V. Publishing a Novel: Self-Publishing

Once upon a time, they called this “vanity” publishing. The implication, of course, was that self-publishing was for people who weren’t particularly good writers but who were willing to pay to see their words in print.


Wow, have things changed! And that’s a really good thing. Amazon and the Internet have provided platforms for so many more people to publish their work. Not only does this allow writers to get their work out there, it also means that an excellent novel overlooked by traditional publishers has a chance to be known and read and possibly even re-issued by one of the traditional publishers.


I have never self-published, so I’m no expert here, but it’s important for me to know the option exists. I call this my hedge against despair. Writing fiction is a tough business with months and sometimes years of failure and delayed gratification. Trust me, I know this from experience. My recurring fantasy since I began writing fiction is that when I die, my family will go to my computer, find my unpublished novel files and press delete, delete, delete. Poof!


So I welcome self-publishing into our vocation, even though I haven’t chosen it for myself. At least not yet. But for those who see this as their best option, here are a few suggestions:

–If you aspire to be a professional writer, self-publishing should be a LAST option. Yes, finding a traditional publisher is seldom easy, but I still advise new and unpublished writers to try it before even considering a pay-for-it-yourself deal. Submitting a manuscript to agents and publishing houses can be very time-intensive. It takes research and honing your query letter and reworking your submitted chapters in response to rejections and editorial feedback (see my blog posts on submitting a manuscript to publishers ). But if your ambition is to achieve the greatest possible reach to an audience, to have your novel reviewed by established reviewers, traditional publishing is the first and best choice for most writers. (Note the word most. We all hear about writers whose self-published novels have done well enough to attract the attention of traditional publishers. But this is a small percentage of self-published authors.)

–Self-publishing is expensive. But even if you can afford it, be patient. Give traditional publishing a chance.

–Although many publishers who offer a self-publishing option will work with a writer on marketing and distribution, you need to remember that these publishers don’t have the financial stake in your book that you do. You’ll have to be prepared to do a lot of this yourself. Some people are great at it; others aren’t.


These are my thoughts. You may have others. I’ll be delighted to hear and post responses from self-published writers who would like to add or respond.