I used to think self-publishing was for losers, that "vanity" presses were named so for a reason. Looking at the debate on Elle Symonds' blog post, it seems others feel - or felt - the same way. Now here I am getting ready to self-publish my memoir, and I'm having a ball. Here's why and what I've learned so far.
No more waiting. I've been working on my memoir for the past several years. I've had it workshopped a couple of times and received both helpful critique and encouraging feedback. I queried lots of agents. LOTS. I took a half-day course about polishing my agent letter. I entered lots of contests, and got one honorable mention.
Some agents I simply never heard back from. A few rejected me quickly, and on very kindly took the time to give me concrete feedback.
I knew my book could be better, and took the agent's feedback to heart. I reread my memoir and realized she was right: I sped over important parts; I didn't linger enough. I took a year and added whole chunks, filled out entire sections. I read it again, and was, finally, satisfied.
Now what? Another round of queries? More contests? More waiting?
I inched another year closer to 40 and thought, SCREW IT. I'm publishing this mofo myself.
LESSON LEARNED: Wait a little while. Try your hardest. But then know when it's time to stop waiting and take the reins yourself.
Now's the right time. In October 2009 I quit my job to move from New York to San Francisco and write full-time (with my boyfriend's support and encouragement). Before October, I had had a few things published over the years. A YA novel back in 1999. A couple of short stories in 2004. A personal essay in 2006. Few and far between.
Suddenly, now that I was devoting all my energy to writing, I was getting published left and right. I joined The Nervous Breakdown and started writing for The Frisky. I entered contests and submitted to magazines. A year and a half later I have a good-sized network of writer friends and a small fan base.
LESSON LEARNED: Prime the market. Develop a fan base through other writing. Support other writers. Give and you shall receive.
Getting a little help from my friend. They say don't judge a book by its cover, but who are we kidding? We do. If I'm not looking for something specific in a store, my eye is drawn to appealing and striking art work and design, or else to a look that is similar to another book I've liked.
For my memoir cover, I knew I wanted a black angelfish to reflect the title, Black Fish: Memoir of a Bad Luck Girl. The black fish was the first gift I gave my ex-husband. He loved it, but little did I know his superstitious Korean mother would consider it bad luck, and would thereafter blame me for all their misfortunes.
As I'm not visually inclined, I could have done some lame clip art, but then I suddenly remembered: I have a friend who's a kick-ass letterpress card designer. Duh!
LESSON LEARNED: You probably already know talented people. Use them. Pay them. Promote their work.
Marketing marketing marketing. I came from marketing. I hated it. But marketing for myself is something else entirely. I can be as creative as a I want. For instance, to kick this whole thing off, I'm holding a contest asking readers to help me pick a memoir cover. The prize for one randomly drawn voter? A free copy of my book and beautiful letterpress cards from my cover designer. Not only do I market myself, I market my friend. Genius, if I do say so myself. ;)
Now I just need to keep marketing till the book comes and after. Forever! But at the same time, I need to strike the balance between being too little and too much information.
LESSON LEARNED: Marketing will make the difference. In the comments in Elle Symond's blog post on self-publishing, someone wrote that self-publishing risks being self-printing. I think how you market your work makes the difference. Who cares if your book is available on Lulu if no one knows about it?
I will still try the traditional publishing route. Someday, if I ever finish the novel that's in my head. But if that doesn't work, self-publishing will definitely be an option.