Because of the "current publishing climate" (a phrase you are likely to come across a lot in your correspondence with agents), many writers are wondering if they would not be better off self-publishing.
My answer: No.
A viable alternative?
My answer: Sure. Why not. Maybe...
I see self-publishing as a sort of escape hatch. It allows you to get your book out there into the hands of the public, without requiring you to jump through all the fiery hoops agents and editors have set before you on the alternate path. This is great, because it allows you to make sure your book reaches the marketplace.
As you know already, however, this is also bad...because it lets anyone's book reach the marketplace.
Most readers do not know how terribly difficult it can be to get published. But they do have some idea. And they know that anyone who has self-published has not gone through this process. There is no "stamp of approval" on the book that says, "I, the undersigned editor, endorse this book. I put my faith in it. I have advised my publishing house to take a financial risk by publishing this novel. I think it is good enough to turn this risk into a profit."
But that's not even the biggest problem. The biggest problem is often that no one even knows the book exists!
There are exceptions to this, of course. For instance, Scott Nicholson sold 10,000 copies of his self-published books on the Kindle...last December alone. Scott Nicholson also had several self-published books for sale at once. And he had already published a number of books traditionally. And as I said, he is an exception.
You might have a great marketing plan yourself. Your great marketing plan might actually pan out. But no matter how great your marketing plan is, it will always be better if you have your books in brick and mortar stores in addition to having it online. Your book will be seen by more people this way. Your book will be taken more seriously this way. Breaking into the constant consciousness of readers is a difficult task. It becomes that much more difficult when you self-publish.
Will self-publishing hurt me, if I seek traditional publishing later?
Not at all. In fact - if you do sell an extraordinary number of copies - it might even help you. But you cannot tell publishers that you are a published novelist if you paid to publish the book yourself. In fact, you cannot tell family and friends and strangers you are a published novelist (not unless you don't mind lying to them, of course - and then you'll look silly when they find out the truth). And if you have self-published and the novel did poorly, you just might want to hide this from an agent until after they have agreed to represent you.
But can't I make better money self-publishing?
Yes. And no. You certainly make better money per-copy-sold when you self-publish. But you are not likely to sell nearly as many copies.
What if I have gotten shut down on every avenue I have tried? Should I self-publish then?
Yes. And again, no. If you have gotten shut down by every agent and editor you have approached, it is great to know that self-publishing is still an available option. But if you have gotten shut down by every agent and editor you have approached, you might also want to ask yourself: Why? You may be a great writer. You may have a great story. But the story might need more work before it is ready for publication. Or perhaps, this is not the novel that is supposed to be "your first novel." Maybe it is time to set the project aside for now, and to focus on your next one.
An interjection: These are simply my own opinions.
There is a self-published author you have probably come across on Goodreads or Twitter or the Greater Internet Area yourself - a young man whose name I will not mention (as it is, of course, always best to keep real-life people as anonymous as possible when speaking negatively about them). He frequently posts on Twitter and on his website, trying to rally people to write good reviews of his book. Ironically, he frequently talks about how well-reviewed his book has been (I wonder why). He also calls himself a published author. He talks about his book all the time - actually, he seems to talk about nothing else. This book is his pride and joy. And in fact, it is an interesting premise. And in fact, the writing is above-average. And in fact, there are about four or five grammatical errors and misusage errors in the first few pages alone.
Take from that anecdote what you will.
I say, aim to land your book with a traditional publisher. If you get shut down everywhere you turn, work on the book some more. And some more. And some more. If you still have not broken through with this book, and you are ready to query a new book now, and you feel that the previous book is good enough to sell some copies (and that you have a strong enough marketing plan that some people will find out about the book), give self-publishing some thought. But keep your sights set higher.
Always keep your sights set higher.
A set of non sequiturs:
It is interesting to me how you can react a completely different way to a book upon a second reading. I have been reading Vonnegut's books chronologically - to get a feel for his development, growth, progression, regression, expansion, contraction, et cetera, as a writer - and most of these are rereads for me. There are three books I did not enjoy nearly as much upon a second reading: Player Piano, Cat's Cradle, and (especially) Breakfast of Champions. There are others (Slaughterhouse-Five - my third reading of it - and The Sirens of Titan) I enjoyed just as much. And I am currently reading Jailbird, which I hated when I read it several years ago. And I find I am loving it now.
Two days ago, I received an email from the marketing director of Atticus Books, notifying me that a bookstore in Massachusetts has asked if I would be interested in doing a reading/signing when I do my East Coast book tour in the fall. The ARCs just went out to bookstores about a week and a half ago, so that was the first request I have received so far; that was a cool thing to stumble upon in my inbox.
I was in New England this last weekend (The Shutterbug surprised me with a trip up there - during which we stayed on the Cape with friends, caught a game at Fenway, and saw a bunch of people I grew up with), and I went into a bookstore that I knew had been sent an ARC of The Great Lenore. It was a fun feeling to know that I was in the store, and that a copy of my book was in some desk drawer or back room in there as well. I felt like calling out to it. But I refrained.
During our trip to New England, The Shutterbug and I spent time in airports in Chicago, Boston, Milwaukee, and Denver; we slept on five separate planes; we traveled all around Boston and the surrounding towns; and...we left a grand total of two Litter Cards behind us. Oops. Hopefully those of you who have asked for Litter Cards have done a better job than we did.
I'll see you guys next Friday. And remember, more reviews for The Great Lenore should start coming in over the next few weeks. As they do, I will post the links to all of them (positive and negative alike) on the Lenore page [update at 4:55 P.M. on Friday: I just came across a new review - Mark Westmoreland's review on Goodreads; the link is posted on the page].
P.S. I miss the delicious food I had available to me all weekend in Boston...
[be a pal. follow me…]
*on this website*