Thursday, August 29, 2013

Do You Know Enough To Do It On Your Own

Before going into this post, let me say that this is in no way a comment for or against either self-publishing or traditional publishing. One of my goals when I opened the agency in 2003 was to promote education and to encourage discussion. I had always felt that there were far too many authors out there diving into publishing, or at least making attempts with not a lot of knowledge under their belts.

During the 19th Century, here in the United States, we saw a huge movement of people heading west. They knew life was not quite what they wanted in the East, the crowds were getting too large for what they had desired, and certainly there was a lure of open expanses of land. This would be a place that they were free to do what they wanted, and do as much as they wanted. The confines of the city life in the East wouldn't be there.

So they sold everything they had, except for their essentials, climbed into their wagons and started off. There was a thrill early on of all the "exciting" and "wonderful" things they would see and do. And, for the most part, those early days probably went really well. If they forgot something, they were often still close enough to a city to run back in and pick up that one essential. But, as they moved further west, things changed. For many of these travelers, it wasn't until they got to a point of "no return" when they realized they might be in over their head. Suddenly they found themselves in situations without the essential skills necessary to get them out of the mess.

And they died.

I know, not a great way to start the morning, but you probably all remember those stories. If anything, we all played Oregon Trail on our computers. But what does this have to do with publishing?

I honestly believe there are a lot of similarities with those first travelers in the 19th Century and those writers that are now looking at self-publishing options. And like those early travelers, I do think there are a lot of writers that are dying a long the way for the simple fact that they might not have the education necessary to get them to their final destination.

Like any thing we do, we need to have the necessary education and experience before we go jumping into things. That is why we have K-12 education. That's why we go to college, attend technical colleges and get that advanced knowledge. We do so to insure that when we move into the professional working world, we can survives. And yet, I do believe a lot of writers out there are forgetting this and just running toward those wonderful things we all hear about self-publishing - complete control, great money, no pressure, 100% what you want to do!

But before you do this, the question I ask you is Do you know enough to do it on your own?

Take this quick quiz and see what you know?
For each question answer it with how much knowledge you have? I am not talking about people around you that have this knowledge. We are just talking about your own knowledge.  Potential answers are:

  • No Experience
  • Enough to Define it
  • Average
  • Advanced/Experienced

  1. Knowledge of grammar and punctuation following the guidelines of, let say, The Chicago Manual of Style,
  2. Successful marketing approaches and knowledge of sales
  3. How to promote through publicity your project
  4. Art work and design
  5. Appropriate book layout and formatting
  6. Contract negotiations and laws surrounding book publishing
  7. Copyright laws and regulations including obtaining legal binding contracts, ISBN numbers and so forth
  8. Book distribution to get your project to the readers
  9. An accurate sense of the trends
  10. Foreign, digital and movie rights
This is probably just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to knowledge necessary to survive in the self-publishing world.

And yes, there are indeed authors out there that have this knowledge. What I have noted here frequently is that, for the most part, the people who are finding that success are the established authors from the traditional print population who are making the moves to self-publishing. They have been working with all of these areas as they worked with their editors. In many ways, as they were writing, they were also working as interns or apprentices in the editorial departments, the art departments and the business and contract departments.

I think the biggest thing I want you to leave with today is to ask yourself how much knowledge do you have. I want you also to remember that even in traditional publishing, you have to have experience and training if you want to be successful.


  1. Thanks for the reality check. I'm always amazed when non-publishing industry (well meaning) friends say "Why don't you just self-publish your book?" Like all you have to do is upload the MS into a big form in the sky and suddenly you are a best seller on Amazon.

    Like any other entrepreneur, not all of us have the knowledge and experience needed in every facet of the process. Fortunately, authors have many mentors and experts available to them in traditional publishing. Why not take advantage of them?

  2. I hear this all the time from people that have no idea what it is like to write a book. I recently completed a novel and I sent it to a girl at work to read. She in turn emailed to someone else, then someone else and now the whole office has read my novel. All I hear is "Where can I buy this?" My answer "I have a better chance at getting struck by lightening then having this picked up," They in turn think I should just publish it myself. That would be nice but it is not just a copy and paste sort of thing and boom I have a book. Being a new writer this is a very tempting option but one I dont want to take just yet. I think like everything else I go after I need to know about every aspect of self publishing first. Every day I learn a little more but I have alot more to learn and just throwing my book up on Amazon is really not the answer just yet.

  3. Your list is a straw man argument, Scott. Most of those items you list don't apply to or are irrelevant to self-publishing. And if you want or need to, you can still hire help, like a cover designer or a book formatter.

    Some items on that list aren't even negated by having an agent. Since legal advice is on your list, Scott, I'm going to politely assume you're a lawyer, too, but most agents aren't.

    As for those saying you "can't" just upload a DOC file and self-publish… You actually can. You're unlikely to sell much, if anything, but it's still possible. There multiple ways to self publish, and there are MANY resources for helping a writer determine which—if any of them—is for the writer. There are mentors available in self-publishing. If you believe otherwise, you're looking in the wrong places for advice.

    And I say that as someone who's written several books, most self-published but some with small presses. For marketing purposes, I recently started posting over on Wattpad. I've gotten 10k followers this month. Most aren't converting into paid sales, but enough are to make it worth my time. Since I make a few dollars per sale, it doesn't take many to pay bills.

    If self-publishing isn't for you, great! But if you're going to point out downsides in self-publishing, point out actual downsides rather than commit a logical fallacy.