The Trials and Excitements of Self-Publishing

So, I’ve discovered one of the trials of self publishing (although that term has derogatory overtones in the industry; surely ‘unsigned’ would be more appropriate?). I am spending more time on marketing and promoting my work than I am on writing the next piece.

It’s a situation that makes a mockery of the argument that publishing houses are outdated. That argument suggests that publishers are just printers with fancy offices, but of course they are so much more. I’m lucky enough to have a great editor (one of the many things publishers can organize), but there’s still the overwhelming ‘Everything Else’ to deal with.

Publishers are primarily marketers and distributors. To deal with the latter first, the current self-publishing model means you can easily get your work onto the websites of Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble and such, but this is a far cry from walking into one of their stores and seeing you book for sale on the shelf. Plus there’s the army of independent book stores across the country. No one person can establish a personal relationship with each store and convince them to stock their books. Publishing houses have the resources and connections that allow them to achieve this on your behalf.

And then there’s the marketing. Blogging, tweeting, facebooking and such are all things I would be doing if I were signed to a publisher. Without one I’m also talking to people to get them to write reviews, I’m building a readership one person at a time, I’m arranging cover art, I’m calculating book jacket and bleed sizes, I’m talking to independent book stores about having them stock my books.

Self-publishing is running your own business, albeit one with even greater opportunity for self-importance and delusions of grandeur than normal. Because of this I’m also having to carefully consider what are the most cost effective ways of selling my books. For example, a complex, media-rich website that draws people in and generates press would be incredible, but I don’t have the time or resources to build it.

It would be fantastic if I could engage a marketing agency to generate interest in my books and drive sales, but that would be a huge overhead. This is the kind of things that a publisher can do to you; they have the time and resources to do all of this and more if they feel they can sell your work in sufficient numbers.

And as much as every author wants to be read and enjoyed, that’s what it always comes down to; selling units.

Technology is just now giving writers the freedom that it gave to musicians five or ten years ago. Established acts like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have left the record labels, and artists such as Amanda Palmer have built a fan base and reputation through connecting online directly with listeners.

And whilst all of the above are things I do that aren’t writing, I’m finding that I’m enjoying them enormously. Yes, writing is my favorite part of the process, but being able to get hands-on in everything else is fantastic.

If any of the above sounded like complaint, it really wasn’t intended to be. The whole process is fascinating and as tempting as it is to think that all of this is getting in the way of writing, it is actually facilitating it. Would it be easier to do all this if I had a publisher? Undoubtedly. But I could quite possibly put as much time and effort into promoting myself to publishers as I do into promoting myself to potential readers. And talking to readers seems to be much more fun.
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3 thoughts on “The Trials and Excitements of Self-Publishing

  1. You are right in so many ways.Even the thought of having to go to so many lenghts and promote your own work can be a tremendous setback to carry on writing and quite frustrating too.I have a lot of ideas and complicated plots in my head but i could never actually write, i think, & that is why i admire & respect you and your effort.Marketing techniques via internet are plentiful but unfortunately you have to read a lot and be quite a pc expert to operate them on your own.Trust me,I know because that's what my Thesis @college was all about…Still…surveys show that people more or less still make their choices through word of mouth.W.O.M holds a lot of power and a great deal of companies include it in any promotive projects of theirs.Your strategy is right.Reaching out to your readers one by one is simple and straightforward.I can point out some websites with marketing techniques should you like.
    I hope my comment didn't bore you to death,and i also hope that you did make sense because as my tutors always said ''my essay was a disarray of ideas''!
    I wish all the best!


  2. Great post! As a professor in Seton HIll's MFA, I teach a class about building author platforms/brands. I have a few students who either are self published, planning on self publishing, or interested in self publishing. I'm definitely going to send them the way of this post so they can hear your very honest experience.

    This is a great post and best of luck with everything. Have you read VanderMeer's Booklife? It's a great help w/understanding self promotion.


  3. Thanks to you both for your feedback! It’s encouraging to know that I’m not the only one working my way through this. I had wondered if I was just complaining about things on my blog and people would read it, rolling their eyes and wishing I’d shut up & get on with it.

    Stacey, word of mouth is exactly how I’m trying to promote things, but it’s a process that involves a very slow start.

    Nicole, I haven’t read that but I’ll add it to my reading list!

    Thanks again to you both. Oh, and please tell your friends 🙂


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