Is It Vanity? The Decision to Self-Publish

In the spring of 2013, after more than a year of sending out my manuscript to agents and the few publishers who accept un-agented work, I began to get weary. I want my book to be available to readers while I am still around to feel the satisfaction of a job completed. All around me (book reviews, mass media, even The New York Times), I see evidence that self-publication has changed dramatically since I began my writer’s journey. When I began writing, I always said, “I don’t want to self-publish—it’s the mark of an amateur.” In those days a self-publishing effort was called Vanity Publishing. Now it seems to no longer be a venue only for the vain or the desperately bad writer. Even established, top-selling authors try it, some with great success.

I pride myself on being flexible and open to new points of view, perhaps a vanity in its own way. And I believe my book has a potential audience—certainly a vanity. So, a year ago, I decided I would research self-publication and see if it had lost its bad reputation and might be a viable venue for Immigrant Soldier.

This was not a difficult task. Countless books are available giving self-publication advice. There are blogs,  groups on LinkedIn, and articles in writing magazines and on the internet. Just the sheer quantity of information is daunting. I had to start somewhere, so I plunged into the heap, and I got lucky with my first selection.

The Fine Print of Self-Publishing by Mark Levine is a perfect initiation into this rapidly changing area. Levine’s book provides a great overview and easy-to-understand advice. He explains the differences between using a subsidy, self-publishing company and being the independent publisher of your own book, as well as the pitfalls of both methods. He emphasizes the importance of a realistic budget (you get what you pay for but should definitely not spend more than you can afford to lose), a great editor, an understanding of your audience, and a professionally designed cover and interior. There are also two chapters that deal with publishing contracts. In the last two-thirds of the book, the author evaluates 25 different subsidy publishers, ranking them from “Outstanding” to “The Worst of the Worst.” Though this specific information can become dated, it still gives the reader an idea of the way different companies work and the type of questions an author should ask.

After finishing The Fine Print of Self-Publishing (yes, I read all the way to the conclusion and you should, too), I read or skimmed some additional books and self-publishing websites. Every resource brought me nuggets of information, and I began to feel more confident.

The term “platform” kept surfacing, as well as the importance of having one established in order to market a book. A friend from the book group I belong to is a literary publicist, and after reading the manuscript, she advised establishing a platform even before actual publication. So I updated my LinkedIn presence and joined several of their author and writer groups, set up a Facebook author’s page, and found a young woman techy to design me an author website. (I hope you like it!).

Of course, I visited the websites of countless self-publishing companies. Their offerings were mind-numbing, with too many packages and a multitude of options, each company different enough to make comparison complicated. And, as usual with packages, none of them seemed quite right for what I wanted. Many of them were too expensive for my budget.

I am a great believer in networking, and several friends gave me wonderful contacts. My web designer was referred to me by a long-time friend. I hired an editor I found at (Editorial Freelancers Association) and a graphic-artist, the son of a friend, who agreed to work with me on a cover design. One of my boldest efforts was to arrange a conference with the teacher of a self-publication workshop I had attended several years previously. He called himself a “book shepherd,” and our meeting helped me better understand the ins and outs of self-publication.

Late in the summer (2013), when I was deep at work with my “team”—a book cover nearing completion, the editing begun, and the website taking shape—an unexpected e-mail arrived to my in-box. A publisher, to whom I had sent a query letter in early spring, wrote that she was interested in reading Immigrant Soldier. Just as I had made a decision to do it all myself, I was presented with the possible fulfillment of a long-held dream. But the offer came with the warning that the reading process could take upwards of six months! What should I do?

I conferred with friends and advisors, but all along, I knew I could not pass up this opportunity. Here again it was vanity that led me—this time the hope that I might yet be published by a traditional publishing house. Vanity and hope put the trajectory toward self-publication on hold. While I waited, I would continue to work with the editor (just in case) and get my website and blog up and running to create a platform. I simply was not capable of saying “No, thank you” to a “real” publisher.

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As I am writing this blog, it is mid-summer 2014. Just a few weeks ago, I received word from the above mentioned publisher that she would pass on the project—this after a year going by and edits done by me at her suggestion. She looked at the manuscript a second time and finally made her decision not to go forward. Of course, I am disappointed and have gone through a period of mourning.

Now I am again energized to tackle the publication of Immigrant Soldier myself. I will keep you all in the loop.


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