Blogger: Mary Keeley
This past week I had an ongoing exchange with a writer about the potential benefits and cautions of self-publishing when there is no offer of a contract from a traditional publisher. Of course, I advised him the all-important factor to consider must be the long-term effect this decision may have on his career.
I offered him a hypothetical situation as an example:
Ann is a debut author with a well-crafted novel or nonfiction manuscript. She invested in a professional edit; it’s publication-ready. However, traditional publishers think something in her book is too far outside their comfort zone and don’t want to take the risk. Or, the timing isn’t right. She is getting rejections because publishers’ calendar slots for her specific genre are filled for the next two years. Or, a multi-published author has just released the first book in a series that is too similar to hers. Editors at all the traditional publishing houses know her book won’t sell well against that level of competition.
In this case Ann has a decision to make. She could set the manuscript aside and start over on another book. That’s a painful choice. After all, she invested many hours, much passion, and money in it. Still, when she looks at it from a long-term career perspective, it might be her best option in the current market.
The other option is for Ann to consider self-publishing her book. Disclaimer: I’m not advocating one option over the other because every author’s situation is unique. But if Ann leans toward taking the self-publishing route, there are important factors I’d advise her to evaluate first:
- She needs to do thorough research with self-publishers and get recommendations to find one that doesn’t require a large upfront fee. That might not be a problem for a high-profile author, because he or she has an established audience and sure book sales. But a new or relatively unknown author like Ann won’t have that assurance, making it unlikely she’ll recoup her financial investment. Most small self-publishers don’t offer multiple marketing and distribution streams to promote books.
- She can’t assume she’ll sell boatloads of her book among the sea of books and eBooks on Amazon. How will potential readers know to look for her and her book? I’d suggest she take inventory of her social media strength before making any commitment. Rather than giving upfront money to a self-publisher to get her book published right away, she might be wiser to invest it in a social media expert who will help her maximize her online presence. Such an expert would advise her how to design her website and focus her blog and social media to attract a larger, growing audience for her book and her brand. This may feel like a step backward. But in the long-term view it could be the best choice for Ann.
Because good sales are key to getting your next contract.
I have received many interesting proposals listing previously published and self-published books that, sadly, had poor sales. Unfortunately, it will be difficult to recover and attract an agent or editor in the future.
Still, it isn’t impossible. I want to end on an encouraging note: “…but with God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). I don’t know what the writer will decide to do, but I hope I armed him with information that will help him to make the right decision…for him.
What do you think you would do if you were in Ann’s situation? If you experienced something similar, what did you learn from the occurrence?