Why you should not self-publish

From Rick:

Okay. That sounds strange coming from us. Regular readers of this blog know that Scott and I are very much pro self-publishing. So, why would we tell you why you shouldn’t?

Actually, this blog post is not me telling you not to self-publish. It’s a list of dumb reasons I’ve heard others say why it’s a bad idea, plus I’m including a few legitimate reasons why it might really be a bad idea for some authors to self-publish, at least right away.

DUMB REASON #1: I’ve heard some established authors (and some agents) claim that you can’t call yourself an author unless you’ve been published by a “real” publisher. These folks still honestly believe–even with some established authors turning to self-publishing for some of their previously rejected works–that without that publisher validation stamp, your piece isn’t worthy.

Let’s examine this faulty logic. First off, how do you define a “real” publisher? Publishers range from the Big Guys in New York to moderate-sized ones, to small presses. And there are myriad small presses out there. What’s interesting is that no Board of Professional Publishers exists to certify the quality of the releases from a publisher. Are we to believe that the acceptance of a manuscript by a publisher automatically means it’s worthy and that rejected ones are not? I’ve known a few small presses that really do turn out mediocre material. Fairly consistently. So, this is okay, while self-publishing isn’t?

DUMB REASON #2: Recently I ran across an author who felt that self-publishing was unfair. I paraphrase: Unless an author has suffered the battle scars and agony of dozens of rejection letters from agents and publishers, then that author hasn’t earned the right to self-publish.

I’ve heard of a few authors who were accepted on their first submission. Did they not deserve to be published? And how many rejections are necessary for validation of one’s worthiness for publication?

DUMB REASON #3: If you self-publish, no real publisher will ever take you seriously, so you’re killing any future writing career you might have. This argument was buried years ago. Yet, some established authors still believe and espouse it–mostly authors who have led sheltered lives, I expect. (Oh yes, there are still some who haven’t kept up on the trends in self-publishing and who dismiss it as a passing fad.) Even the Big Guys in New York have realized that they can mine some gold from self-published works.

It’s sad that some authors adamantly believe that you can’t make money from self-publishing and that you’re a failure unless you are traditionally published.

DUMB REASON #4: The public won’t take you seriously if you self-publish. Tell that to the John Locke, Amanda Hocking, and the other stars of self-publishing, whose numbers are growing daily. I should also add that readers generally don’t pay any attention to the publisher. To most, a book is either good or it’s not good. We’ve all seen our share of traditionally published books that made us wonder why they were published.

DUMB REASON #5: Self-published authors are cutting into the profits of the traditionally published authors.

I really love this recent article: The Huffington Post–The Changing Self-Publishing Stigma

Well, of course they are. But so are other traditionally published authors competing with each other. That’s the nature of a competitive market. I don’t hear authors complaining that another bestselling author is giving them unfair competition.

I’m sure I could find a couple more dumb reasons why you shouldn’t self-publish, but those are the big ones trolling around out there.

Seriously, though, there are some legitimate, not-so-dumb reasons why you should not self-publish.

LEGIT REASON #1: You’re only writing to make money. I’m going to limit this to fiction because authors of some instructional books and textbooks, and tell-all books whose principal goal is simply to make money. While I applaud the fiction author who has only monetary compensation in mind, I question those authors’ sincerity about writing. It’s a fact that few authors make it big with just one or two books. Full-time authors are generally in it for the money, but again, I’m talking about those starting out. You should write (as most authors do) because you want to write and because you have a story to tell that you believe others will enjoy. If the money follows, that’s fine. But if you go into self-publishing expecting to make it big, you could be disappointed. Some self-published authors are quite happy with enough additional income to pay their monthly rent or mortgage.

LEGIT REASON #2: You’ve always wanted to write a novel, and you’re sure you can do it, but you have no idea if your work is any good. BEFORE you decide to self-publish your darling, make certain it truly is worthy writing. Find several people you trust to give you an honest opinion. Tell them you don’t want them to pull any punches. The, LISTEN TO THEM! If you’re hearing a consistent set of comments, that usually indicates there’s truth in what they’re saying. As much as you might want to write a novel, don’t embarrass (and disappoint) yourself if you don’t have the skills to pull it off. You can learn how to write well, but you’re going to have to work at it.

Also be aware that just because you’ve read a lot of books and are sure you can write as well as–or better than–the authors you’re reading, you still need to have outsiders check it out.

You must also recognize–as many have said before me–that writing is a BUSINESS and that you must take charge of the promotional aspects as well. If you expect that you can simply publish and sit back while the sales roll in, you are seriously deluded, and you should not self-publish. Even traditionally published authors need to promote themselves. Almost no authors are ever able to passively do nothing while their sales magically happen.

LEGIT REASON #3: You actually know that your grammar and writing suck, but you tell yourself that it won’t matter, that people will buy your book because “it’s a great story.” This is not a reason not to self-publish, merely a reason why you need to engage knowledgeable people to help you turn your idea into good writing.

Scott and I totally encourage writers to self-publish their work. But as we constantly tell you here, if you want your readers to take you seriously as an author, you must have a top-quality product from start to finish. Otherwise, it will fall into that “literary karaoke” category mentioned in the Huffington Post article above.

Therefore, go forth and self-publish. But do it for the right reasons, and don’t listen to those warning you against it for any of the dumb reasons listed above. When you self-publish, be confident and believe in your writing. Read all you can by the experts and by those who have gone before you so that you know what to expect. And be ready to work your ass off promoting it!


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