Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Self-Publishing: My Journey

For all the would-be writers out there, I'm offering the story of my experience with self-publishing, and why I chose it. Hopefully, this will provide some information for those who are new to the publishing business.

I started out blind when it came to knowing anything about publishing. I was a freshman in high school when I wrote my first full-length novel. All I knew was that I had written a book, and I wanted to publish it. I had NO idea how to go about it, so I went to the library and did some research. It was there that I found a very thick book called "The Novel and Short Story Writer's Market." I opened the book, and my mouth fell open in shock. I could not believe the number of agents, publishing companies, etc. that were out there! In my naiveté, I said to myself...

Surely, one of these agencies or publishers will want my work.

In reading the first pages of the guide, I first learned the words “Query Letter.” It would soon become a hated turn of phrase, but I digress...

According to the guide, it was up to me to query agencies and seek representation, as nearly all publishing houses require their writers to have representation. So, I followed the example in the guide and wrote query letters. LOTS of them, to as many agencies as I could find in the book that represented my type of fiction. This was in the mid-nineties, when email was still in its early stages, and printed letters were still the norm. I bought boxes of envelopes, put my queries in them, and...along with sample chapters...I sent them on their way.

I was soon to learn a painful lesson about the publishing industry. Specifically, I became familiar with a very painful word: REJECTION.

Every query I sent came back with what is commonly known as a form letter. Typically, they say something along the lines of:

Dear Author,

Thank you for your query. We were pleased that you expressed interest in our agency. However, we feel that your work does not meet our needs at this time. We wish you luck in your writing career.

These letters piled up quickly. And as they did, my frustration and anger grew. I wondered if it was my writing that was keeping me from getting published. So, I found an editor. As it turned out, my manuscript needed a lot of work, and I was glad to have someone who could teach me to be a better writer. I polished it up, and sent out my queries and sample chapters again.


I spent nearly three years trying to sell my first novel. By the time I had finished High School, I had pretty much given up. I still wrote, of course. I have always loved to create stories. But I had put aside my aspirations of being a professional writer.

It was many years before I got back into the game, and that was a unique story all on its own.

It was late 2006. By then, the internet had become very familiar to me. I had also discovered a website called “C19,” dedicated to all things Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, and the like. I quickly became a member and a frequent visitor, and it was there that I learned about something called “Fan-Fiction.” Being a Jane Eyre fanatic, I rediscovered my love of writing as I wrote my own JE stories. My old ambitions soon blossomed, and I began writing my own tales. I also took the chance on trying to find representation, and this time, I was able to query through email. But, as before, I found only rejection.

Needless to say, I was discouraged. But then I learned of an emerging phenomenon in the publishing world: Self-publishing.

Still being a bit of a newbie to publishing, I was lured in by the ads of a company called “IUniverse.” At the time, I did not know the difference between a vanity press and a POD publisher. Unfortunately for me, I went with a vanity press. I soon learned that the goal of a vanity press is not to help an author succeed, but to take advantage of new writers who are hungry to see their work in print. I was one those writers, and I trusted the wrong people. Yes, I got a printed book, and it was thrilling to see my words in printed form. But...

I had no say in the cover design. They chose it for me. They did not provide me with an editor, unless I paid an extra fee. Once my work was in print, there was no changing it. The price of the book, once it was available, was ridiculously high. And they offered me marketing help only if I was willing to pay a high price. I was learning another brutal truth about the publishing business: there are a lot of crooks out there, and they will take your money without remorse.

As you can imagine, I was fed up with publishing altogether. But then, through some stroke of luck, I began hearing about other writers who had gone through a similar experience. One of these writers introduced me to a company called “Create Space.”

I was wary, of course. I did my homework. I asked as many questions as I could. I talked to other writers about their experiences with this company. They had only good things to say about it. So, I gave it a try.

“Create Space” has been a godsend. It has given me everything I need to succeed as an author. There are, however, some things I have learned, and here they are:

#1: Edit your work, and then edit it again. And don’t rely on your eyes only. Find a professional if need be, and if you can’t afford a pro, find yourself a beta reader. Beta readers, in case you didn’t know, are readers who volunteer their time to look over your work and tell you where they think you need to make corrections. You can find them on writers websites, like Wattpad. And something else about beta readers: If you can, find a “Simon Cowell” type. Find someone who will tell you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re the next big thing, because if you are lulled into complacency, it will be heartbreaking to discover that your work is not the masterpiece you thought it was.

In short: Put your work through the ringer. Make it the absolute best it can be before you put it in front of the public eye. In the long run, you will reap the rewards for your effort.

#2. You do not have to pay for a press release. Repeat: You do NOT have to pay for a press release. I learned this wonderful bit of informtaion through a friend, and it saved me a ton of money. Publishing companies, including “Create Space,” will offer this service for a price, usually costing between $250 to $500 dollars. But in my opinion, it is foolish to pay for a PR. They are so simple to create and distribute. For more information, feel free to email me...

#3. Get yourself an author account on Goodreads. Once there, participate in their author giveaways. You will be amazed at how quickly people flock at the chance for a free book. But be prepared for honest reviews in return. In my experience, the readers at Goodreads do not hold back with their opinions. Some will enjoy your work, but some may not. Whatever reviews you get, learn from them. It will make you a better author in the long run.

Forgive me if this post rambled, but I hope someone benefits from it. Self-Publishing has not made me rich. Not by a long shot. But it has allowed me to have my work in print, and I am in control of all the business aspects. I do not share the profits with an agent, and most of all, no one is telling me what to write or how to write it. The readers dictate what works and what does not, and it is the reader that matters to me...not the opinion of someone in a suit and tie who sits behind a desk, dictating what I should write to make a profit.

If anyone has questions, feel free to email me. I’m always willing to help my fellow writers.

Happy reading and writing, everyone!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for providing this timely advice for all the would-be writers such as myself. I really appreciate your sharing. Alora