Why I Will Never Self-Publish

Five years ago I finished my first novel and sent it out to agents. I had no doubt in my mind they would read the first ten pages and proclaim it the most original and inspiring work that had ever crossed their desk, and fight to get me published immediately.

Only one of the fifteen agents I queried bothered to write back, and the letter basically said keep trying.  When I told people about this flat-out rejection they inevitably suggested I self-publish.  They had heard stories of writers skipping past the publishing house and taking their words directly to the people, making millions in the process. But like anything that’s newsworthy, those writers’ successes only stood out because they were so rare.

After I licked the wounds of rejection, I decided I needed to improve my craft. It wasn’t enough to be creative; I needed to understand story arch, character development, POV, setting, voice, and a whole bunch of other writing elements I overlooked.

In the last five years I have taken writing classes to learn how to convey my thoughts, I started this blog to get in the habit of writing regularly, I created two writer’s groups which have forged friendships I will cherish forever, and I’ve added about 50 books on writing to my bookshelves. Not to mention, I write every single day. In other words, I have become a writer.  I don’t think any of that would have happened if I took the shortcut of self-publishing.

The truth is my first novel wasn’t that good. Yes, the ideas were good, but I didn’t know how to write at the time. If I had self-published, I would have spent every dollar I had putting out a mediocre piece of writing. I would have sold myself short, not believing that I was capable of growth.

Publishers and agents know what they are doing. Their jobs rely on finding fresh talent.  It’s one thing to hear from a publisher that your work is fantastic but they don’t see a market for it at the time – in that case, I would certainly suggest self-publishing. But if publishers don’t take your work seriously it might be because they can tell you haven’t taken it seriously.

I want to get published. For me the thrill of getting published is not the idea of having a book out in the world, but the acknowledgment that my work is worth the investment. I want a team of people, whose lives revolve around literature, to read my work and deem it good enough to stake their professional opinion on it. Now I know this sounds like it contradicts what I’ve written before about not judging your success on other’s perception of you, but there is a fine difference: my self-worth does not rely on getting published. I believe that publishing will:

  1. Bring me one step closer to financially supporting myself with my creativity.
  2. Help me gain access to more writing opportunities such artist’s residencies and writing grants.
  3. Make me feel less crazy for pursuing this crazy dream.

I do not believe that publishing will:

  1. Bring me ever-lasting self-assurance and pride.
  2. Make me an instant millionaire.
  3. Help me feel successful.

So, yes, I hope to be published one day, but, no, I won’t self-publish. Now that I’ve said this, I will probably end up contradicting myself and become one of those self-publishing success stories, and I’ll be forced to address this blog post in every future interview. Oh well, I think I can live with that.

14 comments

  1. I went with create a space It was free so I was out there but no great sales. The book does have promise but there is so much out there that you are lost in the shuffle. I think I did it out of ego. I wrote a couple of chapters on my blog. It is called the Record Killer. I also thought it had had potential. Compared to a lot of the material out there I thought it had an original premise. But to my dismay I had a hard time selling it at seven dollars. It did not kill my writing but I adjusted to the fact that it was for my benefit I write. Hopefully a few will get pleasure from my endeavors but as far as being the next Hemingway, I do not think so, anyway at the end he blew his brains out. A rejection would be easier to swallow than a shot gun.

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    1. The important thing is that you’re still writing and taking an objective look at your craft. have you taken any writing classes on murder mysteries? It might help to get specific advice on your genre. The short story I’m working on right now has elements of horror in it and I realize that’s not my strong suit. I will definitely need to read more horror and study up on that genre.

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      1. The problem is on a limited budget and since the return will be only for my ego it will have to take a back seat. If you need help on the horror story let me know. I know horror, I taught in some really bad schools and wrote a lot of horror stories to get the students involved.

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  2. First,love the look of the blog. Nice new year change-up. 🙂

    Funny, I’ve just read two posts about this very subject (Margo Dill on The Muffin — WOW’s blog– had a very balanced article on it today.) Like you, I would– if and when I’m ready for that– be traditionally published, mostly because I’m not sure I want to tackle all the business aspects of self-publishing.

    I look forward to reading your book when it is ready. 🙂

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    1. Thanks!
      Yes, I think a lot of people underestimate the amount of work it takes to self-publish. I’ve learned from my friends in publishing that marketing, promotion and distribution are must more timely and expensive than the actual printing of the book.

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  3. I’m going both routes. My dream is for my novel to be trade published and I’ll die trying, but in the same thought there are many ways to self-publish now to test the waters and get my name out there. However, I haven’t done it yet. I decided to take all the same steps for my novelette to e-publish, step back and learn, betas, re-write. I want what I self publish to be the best it can be.

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    1. That’s a smart approach. I like the idea of using self-publishing as a tool to help better your craft and figure out your audience instead of thinking of it as a short cut. Good luck!

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  4. I agree! The publishing industry can be a good flitter to have your writing go through. I recommend getting published in some anthologies, so that you can get the experience of having one of your short stories published. It is also a good way for publishers to test the waters with your writing.

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  5. Hi Tracy,
    Unless you already know here, you should read “If you want to write” by Brenda Ueland.
    Inspirational. It might change your view upon things, it might even change your writing.

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  6. Great post! I agree with you SO MUCH! Getting piles of rejection slips used to be a rite of passage for aspiring writers. Everything was a milestone that showed your writing was improving: first “personalized” rejection note, first request for a partial, first request for a full mss, first publication in a little magazine that only paid in author’s copies, first paid publication of a short story, etc, etc. And by the time you actually got your first novel accepted, you had grown a hundredfold as a writer. Now, everyone wants the shortcut. People are aghast when you suggest that maybe their first book, and maybe even their second, third, and fourth books, really SHOULD stay buried in a drawer. People think they’re going to become overnight millionaires with terrible cliched stories, two dimensional characters, and tinny dialogue. Folks, we can’t see our writing honestly. It’s like trying to judge your own baby in a beauty contest. You really do need third party experts to give you an honest appraisal. Always, when you go back years later and look at that manuscript you thought was masterpiece, you realize how very right the “gatekeepers” were when they told you it wasn’t ready yet, and you’re so grateful that you didn’t put it out there for all the world to see.

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