Hard questions a new author should ask themselves

With self-publishing becoming the go-to publishing paradigm for new authors, I’ve been long contemplating this course of action. My reasons for doing so are primarily because I don’t think my work is good enough to attract the attention of agents or publishers.

Egads, so why would I want to self-publish? Why fling my trash into the street for all to gawk and point at, covering their nose and mouths at the horrendous stink?

Well, I said my work isn’t good enough to attract agents or publishers, not readers. 😉

Anyway, I know that isn’t the best of reasons to self-publish, but I tamped down that gnawing doubt, thinking that I had to be confident and forge ahead. If I do otherwise, I’ll never finish anything.

Well…the other day something stopped that notion in its tracks. It didn’t derail me, but it caused me to pause and really consider why self-publishing may or may not be right for me.

Here’s the roadblock: an old blog post on Nathan Bransford‘s blog.  Though ancient, all of Mr. Bransford’s points are just as valid today as they were way back on March 25th, 2010. If you are considering self-publishing, go over and take a look. It just might set you back on the path to traditional publishing, or make you gird your loins and join the fray with wild abandonment.

15 thoughts on “Hard questions a new author should ask themselves

  1. What it actually boils down to is attitude, Nila. Writers today have more options than they know what to do with, and it freaks people out. To me, it boils down to: Are you seeking readers? Or are you seeking approval? Trust me on this, publishing a book doesn’t change who you are. You’ll be the same person the day after publication as you were the day before.

    Writing is art and craft and a lifestyle and a mission and a calling. But publishing? It’s just a business. Kind of a silly business sometimes, but business nonetheless. Whether to self-publish or go with a publishing house is a business decision. The market will decide if you make good decisions.

    1. Right – what’s the right decision to make for YOU (the average new writer)?

      I’m leaning more and more to a limited, print self-publishing scenario for my first book. The goal? To simple finish the darn thing and put it to rest. But I’d like to have some physical thing to show for my accomplishment, to hold up in the air and say, “I made this!”

      As far as making good, sound business decisions, well, that’s for the future when my skill grows.

      Whatever our background, we all have to ask ourselves what is it that we really want, and then choose what will get us that. As you said, we have so many options today, we must do our due diligence.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. This is a good post, but before I comment on that I have to get past being distracted by the fact that Dean Wesley Smith mis-used the “Holy *blank*, Batman” construction in the very title of a blog post. As everyone knows, that is supposed to be a wordplay thing where the middle word refers to the subject at hand. The only way “holy smokes” makes sense in that context would be if Nathan was posting was about a fire or a cigar bar or something. Of course, Dean could have just left off “Batman” and had a perfectly serviceable title. Sorry, I’ll try to come up with a more substantive comment once I get over this.

    1. Hahahaha.

      It took me a while to figure out what you meant, but I see it clearly now. Maybe it should have been:

      “Holy Inconceivable Moments, Batman. I agree with Nathan Bransford”


      “Holy Agents-Turned-Writers, Batman. I agree with Nathan Bransford”



  3. How about “Holy common ground, Batman!”, or “Holy reconciliation, Batman!”? And those are just off the top of my head. If only Dean had someone available to check out his writing before it was published, to examine it for errors and polish it up a bit… 🙂

    Anyway, there are good reasons to go either way, and IMHO you have to consider the book itself – some books might find a decent audience but are just going to be hard to ram through the traditional system for one reason or another. And of course one’s tolerance for all the non-writing things involved in publishing factor in (Charlie Stross, for instance, seems to think self-publishing isn’t worth it to him because he estimates all the overhead would cut his output in half).

    The interesting thing to me is that it seems as though there is a segment of authors who go with self-publishing because they just can’t stand the thought of someone else (agents, in particular), taking some of their profit off the top. I really think there are some people who’d rather make 50 cents per book on 1,000 books than a dollar a book on 10,000 when someone else was also making 15 cents a book from it. It seems like to some people it feels different than just paying other people out of one’s profits.

    1. I never thought about the stingy-factor. I don’t personally have that problem, but I can see how it would be hard to continue to pay an agent if you didn’t think they were doing their job.

      1. I’ve seen a lot of arguments that present the math of indie vs, traditional, and are predicated on either route resulting in the same number of sales. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, IMHO. You can argue that a given book is very unlikely to even get published through traditional means, but once it is, I think on average it will sell a lot more copies. But really, I think some people have a visceral reaction to someone getting a percentage off their sweat, even though the first thing an agent is going to do with a contract is try to get at least 15% more out of a publisher to pay for themselves.

        On the other hand, I’ve seen agents argue that the bump from 10% to 15% standard percentage represents a 5% raise for them, which is clearly just them trying to take advantage of the fact that many writers are bad at math.

  4. Speaking for myself, the main reason I’d choose the traditional route, should it become open to me, is for the expertise brought by the professionals. Before I publish, I want the work to be as good as it can be. Even that, however, is a two-sided coin. There is little benefit in me pairing with someone who knows no more than I do, or who lacks either the connections or resources to do more than I would, on my own. So it’s not even as simple an issue as finding an agent and taking whatever deal they can negotiate. I might not want that deal.

    So, I figure, I have to ask myself some tough questions. Am I willing to hire an editor? Yes, I am. A publisher would hire one. If I self-publish, I can choose who I want to work with. I can also choose my own cover, and write my own back-cover blurb.

    I see this as being like any other small business; I have to invest. And I believe in my work. If I don’t, why would anyone else?

    I have one final note, food for thought. There are some who say that self-publishing is rapidly becoming the new first step to the traditional route. I don’t know if that’s true, but it does make some sense. Most traditionally-published books don’t make back their investment. The people on the other side, the traditional publishers and agents, would happily embrace anything that allowed them to reduce their risk, I should think, and this strategy might just do that.

    1. Yes, I imagine that an author with a built-in readership (how ever small) is a lot more attractive than an author with no history.

  5. Well, I said my work isn’t good enough to attract agents or publishers, not readers.

    Bingo. I often wonder about how many potential modern classics are gathering proverbial dust on hard drives because somebody in the publishing industry once told the author it probably wouldn’t sell.

    I’m reminded of George Lucas being laughed out of the office at Universal Studios in 1976 and being told that space opera was long dead as a moneyspinner… Fox on the other hand, decided to take a punt on Star Wars. The rest, as they say, is history.

    1. I think that does happen. However, I also think there are tons of bad novels/ideas that get self-published and no one reads them because they are bad novels/ideas. The thing is, the market decides that, not “gatekeepers”. Still, they were probably saving us all from the really crappy stuff. I guess.

      1. My concern is that I’ve seen a lot of writing that just isn’t ready (or is just plain awful) from people who think it is perfectly good, which makes me worried that maybe my writing (which I think is pretty good) may not be ready yet.

      2. That is very true. I’m just getting to the stage where I can see that my stuff is truly crap, but there is a glimmer of hope. I can’t believe I submitted something to one of the best agents in the genre over a year ago. I’m so embarrassed, but I learned a lot: I’m not ready.

      3. True, true. It is a two way street. If quality were anything to go by, Dan Brown might never have got published 😉

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