The Reluctant Self-Publisher: Me

I’ve decided to self publish my novel, The Answer to Your Question

Self-publishing was not what I had in mind when I started the book, nor when I finished it (or at least let go).  But it has come down to a choice between self-publishing or not having it published at all.

I sense that I should be happier and more upbeat about this decision. After all, I have at least ten or fifteen self-published books by others on my bookshelf that I’m happy are in the world.  They’re good, worthy books.  I admire the writers for taking charge, getting their books out of their computers and into the minds of readers.  I encouraged a number of them to go for it.  When people ask me, I tell them self-publishing is a great thing.  It makes a lot of sense given the publishing industry.  If you don’t have a name, a track-record, great marketing potential, and/or a pretty outstanding book, it’s just very hard to get published these days.  Good things do make it, but many are called and few chosen.  Some people just get to this reality faster and accept it more gracefully than I have thus far. 

I started The Answer to Your Question so long ago I can’t even remember when.  I do recall that I wanted to write fiction, what I thought of as “pure fiction,” since I had been writing autobiographical stuff.  I thought it would be “fun” to write about completely made-up characters, explore a situation that I had not even come close to experiencing, and see what would happen.  I thought it would stretch me as a writer.  That has been true, much like early Christians got “stretched” when their hands and feet were tied to four horses who were then flayed to run in different directions. 

The initial impetus for the book came from living in Tacoma during the Ted Bundy era.  Like many others, I was fascinated by Ted, who was from Tacoma, and briefly attended the same law school there as my husband, though at a different time.  When Bundy was first accused, no one could believe the killer could possibly be Ted--so handsome, so smart, so personable, so articulate.  Why, he seemed to be “one of us” (aside from the fact that he was a Young Republican).  The unfolding of his story was riveting, involving jail escapes, more murders, legal defense by Ted himself, constant denials by him and his family, and eventually, his execution.  He may have murdered as many as 35 young women, give or take a few.

I had heard that Ted’s mother worked as a librarian at the University of Puget Sound, in the North End of Tacoma where we lived while Jeff was in law school.  I never met her but I thought about her a lot, wondering what it must be like to have this bright, promising son accused out of the blue of brutally murdering young women.  That became one genesis of the book: I would create a character who was the mother of a young man unexpectedly accused of murder.  This despite the fact that not only had I never been the mother of anyone accused of murder, I had never been the mother of anyone.  I had actually had a mother, but I knew nothing about one. 

Somehow another character got into the mix, how I don’t know, except that we had a neighbor in our apartment complex named Jean, who seemed waif-like.  My Jean was seventeen, Southern, pregnant, and pretty much on her own since her husband was in Viet Nam.  She was also a little strange, a kind of a simple-wise naif.  She worked at the Tacoma library where Inga, the mother of the accused son, worked, and she “imprinted” on Inga, sort of adopting her as a surrogate mother.  Eventually Jean has a baby, Buster.  There’s a lot of mother stuff in the book.

The plot element was Ben, the son, who started out based on Ted Bundy, but somewhere along the way got changed from a psychopath to just a guy who went through a bad patch. Well, not exactly!  But let’s just say he’s no Hannibal Lecter.  True psychopaths seemed too one-dimensional, too boring, really, plus the book was already hijacked enough by Ben as it was.  I thought of my Ben as a more complex person, with factors which we (or at least I) might not be able to figure out or fathom. I tend to think that violent sex and/or murder acts can result from a brain disorder.  They’re a form of mental illness that society, with its punishment model, hasn’t advanced enough to acknowledge or understand.  Such perpetrators have to be contained, but I am uncomfortable with black and white, good and evil. 

I wanted to write a novel that would be published.  I didn’t think in terms of money.  The main thing was Getting Published.  My first two books had been published by real publishers, Graywolf and Penguin, so that was my model.  It had been no walk in the park to get those books published, but I considered publishing the point of writing a novel.

I also thought in terms of someone turning the pages.  A page turner.  I didn’t know anything about mysteries or thrillers, nothing at all, as little as I knew about being a mother.  But I wasn’t writing a mystery or thriller.  I was writing a novel about two women who become entwined in each other’s lives because of Ben.  I feared most of all boring readers, writing something that was too quiet.  Quiet was the kiss of death, I figured.  I wanted plot, which I also knew little about.  By the time I finished, I felt I had grabbed onto the tail of a creature called Plot and been dragged all over the creation.     

I secured an agent for Answer, and she sent it around to editors in New York last year.  No takers.  Then, based on her suggestions—she was still enthusiastic about the novel and its chances, why I’m not sure—I revised it this past spring and sent it to her in June.  In July, in a restructuring at her literary agency, she lost her job.  And I lost my agent.

I figured that not only was my novel no longer a virgin, it had slept with about every editor in New York City.  This would not work in its favor in terms of getting another agent.  I had reached the Rubicon.   Change or die.  Self-publish, or put the novel away forever.  The latter is what writers who couldn’t get published did in the olden days, before ebooks and rampant, on-the-way to legitimacy self-publishing.  Sucked it up. 

But I really do want my novel to have readers.  That’s why I wrote it.  Still, I must say that self-publishing feels, in this initial stage, like the loss of a dream.  So what?  Life is full of lost dreams. 

I also find it difficult to give up having someone else’s seal of approval. Someone like an editor and a publishing house to stand behind the book, to reassure me that The Answer to Your Question really is a good book.  Really good!  Good enough.  I find it hard to know myself. My assessment of Answer is: not too bad, not good enough.  I do recall from actually publishing two other books that no praise is ever enough.  At least not for me. Not that I got all that much.  But still, no one could ever convince me that those two books were good enough.  It’s like the part of my brain that can accurately assess my own books is haywire.  So it makes me nervous to put my novel “out there” on my own.  No one has my back. 

So many others have gone before me, without all this bellyaching and handwringing.  Maybe I’ll come around.  At the least, it will be “interesting” . . .

I’ll let you know when it’s available. . .omg, for purchase!  In the meantime, I plan to blog about my experience in a series of posts, so stay tuned.  Exciting future installments include:

The Quest for a Cover: Why I’m not in Graphic Design

Why Buy One ISBN for $125 When You Can Buy Ten for $250

I Become My Own Publishing House: Radiator Press (it’s not cool, it’s hot!)

Copy Editing: the Best Money I Ever Spent (or is it copy-editing?)

I Finally Buy a Kindle so I Can Read My Own Ebook

What does POD Actually Stand-for again?


In the meantime, you heard it here first-- the buzz one degree above silence. 

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  • Paulette Bates Alden

    Hi, Arleen, 

    Wow, I am not qualified to compare my route to self-publishing with the She Writes Press. I have just taken a look at it, and the thing that is great about it from where I stand is distribution and fulfillment.  I don't really understand if they do a print run or if that is through Print on Demand (POD).  I can try to tell you the costs I'm incurring: I paid $770 for copy editing which I consider essential (and I'll be posting about that here in a few weeks). Oh, I didn't pay for professional editing because I've been in the writing biz for so long as a writer, teacher and editor that I have writer/reader friends that I called on for that.  I'm paying $710. to have the manuscript formatted for ebook and POD demand forms; I paid one cover designer $250 and couldn't use her designs, and now have an outstanding bill for a second cover designer--I expect it to be about $500 but dunno (I will also be posting here on my quest for a cover).  I paid $100 for my imprint logo.  I think that's it so far. I plan to publish with Amazon's Createspace for POD, and use Kindle for the ebook, exclusively for the first 90 days at least, so I can take advantage of their KDP program which is a free give-away ebook thing that supposedly is a good idea because it spreads the word.  I don't know what I will pay for publicity if anything. The thing that is disappointing me the most right now is that libraries and bookstores can't order my book to stock because the paperback will be POD only and bookstores can't return them. Someone could go into a B&N and order one copy, but the store won't stock it. Maybe independent bookstores might take a few on consignment, but I have to employ the Teddy Kennedy plan and drive off that bridge when I get to it. I hope this is helpful.  I really think you're wise to compare and look at a lot of options.  It's a complicated world out there, and there's a lot to figure out. Happily, many people are generously sharing their experiences and advice on this site and other blogs. 

  • Paulette Bates Alden

    Ginny, I hope you WILL read my novel. It gives me a thrill to know you're interested in the subject matter.  Your book, Seeing for Myself: A Political Traveler's Memoir, sounds intriguing. I will look into it!  I hope you don't set your hair on fire. You need your hair . . .  Congratulations on getting the job done and the memoir out there. It is still a baby at a month old, but I hope it grows and grows into a big book! 

  • Paulette Bates Alden

    Hi, Geena, Thanks for friending me on She Writes, and telling me (us) about your own experience with your children's picture book.  Good for you.  I WILL keep you posted on The Answer to Your Question, via this blog, where I'll be posting every Wednesday about my adventures and misadventures (apparently!) on the road to self-publishing. Thanks for your interest.  I appreciate it! 

  • Paulette Bates Alden

    Mary Anne, this is such a great comment. Thanks for articulating so clearly and confidently what this self-publishing deal is all about.  And boy, do you know of what you speak.  It is overwhelming at times--being responsible for everything, making so many decisions (and mistakes, in my case!).  I agree about the ultimate goal, and again, you express it so well.  I really do want to produce a quality book and despite my griping, I'm feel really privileged to be able to write and have something to self-publish.  Thank you for your encouragement and experience! 

  • Mary Anne Benedetto

    Paulette, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article and look forward to walking the journey with you on your road to self-publishing. It is a path I have chosen in publishing my first three books and will continue to travel with my multiple works-in-progress. I chose self-publishing because I am the author of fiction and nonfiction projects that I was itching to share. With the current state of traditional publishing, I felt that if I wanted to live long enough for my books to be read by the public, I had to take charge and make it happen. One benefit is having control--control over the publishing schedule, the cover, the content, the price, etc. However, this heady power brings inherent responsibilities which can, on some bleary-eyed days, seem overwhelming--wearing the hats of accountant, marketing manager, sales associate, editor, supervisor of my graphics professional, formatting guru, social media expert, etc. The list goes on and on. As exhausting as this may sound, our ultimate goal is to produce a quality publication that will create entertainment, education, benefit, and any number of potential positive takeaways for our readers. We write and publish because we know it is our calling. We have projects we believe in and want them included in our legacies. I wish you every success with your novel and look forward to your updates. I'll be right there with you!

  • Geena Bean

    Paulette, thank you for taking the time to express your feelings about deciding to save your creation by self-publishing your novel.  Before I decided to self-publish my children's picture book, I had dedicated some time to seeking several traditional publishers' approvals.  After not hearing, "Yes, we love this book and we would be more than happy to work with you," I decided to go ahead and self-publish it on my own.  I had, however, received a couple of positive letters from the editors about my story which fed the fuel to my publishing flame.  I believe that if you are truly passionate about your writing, and have an audience who will be more than happy to add a piece of your work to their bookshelf, or child's book collection, then why not go for it.  I would love to hear the outcome of your self-publishing journey, as well as more information about your book.  It does sound like a very interesting read.  Keep me posted, and I might be inclined to grab a copy!

  • Ginny NiCarthy

    My self-published book, Seeing for Myself: A Political Traveler's Memoir has been out for just about a month. I am glad I did it - most days. The other days are the ones when my computer calls in sick, or my mind does, and then I set my hair on fire. I tell myself, and believe, that once it's all over, I will be glad I did it. I want to read your novel. You would probably be surprised to know how often, and with what intensity, I have wanted to interview, or write to, or learn about a mother whose child is a serial killer. Or even a one time killer, such as the boys in Littleton. So, please keep on keepin' on, so I can have the pleasure of reading fiction while I learn a few things. 

  • Arleen Williams

    Let me (us) know what you think, okay? I'm particularly interested in a cost comparison between doing it totally on your own, as you are doing vs. going the packaged route with a vetted self-publisher like SWP. I'm still very much in the undecided group with a novel to push into the world, but not sure what route to take.

  • Paulette Bates Alden

    Hi, Arlene,

    Until you asked that question, I didn't even realize She Writes has a press. Mea culpa.  I will look into it, though it's too late for me now.  Thanks for drawing my attention to it.  I was fixated on two publishing options--traditional big and small publishers and self-publishing... 


  • Arleen Williams

    Hi Paulette,

    Thanks for sharing your journey. I'm wondering why you have not chosen to publish with She Writes Press.

  • Daphne Q

    Congrats Paulette... glad you went for it!

  • Grace Peterson

    Oh my. I didn't realize your agent had your manuscript for two years!

    You know, you mention that "seal of approval"? Well to land an agent is a HUGE deal. Your work obviously really spoke to her/him or they wouldn't have agreed to represent you. So to me this speaks of a huge seal of approval. Just sayin'... 

    I submitted to Coffeehouse and Milkweed too and was rejected so we have this in common. :) 

  • Paulette Bates Alden

    Maureen, what a generous, helpful and intelligent comment. I'm going to put it in my "publicity ideas" file for future reference. I absolutely believe READERS should be the gatekeepers.  And there are so many tastes and preferences out there that while you can't please all the people all the time, you can certainly please some of the people. . .at least that's what I have in mind for my book.  It's fascinating to me to read reviews on Amazon and see how wildly different various opinions of a book can be, from 5 stars to 1 star, as if people are reading totally different books.  But reading is a collaborative affair between readers and writers -- readers help create what they're reading by what they bring to it.  We write for our perfect readers--some version of ourselves, no doubt.  Anyway--I plan to use some of your great ideas. Thanks!  P

  • Paulette Bates Alden

    Betsy, congratulations!  I look forward to hearing more about your book and your self-pub experience!  Please keep us posted on details!  best, P

  • Paulette Bates Alden

    Donna, I MEANT to say you're giving BRENDA a chance...  Brenda Corrigan Went Downtown.  Love that title!  Brenda will thank you but you'll be thanking yourself too.  I'm a little delirious!  best, P

  • Paulette Bates Alden

    Donna, I just love hearing that you've got in gear about Donna.  Donna will thank you.  She didn't want to live in that drawer!  You've giving her--and yourself--a chance for readers.  Applause!  Best, P

  • Paulette Bates Alden

    Jessica, YAY!  Sitting and waiting--I HATE that!  And I'm really happy to be MOVING now.  Good luck to you and congratulations!  best, P

  • Paulette Bates Alden

    Carol, I find your post so interesting.  I really fear that the promotion part will take over--and it will be hard to know how much is enough. I have a list of about a million, no shitzu, blog reviewers I could contact.  But why?  How much is too much?  And I'm an introvert too, but find connecting on the internet not the same as pressing the flesh. I press "enter."  But I agree about how the publicity piece could take over the writing time.  So far, I have found the self-publishing really really time-consuming. So many details, and you have to do it all yourself. I hope that I can contain thing to about three or four months total, and not be obsessed with doing more and more--which I tend towards.  I guess it all depends on one's goals, and I need to define and refine mine more.  Do I want a lot of sales, or to read readers.  God knows we all want praise. But when is it okay to let go of a self-publishing project and move on.  I'm just at the beginning, but I hope there IS an end!  Thanks!  P

  • Paulette Bates Alden

    First, Grace, congratulations on landing a publisher, and for believing in your work and your book!  As for your question, my agent tried for about two years to place the book, and the idea of then sending it around to small presses myself and waiting some more, and then if one should by the grace of god take the thing, waiting another 18 months to two years to have it come out just seemed like too much WAITING!  So much of writing is waiting!  I did send it to Coffeehouse and Milkweed, both here in Minneapolis, but I started down the track with self-publishing while I was WAITING to hear from them -- and after three months, I withdrew it and now I'm reading the epub and mobi files of the manuscript, on the verge of having it go public.  One thing I'm NOT reluctant about is that I took control of the waiting, at least!  The train has left the station!  Thanks for your nice encouragement.  best, P

  • Paulette Bates Alden

    Kamy, I agree with you entirely. I see the same thing -- worthy books that can't squeeze through the eye of the publishing needle.  I feel in excellent company self-publishing, even if I do have slightly cold feet.  But I am buoyed by those who have gone before me and who are sharing their stories on this and other sites.  Thanks for writing.  P

  • Paulette Bates Alden

    Julie, what a great surprise and pleasure to hear from you here!  How wonderful of you to comment.  I am afraid I'm NOT a good editor my own work--but luckily I had some good readers.  Folks, please check out Julie's wonderful book: 

  • Paulette Bates Alden

    Bella, Bella, beautiful Bella, how delightful to find you here on She Writes, as well as your posts on your workshops, etc. that I receive via email (and I think we're friends on FB?).  What a wise and wonderful comment -- so full of measure and hope.  Thanks for sharing it with us all. You're always on point.  best, P

  • Paulette Bates Alden

    Dear Tyra,  what a thoughtful, candid comment. Thanks for the nice words, and I know you'll find your way.  I think it is natural to want to go the traditional pub route--I certainly tried it and I'm glad I did. But alongside that, you can also be exploring via this website, which has so many wonderful resources re: self-publishing--what that might offer you. As you know, I'm just wading into the water, but I'll try to pass along what I learn, the mistakes I make, any positive things that come of it--I'm sure they'll be some.  I'm an introvert too but since everything is pretty cyber now, you WON'T have to stand naked at Walmart!  You can sit at your computer in your nightgown (like I do) and connect with a lot of readers and writers! Thanks for writing!  P

  • Tyra Brumfield

    Great blog, Paulette, and I'm afraid I must agree: "Life is full of lost dreams" and it is a monumental task to keep going, believing, and dreaming. From all accounts I've read, self-publishing is a great experience, but, like you, I'm going to try and hold that temptation at bay as I look for an agent. I don't expect much, but I have to, at least, try.

    There were so many good posts below, like Bella's and Grace's. Thank you, Carol, for what you said. I, too, am an introvert--a late-onset introvert. If that sounds like a disease to you, it is, in my opinion. Our world isn't made for introverts and how much easier my life would be if I could claim that armor. I can't. I'm easily hurt, wear my heart on my sleeve, and have some social anxiety, so to promote my own book, well, I might as well stand naked in Wal-Mart on Black Friday while I'm at it. I recoil at the thought of doing either one. Also, self-publishing has its merits, but to be grouped with people who can't spell or read...I just want more. I know the argument that self-publishing is improving its reputation and I believe it, but, for now, I'll take my bruisin' from the pub industry, rather than from marketing. 

  • Bella Mahaya Carter

    Paulette, I really enjoyed reading this and I support and applaud your decision to self-publish. In the end, we just have to believe in ourselves and our work. We have to trust that what we love is our path and that when we are called to write we must write. It's wonderful that we no longer need the approval of gatekeepers or anybody else. We must approve of ourselves. This is challening. I struggle with this myself. But it is also a wonderful opportunity for growth. Like Agnes de Mille said to Martha Graham, "It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open." In today's publishing climate it is also our "business" to connect with readers by whatever means necessary. Keep the channel open during this self-publishing process, which is an extension of your creative work.  Trust yourself. You are a wise and gifted writer and I'm grateful you're bringing this book into the world! Allow yourself to be led, not by your ego, but by your soul. It will not let you down. I loved Crossing and am a fan. I will read your posts and am already looking forward to your novel! Thanks for your fine writing!