Why do you want to sell your book? Is it to make money? Or is it to be validated as an author?
(Hint: there is no wrong answer.)
I was a traditional author. Published nine novels through houses of varying sizes, from the Big Five to small presses and a few in between. Even won an award. But I left it behind to self-publish.
There were a lot of factors involved, but what it mostly came down to was control. In traditional publishing, I had no control. Publishers told me whether the book would be published or not. Editors told me whether it was finished or not. Marketers told them whether it would sell or not. The only thing I was in charge of was promoting the book—which I had no idea how to do.
It was not an easy decision. I’d dreamed my whole life of writing a novel, getting a book deal, telling my friends, “I am a published novelist.” And it felt good to be able to do that. It felt good to be validated as an author.
What it didn’t do was make me much money. And certainly not steady money.
I was at a point in my life where I knew I was a good author, but was having trouble making a living at it. I was shopping a new novel and it was getting rave rejections. To a new writer, that might sound like an oxymoron. But most of my rejections for the manuscript went like this: “Great story. Memorable characters. Couldn’t put it down. But we have to pass.” Even had one editor say they were going to pass and they were pretty sure they’d regret doing so.
Rave rejections are the worst. Some days, I wished they’d just say, “You and your stupid book suck. Don’t call us again.” At least that I would understand.
You see, people think that because a book/story/poem/screenplay gets rejected, it means it wasn’t any good. It doesn’t mean that. More positive people say it just means that one particular editor didn’t like it. It doesn’t even mean that. There are tons of reasons that an editor might pass on a book: it’s not right for their line, they just put out a similar book, they’re not sure how to market it, they don’t know what genre it’s in, their kid thought it was too scary (true story) etc. And yes, “it isn’t any good” is in there, too, but it’s certainly not a guarantee.
So, here I was with a book that I knew was good, yet no one would publish it. I could put it in a drawer and spend a year writing a new novel, spend another year shopping it, and hope someone buys it…or I could put it out myself.
Obviously, you know which way I went.
Now, the thing about self-publishing is that everything is your responsibility. That can be daunting. Publishing schedule, cover design, editing, copyediting, marketing—it’s all on you. But honestly, the only one of those that I envisioned any trouble with was marketing. And that’s (almost always) entirely on the author in traditional publishing anyway. No matter which way I chose, I was going to have to learn how to market my book myself. I grit my teeth and started studying. Before long I put out a story to test things. Not long after that, I published my first novel, Duster, a dark fantasy, the first book in a trilogy.
I was a self-published author.
Or was I?
The thing I grew to learn was that traditional vs. independent isn’t the binary proposition it seems. I still shop short stories to traditional markets. When they sell it gives me the validation some part of me still craves. My novels I sell myself or sometimes go through an independent publisher. I maintain control.
To go back to the question at the start of this article, it’s okay if your answer is one or the other. Or both. But it’s important to know what your true motivation is, so if you succeed at it, it will actually bring you joy.
Me, I pick both.