To Wait Or Not To Wait: The Self-Publishing Dilemma
Written by
Joanne Tombrakos
January 2012
Written by
Joanne Tombrakos
January 2012

Once upon a time there was no decision to make. Traditional publishing was the only option. Yes, there were vanity presses. But the process was big and cumbersome and costly. There was no internet filled with social networks. No Amazon to streamline the process. On-line retail was just a vision in the future. 

But now it’s all changed. There are choices. You don’t have to wait to get picked if you don’t want to. Yet many of us do. I did. 

I waited and I waited. I was lucky to have an agent willing to represent me and who believed in my work. But still I waited and waited. As I did, the publishing world was changing before my eyes and the rejections piled up. I followed the leaders of the evolving model, people like Seth Godin. I read Joe Konrath’s blog religiously. I wondered if I might have to run naked through Central Park to get a book deal.  I investigated all those options from places like Author House who you could pay to hold your hand through the process to the more independent routes. I learned just exactly what Smashwords was. I even stopped not liking Amazon.

But I still waited. That, after all was the dream. Sort of like the Sleeping Beauty story in which she lays in wait for a hundred years until Prince Charming plants a kiss on her lips, sweeps her up on his white horse and goes riding off into the sunset. Only in this case, it was a Big Six  editor I was waiting for and a nice fat contract to pay the rent. 

I started to get antsy. Which is what happens when you have a corporate business background like I have. People like me who spent 25 years selling :30 and :60 commercials for radio and television stations aren’t about waiting. They are about taking control and doing. I might have said goodbye to that part of my life, but I had not said goodbye to that part of me. So it was in September 2011, I self-published The Secrets They Kept

I loved every minute of the process. I loved the researching to find the perfect editor, cover designer and interior designer. I liked the discovery of CreateSpace, KDP and learning what a mobi file was. Even the endless hours of reading and checking to make sure each word was perfect and each sentence was on the right page. I loved the learning.  And I looked forward to the marketing. Because after all, that was the world I came from. 

If that sounds a bit idyllic, it wasn’t. There were plenty of moments of terror and fear. There still are. The truth is self-publishing is not for everyone. But it’s not going away either. It’s changed the game and the way it is played. One of the new rules is you have a choice.

But how do you choose? I recommend starting by asking yourself these questions:

  1. Are you the type that needs validation? Then wait for the seal of approval stamp so many believe a book deal is.
  2. Do you mind being the “ugly step-sister”? The traditional publishing world is still pretty intent on looking down their noses at the self-published. You may even find that fellow authors who were previously rooting for you, now not returning your emails. 
  3. Do you have a business background? If yes, self-publishing will be much easier. 
  4. Do you like to control or be controlled? Self-publishing allows you more control in what the story will be, how it will look, what the price will be for electronic and print versions and where you will sell it. In the traditional world, someone else is calling the shots.
  5. Can you sell?  I have met so many writers in the last few years who hate the word. It scares them. They think they shouldn’t have to. Selling is an art, just as writing is or as I like to point out, another form of storytelling. Whether it is selling yourself to an agent or a reader, writing today involves selling, no matter what option you choose.
  6. Have you had a professional editor review your work? I’m an advocate of professional edits. Necessary if you want to be a serious self-publishing contender, but equally so if you are looking for an agent. No one is interested in taking on a manuscript that has “potential.”
  7. Do you like sitting alone in the garrett with a pack of cigarettes as you type the next line? If you do, and think that by choosing the traditional route you will get to do that, think again. Any way you look at it, that is no longer the writing life. 
  8. Do you believe your story is worth reading? You must unequivocally, without a shadow of doubt, at least most days, if you self-publish. Because you will be challenged!

I am challenged every day. But I thrive on that. My decision was the right thing for me and I would do it again in a minute. In fact I am already planning my next release for the summer of 2012. At this moment that manuscript sits in the hands of Diane O'Connell, a wonderful editor and fellow SheWrites member.

That is not to say I would not  consider a deal from a traditional house should one fall into my lap. One of the cardinal rules of selling is never say no to any offer until you have heard the details. But what I do know is that because of what self-publishing has taught me, I would look at it differently.

Note: My novel, The Secrets They Kept is available in paperback and e-book at Amazon, and other on-line retailers. And if you are interested in hearing more about my business coaching programs visit my blog or send me a note and I will add you to the mailing list.

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  • Joanne Tombrakos

    Louisa...I love your story....and love how well you are a selling. And the great thing is the numbers will just continue to increase!

    And glad you like the article and it's helped you to make a decision...for now!

  • M. Louisa Locke

    I waited 20 years.

    My historical mystery was written in 1989, got an agent, got lots of rejections because there "wasn't a market for historicals", then of course the market took off, I tried again with a small press, that promptly went under, and tired again, but was told because the book had been published for a nano second, it couldn't be published again, and with each obstacle, I would put the book away and go back to my "real job," as a history professor. When I reached retirement age, I thought I would give the book one last chance, but after doing my research, decided I was too damn old to wait the 2-3 years it would take from first query letter to a book being in print (if I was lucky enough to make that journey) so I decided to self-publish that book, Maids of Misfortune, in Dec 2009-20 years after the completion of the first draft.

    It is now 2 years later, the book has sold 20,000 copies (at $2.99-you can do the math), I have written and published a sequel, Uneasy Spirits, which is now selling 50 copies a day, and I couldn't be happier.  I don't think trying the traditional route is a bad idea if you are young, you learn things along the way and you have time. I don't think it is a bad idea if your book doesn't fit a popular genre (as mine did), because the ability to market in bookstores may be more crucial to you, but if you are older, have been unsuccessful in the traditional route because agents and editors say your book is good, but just not commercial enough, or you like to know that the book that gets to readers is exactly the way you want it, self-publishing just might very well be for you.

    M. Louisa Locke,

    author of Maids of Misfortune and Uneasy Spirits, Victorian San Francisco Mystery Series.

  • Tyra Brumfield

    I really liked this article, Joanne. I have come to that fork in the road myself and have dreamed, since I was little, of becoming a published author. Now, the manuscript is in my hand and the next step will be critical. The possibilities are endless, but I'm still a purist at heart. The one voice in my head says, "Why wait. You could sell your manuscript on Amazon for .99 and make a bundle, while the other voice says, "Wait. Do your research, because you never know." This article made clear for me that the latter path is the right one...for now.