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Saturday, October 19, 2013

When is it Good to Self Publish?

When I first began going to writers conferences around 2003, vanity publishing (now called self-publishing) was considered only a dire writers avenue to get his poorly written manuscript to the public. These novels were not given any credit by publishing gatekeepers (such as editors, agents and book reviewers.)

A decade later and this attitude has changed a lot. Though some still hold the above attitude, it is diminishing and self-publishing is no longer considered the last nail in a writer-wanting-to-be-an-author coffin.

Just this past September, I attended a talk given by well respected literary agent Rachelle Gardner, a self-published author herself whose book highlights traditional vs self-publishing. She gave a talk touting some of the benefits of pursuing self-publishing and in some instances considered it a bonus to an author’s career.


The dizzying pace of these changing attitudes can leave you scratching your head.

Personally, I’ve seen several close friends of mine pursue self-publication and have moderate success. By this I mean they earned back the money they invested in preparing the manuscript (for editing, the book cover and interior design) and perhaps have earned a couple of thousand dollars. A smaller minority had great success and went on to further get traditional publishing contracts.

What I’ve determined is that there is a good time and place to consider self-publishing as an author and here are some of those situations to consider.

1. You have a polished manuscript but it can’t find a home with a publisher. First, I want to qualify what I mean by a polished manuscript. This is much, much more than finishing a rough draft that your mother and friends slobber over. They’re not good book critics because they love you and don’t want to hurt your feelings. It means that it’s been professionally edited, at least twenty people outside of family (and are familiar with books, genre, and good writing) love it, and maybe your agent even shopped it around but it couldn’t find a home. An even better indicator of this caliber of manuscript is that it’s finaled in a well-respected writing contest like the Genesis Contest sponsored by ACFW. It takes six to ten years to learn the writing craft and a couple of written books under your belt to fit this definition.

2. There will be a delay in books releasing between your traditional publishing contracts. What I’ve heard and read is that it also takes six to ten years to build a readership. During that time frame, it’s wise to have a book releasing no longer than once a year. Some authors do more—some do less but you want a predictable stream of novels to keep readers’ interest piqued. This is the issue I’m facing. My current publishing contract for the Bloodline Trilogy is complete and the book proposal my agent is shopping around hasn’t been picked up yet. Even if I got an offer at this point in time, a book likely wouldn’t be released until 2015. This is one reason why I’ve decided to self-publish in the fall of 2014.

3. You are a control freak. Creatives like control over their product. Publishing is not that way. It is a collaborative effort so some of what you love about your creation is going to change. Some people enjoy all aspects of the book publishing process and want to have final say over every aspect—going strictly with their vision. Self-publishing is the best venue for the author to maintain total control. You also have to front all the cost and carry the entire burden as well for marketing and distribution.

4. You want to maintain your rights. When you sign a traditional publishing contract, your book is no longer really yours—in a sense. The publisher owns it in certain formats and most often times will have clauses in your contract on other avenues they have the option to pursue—like hard cover large print rights. Some authors don’t want to give this up but then, as in the above, you’ll also be the one to try and negotiate selling the rights in different formats if you choose.

5. Your want to write in other genres. Most often, an agent and traditional publisher are going to encourage you to stick with one genre but few authors I know really want to do that for their entire writing career. These might be good novels to self-publish under a pen name.

6. You want to build volume more quickly to increase income. The flip side of building a readership is how much material you have to offer. When my first novel released, if the reader loved it, there was nothing else for them to read. Now, if they love any one of my books—they have at least two others to choose from. The more books you have, the more options a reader will have to choose and buy another book of yours to read—thus increasing your potential earning income.

What do you think? Have you self-published? Did you consider a success? Would you do it again?


Jordyn Redwood is a pediatric ER nurse by day, suspense novelist by night. She hosts Redwood’s Medical Edge, a blog devoted to helping contemporary and historical authors write medically accurate fiction. Her first two novels, Proof and Poison,garnered starred reviews from Library Journal. Proof was shortlisted for the 2012 ForeWord Review’s BOTY Award2013 INSPY Award and the 2013 Carol Award. You can connect with Jordyn via FacebookTwitterPinterest and her website


  1. Excellent post, Jordyn. I appreciate the way you carefully lay out everything we need to consider about self-publishing, especially about the quality of the manuscript. I think it needs to meet the standards of a traditional publisher, if not higher.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Henry! I was just chatting your books up with a woman who likes western novels. So are you considering self publishing?

  2. Jordyn,

    Your article is excellent and gives a lot of the arguments. There are many different models in the marketplace. For over a year and a half, I've been working as an acquisitions editor at a traditional New York publisher. We allow the writer to keep their rights--except they grant us the exclusive right to sell it into the bookstore. We receive over 5,000 submissions a year and only publish about 150 books--that we sell into the brick and mortar bookstores (and online). The self-publishers never have such distribution and sales into the bookstores. We have many other advantages too. The distinctions of our program is clearly laid out in this comparison chart:

    I hope it helps some people. I love helping authors.


  3. Thank you, Jordyn, for a balanced presentation of the reasons for self-publishing. I agree the stigma that was attached to self-publishing - and for the most part deserved - is slowly diminishing. However, there are still those who rush to publish electronically and keep the stigma alive. Electronic publishing is not yet perfected in that I have yet to read one story without technical difficulties in typos and formatting. Distracting but not always critical to the story itself.

    One point I think is essential when contrasting the options is the assumption that traditionally published books are naturally better because of the professionals who view and manage them from submission to publication. Being a fiction writer, I read hundreds of novels. My opinion of the percentage of novels which surpass expectations and rate a 4 or 5 star assessment is 10, maybe 15% of the total produced, 3 star maybe 40%, and 2 star and below around 50%. I've found that, particularly in the CBA realm which is primarily where I read, the numbers are diminishing because of the less adventurous and the unwillingness to expand readership from the "norm" of their demographic. So, what I'm saying is, traditional publishing is not necessarily producing the creme de la creme of writing and, although in charge, do not always insure great writing and great books for readers.

    1. 7. When a frank an honest 'publishing safekeeper' tells you that your novel has merit, but because you are a first time author, and he or she does not believe your story will sell enough to warrant their time and investment to profit them. However, you believe your story may benefit someone as I do. One is more than nothing. As a Lily Among Thorns by Rudy U Martinka

    2. Hi Nicole,

      You are right in the sense that CBA publishes (particularly certain houses) to a particular audience and these books definitely meet a certain criteria. There is always criticism of this but publishers publish books to make money and they wouldn't keep publishing these types of books if they didn't make money so they have a large readership.

      That being said-- I do think publishers do, at times, try and publish something more "risky" or outside the norm and they really aren't rewarded for doing so. It could be the story. It could be that it takes an author years to build a readership and publishing houses can't stay on board for the long haul anymore (6-10 years).

      There are some authors that break out right away but this is more rare. More often it takes years to do so.

      Self-publishing might become the new slush pile. Once you've proved your concept will sell (whatever genre or style that might be) and you have numbers to back it up then a traditional publisher will come and play.

      Question is-- what will readers do. Will they by these books?

    3. Jordyn, I didn't mean to imply the publishers aren't making money with their selections. Nor do I think they "should" do anything they don't want to do. It's their business. It simply needs to be said that, although they have their standard demographic who buy their products "religiously" (pun intended), it's well known that somewhere between 50 - 65% don't earn out. In other words the bestsellers are carrying the rest of the novels. And my point is this: there is no guarantee that just because you've been traditionally published, you've written a good, quality book. (No offense to any of you who've jumped through all the hoops and have been published. You have my respect and appreciation.)

  4. Excellent post and comments. We are in such a state of flux with electronic and digital publishing making it possible for anyone with a story idea to become a writer that it does seem harder and harder for the cream to rise to the top. There still is a difference between vanity publishers - those that charge authors hundreds to thousands of dollars to print their books - and people who self-publish. I'm glad you stressed the importance of professional editing, artwork, and formatting. The fact that an indie author pays for those services is not different than an established publisher paying, so I'm thinking that is out of the realm of vanity publishing.

    1. Thanks for clarifying the difference Maryann. Point well taken!


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