View Full Version : Self-publishing vs. ...

02-20-2008, 05:55 PM
Hi everyone! I've been hanging out in this forum for a while now, but this is my first post.

My search for an agent has thus far been futile. However, some of the feedback I'm receiving repeats - "Perhaps you should consider self-publishing." I get comments that my story is compelling and timely, but that memoir being the hard sell it already is, my story would be tougher.

Have any of you opted to just do it yourself because you feel your story needs to be shared and out there? Or you needed to hit while the topic was hot?

I'm just curious as to when you take the advice, or if you just keep pushing on in hopes of finding someone who is willing to go to bat for you?

Oh, and those of you successful enough to find a publisher -- how many of you actually went straight to a publisher rather than through an agent?

Thanks for indulging me. :)

02-20-2008, 06:31 PM

I conducted an interview with Behler Publications. Here's the link: http://auriacortes.com/interview-with-behler-publications/

It seems as though this publisher is one that you should consider (if you haven't already).

The publisher accepts unagented manuscripts.

02-20-2008, 07:32 PM
. . .
Oh, and those of you successful enough to find a publisher -- how many of you actually went straight to a publisher rather than through an agent?. . .
Not speaking for myself, but regarding an author friend.

Her query was rejected by a series of publishers. Good letter, but not an effective query, and it would have been hard to sell anyway, as a memoir perceived as having a fairly narrow audience. A small agent took it on and then turned around and wanted the manuscript radically revised, in ways that would have ruined it. The author got the agreement cancelled.

I (as mutual friend, NOT as an agent, as I am not an agent) got the author together with a very small publisher, a friend and professional colleague, who produced a fine looking hardback edition in a first printing of over 2,000 copies and did not screw with the content (just normal copy editing and proofreading). Distribution is limited (long boring story, but probably typical for very small presses), but readers love the book. It has just won a local historical society award, has received reviews in ethnic press and in one professional journal, and might get a mention in a national news magazine and on national network TV news (a big time videographer accompanied the author and others to an event associated with key subject matter of the book), but that remains to be seen over the next few days.

I am hopeful that a major publisher will sign the book for a trade paperback edition. That would enable wide distribution, something the small publisher probably cannot handle.

Self-publishing would have been very limiting. The small press has enough challenges as it is, but self-publishing would have hopelessly stigmatized the book. It should have been signed by a major publisher, but that was just not in the cards.


02-21-2008, 02:50 AM

I don't agree with ResearchGuy that "self-publishing would have hopelessly stigmatized the book." IF the self-published book sells well (and granted, the VAST majority do not) that is hardly a stigma. There are a very few self-published books that did well and went on to get agented and then published by traditional publishers. I guarentee that if your self published book sells thousands of copies, agents/publishers would take notice when you put that in a query. How many self-published books do well? I'm sure there are stats on that, but my guess would be (far) less than 1%, so you're up against great odds.

If all you want is for people you know (friends, family) to read your story in book form, then I say, "Great! Self-publish." But, if you want to reach a wider audience and get to say you're a "published author," then keep querying agents and submitting to small presses.

I've been to your blog and website. You're a wonderful writer. Recognizing that's not always enough these days, it seems to me you've only just begun (sorry, just read on MSN that Karen and Richard Carpenter's home is about to be razed). I wouldn't give up just yet. And while you're querying, get that platform built. It can only help whether you self or traditionally publish.

02-21-2008, 04:09 AM

I don't agree with ResearchGuy that "self-publishing would have hopelessly stigmatized the book." . . .
But then, you have not been directly, personally involved with the book--and its author and its publisher--for three years. I think my opinion on that particular question is a lot sounder than that of someone who has absolutely no first-hand knowledge of it whatsoever.

I stand by my statement. It was not a generalization to all self-published books. I am an advocate of self-publishing. But that book would have been hopelessly stigmatized. It has been hard enough as it is.


02-21-2008, 04:17 AM
You're right. I have no first hand knowledge of that book. So, can you explain why THAT particular book would have been "hopelessly stigmatized" by self-publishing, even it if had sold well? Perhaps that will help Angela and others make their decision.

02-21-2008, 04:50 AM
You're right. I have no first hand knowledge of that book. So, can you explain why THAT particular book would have been "hopelessly stigmatized" by self-publishing, even it if had sold well? Perhaps that will help Angela and others make their decision.
Too many people whose views were critical in such acceptance as it has gotten (the blurbs are great, and from nationally and internationally known people as well as more local ones) would have asked, "Is this self-published?" On hearing that it was (or was going to be) they would have backed away. (Not all, but some for sure.)

Just yesterday, someone I thought would have known better gave me a beady-eyed look and asked me to point out the publisher on the copyright page, incredulous that it was not a self-published book. It was clear that she would not have touched it if she still thought it was self-published. Narrow-minded attitude, I think, but fact.

Yes, books can be self-published in a way that almost completely hides that the author is the publisher. But that does not help when the question is directly asked: "did you publish this yourself?" Not to mention that the work that goes into publishing, and the cost, would drain the author's resources. Although the press in question is small, it has gone to some serious effort on behalf of the book, effort that the author could not have done.

It is a memoir. The same challenges might have been less significant for some other kinds of books -- but even then, the issue is a challenging one. Years of hanging out with self-publishers, small independent publishers, and authors of varied experience (self-published, small-press published, and commercially published), plus even more years working in libraries and with librarians have given me a few thoughts on these issues. (Oh, not to mention conversations with bookstore owners.)

That clarify?


P.S. "even if it had sold well" begs the question.

02-21-2008, 05:39 AM
Yes, many people look down on self-publishing. If that were not the case, I doubt Angela would have posed the question. "Hopelessly stigmatized"... I still don't think so. (And I do recall your posting on this particular book, if it's the same one.) Much more difficult of course, for self-published books to get press, get into bookstores, get blurbs, get reviews (although since my home town paper serving a population 80,000 will review a self-pub'd book by a local, others must, as well). It does happen, albeit rarely, that a self-published book will break out. I don't believe the fact that a book is a memoir makes it harder to do so, but we're still obviously talking about tiny percentages.

I still think that ANY self-pub'd book, if it did well, is not "hopelessly stigmatized." Sales numbers are sales numbers. Publishers would take notice.

I've talked to a lot of self-published authors at various author meetings. I've only ever met one in person whose book did well, and his fabulously so. (It happened to be a memoir.) He actually was able to get it into the Tattered Cover and got a celeb blurb. Once it took off (he sold thousands of copies) he got a publisher and has since written other books. (Angela - he does consulting, but I don't recall his name and don't have the info on the bus. If you want, it will have to wait until we get home.) But, I will caution that his book did well because of the relentless marketing, pushing, never-taking-no-for-an-answer kind of guy he is. He is a truly amazing, aggressive (somehow without being obnoxious about it) self-promoter. I recall he even said he does better publicity for his books now than his publisher does.

I know another well-respected expert in his field who has had several books published. He has a built-in, specialized audience that will always buy his new books which he knows do not appeal to enough people to ever be bestsellers. Several years ago, he realized that rather than have his small press publisher share the profit, he could self-publish and take it all. He maintained his audience. So, as Ken said, not all people feel there is a stigma to self-published books. In this case, this expert was rather savvy to go to self-publishing. It just depends what your goals are.

02-21-2008, 06:48 AM
In my experience, the quality of self published books is low all around. Poor manufacturing quality, "cheap" looking covers, and poor writing and editing are the rule from what I've seen. So yes, they come with a stigma IMO.

That said, if you make a professional looking product, the question will never be raised. For example, I would never look at a book like mine (or any other title from the Crown catalog) and ask if it was self published, because the quality is high.

That's not bragging about my writing, either . . . it's an observation on the production quality of the book as a product of a major publishing house. Self publish a book that looks that well done, and fill it with good writing, and I agree . . . nothing will stand in your way except your own limitations in marketing and selling.

Pick up a front list title from Random House, Penguin, Harper Collins, or one of the other big houses and look at it carefully next to a self published title. 99 times out of 100 - You'll see the difference.

Susan B
02-21-2008, 06:40 PM
Hi Angela,

I also faced an uphill climb with my book, a memoir. In retrospect, in didn't take an outrageous amount of time. It took months (lots of them!) but not years to finalize things with an agent and then with a publisher. (It helps to read other people's stories on AW to keep your perspective on what's really a "long time." How long have you been at it?)

But I certainly got those "compelling story but limited audience" concerns. And I faced the possibility of never finding a publisher.

No, I never reached the point of considering self-publishing, if by that you mean producing a book that I would offer for sale. If I hadn't found a publisher, I would have done a simple copying of the ms. at Kinkos (or maybe Lulu.com) and given it to family and friends.

I do know of one self-published book that is pretty much the Bible in Cajun music, the focus of my memoir. By and large, though, I agree with the comments about the limitations (in production quality, writing quality, and general perception) of self-published books. On the other hand, I have been surprised to see that one of our local independent bookstores in Berkeley, with a serious (almost academic) focus and a sterling reputation, does carry self-published books by local authors--usually memoirs. The ones I have seen are of notably different quality, unfortunately. I am sure the bookstore owners consider it a public service.

Is there any aspect of your book that would lend itself to publication by a university press? That is where I have ended up, and I think it can be an excellent place for a book that is solid but with a somewhat specialized focus.

Good luck!

02-21-2008, 10:05 PM
Thank you all for your thoughts, feedback, and advice. And kind words!

In terms of longterm, I haven't been at this consistently for long enough. I think I was just concerned with the few agents who have taken the time to respond personally mentioning self-publishing. And an editor in the same field/topic as my memoir.

There is so much to consider, and I'm not willing to jump off the trip now, but I just wanted to hear other points of view. It always helps.

02-22-2008, 07:54 PM
I thought I'd come back to this, as the money question kept floating around in my mind.

Typically, I suppose, one searches for the big agent/publisher to become published and have a book widely distributed and read. And make money, of course. But if one's goal is not even about money, just to get the book into the hands of those who need to read it, and get it there in a timely manner, AND make sure the story remains true to itself, AND one knows one would likely find more financial success in the speaking engagements one would attract from said book, then a different route could come into play.

Again, I'm not ready to toss in the towel (or at least not until I get tired of no thank you *smile*), but I just want to explore my options. The work is important to me, whereas if we were speaking of my fiction book, I'd continue until every last agent and publisher had said no, and still I probably wouldn't self-publish. I'd just chalk it up to practice.

Just thinking out loud. Thanks again, new friends!

02-23-2008, 02:40 AM
Since those are your goals (especially the timely issue), and you have a venue (speaking engagements) to sell your book, maybe you need to ask yourself why you want to get an agent/publisher for this one.

And speaking of timely: A health care blog I regularly read had a link (http://blog.cleveland.com/medical/2008/02/tales_from_the_clinic_mothersh.html)to this article today about a nurse who self-published her memoir and sold 1000 copies. It may not sound like a lot, but it's huge by self-publishing standards - and that's before all the publicity she's now getting. I bet an agent reading that article will swoop in on her and she'll get a traditional publisher. Neither will care about the "stigma" we all agreed is attached to some self-published books.

Again, it's all about sales. (I'm sure the naked picture on the cover didn't hurt. Now you're all going to click on that link, aren't you?)

02-23-2008, 02:51 AM
Since those are your goals (especially the timely issue), and you have a venue (speaking engagements) to sell your book, maybe you need to ask yourself why you want to get an agent/publisher for this one.

Again, it's all about sales. (I'm sure the naked picture on the cover didn't hurt. Now you're all going to click on that link, aren't you?)

Exactly the question that kept me awake last night. :) ETA: I was speaking with a writer friend yesterday about this, and the topic of marketing and sales came up, and we both kind of agreed that it's possible I'd have to do the same amount of marketing for my book either way, being as I'm a nobody in this big writing world. Decision, choices, blah!

So, if I get someone to post naked on the cover...??? :D

02-23-2008, 03:25 AM
It wouldn't exactly be the same amount of marketing. Yes getting your name out there would probably involve the same amount of effort, and networking would be advisable self published or not. But often people forget that one of the biggest things publishers do is get your book into stores. The effort to do that without a publisher is huge, and VERY time consuming.

Aside from that, just because you are a newbie doesn't mean you won't necessarily get decent treatment. There are several first time authors here who have had a lot of publicity on their first books.

Self publishing is best when you have a timely book, and a niche market. But don't choose it because you think the marketing effort will probably be the same. It won't. It'll be harder. It's just a fact.

02-23-2008, 03:30 AM
Self publishing is best when you have a timely book, and a niche market. But don't choose it because you think the marketing effort will probably be the same. It won't. It'll be harder. It's just a fact.

Nah, that wouldn't be the ultimate decision maker. It just plays into the thought process.

Again, not tossing in the towel just yet on the outside search. Just weighing options, ideas.

I have several writer friends and I've seen some get top billing marketing support (Joshilyn Jackson's first book landed advertising during Oprah!), and others have to work their butts off. But I agree that overall, the effort would be less if I was with a publisher. I'm willing to do the work for either outcome.

Thanks for weighing in!

03-06-2008, 12:50 AM
Just thought I'd update:

I have not decided to quit the search for an agent, and in fact, last week received a nice response..."I'd love to see it!" She said her assistant would send over a release, but I haven't received one yet.

I have wrestled with myself on how soon is too soon to follow up to ask about when the release might arrive, if by e-mail or postal, as nothing is noted on the site, nor can I find anything about releases in general (is my Googler broken? ;) ). The initial response was so quick, I suppose I'm a little thrown that a week has passed without receiving the release.

So, that's where I am at this point!

03-06-2008, 03:48 AM
I self-published with lulu and haven't regretted it. Although their production costs are high, it makes it difficult to sell the book to stores. For personal reasons, I didn't want to go the traditional route. I simply didn't feel like it. That however, does not mean that I am not serious about my writing. My book came out only 10 weeks ago, and I have currently sold 70 books on lulu's site.

I am writing a series and about to release the second book. The first place it's going is lulu. I plan on always having my books there. In the meantime, my book is out there and it is selling. When people buy from lulu, there is no bookstore or shop to pay, so you will make a profit. Beware of overpricing it though. I wanted to sell books and did NOT go with lulu's suggestion of $28. I have it listed for $20.95. It is a 6 x 9, 352 pages. If anyone is interested in checking out my storefront, please go to http://www.lulu.com/content/1339225 You will be interested to know that it is available in paperback, download and e-book.

My next step was to locate a cheaper printer, get a sample copy and order from them. Those are the books I am putting in the stores. Those are the books where I can pay the store a commission AND earn money for ME! lulu does not tie your hands in any way. You are free to do what you like with your book.

My cover is attractive and pleasing to the eye. The write-up on the back cover draws their interest. I have written reviews that I can pull out on a moment's notice if I need to.

I have a professional selling kit that I take with me and I have been creative in the types of stores I call on. Book stores are NOT the only options here. I have my books in beauty shops, gift shops, a hobby shop, and some pharmacies! The list of possibilities is endless. To be 100% honest, not one of these stores asked me if I self-published.

My opinion from day one is that if you have a good product and pitch it in a professional way, you will get your book in stores. Think. Be creative. Market your book and yourself.

Good luck to everyone, no matter which way you decide to go :)


03-06-2008, 05:16 PM
I've had two books, Meetings: Do's, Don'ts and Donuts and The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing published commercially by Lighthouse Point Press. Last summer I chose Lulu.com to self-publish The Albuquerque Years (http://www.lulu.com/content/1151084) a memoir of my preschool years. I went this route because neither Lighthouse nor I foresee a significant demand for this book and I want to focus my promotional efforts on H&C. I have listed The Albuquerque Years on my blog (http://heartandcraft.blogspot.com) and my personal website (http://www.sharonlippincott.com). I wrote this book primarily for my family, and to test the quality of Lulu's products (entirely satisfactory--I completely agree with Jon Robison and others who have mentioned the sometimes shoddy appearance of self-published books.) I made the listing public, without adding a royalty, so students and others who are curious about the quality of a Lulu product can check it out at an affordable price.

I've been amazed at the number of orders--several dozen (besides my own orders). Were I trying to make a profit, I know there would have been far fewer. Several dozen does not in any way sound impressive, unless you consider that I've done no active promotion at all. These books have sold by word of mouth, or mention in my blog, i.e., some stranger in Albuquerque found the link, ordered the book, and dropped me a line. I know nobody in the family has ordered one.

What would I do if I wanted wider distribution? Go with CreateSpace, which aligns more easily with Amazon, and make myself crazy with promotion. Even prolific and widely published, high-selling authors like Susan Albert (the China Bayles Herbal Mystery Series) are always self-promoting. I would not make myself crazy with trying to find an agent or commercial publisher after an initial few rounds of searching. My life is too short for the hassle that involves.

There is also the traditional self-publishing route where you order a print run of a thousand books or more. Talk about pressure! You don't hear much about all the authors who die with storage units full of unsold books... No, I personally will stick with POD for self-publishing, and I'll self-publish anything that doesn't quickly sell via the traditional route.

Perhaps at the bottom line it depends on your layout skills and your purpose in publishing. I happen to be gifted with excellent layout skills. I love doing layout. Additionally, low-end self-publishing via POD admirably suits my purpose for The Albuquerque Years. Had my purpose been fame, wide distribution of important educational material (memoirs can achieve that), or some other purpose, it would be failing miserably.

Hope this helps.

03-06-2008, 06:06 PM
I should also add that a good friend self-published a "self-help memoir" via Word Association, a local printer/publisher. It's self-published in that he invested in the print run. Word Association provided layout services for a fee, and the ISBN number (critical for sales in stores and Amazon). He did not have to purchase the layout services, but didn't want the hassle of doing that himself. Word Association is officially listed as the publisher, though my friend retains all rights. Word Association also buys rights for certain books.

The first print run of 1000 sold almost immediately, and ditto on the second. He is now working on an update for the Second Edition, and a commercial publisher has offered him a contract. He's weighing options. He's not sure if he wants more profit from fewer sales, or wider distribution.

Self-publishing via an established publisher seems like a nice middle ground for those who have confidence in their product, some cash to invest, and the willingness and ability to self-promote.

This route definitely can lead to a contract.

03-21-2008, 12:19 AM
Just another update: The agent who requested my book said she liked it but, "I'm afraid without a platform or a solid hook it would be difficult to break this out in am extremely crowded marketplace."

I guess I THOUGHT I had a platform.

Shortly after, another agent responded to a query to say, "The memoir market is tight. I'm afraid your story won't stand out. I might recommend you try turning it into fiction."


Thing is, my husband would very much like me to turn it into fiction, as I've suffered harassment from my ex's family before, and he's afraid it would only get worse.

I guess for this reason, and because the feedback has each time pointed to something different, I may consider it. But for now, I'm going to set it aside as I'm already in the middle of edits on a fiction novel.

Thanks all for your thoughts!