Why I Haven’t Pulled the Trigger on Self-Publishing

The last round of “no’s” from agents was super-discouraging. I have a cover letter that works. I have a synopsis (finally) that I feel represents the book well. The book has been professionally edited and is tight. My beta readers tell me it’s fun and enjoyable and an easy read.

I know how to query. I’m sending it to agents who represent the genre and who have a manuscript wish list that reflects things my novel contains. The novel is well within the word count for the genre is which it’s written. And I know I’m a good writer. Yet … no traction. No full requests. And hardly any partial requests, particularly in the last half of the year.

I’ve queried forty-nine agents. I know this doesn’t sound like a lot to some of you, who have queried 100 or more. Something needs to happen with this book soon–but what?

One obvious answer would be to independently publish. There are a lot of issues contracting traditional publishing at the moment, from publishing house mergers to editor burnout to supply chain issues to publication scheduling. And agents got hit with more queries than ever before during the pandemic, which they had to juggle while going through the same “kids at home/partners at home/pandemic PTSD” issues as the rest of us.

Science fiction traditionally does fairly well in the independently-publishing arena. And I know how to go about it logistically and strategically. But independent publishing is definitely a business, and it has to be managed that way if you’re going to sell books. And honestly, my goal isn’t just the thrill of seeing my name in print. I was a journalist for 20 years, I’ve seen my name in print plenty of times already. I don’t just want to publish my book, I want people to READ it, and that means sales.

I have the marketing/promotional background to make independent publishing work, at least to some degree (realistically, you never know how people are going to respond to your book), and I understand how to take it wide so I wouldn’t just be relying on the capricious ‘Zon. I’ve been trained in managing the logistic details of self-publishing, and I’m confident I’d be able to handle that. My LLC is already set up and waiting, so I’m ready to manage the business side too.

So why haven’t I pulled the trigger on self-publishing?

  1. Value and perceived value. People generally believe traditionally published books found in a bookstore are “worth more.” A common (and successful) pricing tactic in independent publishing is setting the price very low, then following up with additional books in the series and reducing the price of the first book until it becomes free. This is a great way to give people a taste of your work and hopefully they will become fans and buy your additional books. But it’s also a great way to convince people your work is only worth $2.99, and if they just wait, they won’t have to pay to read your work at all. I admit I have a huge block around valuing my work at $2.99. And a part of me stubbornly doesn’t want to encourage the culture created by the ‘Zon that insists books that aren’t free or less than a dollar are “overpriced.” Books are important. Books are worth more than a dollar. Authors should be paid–all authors, not just best-selling authors. I admit this is probably some kind of weird mindset block, but there we have it.
  2. Traditional publishing legally has your back. Piracy is a thing–a big thing. And it happens to all authors. I would rather have a publishing house legal team handling scanning the landscape for pirated content and sending out the DMCA notices instead of having to worry about it myself.
  3. Advance vs. sales income. Most traditional authors never earn out their advances, even the smaller advances. And traditional publishing is figuring out new ways to squeeze author pay so that it’s virtually impossible for anyone to become self-sustaining from advance income alone. But the presence of that advance, no matter how spread out, feels inspirational and motivational. You’re getting money not because of what you’ve already produced but because of what the publisher feels you’re potentially worth. There’s a weird magic to that. And a clear validation.

But there are advantages to self-publishing too. I’ll get to those, and some ideas I might explore, in the next post.

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