Written by CHUMA
It is probably every serious writer’s dream to be published. The dream of proudly seeing their greatest works in print is probably one of the highest honors. For some, that dream comes with a major publishing house honoring their work with a lucrative book deal. And for others, the dream is attainable independently. Each dream is possible, but for me the latter was the better choice.
Being a poet (and an aspiring novelist), I did some research about the likelihood of a major publishing house investing into my work, and I discovered that unless I was already a famous actor, musician, scholar, politician or a person of established notability, most likely a publishing house was not going to view my work as a good business investment. Basically, I was an unknown.
Also, poetry is a hard sell. A major publishing house would need a substantial reason why the pubic would be interested in buying my book of poems for them to invest—and me believing that my work was perhaps the best stuff I have ever written in my life would not be good enough for a company interested in turning a profit. Either my name had to have been Maya Angelo or I had to have been able to show the powers-that-be that people are emphatically hungry to read my work. I had neither to present. So I figured who’d want to publish me?
My friend, Sundiata Najja Alayé, who is the author of Empty Promises, Private Pain: A Light Out of the Darkness, encouraged me to self-publish after I shared my poems with him regularly during many long and meaningful phone conversations. He believed in my work, and was adamant that I should give it a shot. Initially, I was uncomfortable, but with his guidance I began to believe that a book could actually be completed. So I started my own publishing company. I didn’t really have any money, but spiritually I had faith that it would come. I believed that if I just put the process in motion, the universe would eventually bring forth that which was needed to complete the project. And eventually, in a matter of months, the money materialized and I successfully published my first book.
Through this experience, I gained valuable insight on why it was so rewarding to self-publish. I didn’t allow someone else to say no to me, because instead I said yes to myself and made my dream come true. Recently, I read a book entitled The Self-Publishing Manual, by Dan Poynter, where I found an important section called Eight Good Reasons to Self-Publish, that I was able to relate to. I thought I’d share the following reasons from that book with you:
EIGHT GOOD REASONS TO SELF-PUBLISH
1. To make more money. Why accept 6% to 10% in royalties from a publisher when you can have 35% from your bookstore distributor (or 100% if you sell direct to the reader)? You know your subject and you know the people in your field. Certainly you know more than some distant publisher who might buy your book. Although trade publishers may have some good contacts, they don’t know the market as well as you do, and they aren’t going to expend as much focused promotional effort. Ask yourself this question: Will the trade publisher be able to sell four times as many books as I can?
2. Speed. Most publishers work on an 18 month publication cycle. Can you wait that long to get into print? Will you miss your market? The 18 months don’t even begin until after the contract negotiations and contract signing. Publication could be three years away! Why waste time shipping your manuscript around to see if there is an agent or publisher out there who likes it? Richard Nixon self-published Real Peace in 1983 because he felt his message was urgent; he couldn’t wait for a publisher’s slow machinery to grind out the book.
3. To keep control of your book. According to Writer’s Digest, 60% of the big publishers do not give the author final approval on copyediting; 23% never give the author the right to select the title; 20% do not consult the author on jacket design; and 36% rarely involve the author in the book’s promotion. The big New York trade publishers may have more promotional connections than you, but with a huge stable of books to push, your book will most likely get lost in the shuffle. The big publishers are good at getting books into bookstores, but they fail miserably at approaching other outlets or doing specialized promotion. Give the book to someone who has a personal interest in it—the author.
4. No one will read your manuscript. Many publishers receive hundreds of unsolicited manuscripts for consideration each day. They do not have time to unwrap, review, rewrap and ship all those submissions, so they return them unopened. Unless you are a movie star, noted politician or have a recognizable name, it is nearly impossible to attract a publisher. Many publishers work with their existing stable of authors and accept new authors only through agents.
5. Self-publishing is good business. There are many more tax advantages for an author-publisher than there are for just authors. Self-publishers can deduct their lifestyle.
6. Self-publisher will help you think like a publisher. You will learn the industry and have a better understanding of the big picture. A book is a product of yourself, somewhat like your own child. You are very protective about your book (you would not tell a mother or father their child is ugly), and you naturally feel that your book is terrific and that it would sell well if only the publisher would pump in more promotion money. Publishers respond that they are not anxious to dump more money into a book that isn’t selling. So if you self-publish, you gain a better understanding of the arguments on both sides. It is your money and your choice.
7. You will gain self-confidence and self-esteem. You will be proud to be the author of a published book. Compare this to a pleading with people to read your manuscript.
8. Finally, you may have no other choice. There are more manuscripts that can be read. Most publishers don’t have time to even look at your manuscript.
SHOULD YOU SELF-PUBLISH?
Would-be author-publishers should be cautioned that self-publishing is not for everyone. Writing is an art, whereas publishing is a business, and some people are unable to do both well. If you are a lovely, creative flower who is repelled by the crass commercialism of selling your own product, you should stick to the creative side and let someone else handle the business end.
On the other hand, some people are terribly independent. They will not be happy with the performance of any publisher, no matter how much time and effort is spent creating and promoting the book. These people should save the publisher from all this grief by becoming their own publisher and making their own decisions. You must understand all the alternatives so you can make an intelligent, educated choice.