Self-Publishing Is Not A Back-up Publishing Plan

publishing plan

Before I self-published, I didn’t know of all the advantages self-publishing offers or that it was the savvy author’s way to get books in the hands of readers. My only regret is I didn’t do it sooner.

I have a confession to make. I never planned to self-publish my first book. I planned on getting an eye-popping advance from one of the Big 5 after a wild auction. Unfortunately, they didn’t share that vision.

When I finally self-published my book, admittedly, it was the last resort. I had promised myself that if I was unable to sell my book or find an agent to represent me, I would not tuck it in a drawer and forget about it. No. I worked too hard. If that happened, I would self-publish. That promise reassured me during the querying and submissions and it was comforting until it was my reality. I didn’t think I’d ever use my back-up publishing plan.

Quickly, the consolation prize felt like a booby prize. It was difficult to warm up to the plan I had outlined. I felt like a failure. It’s one thing to self-publish a book when you’re excited. How exactly would I see this through now, feeling half-hearted and insecure? A bunch of rejections can really make you feel differently about the book you were (once) proud of.

Sometimes people ask me, “When did you start writing it, and how long did it take?” I can see them doing the math in their head. “Hmm,” they say, “What took you so long to publish it?”

Anyone who has ever written and published a book will laugh at that question. Non-writers, I think, must confuse the time it takes to write a book with the time it takes to read one. I’m probably the only author on the planet who cringes when a reader says, “I read your book in one night! I couldn’t put it down!” knowing the myriad all-nighters I pulled writing and editing it.

So what took so long? First of all, never underestimate the amount of time it takes to amass 81 rejections. Years. All that time wasted — instead of taking the reins of my writing career and moving forward.

Back then, I didn’t know of all the advantages self-published books have over traditionally published ones, or that self-publishing was the savvy author’s way to do the thing I always wanted: to get my book in the hands of readers. You can’t do that unless you produce something for them to read. And now, doing that is easier and more streamlined than ever — with an array of ways to self-publish, from complete DIY to soup-to-nuts service companies.

It doesn’t matter, in the end, how the book gets to market. You know who taught me that? The hundreds of thousands of readers who’ve bought my self-published book. The same readers who helped it hit the New York Times and USA Today best seller lists.

Do I have any regrets self-publishing my book? Just one. That I didn’t do it sooner.


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  1. It’s refreshing to hear about someone who worked crazy hard on the WRITING part of publishing. My guess is that, aside from your own marketing, your book has sold well because it’s a good book!

    IMHO there are only 3 ways to get traditionally published: 1) you’re famous, 2) you’ve written something highly topical, “I Surf Tidal Waves” or “I was Groped by Senator ____,” 3) you have an author platform of a million+ avid followers (for your dog-grooming biz). Boom, done—everyone else has to self-publish; nothing to do with the quality of your writing.

    You’re doing great!

    • Thanks for your kind and thoughtful comments. I agree that the notion of traditional publishing, and also *rejection* from traditional publishers is a whole different ball game these days. If authors should ever *not* take rejection personally, now is that time. It was hard for me *not* to think rejection = crappy book, because I was so green and insecure. But when you see all of the changes in publishing, and understand that agents are having increasing difficult times selling books (especially fiction) you start to realize, it might not be about *me* and *my book.*

      These days, I tell authors, if your goal is to be traditionally published then go ahead and query agents/submit to publishers but prepare your book for self-publishing simultaneously. It makes you feel active instead of passive, and if you eventually self-publish, you’ve wasted no time.

      Best to you, W.M.!

      PS. please don’t attempt the Tidal Wave book . . . :)

      • This is pretty encouraging to me as someone who is currently sending a book to agents. It helps me not take it so personally. I did almost assume that the rejections indicated a problem with the piece itself, but it seems that is not always the case. Thanks!!

        • Hi Katie,

          Authors who are experiencing a frustrating query period must remember that agents and editors have their own agendas that often have nothing to do with yours. They are choosing manuscripts for myriad reasons, and rejecting manuscripts for just as many. For instance: was the manuscript they last signed a success? have they had a streak of winners? losers? how is their agency doing overall? are publishers wary of debut authors? is it harder to sell certain genres? all genres? It’s very possible that we never hear back from a query and if we do, the rejection is a one-line boiler plate response like “Unfortunately, this is not right for our list.” But the truth is, we rarely know the real reason the manuscript was rejected. Keep your focus on what you can control, which is your manuscript and dedication to craft and make it the best it can be. After your hard work is complete you owe it to yourself to publish. Good luck!

  2. I recently self-published simply to fulfill a lifelong dream. I cannot articulate the joy at holding my book in my hands. I am so grateful that self-publishing exists!

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this. I was so excited about having written my first book, and when I ended up self publishing it did feel kind of like a booby prize. After five years of hard work, that was a terrible feeling. I very much appreciate you sharing this better perspective. I would love to hear your ideas on how to get it in the hands of readers now. Love and hugs

    • Congrats on your book, Mary Ann! Yes, you hit the nail on the head. Writing and publishing is half the task, the other half is finding readers. There are many ways to market a book—whether you are an introvert or extrovert—finding the right tactics that work for you and your book will take some experimenting. No matter what you’ve written, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, memoir, self-help, or novel, I encourage indie authors to start in their own communities first. If you’re ever gonna be a rock star, that’s where it will be! Have a reading or a signing or offer to attend a book club that reads your book, start to create some buzz in your community by doing a few live events will you work on other strategies that enhance those. Remember that the absolute greatest marketing you can do for your book is a professionally edited manuscript and a professionally designed cover—those are non-negotiable. It won’t matter what other marketing you do if you don’t do that first. Good luck!

  4. I self published my book through a publisher and they did a wonderful job. Holding my book in my hands was such an amazing accomplishment. However, because it was such a difficult subject, all my relatives and friends disowned me so to speak. Marketing is hard especially when there’s no one for support. I wish I had the money to hire someone to help me with the marketing, but there is none and now I feel there’s no chance to ever get my book out there for others to read.

    • Hi JB, so many of us wish that marketing was not part of the equation. Why can’t we just do the writing? Of course, the answer to that question will go back to what your goals are for your book. Many authors just want a published book, to see the fruits of their writing efforts in a physical book. If your goal is to sell a lot of books, then marketing is unavoidable because these days it’s impossible for a book to be found unless you create some visibility for it. I would choose a topic from your book (whether its fiction or nonfiction, even if it’s a memoir—perhaps there is an overarching theme) and either blog about this theme, or perhaps on social media, share articles you find on this topic so that you create a platform for yourself. In your bio on social media you should include a line: “author of [fill in the blank]” People will look for your book once they see you have a lot to say about the topic. Good luck!

  5. Wonderful article and I completely agree with you. I tried to find an agent who would represent me and then go for the traditional publishing route. I emailed over 50 agents and received only ten rejections. The reminder of agent did not bother to contact me. I think it would have been nice to at least email and say no.

    I have been very happy that my book is self published.

    Thank you

    • Hi Kirk, Congrats on publishing your book! And good for you for not giving up and knowing that the most important thing for an author is not how their book is published, but that it *IS* published. Much continued success to you!

  6. I’m still looking for “the advantages self-publishing offers and the savvy author’s way to get books in the hands of readers!?!” Did I miss something? I feel like when the waiter brings you out the steak at a really fancy restaurant and you wonder if he dropped half of it on the way to your table.

    • Yes, I’d love to have more insight on this topic. As someone who just started to research the idea of self publishing, I’d like to hear more specifics from someone who is already there. Did you set up your own book signings? How did you market the book on your own? I am hoping the major advantage that I’d have is that I wouldn’t have to sit around and wait for a publisher who may never be willing to provide all those things. I can go ahead and set aside some savings and do it on my own. But every time I begin to research “self publishing” I read horror stories and warnings about being taken advantage of.

      • Hi Sheila, well, you are starting in the right place on the BookBaby site! You will find much of what you need to know here from BookBaby and I encourage you to reach out to the BookBaby people with questions about publishing your book. You are right that you will have the control and freedom to organize things like signings and your publishing timetable, and the marketing that will support your launch—many of those things may be hard to come by as a debut author with a traditional publisher. It’s very smart to research (I’m a huge Goolger, myself!). Good luck with your book!

    • Hi John, the advantages that a self-published author has are many because you have control over every stage of the process. The biggest one is *the book* that gets published. You control the editing and the cover—these two elements are the most important and I believe a book should not be self-published without a professional edit and a professionally designed cover. But you control those two processes as well, and you make the decisions on what’s edited and what cover is finally chosen for your book. You also control distribution, pricing, marketing, advertising, promotions, etc. A traditionally published author does not control or decide on any of that. Having the control often makes all the difference on whether your book will be successful. Good luck to you!

  7. Hello Eva,
    Congratulations on your success. I, too am a self bulished author. I have to admit that I planned to self publish in hopes that I would be recognized by one of the top 5. Hasn’t happened yet, but there’s always tomorrow. I’d be interested in reading a blog about marketing. Steer me in the right direction.

    • Hi T L, congrats on your book! If your goal is to get recognized by a publisher who will offer you a traditional contract, your focus should be on selling a ton of books and getting a lot of reviews. Many agents look at Amazon, for instance, to see what self-published books are selling and getting reviews, because if you can sell them on your own, their must be a good book there. I would try to get book bloggers to review your book or interview you, etc, those bloggers should cover your genre. Also, think about running a price promotion and then advertising the discount, that may help you to get some needed reviews and sales. Good luck to you!

  8. Can you expand on how you hit the NYT bestseller list? I was under the impression that self-published books aren’t even eligible for the NYT list, but maybe I was mistaken!

  9. Thanks for a nice uplifting article. I write romance and I’ve decided to self-publish because I know you don’t earn much with traditional publishing contracts anyway, and my romances don’t always feature the most likable characters, and that doesn’t sit well with publishers either, at least not in this particular genre. I like the idea that I get to choose everything, from the editing, down to the ebook cover and print cover and marketing too. Thanks for making me feel like I’m on the right path!


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