When you get involved with social media you leave yourself open to being bombarded with a gazillion opinions, viewpoints, judgments and idle thinking. Lots of it is brilliant; lots of it is God-awful stupid. There are many, many wannabe writers out there and they are capable of representing any spot on the range. One topic that comes up often, and for which many a wannabe seeks advice, is the question of whether to self-publish or hold out for an offer from a professional publishing house. Having been-there/done-that, to me the issue is simply reduced to two basic elements: can you, and do you have the money, to properly market your book if you publish it yourself? Here’s my take, based on baseball.
I think I’ve mentioned before that I have never been very athletic. I enjoy a lot of sports…but not with my participating in them. Games that involve a ball coming at me at a high velocity are especially challenging. As a kid standing in the small group of candidates waiting to be picked for a schoolyard baseball team, I was usually next-to-last or last chosen depending who else was left to pick from.
That said, I was experiencing a similar moment akin to my non-existent baseball career as I was checking the latest sales figures for my books. There is one, The 11th Year of Christopher Arthur McDaniels, that is especially disappointing because it has sold hardly a copy since it was published two years ago. This calamity of sorts haunts me because there are a lot of laughs among the heart tugs that are neatly tucked inside this middle-school saga that has won a “seal of approval” from an international awards program. Among them is a Chapter 11, titled “The Catch.” I think I have presented this chapter before in one of my postings on this blog. “The Catch” may well represent the glory day I missed back on the schoolyard. After writing it, I felt I had just maybe, finally hit a home run…but it was in an empty ballpark.
If you are a writer who chooses to self-publish, marketing is the big boulder you must learn to maneuver if your book is to ever sell. The pull that a major publishing house has at the retail level, and the prerequisite publicity channels, is why so many authors will absorb the massive abuse of years’ of cookie-cutter rejection letters they receive following the submission of their work. If any of their labor is ever accepted by a major publisher, chances are good that it will have the potential of being on the front table at Barnes and Noble and reviewed in numerous prestigious publications. If not, life continues as it did in the schoolyard, where the eager, enthusiastic chants of “pick me! pick me!” are unceremoniously ignored and discarded. Regardless, if you are to write, you must go on.
One way to go on is to publish yourself. Given the technological advances in computers and the printing industry, this process is relatively easy and moderately affordable. As an extra bonus, the process is also very learnable–so much so, that you may ultimately be able to do most of it yourself and not have to pay others.
I consider myself a successful self-publisher in that I can write a book and physically prepare and upload it for printing. After that point, my skills pretty much pancake with a resounding splat. Despite the fact that I spent much of my career marketing products and concepts to various audiences, my book marketing skills remain totally unrewarded. This presents a bit of a puzzlement to me given my experience. But then, I know much of the problem is money. Advertising and promotion work. They also cost a lot of money. The hope is that I will eventually luck out without having to empty my bank account to do it.
If you are a newly minted wannabe writer who has no significant network and who doesn’t know any of the players at the agency or publisher level, your chances of being published are about as good as mine being even a twentieth-round pick of a major league baseball team. I can always be wrong and there are, of course, exceptions who have managed to break through despite having no prior relationships or contacts. So keep your dream if you must. The alternative is to do it yourself. If you’ve got the marketing savvy and bucks to invest, it’s a must faster run around the bases. And, who knows, you may even attract some fans to fill the bleachers.