Why Self-Publishers are Exhausted

POSTED ON Nov 16, 2009

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

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OverworkedWriting is mostly a solitary pursuit. You sit in a room with a computer or a pad of paper. You’ve set aside this time and use your isolation to write. And although it’s best to avoid generalizations, writers by and large do tend to be people who are fine spending time by themselves.

This worked well when the publishing model involved finishing your book and then sending it off to publishers to try to acquire a publishing contract, at which point your publisher would spring into action to do all those things they do to make your book a reality. Perhaps sales would be strong enough to warrant a second book, or a second edition.

It’s Not That Simple Any More, Is It?

Even for novelists this “write, and then sit back until the book tour” way of doing things isn’t really working any longer. But when you decide to take the plunge into self-publishing, you will have to throw this model out the window.

As a self-publisher, you have fired the publishing house whose attention you once sought so avidly. You create a company and now you are the publisher. This is intoxicating. If you’ve been reading advertisements from the big author-services companies (known far and wide, and inaccurately, as “self-publishing” companies) you feel you are only a few steps away from a spot on the best seller list.

Soon, however, you begin to discover the awful truth. When you fired the publisher, you also fired:

  • the editor who was going to help shape your manuscript into a compelling read, suitable for its genre;
  • the interior designer who would turn your files into a book that looks professional and that communicates your ideas effortlessly;
  • the cover designer who creates a highly-polished sales identity and mini-billboard to help your book stand out from the thousands around it;
  • the copyeditor / proofreader who ensure your book is consistent, conforms to standard usage, and contains no factual or typographical errors;
  • the marketing department who position your book within its niche and may have even helped come up with the title;
  • the sales force, ready to spread across the country to introduce your book to buyers at every level of the retail chain;
  • the warehousemen and fulfillment workers who store, stack and ship your book to distributors, wholesalers and end users; and
  • the bookkeepers and accountants who keep track of all the sales, returns, promotional copies and review copies.
  • I don’t know about you, but this list makes me want to have a nap.

    Spinning in Circles, Wondering Which Way is Up

    It’s no wonder that self-publishers are exhausted. Worse, for a novice the sheer mass of information, tips, guidelines, books, websites, blogs, free downloads, ecourses, and expert advice flying at you like the birds in that old Hitchcock movie are enough to make you swoon from information overload, retreat into “paralysis by analysis,” or just simply put your head in your hands and weep.

    How will you possibly learn enough to do any of the tasks listed above adequately? You become keenly aware that, even if you spend $660 for Adobe InDesign, you are faced with a steep learning curve and no idea of what you are supposed have at the end of the process. How will you learn all the skills, techniques, contacts, and best practices of all these people who have spent their professional lives learning each aspect of how to publish books?

    Case in Point?

    Almost every day I get inquiries from prospective self-publishers, and if I could reduce them to one generic question, it would be this: “What do I do now?” A few months ago I spoke with an author who had written a book, gone so far as to find a friend—not all that skilled, as it turned out—to lay out the book in InDesign, and managed to get a proof from a print on demand supplier.

    When he got the proof copy of his book from the printer and realized how many errors it had, both typographically and stylistically, he simply threw it back on the shelf for months, unable to deal with the mass of work and the expertise it would take to make it the book he had dreamed of publishing.

    Don’t Let This Happen To You

    Don’t allow yourself to fall victim to a very destructive idea that can take root soon after you decide to self-publish: Self-publishing doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself. It only means that you are the publisher. And just as Alfred A. Knopf himself would not have typeset the books his publishing house produced, perhaps you shouldn’t either.

    Avoid overwhelm, burnout, and weeping in frustration. The solution is to approach your new business as . . . a business! Do what you can do well, and the things that you are interested in. Mostly, you should confine yourself to writing and marketing your book. Leave the rest to the many skilled practitioners who are only too happy to help.

    Yes, it will cost more money. Look at this money as an investment in the product you are creating. Determine to go into the marketplace with the best book you can afford to create. Create the book that you originally dreamed of.

    After producing dozens of books for self-publishers over the years, I can’t tell you how much happier, and more satisfied, you will be down the road. And isn’t that why you decided to create this book in the first place?

    As always, your thoughts are appreciated. What do you think?

Joel Friedlander

Written by
Joel Friedlander

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