My day unofficially became all about self-publishing when I stumbled across an article in my local newspaper about a Texas woman who self-published her first bunch of novels. Now that's not news by itself but when you add the fact that she became a New York Times Bestseller within a matter of months and that she was courted for a book deal (finally signing with Atria Books after turning them down once), it becomes a miraculous publishing moment. We've seen something like this happen once or twice, most notably with Amanda Hocking who made millions by self-publishing her paranormal fiction.
Of the hundreds of thousands of people who have self-published, we have fewer than 10 accounts of massive or even mild success. Self-publishing right now is a lot like being a new rap artist who peddles his cds to whomever will buy them from the trunk of his car. The trunk of the self-publishing writer's car just happens to be an Amazon shopping cart, but it's still the same amount of brunt and grunt.
So the question becomes "Do I do it myself or not?"
What you have to understand about most people who self-publish is that they have very specific reasons for doing so. Most self-published writers fall into one of the following categories:
1) They have been rejected by countless traditional publishers.
2) They have not been able to procure an agent.
3) They don't want to split profits at such a low margin.
4) They don't want to contend with possible rejection from agents or publishers and so they never submit their work.
5) Their material is time-sensitive (like a book about a particular political figure that needs to be published before the election).
So when you ask yourself whether or not you want to self-publish, the first thing to consider is which category you fit into.
If category four is your label, you need to get a good support group and build up your confidence. Rejection isn't limited to agents and publishers. Low sales is the form of rejection that nearly every published writer has experienced or will experience. If rejection keeps you from pursuing a particular form of publishing, it will also keep you from continuing on the path of writing once the going gets tough. So buck up and pick a better reason!
If you fall into categories one or two, you may have a good reason to seek self-publishing. It is a lot of work, but if you truly believe in your product, you may have to take the risk. Who knows? You could end up on the NY Times bestseller list and make millions. Don't limit yourself. Again, get a good support system and keep pushing! Also, get a good editor. The real reason you are still unpublished may be because you submit material that has not been professionally edited. It may look good to you, but an editor will catch the mistakes which have been making your potential agents and publishers cringe.
If you are concerned about category three and you really don't want to split your profits so severely, I don't blame you. Published writers receive a percentage of their sales, and that percentage is rarely very high. And until their books sales cover the costs of their advance payment, they don't even see that percentage. That's the bare bones reality. Most published authors don't take home more than 25% of their sales. And their agent takes 10-15% of that. That may sound like a rip-off, but don't underestimate what your representatives actually do. They take on a LOT of work from the tiniest detail of font size to the middle management problems such as marketing the book to the upper level issues of taking a loss if the book fails to succeed in the market. When you decide to self-publish, you take all of that responsibility plus all of the other responsibilities onto your own shoulders. The results could be awesome or awful, depending on a variety of mostly unpredictable factors. The point is that if you want full ownership of the pain as well as the profits, self-publishing may be a good route for you to consider.
If you fall into category five and are publishing time-sensitive material, self-publishing is probably your only option. Unless you're writing a short piece which could fit into a magazine or digest, your publication date will probably be anytime from six months to two years away. That's after you procure proper representation.
There's nothing wrong with self-publishing "just 'cause" or just for fun. After all, that's what Colleen did. But if you're serious about it, take the five categories into consideration. Even if you don't fit into one of them, you should figure out the pain and profit of doing it yourself.
Until the next scene,
P.S. You can self-publish, but self-editing by itself is a mistake. We're here to help when you're ready for the next step.