Thoughts On Self-Publishing My Debut Novel

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Cover photo © by Johannes Frandsen. Used by permission. Please visit http://www.johannesfrandsen.com

(You can read the first chapter HERE. You can join my “publishing group”, a bunch of friends supporting the publication of the book HERE).

After a lot of careful consideration, I’ve decided to self-publish my novel ESPERANZA FARM. Last week I emailed a literary agent who was reading a partial, letting her know that I was withdrawing the manuscript from consideration. Here’s the reasoning that preceded this decision:

I have nothing against the traditional publishing model, a route which continues to work for most authors and one I tried myself for a while. Even if I did not succeeded at it — in most cases it takes a lot of time and persistence — I received enough feedback from people in the industry to know that my book has a pretty good chance of eventually selling to a commercial publisher, if that was what I wanted to do. So this decision is not born out of rejections, of which I received my fair share, but has been more influenced by things I’ve learned in the process of finding and agent and publisher.

The reason I’ve decided to go at it as an independent publisher has more to do with what I believe is better for my book. And by the possibilities of participating in other aspect of the book world that have always captivated my interests.

The facts are that I also love the whole publishing, marketing, sales, design, publicity, entrepreneurial side of books. I love writing, reading, researching, talking about literature, rewriting and reading industry trade news. I love old books, new books, e-books, even comic books. And I’m most fascinated with the future of the book, especially how it intersects with the new media.

So this is a grand experiment and an exciting learning opportunity as well as a challenge.

One of the advantages of publishing your own material is the control that is possible over every aspect of the project. Where will it be printed, what process will be used and what distribution method. Not to mention the actual design components right down to the typeface. A perfect example of this benefit is the photograph I’ve chosen for the cover. A number of months ago, my daughter sent me a link to the website of a photographer whose work she admired. I fell in love with the work of Andrew Moore but was blown away when I came upon this photograph. I knew I had found the cover for my novel. I contacted Mr. Moore directly and soon had an agreement on the licensing terms. (This has changed, since I’ve decided to go in another direction with the cover photograph. I will blog about it soon, just after I’ve notified the interested parties).

This is now done. You can read more about it HERE.

If this was a traditional publishing arrangement, this would not be possible. Unless you’re a mega-author, with lots of clout, these decisions are mostly reserved for the in-house art director or the outside design studio. A good agent could get a writer veto power on the final cover design, but he or she is not really part of the decision process.

So this one advantage is an important one for me. It offers me the opportunity to work directly with artists, designers and other professionals to put together a great product that reflects my vision.

One more thing I want to mention is the financial considerations of publishing a first time novel. Hefty advances for one are rare and most writers can not make a living just from their writing. Most keep a day job and write at every opportunity, including time that should be allocated for sleeping. At a recent #askagent session on Twitter, it was made very clear by the agents participating that a novelist, especially a first timer, should not expect to make a living from the proceeds of their work. It does happen occasionally, but it is rare. If you’re lucky enough to sell enough copies of a debut novel, the financial advantage might be with the self-publisher, simply because you keep most of the dough. However, this needs to be carefully weighted against the benefits that come from having an agent and an established organization behind your efforts. This article More on the Realities of a [New York] Times Bestseller was particularly informative. I highly recommend it.

One last thing that most be said about publishing one’s own work: You have to believe in its value. And that conviction must be based on the honest opinion of people that know a thing or two about books, preferably not members of your immediate family.

Self-publishing is not for the weak of heart or the uninformed. I am certainly not going into it blindly. I have been fortunate enough to have received enough advice to help with my decision. That advice has ranged from: “you’re crazy to attempt this” to the more reasonable and thoughtful “these are the perils and the potential benefits.” I have done a lot of research prior to making a decision. There’s a steep learning curve and negative stereotypes that still linger from the “vanity press” days. There’s also the incredible amount of time that is required to handle all these other aspects — hours that are deducted from writing time available. But since I enjoy all of the other components of the business, it feels like a fair exchange.

There are profound changes in the publishing industry and in the way books are printed, distributed, marketed and even purchased. The advent of social media has also ushered in opportunities that were not there even a decade ago. Even as some thing have remained the same, there are plenty of new developments to make it an exciting time to be a writer and publisher.

I am very excited about the possibilities ahead. I intent to document and share here as much of my experiences on this venture as possible. Please let me know what you think.

One thought on “Thoughts On Self-Publishing My Debut Novel

  1. Marisha Chamberlain April 18, 2010 / 8:23 pm

    Beautiful cover, Jesus! I’m so excited about this next step in your illustrious life!

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