Self Publishing…is it the right choice for you?

This post is a continuation of my post of May 15. This article appeared in a long form in Publishing and was written by Jerry Jenkins, a NY Times best selling author. I have shortened it a bit.

1.When Self-Publishing Makes Sense

I’ve (Jerry Jenkins) made it my life’s work to coach writers to get their writing to a level where they can market it to traditional publishers. You’ll rarely see me suggest self-publishing as a first option.

So, when would I suggest it?

  • When your book does not have wide commercial appeal. Traditional publishers cannot accept books of interest to only several hundred friends and relatives. I self-published two volumes of my late father’s poetry, as well as a short biography of my wife’s grandmother, who lived to be 101.
  • When you need to be published for the sake of your career. You may be a professor under a publish-or-perish mandate. Or you may be an expert in some esoteric science or discipline in which it behooves you to have books available at speaking events.
  • When you have exhausted all traditional publishing avenues and realize that either your subject matter or your writing quality will never be favored by traditional publishers, yet you remain determined to be published.

In that last case, if you choose the self-publishing route, be prepared to spend as much as it takes to get a final product that looks as much as possible like a traditionally published book. If you’re not willing or able to spend that much, at least have someone edit and proofread your book.

And realize that the responsibility of promotion and marketing and sales will fall entirely on you. You’ll either do it yourself, or you will pay for it.

Before You Settle for Self-Publishing

If you’re having trouble landing an agent or a traditional publisher, take a hard look at the writing itself. Weak writing is the #1 cause of rejections.

And cream always rises. So do whatever is necessary to make your writing cream.

The Truth about Agents and Publishers

They aren’t looking for reasons to reject your manuscript. Though the best agents and editors can tell within five minutes whether your manuscript is publishable, they want you to succeed.

If your first few pages aren’t error-free or don’t grab the reader by the throat, agents and editors immediately know it’ll be far too labor-intensive (expensive) for an editor to clean up.

(If you’re wondering how to clean up your own manuscript to give it the best chance with an agent or a traditional publisher, my ultimate self-editing guide will get you started.)

That’s why the goal of this blog and my Writers Guild is to give you what you need to take your writing to the next level. Ideally, I want to see you shop your writing to literary agents and traditional publishing houses.

I Confess…

Despite holding for decades my current view of self-publishing, I did waver a few years ago and even offered self-publishing packages through my former guild. I heard enough writers complain that they found it impossible to break into traditional publishing. And enough traditional publishers admit that the odds were growing longer against new writers.

I believed I had seen the light and developed a self-publishing package that did little but prove to me in the end that I had been right all along. No one seemed to be able to afford a self-publishing package that included everything that I insisted would make it reputable.

I wound up publishing several of my colleagues, who largely resurrected and updated out-of-print traditional titles. Bookstores accepted these because well-known writers’ names were on them, as was mine.

That proved to be my short-lived attempt at doing something credible in that market. I was left feeling the need to post a blog like this.

So, My Advice to You

  • Give yourself to the craft
  • Hone your writing skills
  • Read everything you can about writing, including my idea of the best books on writing
  • Exhaust all efforts to get your writing quality to the level where you can compete for a traditional book contract

That may seem like only a dream right now. But if you apply yourself, you might be surprised at your results by this time next year.

If you do opt for self-publishing, there are some good, reputable companies out there. But do yourself a favor and read this revealing book before you sign a contract: Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should (Updated Second Edition)

Though I disagree that “you should,” aside from certain circumstances, the chapter on vanity presses alone (especially some associated with established traditional publishing houses) is a must-read.

Many of these have been under investigation for failing to pay writers, overcharging, and otherwise taking advantage of newbie authors.

My Bottom Line

This post is not intended to start an argument or even a discussion on the pros and cons of self-publishing. It reflects my view, and those who vehemently disagree are entitled to theirs.

But even if you are in that camp, let’s agree on this: Regardless the method of publishing you choose, your reader deserves quality writing. Self-publishing is no excuse for less than your absolute best effort.

Have you had good or bad experiences in self-publishing? Tell me in the Comments.

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