Self Publication or Self Mutilation?

With new avenues opening every day, more writers are self publishing. Is self publishing a viable option, or are you doing your career more harm than good?

The first thing most of us think when we hear an author has self-published his work is that the writer or his work (or both) must not be very good. We believe, rightfully so in many cases, that the author has self-published only because his work wasn’t good enough to entice a “legitimate” publisher into paying for and publishing it. The term self-publishing is fraught with negative connotations. Is it any wonder? A lot of awful writing has been self-published by wanna-be writers who don’t know the first thing about structuring a sentence, much less how to put together a cohesive story or article.

Self Publication

It’s an unfortunate reality. By nature, self-publishing allows bad writing to be published. There’s no one but the writer to monitor the work, and if a bad writer believes his stuff is worthy of publication, and if he has the money to go through the motions of publication, he can unleash his poor writing skills on the public. Ultimately, though, it’s the buying public that decides if the work is good or not. Lousy writers do not succeed for long.

Early in my career, I set out not to self-publish. I didn’t want my work and my reputation to suffer from the negative aura that surrounds self-published authors. I only published through “legitimate” publishers who paid me to write, thereby “proving” myself as a professional writer.

Self Publishing Gives the Writer Control

But here’s the kicker. I have always liked the idea of self-publication, not because I saw it as my only road into the world of publication, but because I like the control. Yes, it’s true, I might have a few control issues. I’ve always liked the idea of writing the book, putting it together myself, and marketing it on my own. I’ve never done it on a large-scale level (for the reasons I previously mentioned), but the idea has always appealed to me.

And now, well into an established career as a professional writer, the idea of self-publication titillates me once again.

Successful Authors Who Have Self-Published

There is nothing inherently wrong with self-publishing your work. Nothing wrong at all. Many successful writers have done so. Mark Twain, John Grisham, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and William Strunk Jr. to name a few. Do a Google search and you’ll find that the list goes on. As a non-literary example, the rock band KISS deserves mention. In the early days, back when no one would hire them to play, they paid for and promoted their own gigs because they believed in what they were doing. Those gigs led to the attention that got them where they are today, and whether you listen to their music or not, you know who they are.

Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing

Self-publishing has both benefits and drawbacks. Before you decide whether or not self-publishing is the right choice for you, consider every aspect of the endeavor thoroughly.

First the drawbacks. You’re responsible for getting the ISBN numbers for your books, you’re responsible for finding printers and overseeing production, you’re responsible for hiring artists to do the graphics, you’re responsible for marketing, and you’re the one who gets to pay for all of it, hoping you’ll sell at least enough books to break even.

Now the benefits. You retain complete control over the quality of the work, you are not at anyone’s mercy, you keep the profits (assuming there are any), you get all the glory, and you put your work in front of the public where it belongs.

Here’s something else to consider. Ask yourself why you’re doing it. Is it because you want to be rich and famous? Forget about it. This isn’t a quick road to either of those things. Writing, even under the best of circumstances, self-published or otherwise, almost never is. Can those things be achieved? You bet they can, but not without a lot of hard work and persistence.

So, is self-publishing your work a wise choice? Let’s look at the reality of the publishing business. There are more writers out there than “legitimate” publishers can handle. A lot of very good material gets lost simply because those “legitimate” publishers can only publish so much, and odds are, those publishers are going to publish the tried and true authors before giving new writers a chance. In many cases, the only way a writer can get his work out there is by publishing it himself. That doesn’t mean the work isn’t any good. It simply means that realistically the odds are stacked against you. If you want to publish, you might have to take the bull by the horns and do it yourself.

I wrote earlier that I’ve seen a lot of bad writing by self-published authors. Truth is, I’ve seen a lot of bad writing published by legitimate publishers too. There are many good writers whose work will never get published by legitimate publishers simply because there are way more writers than there are publishers. If you know you’re a good writer, and you truly believe in yourself, consider self-publishing. If your work is no good, trust me, the public will know.