So you’ve taken the time to make sure your book is well-edited. Now you have to make a tough decision. Do you find an agent, submit directly to a publisher, or self-publish? I’m not here to tell you what to do. That’s not my job. But what I am going to do is give you some guidance. Below I provide some main points to help lead you in the right direction to you.
The most important thing you can do is follow your dream.
I’m dead serious when I say this. Too many times we let other people live our lives for us. If you follow your own dream, you are much less likely to have regrets in the long run. If your dream is to find an agent who might find a big publisher who can get your book into bookstores, Walmart, the grocery store, etc, then pursue it. Try to find the agent. If your dream is to find a small publisher who will take the burden of having to upload your book yourself, design the cover, provide editing services, etc, then submit to a small publisher. If your dream is to self-publish because you want full control, then self-publish.
Early on (2009) when I got serious about self-publishing, I had a lot of people who argued with me over my decision. This ranged from family to friends to strangers who sent me emails. So I know what it’s like to feel the pressure when other people don’t agree with your choice. But in the end, I wanted full control. I didn’t want some publisher telling me what I could or could not include in my book. I wanted to write my story my way.
Sometimes I see authors on forums arguing with a new author who tells them he wants to go with a traditional publisher. So it’s not just those who want to self-publish that deal with the negativity. This comes from all sides. Be prepared to have to disappoint someone, whether they are close or someone who happens to email you out of the blue.
If you want to seek advice, ask questions from others. Gather as much information as you can. Do your homework. Then make the decision that is best for you. I know it takes courage to go against the tide and to do your own thing, but I also think the rewards are so much better if you pursue your dreams. Things we often regret are the chances we didn’t take.
This doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to be successful. You might not be. But isn’t it better to take the risk and find out than to never know?
Rules of Thumb If You Choose To Look for an Agent or Publisher
This is not an exhaustive list, but they are guidelines to help you get on the right path
1. Money flows to the author. If an agent or publisher wants money in order to represent you or publish you, run away.
2. Do your homework on the agent and/or publisher. What other authors do they represent? What is the quality of those books? Do those books seem to sell well on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, etc? What marketing does the publisher do for the authors? Does the publisher pay the author on time? Feel free to email the authors the agent or publisher represents. They might not respond to your email, but it never hurts to send a message. Asking questions is how I came to learn most traditionally published authors aren’t earning a living at writing. (The average self-published author isn’t making a living either, by the way. From what I’ve researched, it’s still not the norm.)
3. Realize small publishers might not be able to do as much marketing for you as large publishers will. Regardless of the agent or publisher you get, prepare to market your own books. Don’t expect someone to hold your hand through everything.
Rules of Thumb if You Choose to Self-Publish
1. Be willing to invest time and money into your product. Tell a compelling story. Get a good quality editor. Get a good cover artist (unless you have the skill for this already). Take time to learn how to format a clean manuscript or pay someone to do it. I know it’s a huge pain to put the money into the book, but you are competing with a lot of high quality, low-priced books. I’m surprised at how many authors skimp on this area. Why should a reader invest in your book if you aren’t willing to?
2. This is not a golden ticket to the easy life. You’ve probably heard the stories about a few authors who self-published and made a killing in sales. Keep in mind, these are outliers, not the experience of the average self-published author. Can you make money? Yes. How much? You won’t know until you put books out there. But I promise you sales are up and down and often unpredictable. Your mileage will vary depending on your genre, what the market wants, and other forces outside your control. So embrace the fact that your journey is a huge question mark when you start it. (The same is true for traditional publishing, by the way.)
3. Do it because you love writing. If you think sales is going to make you happy, you’re wrong. Money, sales rank, and recognition are an illusion of happiness. They might provide a temporary high, but the high doesn’t last. There’s always someone more successful than you. There’s always someone who hates your work, and they might even hate you because you had the nerve to write it. Sales don’t always go up. There’s a point when they go down. Someone might steal your book and try to make money off your hard work, and Amazon isn’t always willing to remove the stolen book.
There are a ton of reasons why this is a hard path. Lasting happiness comes from doing what you love most and focusing on it. When I stopped worrying about all the external factors, I got my joy back. Now, regardless of highs or lows in sales, I’m happy. The reason I’m happy is because I’m enjoying the process of writing. So my last piece of guidance is to focus on what you can control and let go of the things you can’t. It’s not easy, but it makes a world of difference in how your emotional health.