Updated: Feb 19, 2021
When I was in high school, my dream was to be on Booknotes with Brian Lamb. Screw Oprah’s Book Club. I wanted to be on C-SPAN.
On Booknotes, journalist Brian Lamb held 1 on 1 interviews with current authors. I now realize that back then, I wanted to be a best-selling novelist and that Lamb’s guests only wrote non-fiction, which sort of retroactively shatters my dream.
But to me, Booknotes was magical. It was Inside the Actor’s Studio for writers. I imagined sitting across Lamb’s desk while he grilled me about the “big issues” surrounding my book. At the end of the program, he always held up a copy of his guest’s book and said, “This is what the cover of the book looks like.” I pictured a close-up of my book in his hands.
But as you can probably guess, none of this ever happened.
Booknotes went off the air in 2004, taking my dream of chatting it up with Brian Lamb with it. Then I got my MFA and took an unexpected detour into academia and later, content creation.
Which brings me to self-publishing.
In spite of my big dreams of literary stardom (if such a thing even exists when you think the height of success is appearing on CSPAN), I have chosen in the last few years to be an independent author. And I’ve never looked back.
The general attitude toward self publishing has changed a great deal in the last 10 years. In my grad workshops, we were always told to stay clear of it.
Not only would it jeopardize our chances of getting to work with a legitimate publisher later, but it would also make us look desperate. When CreateSpace (now known as Kindle Direct) really began picking up steam, I remember bemoaning the fact that “now anyone can publish a book.” The book world was getting cluttered with a bunch of trash written by wannabes who had no idea what they were doing. How dare they?
But while I was busy being judgmental and waging a private war on CreateSpace, I was also sending my chapbook, Bone China Girls, out to small presses and submitting it to contests, all without any success.
I knew the book was good, and the fact that no one else seemed to see it frustrated me. Then, I turned my original statement around and looked at it from another direction.
Anyone could publish a book.
And anyone meant me.
I believed in my book. I didn’t need anybody to tell me it was worth publishing because I already knew it was.
Plus, my publishing & content development experience armed me with all the skills I needed to make it happen.
I didn't have to wait for someone else to give me authorization to do what I was capable of doing myself. I have now published two books 100% solo. Frequently, I have people ask for advice about self-publishing and whether they should take the plunge.
I’ve learned several things from my experiences, and while there are many more I could discuss, I think these are the most important.
1. Self publishing is as “legit” as you make it.
When people say that self-publishing isn’t legitimate, they’re talking about the people who are doing it wrong. These are the people who go all in without thinking about the wide array of skills involved with pulling off a book release.
Your biggest asset is a book that’s professional, that looks like a publishing company that’s been established for decades released it.
Typos and text that isn’t evenly spaced are bad enough, but self-publishing really nosedives into amateur hour when people release books with bad covers—stuff that looks like a third-grader made it for their report on alligators.
The sad truth is that people do judge books by their covers and nothing kills a great story faster than a cover that’s badly designed.
If you don’t have great or even average graphic design skills, don’t publish until you can find someone who is able to create specific, consistent branding for your book. That means compelling images, correct alignment, and most importantly, fonts that make it easy to read the title of your book (yes, really).
Otherwise, you could find yourself on this website.
2. You get more control over your book.
Because you have sole ownership of your book, you can do it your way, completely. That doesn’t just mean in terms of the content. It means you have control in everything. One great thing about self publishing, especially with Amazon, is that you can fine-tune your audience to fit specific groups of people and genres.
No one knows the audience you’re writing for better than you do, and you have the freedom to strategically market your work to whoever you want.
You also get to do your own social media management, which can include targeted Facebook advertising, a tactic that also lets you define and market to specific audiences.
Does this take a ton of work? Of course it does.
But your book and the creative control that comes with it is in your hands entirely, and that’s an empowering thing in a world where many traditional publishers don’t give their writers that freedom.
3. Your book will be released more quickly.
Part of having control of the publishing process means that your book comes out when you want it to, not when it fits into a marketing calendar.
If you really know what you're doing, it's a quick process. If you publish with Amazon, they provide you with templates for laying out your text and cover.
Once you’re happy with your creation, it’s just a matter of uploading the files and clicking the Publish button.
You can even request a proof copy so you can see what your book will look like before you officially publish it. All of this can have a lot of advantages if there is a specific time frame when you want to release the book.
My novel in stories, The Goodbye-Love Generation, came out earlier this year. The book centers around the shootings at Kent State University on May 4, 1970, and my plan was to have it ready to go for the 50th anniversary of the event.
When the university cancelled its commemorative events because of COVID-19, it became even more urgent that I release the book. I believed in my story, and I desperately wanted my community in Kent, where I grew up, to read it, especially since they couldn’t honor the anniversary in the way they’d hoped.
So while other publishing companies were rescheduling book releases or putting projects on hold, I was planning a book launch on Facebook Live and running a targeted social media campaign while in lockdown.
I was thrilled with the response—many readers from the northeastern Ohio area wrote to me to say that they felt like I “saw” their experiences from the era and the pain that came from the event. Others said that the stories helped them deal with the emotional chaos of the pandemic. The Goodbye-Love Generation is selling great, but I'm not going to get rich on royalties any time soon. However, sometimes believing in your work means knowing when and how to release a project, and money frequently isn’t a factor in that decision.
There’s a song in the Broadway musical [title of show] called “Nine People’s Favorite Thing” that is about the virtue of having only a handful of people who truly love your work. “I’d rather be nine people’s favorite thing than 100 people’s ninth favorite thing,” the cast sings. That’s the philosophy for approaching the decision to publish your own books. You won’t have millions of fans screaming your name. You won't have celebrity endorsements. You’ll have something better: a community of a few people who are all in for your book and have stories about how it impacted their lives. It’s worth the extra effort, and it’s more than worth the risk.
So, my dream of being on Booknotes never came true. I doubt The Goodbye-Love Generation will make it to Oprah’s Book Club either or that Reese Witherspoon will advocate for a Hulu miniseries based on it (although I think it would make a great one).
But what I do have is a book that I believe in, that has found its way to the people who need its message of hope. And if that’s your goal for your work, self publishing might be the route for you to take.
Want to find out more about the process? I'm sure you've got a ton of questions. Let’s chat. Schedule a complimentary Virtual Meetup and we’ll sit down on Zoom to go over what it looks like to get your book out there. Click here to learn more & grab some time on my calendar
Writing Prompt: What person or community would you most want to read your writing? What would it mean for them to read it?