Too Many Choices: The Decision to Self Publish, Part Two

Okay, I’ve been ill, and that’s part of it, sleeping for 12 or 16 hours on one day when I’m used to about 7, then, because of the illness, abstaining from any kind of chemical-amusement-aid-liquid-refreshment so ubiquitous (for me anyway) during the holiday season, that’s the other part of it, but the main reason I couldn’t sleep last night is because I was obsessing about the impending consequences of my last blog post, you know, the one in which I gave myself a merry Christmas present of self-publishing a novel. Don’t get me wrong.  I appreciate the gift and I have no intention of returning it.  Here’s the rub.  Having made the decision, even after doing lots of preliminary research on the question, the thing that I realize now, as I am trying to choose my particular path toward self-publication, is that there are too many damn choices.

I thought this blog post might be about the process of weeding through these choices.  It might be helpful for you, if you’re in the same boat or know someone who is in the same boat, but it might also help me come to a conclusion, which, in the end, might be the very best thing about blogging: the writer thinks his or her thoughts in front of an audience, tries to do a good job, and maybe, just maybe, he or she learns something.

This is the first question that must be answered in the search for the right self-publication service: What do I want?  What do I want? In part, I’ve already answered this question.  I simply want a book I can share with other humans.  But it becomes slightly more complicated than that. I want a book that is available electronically in the usual, most popular outlets. And I want a printed artifact that I can hold and smell and read and sell to people.  Oh, if it were only that simple.  Then, the investment would be minimal, affordable for almost anyone with either a few bucks in the bank, a nice spare bicycle in the garage to sell, or a decent credit rating. I have all of those things. And it’s easy to find a reputable company that will do the electronic thing and the old-fashioned analog thing in pretty short order.

The devil is in the details.  I start reading the menu items, the veritable smorgasbord of add-ons and services that the one company has that the other company doesn’t, that the other company has that the one company doesn’t, the ones that neither of these companies has that this one company over here offers, and I start thinking to myself, yeah, that would be good, but this would be nice, and these guys do this, but these folks do that, and I like the way their website works, or the add copy is friendly or funny, and then I start to go a little bit crazy. If I were not still recovering from my illness I’d be drinking.

Here’s a big list of important questions, as self publishers, we need to answer:

Do we want an ebook?  Do we want a printed book? Do we want paperback or hardback or both? How many copies do we want on hand? Do we need to have copies of the book at the same time our ebook is available? Do we want a nice cover? Do we want a nicer cover? How many times is a particular company going to allow us to say, we don’t like that cover, let us see another one, before they ask us for more money? Are we okay designing our own cover using templates for dummies? Will the print version of our book have distribution on Amazon or Barnes and Noble or at some other on-line retailer?  Do we want an ISBN number? (The answer to that should be yes). Do we want editorial feedback? Are we willing to accept editorial feedback? Do we need someone to edit our work? (I found this accidental malapropism in the novel I am considering for this project: “She had already passed mustard with Officer Babbit.” I laughed so hard I was in tears but then I was crying too at the thought that I might miss such an error after having already published the novel). How would we feel if we paid for editorial services and they missed an error like that one? Would we like our book to be considered for a prize or an honor of distinction? Would we like help with promotion?  How much?  And finally, what kind of bank are we willing to spend? My research tells me that we can publish our babies for free!  Or  we can spend as much as 6 or 7 grand.  I bet we could spend more than that, too, if we wanted, or, if we had some money burning holes in our pockets.  That’s not true of very many of my writer friends.  Or my teacher friends.  None of my friends have that kind of money.  Do you begin to get the picture? We need new professions or richer friends.  No, what we need, what I need, perhaps, are fewer choices.

This is the part in the blog where I draw some conclusion.  I have no idea what I’m going to say next. Let’s start with the last sentence of the previous paragraph.  Do I want fewer choices, really? No, but I would like to be able to distinguish those choices that are most crucial to my work and the goals I have for my work.  I don’t want to be seduced (and I think I’m very much in danger of that) into thinking that the more I spend the more successful my book will be.  I think that’s bullshit; it leads to nothing but wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth and spending of money.  The fact is, I believe, that people want to read good writing.  And if our writing is good–and it doesn’t have to be perfect–but if it is as good as we can make it, and we do what we can to share it, as Adam Dickson very thoughtfully commented on the last entry, with faith in our work, approaching our options with integrity, we will be successful.  Thank you, Adam, for that.

I’d like my next blog entry to be titled, Keep It Simple, Stupid: Don’t Spend A Bunch of Money.  We’ll see.

Published by michaeljarmer

I'm a public high school English teacher, fiction writer, poet, and musician in Portland, Oregon

10 thoughts on “Too Many Choices: The Decision to Self Publish, Part Two

  1. Maybe a few of us should form a self-publishing “publishing house” perhaps get better rates on printing (have done no research on this), but at least could pool promotional resources ($$$), talents and connections, etc. The whole agent/publisher equation is the same as the manager/label equation was in the 80s in the music business. It is insidious and anti-art. It IS about art, isn’t it? In these “industries” (book/music) it’s not about art (never was) but everything rests solely on “potential” marketability and sales. Like a food product. Sucks.

  2. Sometimes, I think that creating a new thing like an indie press or label would be a lot of work and sort of like reinventing some wheels. There’s stuff I don’t understand or don’t have the time or resources to do that some of the companies out there are equipped to deal with, and it may cost a bit more for these services, but even then the royalties that a writer makes from their sales are higher and their autonomy as an artist is greater. I agree fully that the current publishing model in the major houses is anti-art with rare exceptions, especially for new writers or young writers. This self-publishing revolution may kill the giants–or at least force them to find a different business model. Thanks, SP, for your willingness to read and respond! Happy New Year!

    1. Yeah. You’re right. As soon as I sent that I knew it was wrong. It’s exactly the thing I hate about any creative endeavor: the nuts and bolts of production of finished goods. I’m just a control freak that way.

      You’re right too that there are several companies out there that do cool stuff. But also true–they all offer something appealingly slightly different. I’m terrible with too many choices. At this point, I’m trying to figure out the terrain of the whole self-pub/epub landscape. I hardly understand the hallowed publishing house business as it is. The royalties part I’m inclined to respond: Royalties?

      I am committed to getting some number of rejections the old fashioned way. Ten or fifteen? I have found about that many agents who I think I’ll at least try to query, who might be curious. If that falls through, then I’ll go with self-pub/epub. The money’s not a big deal. I mean, I don’t have any, so not getting any (to speak of) for writing/distributing the book isn’t a big issue. Just like self-producing an album. Breaking even is pretty good. Great.

      You seem to be quite a bit ahead of me in sussing the book publishing world, so I will defer to you on this. My experience (thus extreme cynicism) comes from working for a music distributor for 15 years, placing CDs in retail stores (like Music Millennium and Borders, and everything, etc). The product we distributed was all second-tier, non-major label, mostly unknown stuff. I understand the retail model that way. I watched the whole music industry change in the time I was at my job. The book publishing industry is approaching the specific density of collapse in a similar fashion. We’ll all be on our own out there soon enough anyway.

  3. Quickly, here’s what I’ve learned about the traditional agent search. Find out who the agents are for the writers you love or who do something quasi-similar to what you do. Approach those folks first. Check out the website anyone who’s anyone. I found it more helpful than any finding-an-agent book out there. If you know published writers, ask them for recommendations and introductions. I only gave up after hearing from perhaps 30 different agents on the same book, but, you know, I hear stories about great writers who were rejected by twice that number. I don’t have the stomach for it.

    1. I’ve been doing my agent homework. There’s a lot of online info. I wouldn’t spend $$$ on a book with that info. Over the past four or five months I’ve been able to identify a few who have interest in music, or got such and such published. Been to all the agency websites for submission info. I’ve triangulated the “literary novel” bunch of agents. Have spent the last three weeks a trying to learn how to describe the Bible in 17 syllables, etc, craft a query. What a bunch of hogwash!

      Oh, I don’t have the stomach for this agent crap either. I’ve got over a million words in print from Two Louies. I’m not used to this shuck and jive–nor at all interested in participating. I’m going to give the traditional route a (brief) shot, so I can say I did it. Then I’m bailing.

      Hope you feel better. I’ve been sick too. Feel your pain. Nice talking to you.

  4. Have you looked at’s forums? They have a whole subforum on publishing that includes a list of agents, company reviews, etc. I found the forums to be really helpful.

  5. For my part, I think that lashing boats together is a good idea. I’m not sure whether today is a good day to be talking about a current publishing model…it seems that there is no hard and fast model. Maybe the answer is to work out what we want before we see what’s being offered. I wonder if it’s like the supersizing option in MacDs…or the crazy touch screen at Sheetz sandwich counters Too much choice. I’d like it in garamond, with blue endpapers and a solid green cover. Racing Green.

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