Self-publishing. This is a topic that you hear all about in the publishing industry, especially now, and it’s something, I realize, that I’ve neglected to talk about. So here’s the scoop.
Basically, there are three main routes to publication:
- You can go the “traditional” way, which is by querying agents and if/when one offers on you (this is easier said than done, trust me. Querying is supremely difficult), they will submit your manuscript to the major publishing houses you can’t get into without an agent. Agents also negotiate contracts for you, help you revise your book, and really just support you on your way to publication. They are essentially superhumans, but they also have to completely fall in love with your book to represent it. So yes, getting an agent is difficult, but in many opinions, it’s completely worth it. I go into more details about agents and querying here. For perspective purposes, almost all of the big time authors of today go through the traditional publishing route. Veronica Roth, John Green, etc. I’d say it’s the safest route, but it’s also not for everyone.
- Small presses. This another publishing option which I promise I’ll elaborate more on in the future, and it’s one that is all about the particular person and their needs/wishes. Essentially, there are the major houses which you need agents for, and then there are the smaller publishing houses which authors can get into themselves. The submission process for small presses is, however, very difficult, because they can only take on so few books–you just don’t need an agent to submit. The legitimate small presses edit, market, design book covers, etc. all very well, and even though your chances of becoming a household name with a small press are much smaller than with a major house (but not impossible!), small presses can still help you sell a reasonable number of books and get your story to readers. Two YA small presses I’d suggest starting with, whether you want to submit or just for research, are Entangled Publishing and Spencer Hill Press. Note: before signing with a small press, research research research. A lot of small presses are well-intentioned but will not help your book.
- And then there is self-publishing, which is a complete do-it-yourself marketing, editing, book covers–everything. There are several ways to self-publish, but the main way and the way I’ll focus on is to upload your book to sites like Amazon (through Amazon KDP), B&N, and/or self-publishing websites like Smashwords. All for free. There’s no gate-keeping; you upload it, and it’s published. Like, searchable. Buy-able. Like a normal book.
Just like that.
It’s that simple, and it isn’t. See, the thing about self-publishing is that you have to do all of the marketing, editing, and cover design yourself. These may not seem very important, but they are. Now, you can hire freelance editors and cover designers to do the last two for you, although they cost a lot, but you’re still going to need to market. Readers won’t magically flock to your book. You have to do all of the promotion yourself, bring all of the attention to your book yourself. It’s difficult, but you still can do it if you really try. And yes, there are tons of success stories about self-published authors selling big, namely Amanda Hocking, but here’s the thing: don’t self-publish if all you want to do is go traditional with that book. In fact, don’t self-publish at all if your only goal is to be as successful as authors like Amanda Hocking. You need tens of thousands of sales to get the attention of agents and editors. It is very unlikely you will achieve that number. So if you plan to self-publish, that should not be your goal. Most self-published books sell less than one hundred copies ever; some don’t even sell any.
Also, as a side-note, unless you’re successful, having a self-published book even when you query agents (if you query agents–plenty of self-publishers are happy where they are) with a different novel will hurt you. You’ve stripped yourself of your debut status, and if your self-published book isn’t successful, it shows agents that your writing–and your marketing ability–may not be sellable. (And yes, if agents are interested in your novel, they will look you up.) Now, having a self-published book is NOT a deal-breaker for future books, but it also doesn’t help. In that way, if you self-publish, you may want to use a pen name.
Okay, so that seems like a lot of bashing. Let me get something straight: I have nothing against self-publishing; I just want to warn you not to be tempted by all of the success stories. There are millions of self-published books out there, and very few achieve that kind of attention.
I think for some people, self-publish is a viable option. If you only want to get your work out there and don’t really care about the sales numbes, or if you’re a very savvy marketer and are prepared to spend money and put hundreds of hours of your time to get your book readers (and there’s still no guarantee you’ll get a ton–but if the book is good, and more people than just you and grandmother think that, then it’ll sell some copies).
Personally, I’d be open to self-publishing, but I have to write a book that I, and my critique partners, truly believe is good enough, even if it gets rejected by every agent ever. And then I’d have to make sure my web-presence is strong enough, and that I’m ready to market my book like crazy. Maybe in the future, when I’ve written something that I just know is great, I’ll self-publish.
Overall, I think self-publishing is a Good Thing, and it’s a trend that can work, but both you and your book have to be ready for it. However, this is a type of publishing that is not for everyone, just like traditional publishing is not right for everyone.
So I guess what I wanted to get at in this post os this: teen writers are starting to self-publish. A lot. I think many of them are drawn in by the success stories and the desire to get their books read–I know, because I almost did this myself. And look, there is nothing wrong with self-publishing as a teen. Absolutely nothing. I’m sure many of you are having moderate success and enjoying yourselves–and I’m happy for you. I really am. However, I want to make sure teens–and writers of all ages, really–know what they’re getting into when self-publishing. Be sure to research research research. Assume that you aren’t going to be famous from it. Assume that your book will not be the next best thing. In fact, assume that you’ll sell less than one-hundred copies. This may not be the case, but it’s better to be happy with a low number than expect a huge one.
And most of all, make sure your book is something you want to represent you as an author. Honestly, a lot of first novels aren’t very good, so please don’t rush to self-publish your book unless you really, truly believe that this book is great, and that you want it to be what represents you as an author. And don’t do this as an on-the-spot thing. Get honest feedback from people you don’t know in real life. I don’t want you to regret your decision after two months. Also: be prepared to handle negative reviews. No matter how good your book is, you will get negative reviews. It’s inevitable. (“If you publish it, they will come.” I had to say that. HAD to. Also, anyone who gets that reference deserves a cookie.) You have to know how to handle criticism.
In short, self-publishing is a completely viable option. But it is not for everyone, and you shouldn’t rush into it. DO YOUR RESEARCH AND KNOW THE CONSEQUENCES. Okay? Okay.
Happy holidays, guys!
P.S. You guys are amazing. Just sayin’.
P.P.S. Before I post this, I’d like to add two things.
1) Teen author Oliver Dahl guest posted on here a while back, and he seems to be happy with self-publishing. It just gives you another perspective, if you’re interested.
2) I’m actually the assistant to an amazing YA writer who is venturing into self-publishing. Her book is great and I really believe it can be successful. Point being, there are times to self-publish. She has an agent, but the book didn’t sell. And she loves it, and I love it, and her critique partners love it–so she’s self-publishing it, because she still believes in that book. This is exactly when you should self-publish. If, after more than a year since you wrote the book, you and everyone around you still believes it’s great, follow your gut. Share it with the world. You won’t regret it.