Why Haven't You Self-Published Yet?

A couple weeks ago, blog reader Lexi left this comment:
I'm interested in why you guys aren't self-publishing.

It needn't stop you querying agents, if you're set on that. Meanwhile, you could be making money from your writing, and if you do well enough, agents may approach you. Win/win approach.
 It's a totally valid question, and I answered briefly in the comments, but I thought it deserved a bit more explanation.

Understand, of course, that this is just why I haven't self-published yet. I can't speak for anybody else.

(1) I still believe I can make it traditionally. I got zero requests for my first novel. The next novel got five requests -- it was rejected, but three of those agents said they wanted to see revisions and/or my next novel. This round (which is really a revision of the second novel), I've already gotten significantly more interest than last time.

That tells me I'm getting better and leads me to believe I will continue to do so. Until I hit a wall (like where the statistics are no longer going up), I'll still believe I can do it.

(2) Self-publishing is still, statistically, a lot of work for not a lot of gain. I have no doubt the numbers have increased since I ran through them a few months ago, but I haven't seen a lot to encourage me. I'm still not convinced that self-publishing should be more than my last resort.

(3) Pursuing traditional publishing stretches me. I talked about this a couple of years ago, when self-publishing still wasn't quite legit. I think one of the reasons for the growth curve of (1) above is that I've actively gotten feedback and tried to get better. I might still do that if I self-published, but I know myself. More likely I'd revise less and sacrifice quality for churning out novels.

(4) Poor sales on a self-published novel could affect my chances of getting traditionally published. At least according to Rachelle Gardner. I'm inclined to agree with her. For me, making a little money now isn't worth killing the dream. Speaking of which...

(5) Self-publishing isn't my dream. I once had a friend who tried to shoot the moon on every round of Hearts. He lost points most of the time, but he won overall (and won big). But he didn't change his strategy even when I started sacrificing points just to take him down. When I asked him why he kept doing it, he said, "The game's just not fun otherwise."

I kinda liked that.

Traditional publishing is changing, we all know that. But it hasn't actually changed yet. It's still here and larger than life, and so is my dream. So I'm going to keep shooting and see what I can hit.

Besides, what's the worst that could happen?

For you, have you self-published or are you still shooting for traditional? Tell us why in the comments.


Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Some authors embrace going completely self-pub or completely traditional, but I think for more and more authors, a combination makes good sense. Finding the right path for each book sounds like a platitude, but I believe it's true. There are lots of ways to invest in your writing career, but constantly improving your craft (whether you self-pub or keep trying for traditional) is the only investment sure to pay off.

jjdebenedictis said...

Ooh! Ooh! Just read this today, and it's relevant:

Cory Doctorow on self-publishing: "I dramatically underestimated how much work this would be."

Okay, so I have self-published--under a pseudonym, to evade your point #4--and I consider a failed financial experiment. I've sold less than 15 copies, and I now realize just how much sustained work it would take to sell a reasonable number. If the book chugs along on its own and someday starts selling appreciable numbers, that's great, but that hypothetical success won't be due to me because I don't want to spend my time shilling. I want to spend it writing.

And, like you, traditional publishing is my dream. That's the milestone I want to reach. It's not even a financial goal--it's a "deathbed" accomplishment, i.e. on my deathbed, I want to be able to say I did this!

But one thing that has changed for me is that if I get traditionally published, and (hoo-rah!) become at least midlist-level successful, I would consider self-publishing a useful thing to do on the side with quirky projects. In a sense, I'd be willing to let my self-publishing efforts ride on the coattails of the public profile my publisher built for me.

So the stigma is gone, to my mind, even if self-publishing isn't what I choose.

Adam Heine said...

I absolutely, 100% agree with both of you. I think self-publishing is a valid route, but at this point in my career, maybe not the best route.

And thanks for the link, Jen! Very interesting to hear it from Cory Doctorow.

Nancy Thompson said...

You said it all perfectly, Adam! And something else for me is the validation that accompanies traditional publishing. For whatever reason, I need that.

S.P. Bowers said...

Spot on. Right now I'm concentrating on traditional publishing. With two toddlers I barely have time to write as it is. Rachelle Gardner isn't the only one to say bad numbers can affect traditional publishing, though I don't have links handy.

Myrna Foster said...

Yes. I want my stories to have editors who love them as much as I do, not someone who's only reading them because they're being paid to.

Deniz Bevan said...

I'm with you. I might try self-publishing if I could write more quickly and put out lots of novellas and short stories in quick succession, to keep readers happy. And if I had no job and time to devote to developing a platform (okay, I know Kait Nolan works full time, but she writes faster than I do!). Also, having grown up with traditional publishing, I've got to say, I just want that validation.

Andrea Mack said...

I agree with you, Adam. For this point in my writing career right now, self-publishing isn't right and I'm concentrating on the agent/publisher route. Not that I'm ruling it out for sometime in the future. I think there's a lot of support and learning that would come from working with agents and publishers to get a novel published.

tlbodine said...

Totally with you on this. I think that a writer's career benefits from a combination of self-publishing and traditional publishing, but I don't think self-pub is necessarily the place to start. I think it makes more sense to build up your readers through the trad route and then cement your relationship with them through self-pub.