If I’m Going To Self-Market, Should I Also Self-Publish?

A couple of days ago, I was sitting in the lunch room at work with notepad and furrowed brow. The manager of the digital department comes in and asks me what I’m doing, and I tell him that I’m brainstorming for the novel I’m working on.

His immediate response was, “Self-publishing, of course?”

It’s a funny thing. Ever since I Googled for tips on writing an outline, I’ve been filling my subscription manager with feeds from the blogs of authors and editors, and the topic they all frequently discuss is self-publishing. It really does seem as though folks who are keen on writing books aren’t just using the Web to get themselves out there. They’re bypassing the grind of querying publishers and waiting another two years before their book sees print.

How? By converting their texts into e-reader-compatible formats and selling via sites like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and Smashwords, who allow literally anybody to upload works to their sites for sale at zero charge.

Sounds easy, right? Well, letting you upload your text is absolutely all Amazon or Smashwords will do for you: Upload your files and make them availabe for sale. Everything else – literally everything else, from promotion to marketing to cover art to ensuring the manuscript format is right for Kindle or PDF to choosing price point – is down to you.

There, wrote the Bard, is the rub. The price an aspiring self-pub author must pay to bypass the traditional publishing grind (query letters, rejection slips, publisher-requested rewrites, title changes, etcetera) is either take on the jobs that the publishing houses handle – editing, cover art design, laying out, building buzz, etcetera – or outsource them to professionals, which costs money that the publishing house would otherwise pay.

But here’s the interesting thing. Thanks to most creatively-minded people having access to a keyboard and a word processor, the size of the average publishing house’s slush pile is getting outlandish. A good example is the result of Angry Robot Books opening their doors to unsolicited manuscripts in March; according to manager / editor Lee Harris, the event netted them over 700 manuscripts, of which roughly four were both publish-worthy and a fit for AR’s brand (although that figure’s not final).

The upshot is that publishers are now cutting their slush piles by offloading the marketing work back onto authors: If your query letter to a publisher doesn’t include a website via which you’re actively building buzz for yourself, your brand and/or your upcoming book – thereby giving the publisher a pre-built audience whom they know will plonk down cash for a paperback – you can expect a response of “come back when you’ve made yourself popular”.

Therefore, quite understandably, some authors are asking themselves, “Well, if I have to put my time and/or money market my product myself, why don’t I publish it myself anyway?”
As I’m aspiring to published writerhood, that’s a question I’ve got to ask myself too.

I’ve been reading a lot of blog posts by authors actively pursuing this avenue, and they’re more than willing to share how they went about it. It looks like serious work, but maybe not as much of a slog as it was for pioneers of self-publishing like Scott Sigler. And, as anyone keeping up with the recent saga over indie author Amanda Hocking’s six-figure deal with a major house will know, there’s nothing to stop me selling later works to a publisher down the track.

Still, this is something I can’t approach lightly.

But Enough About Me, Gentle Readers: What About You?

Are you publishing a work yourself? How is it working out out?

Are you in the midst of shopping a work through a more traditional route? How are you finding it?