Arguments against self-publishing

In haikujaguar‘s journal a comments poster brought up the question of self-publishing. I can easily get on a soapbox about this subject, as self-publishing is becoming more and more acceptable, and yet I still think that for the most part it’s a really bad idea.

Five reasons I wouldn’t self publish

I want to be read: Really read, not just by the local Tucson community (which is supportive of self-publishing), and not just by people in the few cities I can afford to travel to to put books in people’s hands. I want to be read by complete strangers who’ve never met me and never will meet me, whose local booksellers have never met me and whose parents and friends have never met me. Even a low traditional print run means my books are getting into the hands of more readers than a reasonably successful self-published book does.

I want to spend my time writing more books: Every writer has to spend some time on promotion, but a self-published writer spends orders of magnitude more time on promotion than a traditionally published one. If I care about building a career, I need time to write the next book, and the next, and the next.

I want to be paid: Supporting oneself takes time. Writing takes time. When I’m paid for something I write, it buys me more writing time. When I’m not paid, I have to put more time into doing something that does pay instead. When I have to pay someone else to publish and market my book, I have to put twice as much time into doing something that pays, to cover both the out-of-pocket funds and the time spent on the writing. Which brings me back to the previous point: I want to spend my time writing more books.

I want my books to look professional: Most self-published books look self-published, from the cover design to the text layout within. Most people don’t have the design sense to give a self-published book professional production values. I actually know just enough that I could find and hire people who would make the book look professional–but that isn’t cheap. More time, more money out of my pocket.

I want my books to be professional: This is the hardest one for most would-be self-publishers, I think. If no traditional publisher is willing to take my book, there’s a good chance it simply isn’t good enough to be published. Before self-publishing I’d better sit down and think long and hard about whether the publishing industry is flawed for not having a place for my book, or whether the book itself is flawed. I’ve had stories not sell because there wasn’t a place for them. I’ve also had stories not sell because they weren’t of sufficient quality to be published. Telling the difference isn’t easy, and requires a lot of self-examination and being honest with oneself. For the most part, I’d rather wait a few years and see whether I can’t figure out some way to make the book better, instead of rushing out to publish it as is on my own.

All of that said, there is one case where I might consider self-publishing: if my book had an extremely narrow niche and the ways of reaching it were clear-cut. But most fiction isn’t aimed at that sort of niche audience; and for all its flaws traditional publishing still has a better record of getting good books into the hands of more general readers.

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