To Self-Publish or Not. Part 2.
(If you missed part one, you can find it here:
Last time we spoke about the pros of self-publishing. Now I thought I could share my thoughts on why, when and how a traditional publisher can be more helpful to you.
Please note that I refer mostly to poetry books, because that’s where I’ve gathered my experience and opinions. That said, some or all of these points may be applicable to fiction and nonfiction books, and I have the suspicion that some points may apply even more strongly.
So, what can a publisher do that you would have difficulty accomplishing by yourself? What advantages does a traditionally-published book have over a self-published one?
1. You have a team on your side. If your work was accepted by a press that is more than a one-man (one-woman) operation, chances are you will work with a series of professional people who will apply their expertise to make your book as successful as possible. If you self-publish, you will have to do everything yourself or hire others to do it for you. If you are self-publishing for the first time, you may not be completely aware of everything you might need help with, and you will end up learning some things “the hard way.” It may be a good idea to sit down and talk to other self-published authors about their experiences and borrow as much learning from them as possible. Be sure in this case to talk to someone who has published in the same genre as you.
2. You and the book are eligible for awards. There is a series of wonderful literary awards for which your publisher can submit your book . They are easy to apply to, with no fee or almost no fee, and some can change your life and career overnight if you win, or even if you are a finalist. However, you’ll notice many of these awards exclude self-published books. I should say that most of these awards exclude chapbooks, as well. So part of your decision will depend on what type of book you’re planning to publish. My advice is to look up the literary awards no matter what. Even if you are not eligible to submit, you can make a mental list of what you would love to apply for with your next book.
3. There are subtle differences in the appearance. Unless you are an experienced typesetter and book designer (or you hire one), chances are some people will be able to tell that the book is self-published. Here, again, the difference is blurred when it comes to chapbooks, which are supposed to look unique. But my view is that a full length poetry book should be of standard size and paper, should not go crazy with the fonts and must be perfect bound.
4. Distribution and marketing. If you are very, very lucky, you will be published by a press that will place your book in every bookstore in the country and will ensure NPR interviews and New York Times reviews. If you find a press like that: 1) thank your lucky stars and 2) do your best to sell a lot of books for them, because they have a long line of authors dying to dress their words with this publisher’s covers and your past performance will figure into their decision when you send them your next manuscript. In the most realistic case for a poetry press, however, the publisher will make your book available for sale on their website, with online retailers and with local booksellers. But, between you and me, you are perfectly capable of doing this yourself, too, if you’re willing to put in the effort. What can I say, though, is that distribution is the hardest part of publishing.
5. Sharing responsibility. In my view, this is the biggest advantage that traditional publishing has over self-publishing. If you are like most writers I know, there comes a time when you look back on your older work and shudder with shame and self-criticism. Now you’re writing a whole lot better, and you wish you had never showed this work to the world. If your book was self-published, you may have been the only one making the decisions, and you have nobody with whom to share the responsibility. There is strength in numbers. Comfort, too. Working with an editor could be both rewarding and enlightening, and I recommend it, no matter what publishing route you take.
I hope these thoughts have been helpful to you. Look at both the pros and cons of self-publishing and traditional publishing to make your choice.
The truth, however, is that sometimes we don’t have a choice, and if we want our books to be published, we have to invest our own time, money and effort to make it happen. If that is the case, roll up your sleeves and go for it with your eyes open, and put in your best effort.