If you’re reading this, you’re probably either trying to make a decision about this troubling topic, or wanting to justify one already made. Is traditional publishing or self-pub the better way to go?
I can’t answer that FOR you. But having seen both sides of that electrified, double-razor-wire-covered fence, I can give you my experience as to how this decision played out for me, and hopefully help you to get to where you want to be. Wherever that is…
My story? I wrote a novel (duh).
I wrote the book for me – as a history of what transpired within my world of fantasy (Dungeons & Dragons). A coworker asked to read it and, fearing rejection, I initially said no. I eventually acquiesced and printed him a copy. He loved it and convinced me I needed to do something with it. But what? Before the book was complete, I had briefly tried the ‘traditional’ method. I sent out a few (four?) queries, and was summarily rejected. “Finish the book,” I was told.
I did. In the vein of putting my best foot forward, I decided I needed someone to edit my novel. But a professional editor was prohibitively expensive. Pay someone $2,000+ to read my book and tell me how screwed up I was? That seemed a bit backwards.
After much frustration, I almost gave up. Then another friend recommended I try Craigslist. I did and found a ‘professional’ editor for much less money. I contracted him, and a month later, I had an ‘edited’ manuscript. I was again pondering my query options when he also recommended I look into self-publishing. What’s this? I had never heard of such a thing! He helped me hire a graphic artist and boom! I had a book ready for the big time! He (for more fees, of course) formatted and then uploaded them for me to all the usual places (still more fees). I was a published author!
Not exactly. Anyone with enough money can get anything they have written put up for sale. Good, bad, and otherwise. Published? Sort of. I was of the mind, “if you write it, they will come (or buy it).” I have a large family; I thought I would hit the best seller list in under a week. That background noise you hear? Crickets. My family bought copies, but only after I laid a guilt-trip on them. I was even told the book was really good. Not so much.
I had been in such a hurry to get the book out there that I didn’t proof it before going to print. I approved – or disapproved – my editor’s corrections and sent it back to him for formatting. The book was a disaster. There were places sentences ended mid-thought. No punctuation. Too much punctuation. A mess. When I discovered this, I was so embarrassed I pulled the book off the market.
Again I almost gave up. And then I heard about some of those self-publishing houses that would help me get my name out there and market my book. I did weeks of exhaustive research and finally selected one. I proofed my book and made many changes. Then I paid this new company a ton of money and soon I was again a published author! I sat back and waited for the money to roll in and the agents to call. After all, I was showing initiative and that I trusted my work, right?
Well, the phone didn’t ring and the only books I sold were the ones I bought. However, the marketing part of the package hadn’t begun yet. Surely that was going to ignite the sales. It’s how that E.L. James guy did it. I could do it, too!
And then I attended DFWcon6 on the advice of a family member and everything changed…
Editor’s note: Stay tuned for the next installment of this three-part series – coming soon!