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May 28, 2013

Great Enough: Thoughts on Self-Publishing

Recently, I mentioned that I don’t intend to self-publish my work. (For the sake of this post, I define self-publishing as hiring my own editor, copyeditor, and perhaps designer; printing copies to sell, or setting up an ebook or print-on-demand structure; and marketing and selling the book on my own.) I’ve said before that everyone’s work has its place, and I mean that. For me, I don’t think that place is self-publishing, and today I want to explain why.

I admit there have been a couple points at which I have considered self-publishing. No matter what stage I was at in the process, all these moments had something in common: I was discouraged.

When I was still writing, I didn’t know if the manuscript was strong enough to get an agent. Now that I have an agent, her revisions show me the places where my writing is not yet strong enough to put its best foot forward to publishers. I will always have a lot of work to do. Sometimes I just wish it were over, that I could push a button and my book would be out in the world. Would it be perfect? No. But maybe it would be good enough for at least someone to read. Friends and family say they want to read it, anyway.

I’ve been the reader at an agency and a publishing house, and I’ve seen what comes through the door. Some of it is fantastic. Some of it is not. A lot of the agented material is good, but so often there is more work that could have been done prior to submission. For me, self-publishing would be a way to circumvent the challenge of constantly improving my work.

If my work is submitted to a publisher and deemed not strong enough for publication, I hope, hope, hope I have the humility to say, “Okay, what can I do to make it stronger?” I know from having worked with agents and editors that yes, they are the gatekeepers of published authorship, but it’s because they know what they’re doing. If those who are among the ranks of my former colleagues say I’m not finished yet, then I’m going to keep working until I get there. I don’t want to check out before I’ve given it everything.

It might take a long time. I might write a couple of books that never see the light of day. While I’m getting there, I welcome constructive criticism as a guide, lighting the way to achieving my goal: writing a book great enough to be sold to a traditional publisher.

Why would you self-publish? Or why wouldn’t you? Have you? What’s the experience been like? Would you do it again?

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