If I were an unpublished author, would I self-publish?
Posted by Bob Mayer
I’ve done several conferences this year and noticed a distinct change in the air regarding publishing. Agents and editors seem more subdued, no longer swaggering around as if they held the keys to the kingdom. Because they don’t. Traditional publishing held the keys in terms of distributions for many decades. They no longer do. I am currently selling more copies of my Area 51 series in a day than Random House did in six months. I have two titles in the top 10 on Amazon science fiction and one in top ten in men’s adventure.
At these conferences, I’m invariably asked by writers whether they should self-publish rather than seek traditional publishing. I’ve thought a long time about this, putting myself in that position, but using my 20 years of experience in traditional publishing and 2 years in indie publishing and having been successful in both.
My answer: No. I wouldn’t self-publish my first manuscript. I’d be querying the traditional publishing route (primarily agents) while focusing on writing my second manuscript. Then when I finished that, would I self-publish if I hadn’t gotten an agent?
No. I’d still keep querying, getting feedback from beta readers, and be writing my third manuscript. Also, I’d have the three books be part of a series in terms of theme and content. Same characters, setting, whatever, but they should essentially be the same genre. When I finished that third book would I self-publish?
Yes. If I had gotten positive feedback from agents (but no sale) and beta readers and made the corrections. I’d put all three titles up. Then spend 50% of my time promoting while writing my fourth book.
The problem right now is too many writers are putting their first manuscript up and spending 75% of their time trying to promote as they try to write their second book. The focus isn’t on the writing, it’s on the selling. And sales are going to be terrible. I’m selling 1,100 ebooks a day and honestly, most new writers, with no backlist, would be very happy to sell that in a year (ask my business partner her numbers with an ePublisher for a year and she’d tell you the same thing). I didn’t sell my first manuscript. I was on manuscript #3 before I got an agent and rewrote the book based on his comments, and then sold it. And now, as I go through my early books as we upload them, I cringe sometimes at the writing. (They’re great books, buy them, yes, right now) I’ve learned so much over the 20 years I’ve been writing full time. More in the past two years than the first 18. I can see where I had point of view problems. Sentence structure problems. Character development.
The more I think about it, the more I feel for a new writer with no backlist, the most important thing to do is write three manuscripts first, before investing heavily in promotion. The investment is time. That is our most valuable resource. It needs to be spent on learning the craft of writing.
I posted recently about Indie vs Trads. There is this argument on the Trads side that indies haven’t paid their dues. But what are the dues? There is no author training like having to go to medical school to be a doctor or the training I went through to become a Green Beret. Author training is two-fold. First, the writing. Second, the publishing.
The best promotion is a good book; even better promotion are good books.