self-publishing means asking for a lot of favors

In the forums of the online writer’s group I belong to, there are many, many threads about traditional vs. self-publishing. I’ve been a member of the group for almost a year now, and I have seen a gradual shift in thinking there. When I first joined, the general tone was anti-indie. Much of the talk was about how much crap is self-published, sort of like: “those who can write well: publish traditionally; those who can’t: self-publish.” But lately there are more self-publishers speaking up, and more beginning writers questioning if traditional is the right choice. So that now, the ‘self pub vs. traditional’ forum discussions are more like an actual discussion (not an argument) about pros and cons of each type.

One of the “pros”  for self-publishing that comes up often is control. As a self-publisher, you are (theoretically) in control of the entire writing-to-publishing process. I am sure I have even perpetuated this idea. But the longer I spend self-publishing, the more I realize it is simply not true. Well, not completely true, anyway.

I write whatever I want. I don’t choose my topics based on calls for submissions or on ‘what’s hot right now’. So I guess I am in control of that. But for almost every other step, I have to depend on other people.

The first hurdle are beta readers. I am lucky to have some great betas, and they are pretty quick to read and respond. But usually I try to get a few new readers for each story, so that I can get fresh opinions. And here’s how that goes: for every ten betas who respond- at least two ignore my follow-up e-mail. Of the remaining eight to whom I send my MS-  at least four will probably have some kind of last minute thing, or not realize that my story was about gay men, or simply not reply after receiving the story.  From the four or less who do respond- I’ll get varying degrees of feedback, over a wide time frame. Sometimes, I’ll get a response weeks or even months later. I want to be clear that I am grateful for those who do give feedback, and I realize they are doing me a favor. But I think you can see it is a tedious process, which sometimes involves thinly veiled begging.

The next step is editors. Again, it is a process. There have been those who won’t work with stories in my genre. Those who do I send a sample to, and sometimes they never respond to that, or they do but it takes so long I know I don’t want to work with them. The biggest problem with editors I have is they tend to be rude. I guess judging people’s writing all day can make you feel superior, or something? Anyway, if someone can tell me how to rearrange a sentence so it is not constructed passively, but they can’t formulate a polite e-mail, I pass. Long story short: finding an editor is another long process during which I am completely at the mercy of other people and I feel like everyone is doing me a favor (even though I’m paying them).

Cover art is easier, because I make my own. So no favors, but a lot of self-doubt.

Review blogs are the last step, and for me the most difficult. First I have to get up the nerve to ask for a review. Then I have to face the reality that of every five blogs I send my story to, I’ll be lucky if one reviews it. Again, I’m asking for a favor, and I am grateful for those who review me.

Pricing, and posting my work to sales channels like Amazon or Barnes&Noble, is in my control. So that’s good.

And lastly, the biggest favor: I ask (indirectly) for people to buy my book, to write reviews, and to tell their friends. Which means I literally beg (I mean “promote”) on facebook, twitter, this blog, and promo sites. It is technically easy, but emotionally exhausting.

At least three times during the process of getting my story to market, I consider giving up. I literally will say out loud to myself “FUCK THIS SHIT!!!” and probably chase that thought with some adult beverages.

But I haven’t given up yet. Because when you spend all day asking for favors, sometimes people say “yes”, and sometimes those people turn out to be awesome.

If you are one of the awesome people who has done a favor for me, or for another self-published author out there: THANK YOU! Really. Thank you so very much. You have no idea what an influence your kindness might have had on someone like me, who was possibly at the end of their rope, barely hanging on. Thank you.

6 thoughts on “self-publishing means asking for a lot of favors

  1. I’m glad to hear that there’s been a gradual shift in thinking in your writers’ forum on the costs/benefits of both publishing avenues. There are high quality and low quality books produced each way. I have also appreciated reading about your experience as a self-published author. I’ll probably go the self-published route at some point, but I’ve only done step 1-3 of the process (manuscript, betas, and editor) and haven’t figured out where I’ll go from there. I’m strongly leaning toward the self-published route primarily because I have no intention of giving up my “day job” and so I just don’t have the time to be a traditionally published author. Both ways are time-consuming, but at least the self-published route is on my own terms. I don’t have the time to search for an agent and, if I’m *lucky,* deal with all the bull from a publisher. A couple of my friends in real life have traditionally published books this year, and the amount of time they have spent promoting their books is unbelievable. It makes me think that they have to ask for just as many favors as the self-published author all while being afraid that they won’t live up to their publishers’ expectations. I’d rather only have to live up to my own expectations. The trick is making sure that my own expectations are realistic.

    • Good point about traditional publishing. I guess that is an important thing to remember – that at least when it’s all said and done, I only have myself to please. No one will be disappointed in me, no one is expecting anything of me, no one is pushing me. So perhaps working with a publisher would add more pressures to an already difficult process? I still intend to try to work with a publisher eventually, on at least one project, just to see how it goes.
      Rest assured that if (or when) that happens, I will document my experiences here 🙂

  2. Great post. The idea of self publishing scares me because of the technical aspects. I can’t even design a website lol. So the idea of sorting the cover, knowing how to actually put a book on Amazon etc. It all makes me feel like it is this massive mountain that I don’t know if I can climb. But I do think there are a lot of good things that come with it if you can master these issues. And of course you have the control! Which – as an utter control freak – sounds great. And there are some fantastic self published authors, as a reader a book being self published would never put me off.

    • It kind of is a lot to do, but no step is actually difficult. Some tedious, some annoying, but none really hard. Definitely a lot easier than designing a website.

      For me the hardest part is just being alone. But having a good crit group has helped a ton 🙂

      I was just chatting with another self-pubber today and we agreed that one of the best things is being in control of updating your books. I can change my cover, correct typos, add new back-copy, or whatever at any time. So there are lots of benefits to doing it.

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