Is self-publishing your fallback plan?
There’s an excellent guest post by novelist and editor Kim Catanzarite on Jane Friedman’s blog this month, titled 11 Signs You’re Ready to Self-Publish.
Kim offers advice for authors who started out wanting to snag a traditional publishing deal, but are now wondering if they should self-publish. From that position, she offers 11 signs that their answer should be “Yes, I’m going to self-publish this book.”
I’d like to offer my own spin on this question, specifically for nonfiction authors. The landscape is slightly different than for novelists or memoir writers, so I’ve replaced tips on, say, entering writing contests with making sure your author platform is rock-solid.
If you are considering self-publishing (by which I mean assisted, hybrid, or indie/DIY publishing options), here are 8 signs you are ready to take that path.
1. Agents are not responding with feedback or questions. As Kim says, maybe you’ve sent out a significant number of queries over a significant amount of time (a year or longer), and you’re frustrated with the lack of response. Maybe a few agents requested chapters or a full here and there, but afterward they replied with a “no.”
2. You’ve taken your manuscript through the whole nine yards of the editing process, from beta reading to professional editing, and the manuscript sparkles. I agree with Kim here too.
3. You are connecting with your readers consistently, demonstrably, and effectively. You know how to find your “tribe” and you know what they want or need from your book. Maybe your e-newsletter has 10,000 subscribers, or you address several audiences numbering in the hundreds or thousands each month. Here I differ from Kim: you need to be more than making a start on your author platform—you need to have a well-established connection with the audience for your book.
4. You have a team. By that I mean someone to support you with booking speaking engagements, or pitching articles to media outlets, or executing your social media activities. This isn’t always relevant for fiction and memoir writers, but it is unusual to meet a nonfiction author (particularly in the business or personal development categories) who is doing it all themselves.
5. You like the idea of being in control of all aspects of your book: the cover, the page design, the illustrations, the pricing, and the marketing. You’re organized, and you enjoy managing complex projects. If you don’t know something, you’re confident you can research the subject or reach out to the pros for help. Here I would emphasize the “find an expert” aspect over the DIY approach, to ensure you end up with a well-produced book.
6. You want it to happen sooner rather than later. You don’t like the idea that even if you do land an agent, it will likely be two years or more before your book appears in print. This is important, and I recommend that every author asks themselves the “when” question before pitching to agents and editors. If you can’t wait two years, self-publishing will always be a better fit for you.
7. You’re a self-starter. A go-getter. You won’t take no for an answer. When it comes to your book, you’re ready to do what needs to be done. You want your dream of publishing to happen, and you’ve been saving money for a possible “self-publishing venture,” your Plan B. These are all essential attributes for any author, whether they take the traditional or self-publishing route. Including the money piece: even if you don't have to foot the entire cost of publishing, you should be ready to spend money on some aspect that your publisher won’t cover, like commissioning illustrations or an index, or engaging a dedicated publicist.
8. You’ve considered your goals for your book, and what you will consider success. Does it have to be a bestseller in order for you to be happy with it? Does it need to make a million dollars? Your goal may not have anything to do with money. It might be something simple like holding a finished book in your hands (an undoubtedly awesome feeling!). What are your goals, and can self-publishing satisfy them? Once again, Kim’s advice is excellent, and equally relevant to all authors. Having not only clear goals but a combination of both personal and commercial goals will set you up for a satisfying publishing experience.
If you’re at a crossroads in your search for the best publishing option for your nonfiction book, let’s talk. Email me at sally [at] sallycollings.com, or drop me a line via the contact form on my website.