Self-Publishing – Is it worth it?


authorThis post calls out to those of you that are authors. I’m trying to open a dialogue and share my experiences in an effort to see if we have a commonality in our goals and how we get there. I am always torn on  this blog to identify as an author who is selling books. That’s why I started it, but it has evolved into something much more.

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I am someone that is extremely reluctant to blow my own horn. Building myself up is not one of my strong points. In fact, people who know me will tell you that I am the first to put myself down in order to diffuse others’ attempts to do so.

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This past April marks three years since I jumped feet first into the self-publishing arena. Has it been all rainbows and unicorns? Not exactly. Have there been times when I’ve given up hope and wanted to quit? I’ve come close, but never gave in to what I view as the easy way out.

signingHow many of you have sat at book signings for long periods of time with no one stopping by to check out your books because they aren’t the latest fad genre.  One thing I’ve tried to do is to write what I enjoy reading. I remember working with a book marketing person who told me my writing was very good, but I needed to write American westerns because that was what was popular. I could probably crank out a western, but I can guarantee my heart wouldn’t be in it and, as a result, the quality wouldn’t be there.

One thing that has stopped me from packing it in as an author is the sense of excitement and the possibility that someday one of my books just might be the one that breaks through. I look at other indie authors like Hugh Howey and Andy Weir and see their success. I look at how they reached the pinnacle and it’s nearly impossible to copy or predict success like they’ve achieved.

As an author who started late in life, my hope is to leverage my writing into some type of retirement income. I’m about ten years away from that milestone and I’m working hard to get there. Sometimes I feel like I’m on the verge of success, but the upticks in sales are short-lived.

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Now, it’s confession time. About two months ago, I sent out query letters to hundreds of literary agents. I thought if I had someone to represent me and my work, it might make reaching my goal a bit easier. Well, the rejection letters started rolling in. I was surprised by a common thread among many of them. They stated that, even though my work might have merit, they stayed away from representing authors that had self-published. I don’t understand this, but it is a reality from many of the agents that bothered to respond.

My frustration has been building as I’m about to put the finishing touches on two books. I even contemplated holding back on them and re-thinking my launch strategy. I considered resting on my meager laurels and taking a break. I’ve published a five book series, a standalone terrorism thriller and a book of short stories in a three-year period all with working as a corporate employee with a 50-60 hour per week job and 45 weeks per year of travel.

But, something keeps me going. Actually, a few things. One is my family. The encouragement that I get from them and the admiration that I feel for reaching the goal of writing books is something that I thrive on. The second thing is the joy of telling a story. Even if no one reads it, it is out there for all eternity. The third thing that keeps me going is this blogging community. The wonderful people that I’ve met virtually in the past two years that I’ve been blogging has been energizing and somewhat addicting. I love the way we can support each other and trumpet accomplishments and milestones.

So please, I know there were some random thoughts here. I would love to hear what you think and how you’ve overcome some of the angst that I have been feeling lately. Creating a book is a ton of work. I could be spending that time and effort doing other things that would bring more reward, but I choose not to. So do some of you. Why do you make that choice? Let’s talk about it.

85 thoughts on “Self-Publishing – Is it worth it?

  1. A lovely, honest post. It is hard to say what keeps me going at it, apart from an unexplained compulsion and the sheer love of writing. I am early into my writing career but I have an unshakable belief that if I keep going, I will get better and I WILL get to where I want to be. With enough hard work anything can be achieved, so I will just keep working harder. And if I didn’t write, what would I do? Probably be some sort of career criminal 😉

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Fabulous post here Don. I resonated with every word you wrote. I have been self publishing my books for two years (so far, two historical fiction and one murder mystery). I am currently working on a third historical book to end my trilogy, but I enrolled on a creative writing course with other very talented students that have left me with doubts of my abilities and a mental block in my plot which is so frustrating. I am thinking of sending more stories to publisher’s but so far have lost a little confidence, which leads me to ask myself – why am I writing?
    My answer is always the same – its the love of writing, then sharing my stories. It takes a certain amount of tenacity and a self belief, but I have a great supportive family which helps. I’m just carrying on with lots of hard work and bags of stubbornness (which is one of the tools of writing, I believe!)
    Thanks so much for sharing, it makes me feel not so alone with my own writing ambitions. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for your thoughts on this. I’ve found, as I’ve read work by other indie authors that there are some talented people out there and it is the luck of the draw that keeps them in obscurity.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve gone the traditional route and even had an agent for a year, which was a bust. I became so frustrated with my publishers that I dropped out in 2006. I kept writing because that’s what I do, but I didn’t market anything. Then I raised my head from my desk in 2011 and entered into the Indie Author business and published my first book in 2012. Since then I’ve written almost twenty books with several WIPs. I wouldn’t go back to the traditional way ever again. Do I make a living? Not yet, but I have my books producing revenue every month, and as Don stated in this post, I hope it will sustain me a bit in my retirement. I had lots of dreams of fame and instant success in those early years, but a few years back, I had an epiphany. I write because I love telling stories. It fuels me. I wouldn’t have it any other way. And success for me today occurs when one reader contacts me and tells me one of my books touched them. That’s all I need. More sales are always welcome, but they don’t define me or hinder me as a writer. Have I wanted to give up? You bet. But I keep coming back to one thought. What would I do instead? I’m with Lucy–it probably wouldn’t be good.

    Thanks for this post, Don. It’s good to re-evaluate and hear from others.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. This is a great post. I have self-published 4 books. When I researched the difference between publishing and self-publishing, spoke to many, many authors who fought to get the rights to their books back, some with success others having lost the battle, I made the decision to stay self-published.
    I’m compelled to write. I need to have the words come out of me, and when I see it in book form, hmmmm, lack of better words, it fills me up. Im proud of my work and I have feel humbled and grateful when people reach out to me after having read my work.
    There are many times, when I ask myself, “what the heck am I doing?” But, at this point its a part of me.
    After years of feeling not good enough because I was a self-published author, I finally identify myself as a writer.
    In all honesty, you know what it took? Even after 1,000’s of book sales? The fact that Huff Post keeps promoting the articles I submit to them. They have promoted 10 the past month. I don’t get any money for those articles, but the validation has pushed me into finally identifying myself as a writer, author. Now, Im over the self-published hurdle and feel good about going down that road.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Alexis, great insight here. I can see how using other outlets like writing articles can help bring you exposure. I have to agree that the sense of accomplishment is overwhelming. The first time I held my finished book in my hands was a moment I’ll never forget.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Interesting that agents won’t touch self-published authors even though that’s becoming a lot more common. I wonder what the reason is. Off the top of my head, I can only think that they want authors whose books can be labeled as ‘new release’ or something. Funny how they make it sound like you need experience and a portfolio, but then they say no when you make one.

    That’s part of the reason I went self-publishing/indie. I spent over a decade submitting to publishers and agents. Nothing, but rejection letters. One even came with the ‘insert here’ lines to help me realize it was a form letter. Although, my favorite was from an agent who loved my story and thought it had a lot of promise, but they wouldn’t touch me since I wasn’t Stephen King. Seriously, that was the excuse. It also prompted me to spend some time finding creative ways to destroy my rejection letter collection. Peanut butter and leaving it out for animals is kind of entertaining.

    I still wonder about agents and publishing companies, but I’ve yet to figure out if I truly want it or it’s simply what I’ve been made to believe is necessary. The agent is definitely important if I want some exposure or openings to get my stories into other mediums. Yet, I’m always hearing horror stories about publishing companies. Things like having an author rewrite a story to fit a modern trend instead of what the author really wants. Low sales causing contracts to be cancelled, but the rights are kept by the company for 3-5 years. Just being kept in limbo for one reason or another. Seems like it’s a lot of drama and headaches that go along with the ones you get from simply going indie. I mean, this is a harder and more frustrating road since you don’t have the support of a traditional author, but there are the benefits of freedom.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks for your insight, Charles. Part of the thing that I like about self-publishing is the immediate feedback. When someone reads and reviews your book it’s a direct line from you to the reader and back again. there is no one to blame if you bomb and no one else to give credit to if you succeed. I’ve seen the music industry go from a gate keeper mentality to more of an indie spirit. I hope that writing is moving in that direction as well and maybe the publishers will embrace us once we establish a track record on our own.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It would be nice to see books go the same way as music. It’s a lot harder for us to get attention since we can’t do demo tapes or open mic nights. Years ago, I was asked where I saw common ground between indies and trads. My answer was that it would be great if the traditional publishers looked at the indies as a talent pool. There are great stories out there and going indie can help you come in with a strong base. Seemed to be going that way around the time I started in 2012/2013, but something stopped it. Now, you rarely hear about indie authors going to traditional publishers. Makes me wonder where new authors are coming from.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. True. Then you have authors like Hugh Howie that have made it on their own and he has snubbed the traditional publishers that have pursued him. It seems to have worked as he is always posting pictures on Facebook from his yacht as he cruises the world.

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      3. I wonder if that could be repeated these days. Seems like a lot of doors have closed since Hugh Howie broke through. That and you had tons of people trying to emulate him. I’ve noticed that there is a large group of indies who will still spot a trend and pounce in the hopes of striking while the iron is hot.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Reblogged this on Pearls Before Swine and commented:
    Authors! Don would like your feedback! Check out this post.

    “This post calls out to those of you that are authors. I’m trying to open a dialogue and share my experiences in an effort to see if we have a commonality in our goals and how we get there.”

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Amazing article! It’s like you knew what I needed haha!
    I have a friend who is on the last 100 meters with self-publishing and I find myself wondering if that’s the best way. I was thinking of writing myself and I wanted to set up a mindset before starting, envisioning where this will lead and I am not sure yet. It’s so awesome seeing that people have gone both ways and some like the freedom of self-publishing and owning it through the end. I’ll keep blogging till I feel safe with my writing to compose a book. And I feel inclined to self-publish myself.
    Again, thanks so much for sharing such a useful piece.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You’re welcome. My advice is, if you have a book in you, jump in. There’s no reason to be scared. You don’t need to share it until you’re ready, but the act of writing itself is worth the journey.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I am concerned this response is too long! lol But…

    I started feeling this way recently. A couple authors I follow online have recently traditionally published books and their books are in bookstores, they are traveling the world, and they don’t have to beg for reviews. It made me think about how I always dreamed of being a writer and how back then I didn’t know there was a Self-Publishing or Traditional Publishing. All I wanted to do was write and if I am honest, what I dreamed of doing was to be Traditionally Published though I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time. I looked at those authors and thought for a moment “They look like real authors”, and I started to doubt a bit. But then I thought about the old adage, “…the grass greener on the other side” thing and I was reminded that my grass is greener than most but I would never notice it looking over there.

    For me, I say yes, Self-Publishing is worth it because it is perfect for my life right now. Maybe someday I will become that Best-Seller (in the truest sense of the word. Not hitting Amazon for a few hours but actually selling lots of books) or maybe someday my books will be turned into movies. Even still, I think I will still Self-Publish because I like writing stories that have yet to be told and that I like to read. About Traditional Publishing rejecting Self-Published books, I have a confession.

    I agree to an extent. I don’t agree they should just turn down Self-Published authors altogether, many of whom are better writers than those who are Traditionally Published. I do however sympathize that there are lots of Self-Published books that are poorly written. I am not even talking about the story-lines or the genius of the imagination but the actual writing. I am not sure if it’s because many people don’t read as much as they should or if they don’t grasp the basics of writing in general but it wasn’t until reviewing books that I discovered there is a lot of work that needs to be done in this community in understanding the basics of writing a story. Even with this I am conflicted. Sometimes I think writing can be taught and sometimes I settle that writing is a skill and that while study is necessary, writing books is not something everyone can do.

    It seems the logical thing to do is for Traditional Publishing houses to look toward those Self-Published authors who are doing well, who have large platforms and who are selling books. If an author can get hundreds of reviews as a Self-Published author and sell thousands of books on their own, it seems to reason they know a thing or two about what they’re doing. I don’t know about anyone else but I sure would be trying to snatch up some of this talent if it was me. It just seems like common sense instead of lumping everyone together.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You make several very good points. Let me respond to the quality issue and how self-publishing is defined in different ways. An author who has a book that is poorly written is dragging the rest of us down. Self-publishing does not mean unprofessional. It means that, instead of having a publisher, editor, and marketing team from a traditional publishing house, you outsource these things. Self-editing your book is a fallacy. You cannot catch your own mistakes and be objective no matter how good of a mechanical writer you are. You need an editor. This is where you can get the most return for your money. I prefer to call us independently published instead of self-published. I outsource my editing, my cover, and my publishing to experts who are good at those things. I try to tackle the marketing – which is definitely a weak point for me. But we are like contractors bringing together subcontractors who help improve the quality of our work. All of those things cost money, but if you’re running this as a business, they are things that are tax deductible (at least for now).

      Liked by 2 people

      1. An excellent perspective, Don. Every writer needs an editor — and if you look at my earlier comment, you’ll see at least 1 typo! A best-selling author I know suggests that all authors get their manuscripts professionally edited before sending them to a publisher or agent. That’s excellent advice for self-publishing too.
        Some of our fellow-bloggers are very skilled at doing this, at a very reasonable price.
        As for those agents who won’t represent an author who’s been self-published: that makes no sense. I wonder why on earth they’d have that policy.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I have often wondered what keeps me writing. I think it’s the challenge and the chance to step into another world. I wake up in the morning anxious to write. I take my writing with me wherever I go. When I’ve tried to leave it alone, I feel empty, like something’s missing in my life. After five years of learning to write fiction (I professionally write academic books) I’m almost finished editing my first novel. The question now is what to do with it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Shirley, Thanks for your thoughts on this. My first novel was critiqued by online groups and trusted friends. I had some tell me that indie publishing was a waste of time and I’d never see success. Others told me it was the way to go. Age was a big factor in my decision to go the indie route. I frankly didn’t want to wait for the gatekeepers to go through my work and decide if it was worthy. I wanted to take it right to the readers. With your background in academic writing, however, can you leverage an agent or publisher affiliation to at least crack some doors open for your fiction?

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  10. Most of the books Stuart and I publish are aimed at a niche so small and so weird that traditional publishers wouldn’t touch us with the proverbial barge-pole. We know we will reach few readers in comparison to popular genres, but that is not why we write. If the books reach just that one person who can take something from them, then we have succeeded…and we have reached more than one. So my concerns are not quite the same as yours, Don.
    I’ve been traditionally published, but love the control of self-publishing. I thoroughly enjoy the creative process of getting a book out there from start to finish and the continual learning curve is one I love too.
    Many publishers do not require you to approach them through an agent…you can submit directly if you follow their guidelines. It is worth looking into.
    But if you are enjoying telling the stories… that is the best reason in the world to write them.
    ( As for promotion…I know the feeling! But there is always a guest spot at mine when you are ready 😉 )

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sue, Thanks for the enlightening words. I do love telling the stories and I’ve been able to inspire my nine year old to publish her first children’s book. That makes it worth it. I have you at the top of my list for promotion. It will be soon.

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  11. This is one of the best posts I’ve seen in months. You and I are on a similar path; holding down a job, came to writing late, goal of supplimenting retirement that will happen in 10 years. The promo world is a moving target, and when someone discovers something it’s already too late to jump on the bandwagon. I keep my work out there in hopes that something will catch fire. Honestly, there is a lot of work to being self published. I figure my costs are still less than golfers pay, and I enjoy it enough to call it a hobby. Meanwhile my catalog continues to grow and that helps too.

    You need to promote though. I hate it too, but I grit my teeth and do it. There are a whole bunch of people besides me who host authors. Now that you’ve done Lisa Burton Radio, check out some of the other ones. Sue Vincent is right above me in these comments and she’s wonderful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Craig. The struggle is real. I know I need to reach out to Sue. I need to be more self-confident and less worried about putting people off with the promotions. Thanks for the encouragement. Whichever one of us hits it big has to buy the other their drink of choice 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I self-published by first book 16 years ago and have not made a fortune yet.. I was with an agent prior to this for a year and 7 publishers looked at my first book.. liked it and said it was well written but I was not a known writer and would be difficult to market. I am happy to say that even my early books are beginning to sell now all in Ebook and even some print copies.. But that is after ten books and building a fairly effective online community in the last four years. I take comfort that the majority of authors published in the mainstream are one book wonders, rarely get the large advances and only get 10% of the retail cover price. For every 10,000 books they have to sell we only have to sell a 3000. I continue to write because I love it when just one person tells me they love it and want more. I worked at my day job until a few year’s ago and it is tough but I cannot imagine doing anything else.. and yes Don you are too modest… Sally

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much for your valuable insight, Sally. It’s people like you that inspire me to continue. I’ll have 10 books after I finish editing the two that I’m working on. I think having a larger catalog definitely helps indie authors. As for being modest, it’s my nature. I cringe at people with big egos.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I dont agree with the comment that agents are not interested in those writers who have been self published. What agents are interested in are sales and potential commission for them. If you can make a success of self publishing and sell books in serious numbers then the agents will come knocking.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s just my experience that the response to a number of my queries said specifically that the agent didn’t represent authors that had self-published. Your mileage may vary.

      Like

  14. Thanks for sharing this insightful post. I don’t know if self publishing is the right way or not but for me its the only option I have. I published my first book when I was seventy. I don’t think there is a traditional publisher that would take my work.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Hi Don,
    I wish I had started writing years ago. Even though I’m a novice, I’m enjoying it. I started after I retired. I started as a means of avoiding depression when I was going through chemo. It worked. I released one book and I hope to release my second this year. I have no illusions, yet I do enjoy the thrill of someone complimenting my writing. My writing is more for me, although if someone enjoys it or understands my message, all the better. At my age and stage of learning to write, I can’t imagine doing anything else but self publish.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. The three year hurdle. Why am I doing this? Then it comes back every couple of years, in my experience. Why *am* I doing this? It’s certainly not for the money.
    There is a serious glut of good novels in all genres on the market now. Some of them aren’t so good, and that’s in both indie and trad published, in my opinion. So we’re in a dog-eat-dog world , and we have to work very hard to get our stuff noticed.
    I think trad published/agents have shifted a lot since I started querying in 2010, and the few replies I got were ‘not commercial enough for today’s market’. Since then, it looks like not only do you have to be ‘commercial’ but also willing to do most of the promotion yourself. If that’s the case, why not self-publish, since you’re still doing all the promotion yourself but have control of the product too. The downside is that you won’t get read by newspaper reviewers. Well, that’s the only downside I can think of. Having an agent to find the leads would be nice, but from what I hear, it depends on your agent.
    So, I think indies have to be more professional over a wide range of skills, do a ‘better’ job, get out there and build networks… and for any woman (and probably any non-native of any country), that is a familiar story in any career.
    We write because we love it. We publish because were proud of it, and because someone else might enjoy it. And we blog to reach out to people who like our work or who might like it.
    BTW musicians are having the same issues these days. Consumers expect art to come free. Sigh. The tide will turn again – just watch and be ready for it. 🙂

    Like

  17. Thanks for the openness expressed, Don.
    We have to separate the writing from the publishing, methinks. We write because we have to, wherever that inner passion and mandate comes from. Few writers sell thousands of books, so the business case is sketchy, at least.
    I attended a speech by a very successful author who said he writes what the market demands — for a living; he writes what his soul demands — for love. (I’m entirely paraphrasing him here, but you get the point.) Now, it’s also true that he has an agent, who advises him on what the market is looking for.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Don. I went through similar situations wih publishers and agents. The letters were generic in form and one actually suggested i resend at another time which i did but never heard back. It’s disheartening so i went the self-publishing route too.

    I have heard of horror stories with traditional publishers and how some have cancelled their contracts and self-published. I believe if you are a good writer one day you may just get lucky and sell a million copies. If not, enjoy writing. Best wishes for success, Don! I love your books! 😘

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I write because I have to – I can’t help it it’s an addiction – I get depressed and twitchy when I don’t write. I hate marketing. If only I didn’t care about how many books I sold 😦 Always a slot on my author blog Don – I have a slot in June.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Don, I could have written the same post. I really feel you.
    I have self-published just one book and have completed a trilogy of books (the first one is basically ready). The slef-published book hasn’t found its traction yet, while I’ve tried to find reppresentation for the trilogy. I’ve been rejected many many times, not because I’m self-published, but because agents don’t seem to be able to pin down my book into one neat genre.

    So, like you, I’m in a very confusing moment and I’m very hesitant about my next step.

    Like you, I was adviced by a friend to write what the market wants, and like you I refused, because I know my heart wouldn’t be in it. And besides, should I even build a platform writing what the market wants, would those people fall me when I finally write what I want?

    It isn’t easy.
    But I’m coming to a conclusion: I may not be the best wrtier for self-publishing. I don’t have the characteristics. Took me a long time to cope with this fact, but now I see it. I’m a very slow writer and I don’t write in a definite genre. I’m not a winning indie.
    So after trying my hands at self-publishing (which was a very educating experience and I’m very happy I did it), I’m goign back to where I’ve always knew I wanted to be: traditional publishing. I’ll try publishers directly and see what comes of it. That doesn’t mean I’ll leave self-publishing, I don’t think I will, but trad publishing might be a far more congeniel environment for me.

    I think we should really consider who we are as writers. Today everybody seem to think that self-publishing is the way to go, but it may not be our path. I don’t think it’s mine. We have both possibilities, so we should really keep our mind open.

    Hope this helps 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Self-publishing is worth it. People must not be discouraged even if their title or plural hasn’t reached a best seller list like the NY Times. If you’re anything like me you’ll be honest and say the money does help even if it’s only to yourself but the release of what you scribe weighs much more than the hassle and worry of number watching. We have an undeniable tool, one that cannot be forced upon someone or tamed but is often trained. You have passion. Something a number watcher might pay people like you to share. Therefore, we must contribute with hope that if we keep going we will converse with those that need us, even if it’s the most simple sentence that we have ever written.
    Nice to meet you.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. a great post, Don. such honesty. and so many people have been touched by your words. well done you. i’m with a small but prestigious publisher. writing the book is the easy part, compared with the marketing, whether self-published or not. it’s a tough gig, this being a writer, but would never give it up 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Thanks for opening up and sharing. I have just finished my first manuscript and I am kind of in the dark on the whole process. It seems like the obstacles ahead of me at this point are enormous. But at the end of the day, I know I felt called to put the words down on a piece of paper – and if that’s where it ends, so be it!.

    Liked by 1 person

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