so many factors that come into play. It’s like waiting for all the planets to come into alignment.
First of all, you have to get an agent to read your submission. Secondly, they have to like the snippet that you’ve provided enough to ask for more. Thirdly, they have to feel strongly enough about you and your work that they want to represent you. Fourthly, they have to be in a position that they can represent you. Fifthly, their personality has to gel with yours. I’ve probably missed out some steps here, but you get the point—it’s not as easy as sending off an email and landing yourself a deal.
Okay, so you have an agent. Now you need an editor. Another person in the chain. The process starts again. They have to like your book. They have to be in the position to acquire it. Their personality has to gel with yours. Your voice has to be unique enough, your story compelling enough, to be worth taking a risk on. They have to believe that you and your book are going to make the publisher money. And if you don’t already have a name for yourself and millions of Twitter followers champing at the bit to buy your book? Then your risk rating just gets even bigger.
So why did I chose self-publishing? There are many reasons, the main ones being: I’m an unknown, and I have no connections to publishing. That means waiting for the planets to align. Even if I’m lucky, it would be a good three years at least before my book hits the shelves.
Self-publishing has enabled me to get my book out there within a matter of months. I’ve used the time that I would otherwise have spent trying to secure a publishing deal to send my book out into the world and to start working on new material.
Self-publishing has enabled me to keep creative control. I value the feedback that I have received from my editor and my first readers. My book wouldn’t be what it is today without their thoughtful comments. But there was never a pressure to change anything that I had written. I could do what I thought was right for my book, and there was no contract hanging over my head. Furthermore, I’ve been afforded the luxury that many traditionally published authors don’t get—I’ve been involved in the process of designing the cover. I was able to take my ideas to an artist and to work with her to create a design that I love.
Another benefit of self-publishing is that it has taught me a lot about the process of publishing a book. I knew very little when I first started, and I’m certain that there is a lot for me to learn, but this experience has forced me to think, to take an active role and to speak up. Had I gone the traditional route, I would most likely have sat back and deferred to people with greater knowledge. As an author, that wouldn’t have been in the best interest of my book.
Perhaps my biggest lesson is that being an author is so much more than just writing. Writing the book is only the first step. A successful author also needs to know how to market the book, how to generate sales, how to create a fanbase, how to work with other people, how to promote herself. For an introvert, all of this can feel unnatural, but it is necessary if I want to make the leap from writer to author.
Finally, self-publishing doesn’t rule out the option of being traditionally published in the future. Instead, it gives me the opportunity to build a readership, and hopefully to show to publishers that I am worth taking a risk on.
I have a confession to make: I’m still a bit of a book snob. But now I don’t see self-publishing as some inferior path for inferior books. It’s just different. It has its advantages and its disadvantages, just like traditional publishing. Given my situation, I think it was the right decision for me at this time.
Do I still dream of the traditional publishing deal? Yes—if the traditional deal can help my stories to reach more readers. After all, I am a writer, and I want my stories to be read (and hopefully enjoyed).