[Episode 1] I'm self-publishing a book. Am I crazy?

Inez shares a candid look at her fears, doubts, and expectations for self-publishing a book. Join her on the journey!

Hi everyone! Inez again.

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know that my primary focus is traditional publishing. I can’t say I’ve had much success in that regard, but I queried agents and participated in pitch events for the entire year of 2021.

However, self-publishing has always interested me as a concept. I’ve never been much of a rule follower, to be honest. The ‘conventional’ ways of doing things have never really appealed to me (in fact, I’m writing this article while sipping on maté in Argentina, which is made possible by a very chaotic and unorthodox job… but that’s a whole other story). So, when I heard about self-publishing, my gut reaction was overwhelmingly positive.

I thought it would be cool for writers to connect directly with readers without gatekeepers standing between us. Wouldn’t it be awesome for writers to have more control over their work? Will self-publishing revolutionise the outdated publishing world? For a time, these questions filled me with excitement.

But that all came crashing down when I joined Twitter.

Now, I should preface this statement by saying there is a wide variety of writers on Twitter. Some are mind-blowingly talented, some are wickedly clever, and others are genuinely kind, supportive, and insightful. However, there is a dark side to Twitter. I have noticed a group of increasingly desperate self-published authors hawking half-baked books with cringe-worthy covers (if you’ve ever done a #writerslift, you will know what I’m talking about…).

I’m not saying these books are “bad” or not worth publishing. I’m not trying to “gatekeep” anything. I mean, I’m just some nobody on the internet. I’m simply saying that personally I would not be interested in reading those books. In my personal opinion, many of the self-published books I’ve seen do not meet the quality standards that I would personally be proud to publish. And, according to my observations, the single-digit number of reviews on these books means that, just maybe, other people share my opinion.

In case that wasn’t enough to scare me away from self-publishing, my wariness was compounded when three of my critique partners (CPs) went the self-publishing route around the same time. In all three cases, they did everything that most guides to self-publishing advise: they had beta readers give feedback, did several rounds of revisions, and hired professional editors and cover designers. In the months after publishing the books on Amazon KDP, they got a few five-star reviews from clearly supportive friends and family. And then… nothing. Not even negative reviews. Just crickets quietly chirping.

However, it has been several years since my CPs released their books. Before writing this article, I wanted to ensure that I had my facts straight, so I revisited the Amazon pages to see if anything had changed. Here’s what I found:

  • one fast-released a trilogy but got less than ten reviews on all the books combined

  • one had a standalone book that got three reviews total

  • one released a quartet and several short story collections with about 20 reviews overall

That said, I have heard stories about self-published books that fared much better, but since I don’t know those authors personally, it’s hard to know how common (or true) those stories are. And since these were my CPs, it scared me. I just couldn’t believe that smart people could put so much time, effort, and money into their projects only for their books to end up gathering dust in the graveyard of broken dreams that is Amazon’s self-published listings.

And if that wasn’t enough to make me steer clear of self-publishing, I started getting inundated with adverts for self-publishing courses. Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with taking a class to learn how to do something, but self-publishing started to seem like the new version of vanity presses. By that, I mean the customers are writers, not readers. They are in the business of selling dreams, not books. Judging by the adverts, it seems like these self-publishing ‘gurus’ would tell you how to make your authorship dreams come true—at a steep price, of course. In this environment, who can you trust to tell you about the realities of self-publishing? How can you distinguish real information from the hype? It all started to feel like a minefield.

So, after that, I veered back to traditional publishing for the past year. I don’t want to go too deep into my emotional state, but if you’re a querying writer, I don’t need to tell you how frustrating and disheartening it is. Basically, my confidence and enjoyment of writing nosedived somewhere in the flurry of unaswered queries and rejections. I started to forget why I started writing in the first place, and I wondered if it was even worth all the heartache.

Desperate for anything to reignite the passion for what had once been my favourite hobby and escape from the pressures of “real life”, I decided to write a short story for the Tales & Wails competition last autumn. I wrote The Maiden in the Marsh, and it wasn’t anything special (and the costume portion of my entry was very half-assed, I promise to do better next year!). But it was fun, and I enjoyed exploring the short story format.

Inspiration was finally trickling back to me, so I decided to write a story loosely based on my family history as a Christmas gift for my parents (who are notoriously impossible to buy for). It was silly but fun, and even my brothers, who couldn’t care less about fiction, got a chuckle out of it. I was finally on a roll, so I thought, why not write some ghost stories about my town? It was a good way to get my mind off querying, and it was refreshing to have a smaller project less fraught with the fears and doubts that come along with querying.

What started as just a few stories grew to ten… and then twelve… If you know me, I don’t need to tell you that I’m very *extra* so going above and beyond what anyone asked for is just par for the course. When I was finally able to reign myself in, I had written a collection of twelve short stories with a total word count of just over 25,000. That’s all well and good, but then I was left wondering, what should I do with this?

It’s not really the kind of project with which I can query agents. I checked out a few local presses in the area, but they’re so small that it doesn’t seem like they would do much promotion and distribution. Besides, I’m a stickler for good graphic design, and their covers just didn’t fit with my sense of style. So, I’ve once again turned back to the idea of self-publishing.

In summary, these are the reasons why I am planning to self-publish this project:

  1. It's a collection of local ghost stories, which is very niche and probably would interest a traditional publisher even less than my full-length novels.

  2. This project is significantly shorter than a full-length novel, so I have “less to lose” in terms of the amount of work required and editing costs.

  3. I’ve heard so much hype about self-publishing, and I want to compare expectations v. realities.

  4. I just want to try something new and see what happens!

To make the process more fun, I’ve decided to do a little experiment with it. I’m planning to document the process and share my insights with you in a series of articles. I’ll tell you exactly what I end up spending on this venture to compare the expenses with the sales figures.

Expect a lot of screenshots, some learnings, and possibly some regrets!

  • Episode 1: I’m self-publishing a book. Am I crazy? (you are reading this article now!)

  • Episode 2: How much did I spend on self-publishing? (upcoming)

  • Episode 3: 3-month check-in: what did I earn from self-publishing? (upcoming)

  • Episode 4: 6-month check-in: was self-publishing worth it? (upcoming)

If this process interests you, be sure that you're subscribed to the mailing list so you won't miss an episode. I hope you will join me on this self-publishing journey!

Trapped in the slush pile? Don't suffer alone! Meet Steven, the big blue monster that lurks in this hopeless black pit. When he's not munching on the souls of hapless writers, he hosts an online writing community dedicated to making friends, having fun, and improving our literary skills.

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Inez Rodk (@inezrodk) is obsessed with all things fantasy and sci fi, both as a writer and reader. When she's not lost in a book, you can find her getting rowdy at a pub or tiling her house. She is an official beta reader for the Slushpile Monster's writing contest.

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