Thursday, August 26, 2010

Do You Want to Jump the Fence?: Part 1 of Why Self-Publishing Is Better Than You Think

Fences. In writing there may be no fences, but in publishing, there is no mistaking their presence. Fences and gates. Think of it this way: two corrals leading to the same pristine, beautiful pasture. The corrals are exactly the same. And, let me state this again: they lead to the exact same pasture.

Today I’m talking about a very sticky subject, one that I’ve seen people arguing about quite passionately. I’m not here to say that self-publishing is better than traditional publishing or the other way around. I do not feel in any way that one could possibly be any better than the other. Want to know why? Because, once again, they lead to the exact same pasture. The only difference is how you get there. Some might argue that the pasture is different, that self-publishing isn’t publishing at all, but I’ll tell you what - getting your work out there for sale, marketing it, seeing people read it, rate it, love it, hate it, talk about it - that’s publishing. If you deny that, you’re on some sort of crack.Traditional. Self. I'd like to try both, thank you very much. The beautiful thing is that I can.

And let’s get this out of the way up front: both traditional and self-publishing are capable of putting out a piece of crap.

Traditional publishing is often looked at as a filter for the written word. You have to get “approved,” in a way, before your work is put out there. Someone has to UNLOCK that gate leading to the coveted pasture. This is the best way for many writers, and I can understand why.

Self-publishing is often looked at as cheating, and that cheating can produce some really bad stuff because it didn’t go through the filter. Nobody unlocked the gate. The writer just opened it and went through. That might seem unfair to those still waiting for their gate to be unlocked, or they might look at it as completely stupid to open the gate yourself, especially if the writer isn't ready. Either, way, negative feelings often happen because of it.

I’ve seen all this happening for a long time. I started writing a novella last November and decided that I wanted to self-publish it NOT because I didn’t think I could sell it traditionally, NOT because I didn’t think it wasn’t good enough for traditional publishing, NOT because I had given up on traditional publishing. I decided to self-publish it because I wanted to get it out there, because I knew it was the best damn thing I’d written to date, and because I knew I was finally ready to put my work out there. But possibly the largest driving force behind my decision was because of this very blog. You, our lovely readers, have often asked about self-publishing. I’ve seen negativity. I’ve seen frustration. I’ve seen confusion. I wanted to figure out why. I wanted to do it myself and see what it was all about and if I could do it in a way that expelled some of the terrible stigmas out there.

This series of posts - Why Self-Publishing is Better Than You Think - is going to be about my experience so far with self-publishing. It’s more than about self-publishing, as well. It’s about an experience that has literally changed my life.

I have jumped the fence to a different corral.

I know what it’s like over here, and I want to tell you about it.


Join me for this series! I'll be talking about getting hurt, making hard decisions, the technicalities of producing a professional self-published work (formatting, cover art, editing, etc,), and numbers and sales. All I ask is that you keep an open mind and that if you have something to say that goes against what I say or what others say in the comments section, say it nicely and be courteous. Differing opinions and open discussion are always welcome here.

Why Self-Publishing Is Better Than You Think Series

Do You Want to Jump the Fence? - August 26th
The Vase - September 1st
What Going Indie Will Cost You - September 8th
Whither The Author-Artiste? - September 9th
Influences & Self-Publishing Might Just Stink For You - September 16th 
The Absolute Nightmare (or not!) of Formatting a Print Book - September 22nd
Cheaper Than Kinko's - September 23rd 
Don't Listen to Me - September 30th


  1. I'm really looking forward to this :)

  2. I'm very interested to hear about your experiences with this.

  3. Love this topic and can't wait to hear more about it. :)

  4. Thanks for reading, you guys! I'm excited for the rest of the series. :)

  5. Thanks for this Michelle. Always nice to see someone willing to share their journey.

    I went SP because I wanted to. No other reason than that. I have never submitted a thing for traditional publishing simply becuase I am not interested in being a career writer like that. I have a career and didn't want or have time for another one, but I am serious about my artistic endeavors. So realistically, I wanted to see how far I could take it.

    4 Books later, I am still having the best time of my life, and one of my novellas was just recently profiled on The Dactyl Arts and Humanities Lit review site. So all in all, I would say it's been hard work, frustrating at times, but very fulfilling. And I have met some of the most wonderful people in the world. True artists in mind and soul.

  6. Cheryl: Your comment just made me all warm and fuzzy because it's absolutely amazing to see that I'm not the only one who has chosen to jump the fence over to the self-publishing side. Some of us, I suppose, were never even on the other side! They are both equal, and I'm happy to jump back and forth, and I'm very happy to see that your work is paying off and doing well! Congratulations on that, and thank you for stopping by to read. I'd love your input on further posts. :)

  7. I think both traditional and self-publishing are viable. It comes down to numbers. Traditional publishing is more likely to get you in front of a larger number of readers. This is due to the marketing efforts of the publisher. When their sales staff are out talking about your book to booksellers, they are promoting your work. The more people you have promoting your work on your behalf, the better your chances for increased sales.

    Of course, the caveat is that not all books get the same push from the publishers, and if you are not one of the lucky few to get the front-of-store co-op, your own social networking efforts may beat those of the publisher. And in traditional publishing, it behooves one to use those same tools the self-publisher uses for marketing.

    Many musicians have taken production and distribution in their own hands, moving away from the industry standards. Many have reported that even though they had lower sales, they had higher earnings. Of course, Prince, AC/DC, the Eagles, and others had a notable platform to begin with...

  8. Rick: It always helps when those who decide to go indie already have an established audience, but you're right about numbers. The thing is - there are niches everywhere, and some are larger than others. If I write a very literary book and self-publish it, I would never expect it to sell as many copies as a more commercially marketable book, and I would know it has nothing to do with the quality of the work. I think in the end we all need to learn how to be happy with what we've chosen and to keep those choices in a realistic perspective.

  9. I (very) recently made the decision to go "indie" with all of my work for the next year or so at least, and I'm quite excited about it. The world of publishing is changing, and while I see nothing at all wrong with sticking to the traditional path, I'm happy to see that attitudes towards alternate paths are changing rapidly. Hopefully in the end, we can all just get along, and get our work out there in the manner than suits each of us best.

    This is gonna be a great series. I'm looking forward to it! ;-)

  10. Looking forward to reading your thoughts Michelle!

  11. Michelle, I've been excited about this series for awhile. I'm happy to hear you are starting it. As you know I've contemplated self-publishing ever since I started this blog. I'm ready to learn!

  12. This is way cool, Michelle. I can't wait to read your posts on this subject. I was thinking of posting something myself about this since you and another author I wrote about recently had done this, but it will be far better to hear your detailed take on the process. I think the world is changing and some of the old stigmas may fade away.

  13. I think the problem is a lot of us have read self-published books that are essentially first drafts put out by newbies. They leave us bored, frustrated and feeling sad for the writer. Plus we're stuck in the awkward position of trying to think of something remotely polite to say.

    But you're a serious writer with experience, platform, and some publishing cred, so you're a pioneer here. I think we're all excited for you and hoping this is going to take off in a big way. The decision to self-pub a novella is a good one, since novellas are nearly impossible to place with traditional publishers unless you're already Stephen King.

    Traditional wisdom would tell you to put a novella on a shelf with your other 5 not quite blockbustery titles and keep writing until you come up with your own Hunger Games/Twilight/Jonathan Franzen clone.

    But you're not doing that. And I love it. My 5 non-blockbustery titles do too, and I may follow in your footsteps (if I can get a cover designer half as good as yours.)

  14. It's such a personal decision ... like going w/ natural child birth or w/ an epidural. Both produce the same blessing and both have strong supporters. There really is no 'right' or 'wrong'.

    That being said, I'm not sure you can jump that fence back and forth so easily. I was having a discussion recently w/ a very talented author who went self pub and she said that she never considered how going self pub first might effect the responses she got from traditional publishers down the road. She is super talented, and I know she'll be able to accomplish anything her heart desires...but she openly admits it is something she has to explain or overcome when she approaches an agent/publisher.

    We may be open minded and wanting to change the perception (I think it is an important and good thing) but to say it will not have any consequence and you can go back and forth might not be as easy as we would all like to believe.

    I love that you are opening a discussion about this. It is important, I think.

  15. Oops...I meant 'affect'. Afternoon brain drain, where's my diet coke?

  16. Jamie: You know how I feel about all of this, and I'm very excited to have you with me in such a fun venture!

    Valerie: Thanks! I'm happy you'll be reading!

    Domey: Yes, I'm really excited, too, as you know. I would never have set foot on this path if it weren't for you and this blog. What an amazing journey so far!

    Tricia: It's fun to think about stigmas going away, but I'm not sure it will happen even in my lifetime. Things can happen quickly, though, so I guess we'll see!

    Anne: It's true that there are so many bad self-published things out there, but I think it's sad that self-publishing gets the bad stigma for that. It wasn't self-publishing that made the work bad. It was the author.

    Oh, and I'm always willing to help out a fellow author with their cover. :)

    Tess: When I went to the Storymaker's Conference this past year, I took a self-publishing class and they talked about this very thing. I also weighed this quite heavily before I decided to self-publish Cinders. I truly didn't want to kill my chances with traditionally publishing just because I wanted to get another work out there a different way. The class I took made it quite clear that while self-publishing can affect your chances with other types of publishing, it is usually on a very small scale, and it can even help you if you know what you're doing. It's true, however, that it might make it more difficult in certain areas.

    I appreciate your comment. These are the kinds of issues I want to address and discuss here. I think it's important for anyone who's wanting to self-publish to consider all the pros and cons going into it. There are pros and cons to traditional publishing, too, of course, but I don't believe I've killed my chances at traditional publishing. I did go into this knowing that self-publishing something would very much affect how I approach traditional publishing in the future, but I also knew that if making a decision such as this (something that has made me so incredibly happy and has taught me so much) made it so that traditional publishers wouldn't even look at me, then traditional publishing probably wasn't a good choice for me, anyway.

    Once again, like you say, it's all a very personal choice, and what works for me may not work for another. I just hope that what I share here will help others make more informed decisions.

  17. Fabulous discussion! Looking forward to the next post:)

  18. I am glad you are doing this because it is something I have considered(self-publishing) and was not really sure. I look forward to your series.

  19. I can't wait to hear all your experiences.

  20. Perhaps this is one of the things you already plan to discuss, but the "vetting" of the slush pile, so to speak, has to be done by someone. The question is whether a handful of overworked New York interns are the only or best ones to be stuck with this job. Maybe once upon a time. But just as new technology makes print on demand possible (and publishing affordable), crowd sourcing can read slush and identify the jewels in the rubbish. This means that self-publishing will be as useless as always to those who write rubbish, but is viable, at last, to those who write gems.

  21. Great idea for a series, Michelle. I'm looking forward to reading all these posts.

  22. Absolutely fascinating topic.
    Especially given the path I'm on a t the moment.
    I'll certainly be following your posts in this series.

  23. I'm onto my third book now and there is a lot to learn. The biggest problem though and the one I think most people are least prepared for is marketing. I have a quality product, I've received good reviews, but there is simply so much going on that unless you snag a reader in seconds your opportunity can be lost forever. I'm talking here primarily about web marketing. People are not looking for your book. Fact. So you need to find out where they are looking and do something to catch their attention and maybe 1% of those who you manage to distract will actually click on all the right links right down to the PayPal button at the end.

  24. Really looking forward to this series of posts. Thank you for wanting to share with your readers so open and candidly, Michelle. I can't wait to get the inside scoop!

  25. An open mind is a sign of a weak will.


  26. Well said Michelle, and so very true. I won't repeat what everyone else said, but know that I'm looking forward to reading more of your posts in this series!

  27. Kaelin: Thanks! Hope to see you around!

    Paperback: Yes, I know you are! Yay! I'm happy that this will be helpful.

    Gail: I think a lot of people are considering self-publishing. Probably more than are willing to admit. I hope this series can help everyone make a better decision about which route they want to go.

    Leisha: Yay!

    Tara: I honestly don't understand why people think it's so hard to find jewels in self-publishing - any harder than it is to find them at the bookstore. You look at what stands out, and then I usually go a step beyond that and look what's directly behind what stands out because there are always jewels hiding. :)

    Sherrie: Thanks! I look forward to your participation. :)

    Al: I'm excited to hear your opinions and input!

    Jim: Marketing has been a huge problem, yes. I think it's really important to have a marketing plan in place before you hit any publish button.

    Mesmerix: You're welcome! I'm happy you'll be joining us here!

    Nevets: Stick to your guns, Nevets. Stick to your guns. :)

    Breanne: I'm looking forward to your participation. Thanks for stopping by!

  28. Michelle, that's my point. In the past, you wouldn't have been able to browse indie books in the bookstore. Now they are right there with all the other books online, and the reader can be the judge.

  29. Tara: Yes, and it's very exciting to me. There are drawbacks to self-publishing, of course. Distribution is smaller, and it's incredibly difficult to get into physical bookstores. This is one of the reasons I'd really love to publish with a small press.

  30. I jumped. I'm very happy with my decision.

  31. Mary: And you are doing so well! Obviously this path was a good choice for you. :)


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