Wednesday, April 30, 2014

For Those Considering Self-Publishing

Guest post by Kory Shrum, who explained her decision to self-publish a few weeks ago. Please note that these points -- particularly 3 and 4, but also 1 (the query and revision process) and 2 (mostly during the marketing phase) to a lesser extent -- can apply to traditional publishing. 

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it--but what if it isn’t working? I wouldn’t go so far as to say that traditional publishing is broken, but it is certainly changing. And many writers are finding it increasingly difficult to win the traditional publishing lottery, and so begin entertaining the idea of self-publishing as the second best alternative.

In which case, there are roughly four considerations. I sure there are many more, but seeing as I am in the throes of SP myself, and I have a habit of compartmentalizing, I’m breaking it down into four. Hopefully, this will give you a better idea of what you’ll be dealing with.

The democratic part of myself marvels at the beauty of self-publishing. After all, for many years I was told that I could not or should not write. And I don’t just mean teachers, (so-called) friends, (less than loving) family, etc. Even the traditional model of publishing puts a great many people (agents, editors, etc.) between you and seeing your work in print. Self-publishing removes all that and allows you to get your work straight to the people. And I don’t know about you but some days it is difficult for me just to get past all of my mental apprehensions and get down to the business of writing. So self-publishing is a relieving improvement, from an artist’s perspective, in a number of ways.

That being said, your work should be good work. Many editors, other writers, and my ex-agent provided feedback for Dying for a Living before I chose to publish it myself. I didn’t just give up on traditional publication (or its rigorous standards), just because I felt I’d grown too impatient. But sometimes, the old model just won’t do. And in that case, then self-publishing is the right choice for the right book—the book you are willing to work very hard on—which leads me to my first point:

1.      It’s a lot of work. Be prepared for the RIDICULOUS amount of work that comes with producing your own book. I can see perfectly why publishing houses have departments with little minions that handle one aspect individually to bring a book to completion. Sure, you can outsource much of it (i.e. hire freelancers), but if you are not made of money (as I am not), you will find yourself doing much of the work yourself.  So the best way to initially approach this is from the understanding that it will take a lot of time, patience (and some money) to do this right.

2.      Know What You’ve Got (And What You’ve Not).

I consider myself a well-connected person in the sense that most people I know are creative—or they “know a guy”. So it wasn’t hard to find people who can design covers, help with the blurb, and proof my book. And this is important because if you can’t booze your friend into doing something for you, you will need to outsource.

1)      First, look at other books in your genre and see what was done. The interior design? A copyright page complete with ISBN? Acknowledgments, blurb, cover, etc. Many little components fit together nicely in order to create a polished book. Make a list. Check it often. Follow the footsteps of those who have labored intensively before you.

2)      Take an honest assessment of your own abilities (and of your nearest and dearest) before undertaking the self-publishing endeavor. If you need to freelance some tasks
(from that growing to-do list of yours—and it will grow), then it is good to know about it upfront so you can incorporate it into your budget. After all, nothing will ruin your chances of success more than a poorly produced book.

If you’re going to do this, commit to doing it right.

3.      Prepare for the tipping point. There will come a point when you find yourself doing a lot more book work than actual writing. It may start as a simple imbalance during the day until months in you look up and realize you haven’t been writing for…wait…how long has it been? You will have to find a way to get back to the writing.

Ask yourself questions like what inspires me? What helps get me started again once I’ve gone cold turkey for a while (we all have)? Be ready to initiate that plan as soon as you realize what is happening. After all, that’s what it is really about, right? If you find you can’t manage wearing the publisher hat and the writer hat on the same day, then maybe self-publishing isn’t for you.

4.      Be kind to yourself.  You are probably new to self-publishing. And as for all beginners, there is a steep learning curve. It is going to take time to figure out what you are doing. It may take you longer that you’d like to do even relatively simple tasks. When this happens, and you find yourself frustrated and on the verge of going homicidal, (because killing people will definitely increase your chances of becoming an instant sensation)—just breathe. Don’t hurt anyone (including yourself). Eat a cookie. Drink a good cup of tea or coffee. Take a walk. Whatever works for you. Take a step back, take a break, and then return to your book with refreshed determination.

After all, in the famous words of Muhammad Ali: “Inside of a ring or out, ain't nothing wrong with going down. It's staying down that's wrong.”

Best of luck to us both,

Kory M. Shrum

Kory M. Shrum lives in Michigan with her partner and a ferocious guard pug. When she isn’t teaching writing, or writing herself, she can be found promoting her first book, Dying for a Living.

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