The Best Time NOT to Self Publish? Never!

POSTED ON Mar 28, 2014

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

Home > Blog > Self-Publishing > The Best Time NOT to Self Publish? Never!

By Marcy Goldman

Today we have a rather unique self-publishing perspective from cookbook author, Marcy Goldman. I think you’ll find it quite interesting.

There are so many op eds these days on when to self-publish and more so, features on how inferior self-published works are just by the very fact they are self-published.

This premise is applied even if the self-publishing author has the budget, foresight and professionalism to engage all manner of expert editors, proof readers, formatters, designers and thoroughly research the distributing and promotion of his/her work.

There’s also a presumption (or fear) that without sufficient social media or platform, books (even great ones) won’t get noticed, i.e. if you publish it who will find you/it? This suggests that Shakespeare or Elizabeth Gilbert, without benefit of Twitter, Facebook and Instragram or a YouTube video of Othello, would never have been discovered – which is to suggest, we as authors, creators, publishers actually believe form trumps content.

What amazes me in the vast acreage of articulated opinions on these issues is a few fold. For one thing, there’s a passion, even a nervous derision or tempered contempt or dismissiveness offered to self-published authors in most of the opinion pieces I’ve read. There’s the assumption that a self-published author is a never-published author or can’t-find-a-book-deal author.

The articles I’ve read also seem to refer to fiction writers when there are many other types of authors. I am, in fact, a cookbook author, another genre of author now in the fray. Let me explain a bit about cookbook authors.

The Unique Challenges of Writing Cookbooks

Cookbook authors are writers (we are not verbose home economic teachers – we are specialty writers with a second specialty in food. Some, as I am, are trained chefs in addition to being wordsmiths).

Consequently our challenges are even more than regular writers. We battle:

  • the plethora of amateur recipe blogs and zillions of free recipes (sometimes even our own when we encounter our own recipes on repository sites)
  • the charisma of celebrity chefs on TV
  • blogs or YouTube phenoms

In addition, our books require:

  • expensive food photography
  • complicated book design
  • our recipes need extraordinary copy editing
  • legions of volunteer recipe testers to make sure our recipes work.

When it comes to food photography in our cookbooks, many a time my advance (in traditional publishing) was a quarter that of the food photography/photographer budget.

In short, if you think self-publishing the average black-and-white 300 page paranormal novel is difficult, try self-publishing a 300 full colour cookbook.

No one would chose to do this alone – not even Mrs. Jerry Seinfeld, Rachel Ray or the ex-Mrs. Billy Joel. Jamie Oliver and Ina Gartner (Stephen King or Joanna Rowlings) could well buy Random House ten times over (I imagine) and even they don’t self-publish. Why? Because even the well-heeled and well-connected use publishers for their cookbooks because it’s hugely difficult – even with a team assisting you.

(Did I also mention that recipes are not copyrightable, stolen constantly and generally free online).

Why Self-Publishing Just Made Sense

So it’s not about money – because given self-publishing garners you 70% royalties versus 15% royalties, if it was, wealthy authors would indeed, do it themselves.

On the flip side, what is more prestigious (or used to be) in saying you’re a Random author or Scribner author – at least, when that meant something and had a fiscal bottom line.

But here’s my beef: overall there is a premise that if you self-publish you are either an inferior or unaware author or (and this one blows me away) having had a reasonable advance, you somehow chose to ‘go rogue’ and venture into self-publishing due to a misplaced vanity press adventure spirit or thought you could out earn on your own what a traditional publisher was offering you.

As a traditional and well-established cookbook author, with a track record and solid book sales, I don’t see myself represented in these discussions and yet I am part of a silent majority – the mid list cookbook author.

Furthermore, let it be said that I find it hard to believe that any traditional author, with great book numbers, a brand, a platform and a plan would consider self-publishing if, in fact, their advances hadn’t shrunk dramatically (some 80-90%). It’s not a whim; it’s a have to choice.

After 25 years of great publishers, great cookbooks and what I thought was an upward-spiraling career, I self-published my first cookbook, When Bakers Cook, two months ago. I did this not because I wanted to but because I had to.

I love words, books, and—in my case—creating ambrosial baking I want to share with my readers. As publishing up-ended itself (blame transitions of the times, publishers being old school and late in their response to the new world of everything, the economy and life itself) I realized (with skepticism, then denial, anger, sadness and then finally, pro-activeness), I had three choices (and early retirement or marrying rich were in the trio):

  1. I could quit and be a WalMart greeter,
  2. I could take tiny (untenable) advances and supplement with freelance writing, or,
  3. I could dive into the Bermuda Triangle of self-publishing.

I’m a Taurus and we don’t quit so I chose Door 3# – self publish.

Learning Curves

It took me three years (when I was otherwise wallowing in self-doubt and existential, mid-life angst about my value as a baking author) to simply research the self-publishing partners and players.

I had no idea what formatting really meant and I had to cobble the budget to pay my editor, copy editor, indexer, proof-reader, photographer and publishing costs with CreateSpace and Kindle.

Let it also be said that some of the talented staff I hired were recently let go from the prestigious traditional publishers. And let it also be said that we can no longer assume that having a traditional book deal insures a ‘team’ of editorial and sales help – things are lean everywhere.

Speaking more directly to that, I recently was in Barnes and Noble and stumbled on a cookbook by a great colleague, by a huge publisher renowned for their wonderful cookbooks, and in this book was a 3-page addendum of text and recipe errors (my own self-published cookbook has but one error – and it’s a homonym). My point is, we can no longer assume perfect and quality is only the domain of traditional publishing.

Despite having a complete manuscript, self-publishing took me another 13 months to get my book out.

Self-Publishing Success

When Bakers Cook launched on December 20th 2013; thanks to a galley physical copy I had to send to one editor, it was later named one of the Best Cookbooks of 2013 by the Washington Post.

It continues to sell quite nicely, day in, day out. I am now working on my second self-published cookbook, due for this summer, as well as a book on tango and one on scent and probably I will indeed, publish my book of poetry. Why? Because …. I now can. And I am quietly and proudly building my own back list.

While I respect and miss my publishers (who I also feel bailed on their mid list authors), I am no longer waiting for a publisher (or worse, the sales force or book buyer at Barnes and Noble) to determine I am the next hot trend or its derivative, or have enough platform to merit a book deal which is about the same as four freelance features for the New York Times.

This is a new publishing world and what looks like something often isn’t. Twitter follows don’t necessarily distill down into book sales and a good Google ranking doesn’t make me the next Julia Child. But how we hate to release an old romance – however bogus it really is.

In those 13 months (and horrific learning curve) of self-publishing, as my spirits and confidence rose, I noticed the put-down features on self-publishing. I couldn’t fathom it.

I also tried many times to share what a great adventure this has been and continues to be. Few, if any colleagues, struggling themselves, wanted to hear. Overall, I’ve had a sense I’ve betrayed something or someone and crossed a line into a land I never wanted to visit, albeit as its sole resident and one who is beginning to thrive. That’s the part I still don’t get.

I’m not unique as a mid-list author having to face things I hadn’t anticipated. I am not unique in forging a new path but why would authors, both those traditionally published and those eking by be so disparaging to their fellow authors on the subject of self-publishing?

I never wanted to self-publish. I imagined a continuance of Random House, Harper-Collins book deals for my growing baking author platform, and more features in the New York Times. I envisioned more Christmas baskets from my publishers, publisher web staff to help me with my blog and website, publicists to set up my interviews and promotional spots.

Instead, I am now River Heart Press (my own imprint) and I am boldly going where I went when I was 12 years old and was editor-publisher of my own street newspaper The Goldman Times. That little girl knew then what this grown woman/adult author is just learning all over again. Better to publish than to perish.

My Take-Away

  • If you want to publish – whether you’re rife with talent or no one has dared tell you you’re not – do it.
  • If you are traditionally publishing and even established but have another genre of book your current publisher won’t consider – do it.
  • If you are incredibly talented, passionate and have wonderful book numbers and fate or the times have left you without a chair in the musical chairs of book deals – do it.

There are no ‘sides’ in all this – There is no either/or approach. There are pros and cons to it all but overall, between no book or an ‘ok’ self-published book (in content and production) and a potential Pulitzer prize winner (or thwarted or unattempted dream) languishing in your drawer or a Word file – I will take the mediocre (or not) self-published book. I suggest you do too.

And to my colleagues who try so hard to dismantle my efforts to stay afloat and bring my words and recipes to my readers, I say – jump into the pool. The water’s warm, there’s plenty of room.

Marcy GoldmanMarcy Goldman, is a professional pastry chef, cookbook author, writer and creative voice of Goldman has also been a frequent guest on Martha Stewart Sirius and a contributor to the New York Times, Washington Post, Bon Appetit and Epicurious. Goldman’s best-selling cookbooks include When Bakers Cook, A Passion for Baking, A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking, The Best of, and the upcoming The Baker’s Four Seasons (Fall 2014) and a poetry collection called Love and Ordinary Thing (May 2014).

Photo: Amazon links contain my affiliate code.

Joel Friedlander

Written by
Joel Friedlander

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