Happy Columbus Day!
In fourteen-hundred and ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue
and thank goodness he did or we’d have work and school today 🙂
I hope everyone is lounging around in their pajamas after a lovely sleep-in 🙂
(I’m not. I get up at 5:30 regardless of Columbus and I’m going to muck out that spotted pony’s stall… but hanging out in a barn is actually my idea of a good time :))
In any case, get comfy because it’s Oh Susanna day, and today’s question, which comes to us from Saba, is one I think a lot of people may be interested in. She asks, “When is it time to throw in the traditional publishing towel and self-publish?“
This question saddens me a little. The fact that, for many, self-publishing is still seen as the road to take when you’ve given up all hope of “real” publishing is depressing.
I may be in the minority, but I’d like to change that attitude.
It’s true that many self-published books are sub-standard. They are poorly written on every level from sentence structure to basic story. They contain formatting and editing errors which make them less pleasurable to read. The covers are often less attractive. Their authors have sometimes been more concerned with being published then with taking the time to make sure their work is actually publishable.
I have read plenty of traditionally published books that weren’t very good – even from highly regarded best-selling authors. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who has found tons of typos and editing errors while reading traditionally published books. Traditional books aren’t perfect. Although they are generally held to some sort of standard of quality because they are produced by a publishing house, that still doesn’t guarantee you’re going to like them or that they’re going to be what you consider good.
I’m sure when you talk about throwing in the towel and going with self-publishing you don’t intend to produce an inferior piece of work. I’m sure you would do everything in your power to make it the very best it could be. It’s a different route to publishing – not necessarily better of worse, and not necessarily a question of giving up.
The face of self-publishing is changing. Many authors are aware of the need to up the quality of self-published books so that they can compete with traditional books on a more level footing. And many authors are starting to choose self-publishing. There is much more creative control. There is no one with whom you have to share any profit you might make. There is a wider range of what’s acceptable to publish because you don’t have to fit neatly into where you can be shelved and you’re not as focused on a bottom line.
So instead of thinking of self-publishing as a last resort, I’d say think about the kind of publishing experience you want to have.
If you want to hand your story over to an editor, let her help you rework it the way she feels it will work best/be most salable, let someone else choose an illustrator, jacket copy, cover art because you trust their judgment and prefer to focus on writing new stories while they handle publication, then by all means submit to traditional publishers. There is also, still, a prestige, or validation, that comes with being accepted by a publishing house, and perhaps that appeals to you. Certainly, traditional publishing will take care of printing, sending out review copies, and distribution, all of which may be things you don’t feel qualified or able to do. They also foot the up-front bill. There are lots of upsides to traditional publishing 🙂
On the other hand, if you like the idea of maintaining complete creative control, if you want to bring your vision to life exactly as you’ve imagined it, if you’re excited about searching for the perfect illustrator, if you look forward to the challenge of finding a printer etc. and feel like you have the time, energy and know-how (or the motivation to learn), if what you write is a little outside the box of what flies in traditional publishing, and if you don’t want to share profits with anyone, then maybe self-publishing is a good choice for you.
If you’re working with a manuscript that has never been sent out, you have only your judgment (or if you’re lucky, a critique partner’s or group’s opinion) to evaluate the strength of your story.
If you’re working with a manuscript that has made the publishing house rounds, though, you might really want to evaluate your ms with a critical eye before deciding on self-publishing. Why has it been turned down?
If there are serious problems with basic elements like spelling, grammar, punctuation, or story structure, your manuscript is probably not going to fly well as a self-published book either. Likewise, if you write in rhyme and the story was turned down because of serious problems with rhyme and meter, you will not be putting your best foot forward. You will put a lot of time, effort, and money into producing something that was turned down for good reason. Your efforts might be better spent in learning to improve your craft and writing some new stories. Remember, your name is going on the cover.
If your story hasn’t sold because the topic is very tired (there are an awful lot of bedtime books out there, for example, so to make one shine you really have to have a new twist) your self-published story may have a hard time garnering attention and standing out from the extensive list of the tried and true.
But if you’ve written a story you love, if it’s written well, if it really works on many levels and has been passed on by publishing houses for no concrete reason other than it “doesn’t suit their needs at this time” or competes with other titles on their current lists, or if you’ve written a book of children’s poetry or something else which is valuable but a very hard sell to traditional publishers, or if your picture book works fantastically at 40 pages, then self-publishing might be a great choice for you.
I hope this will help lots of writers out there to see self-publishing as a positive choice rather than as a last resort. And I would recommend a look at the mini self-publishing series from June for some real-life stories from authors who chose this path and produced really wonderful, quality books. (It will also give you an idea of how much is involved with self-publishing – it’s not really a throwing in the towel kind of job! :)) Please see SNOW GAMES (which kind of falls between traditional and self-publishing because it had to pass editorial review, but it also had to be presented ready to go in finished format with art), GATOR’S GANG, SHOW ME HOW, LUCY SNIGGLEFRITZ and MEG THE EGG.
And I would very much love other writers – traditionally, self- and not-yet-published, to chime in with their thoughts on this question. Is there a time when you should self-publish because you’ve given up hope of traditional publication? Does self-publishing mean you’ve thrown in the towel? What do you see as pros and cons of self-publishing?
Thanks for a very thought-provoking question, Saba. I hope my answer and whatever gets added in the comment section are helpful to you!
Happy Columbus Day, everyone 🙂