Is Self-Publishing a Novel for You?

The Invisibles on Amazon

“A timeless and poignant story of sisterhood, with all its joys and challenges, and also a reminder that we can dearly love and care for those who are not exactly like us.” — A reader.

Several writers’ groups and blogs I follow are hosting big discussions about publishing and changes in the industry. Is it a good time to self-publish a novel? Everyone agrees that it’s harder to get an agent and a traditional deal as a first-time author. There are also more small and independent presses that will publish first-time novelists.

But there are huge questions to ask yourself if you’re considering self-publishing fiction. The only way to consider the issue is to break it down into many questions. The following is based on my experience, admittedly limited, but a happy one, in self-publishing two novels

What’s Your Career Goal?

This is a soul-searching question to ask yourself. Ponder it over many long nights when you have leisure to connect with your truest feelings.

My goal, which hasn’t changed since I began writing poetry books, is simply to be read. But not by a handful of friends and acquaintances. I want my books to go out there widely. I believe they have appeal for a broad audience. I’ve discovered a little about that audience through advertising my second novel, The Invisibles, over the last year. My readers are on average 35 years and older, both men and women, interested in authors Jo Jo Moyes, Elin Hilderbrand, and Kristin Hannah. Commercial fiction readers with a bias toward layered emotional stories.

This is not a fiction category that makes it easy to self-publish. See below, about the importance of choosing a genre when you self-publish. It went into my decision-making, since I didn’t elect this audience, they responded to my books. The audience definition didn’t exactly give me a genre, but it gave me a sense of who’s reading what I’m writing. I want to write fantasy-science fiction with layered, emotional stories.

Another big factor in my choice to self-publish is financial. I’m heading toward retirement and I don’t have to earn a living from my fiction and poetry. The other big factor is that I enjoy marketing. Yes! I’m that weird animal that actually likes the challenge of selling.

The Question Cat – how I look when pondering life questions late at night.

Do you see how all those factors go into my answer to the question? Your reason for writing — in my case, I can’t stop doing it — your potential audience and your brand if not a specific genre you write in, your age and financial security, all these things have gone into my answer. And it’s a provisional answer. It may change.

The Marketing Skills for Self-Publishing

I work in marketing — specifically, I write direct mail copy for nonprofits, mostly hospitals. I tell stories for a living, I pitch donations for medical and research institutions. But a pitch is a pitch. A direct mailing to ask for donations has much in common with writing a book ad or description for an Amazon page. It’s ad copy, not creative writing. So I figured I could be good at book marketing, if I took courses and read books about how to do it. I understand the emotional mechanism of selling. I’m not afraid to. You might ask yourself, in considering self-publishing, if you can write in a different way, learn new skills, and feel happy pitching your book to a lot of people you don’t know, week after week. Sure, it might sound a little scary, but if it’s a major “ewww” factor, it’s not your best publishing option. If, on the other hand, you relish a challenge and like learning new skills, it might fit you and your book.

Marketer at work, when well-caffeinated. Very different from writer at work, pictured below.

If you’re already self-publishing, check out my post on Self-publishing Do’s and Don’ts.

What’s Your Genre?

Here’s what a lot of self-publishing gurus don’t say: self-published romance, mystery, and thriller books by far outsell mainstream fiction and other fiction categories. If you write books in those genres, you have a much better chance of making money as a self-published author than if you write, say, women’s fiction. Publishing guru Anne R. Allen quotes literary agents Jessica Faust and Nathan Bransford as saying you MUST have a genre, you can’t publish or self-publish as mainstream. Literary fiction as a category is waning in popularity — extremely. Pick a genre and adhere to its tropes, say these experts. Read this on Anne R. Allen’s blog. It’s not just agents and traditional publishing, it’s Amazon and self-publishing that now require a clear genre. You can have genre overlap, but your book won’t be visible without a clear primary genre, with sub-genres possible. It’s the tyranny of bookselling. They have to shelve your book somewhere, and readers look under genres.

Self-Publishing in the Age of Reading Books on Your Phone

The sales trends for ebooks in the last few years show that reading on ereaders like Kindle and Book is declining. But does that mean ebook sales are down? No. It means people are reading ebooks on different devices. This article goes into detail.

I have more to share from my experiences of self-publishing, and will share in future posts. Happy writing!