I got (or will soon be getting) the rights back to two books originally published in 2011. My reasons for getting the rights back are complicated but boring, so we’ll gloss over that part. Originally I wasn’t going to self-publish because, honestly, self-publishing looks like a lot of work, and I have enough on my plate. My agent and I talked about trying to sell these old books to another publisher, instead.
The problem is that with so many digital and small presses going defunct, there are now quite a few authors with old books to put back out, and publishers are getting pickier about what they pick up. Most, in fact, only want your book if you will also write a sequel, or give them something new in addition to the old book. And I was on board for that. I had a sequel to The Boy Next Door half-written already.
But then what I had written turned out to be kind of terrible, and writing new stuff this past spring when everything was crazy with my schedule turned out to be nearly impossible, and there was no way I’d ever hit the deadline my agent and I had worked out unless I could reach into the Harry Potter universe and borrow a Time Turner.
Unfortunately, while I stalled, The Boy Next Door went out of print. The book is coming up on five years old, so it’s not like I was selling droves of copy, but its unavailability definitely put a dent in my royalty statements.
But, I thought, I could totally put the book out myself.
Look, self-publishing scares me still. There’s so much to do! At the national RWA convention, I sat through Courtney Milan’s presentation on metadata and thought the whole time, “Crap. I have no idea what I’m doing. I never considered any of this. There’s so much I don’t know that I don’t know what I don’t know!”
There is a lot I do know. I’ve worked in book production for more than eight years. I know how a book is made. I can do page layout. I knew exactly what I wanted this cover to look like. I don’t have a lot of experience with ebook formatting—I still work mostly in print books at my day job—but I could figure it out.
But, geez. Metadata and front matter and ISBNs, oh my!
A friend pointed out that many people who are way less tech savvy than I am have self-published books to great success. So, really, I should calm down.
So far, all I’ve got is a self-imposed deadline, an edited manuscript, and a new cover. So next, I have to figure out formatting and distribution. The hard part in other words. I’ve been getting recs and advice from people who have gone this route before, so I know what I have to do (kind of) but I’m still finding this daunting. And what if I put the book up everywhere but nobody buys it and I don’t recoup my expenses? (I mean, just as an anxiety-prone control freak Type A, I’ve spent a lot of time researching and considering worst-case scenarios, full disclosure
So then: marketing! It’s become conventional wisdom that publishers don’t really do much marketing/publicity, so if you have to do it all yourself anyway, you might as well self-publish! I hear this all the time. But I disagree wholeheartedly.
The BARE MINIMUM a publisher should do is send your book out for review to blogs. Reviews are worth their weight in gold because word-of-mouth buzz is the key to selling books. Publishers may or may not also send your book to trade publications like Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, and RT Book Reviews. (They SHOULD, in my humble opinion. Sending a book doesn’t guarantee a review, as it’s sort of up to the whims of available reviewers, but even a so-so review in one of those publications is great exposure for you.) Many publishers will also do some or all of the following: buy ads featuring your book (on the Internet and in trade publications), some social media related to your book, feature your book on their website, organize blog tours, pitch you to media outlets, and similar things I’m not thinking of. (If your publisher does not do these things, it might be time to consider whether you’re at the best place. Because if they aren’t offering you some kind of marketing and publicity or at least sending your book out for review? Then, yeah, you are probably better off self-publishing. But a lot of publishers DO these things.)
So, basically, I’ve done my own blog tours before, but I’m finding the prospect of having to do all this other marketing exhausting in advance. I normally don’t really mind marketing, but this is on a different level from what I normally do.
The thing is that, yeah, these days, authors have to do some legwork beyond just writing the book, but self-publishing authors have to do everything. Some authors thrive on that and want complete creative control. I am not one of those authors. So that’s something to think about when you’re considering various paths to publication.
I think it’ll be fine, but my take away is that I will not underestimate all the work my publishers do, and also that this is not a decision to make lightly. That, yes, depending on your avenue toward self-publishing, it can be simple and easy, to someone like me, it can feel pretty daunting, too. So do your research and know what you’re getting into. ♥
RWA/NYC VP Kate McMurray is an award-winning author of gay romance and an unabashed romance fan. When she’s not writing, she works as a nonfiction editor, dabbles in various crafts, and is maybe a tiny bit obsessed with baseball. She has served as President of Rainbow Romance Writers, the LGBT romance chapter of Romance Writers of America. She lives in Brooklyn, NY. Visit her at www.katemcmurray.com.