To Self Publish or Not to Self Publish, That is the Question

As I promised in my newsletter, here is the answer...sort of.

This is an interesting subject because there are so many blogs and articles out there that say The heck with traditional publishers. You can get rich quick by self-publishing your own material! Add the easy availability of Kindle and Nook, eReaders and Ipads, and it seems as if the road to publishing is simple, right? Maybe not.

This weekend, Sisters in Crime hosted a panel of fabulous, talented authors to discuss this dilemma, and boy were there some great opinions. The authors were Sue Ann Jaffarian, Pamela Samuels-Young, and Gay Degani. (See more at the end of the blog.) I moderated, and all four of us had varied experiences with self-publishing to bring to the table.

I took the issue of quality off the table right from the beginning. All three of the panelists are top caliber writers worthy of any traditional publisher. Before you even consider the question of whether you should self-publish or not, your writing has to be that good. Fortunately, you can use writing groups, objective readers, and hire editors to help you reach this level of writing.

Sue Ann self-published her first novel after seeking a traditional publisher. At that time, iUniverse was a good choice for her. She worked her hind end off in marketing, and the buzz created over her books (and the sales) generated enough interest that she was able to place her Odelia Grey series with traditional publisher Midnight Ink.

She warned of the dangers of self-publishing your novel should you intend to seek a traditional career. Many publishers wouldn't look at her series because she had self-published. I mentioned that at a writing conference, Poisoned Pen Press said they wouldn't look at an author who had self-published because they didn't want to be stuck with a potentially unprofessional book on their back list.

Pamela went the traditional route first, but she wasn't happy with her publisher as they focused on romances and she wrote legal thrillers. She left that publisher and had difficulties getting picked up again. A writer friend had advised that authors should have a book per year out in front of their readers, so with her husband's encouragement, Pamela self-published her next novel.

Pamela set up her own Publishing company. She researched her genre of books, noting everything from the color of the paper used, the number of chapters, the word count, etc. She highly recommends outlining novels that you like to see how the writer paces and structures their story.

Then she hired a cover designer, an inside page designer, and all of the people she would need to make her product as professional-looking as any other book on the shelf. She uses a distributor to place her books rather than sell them out of the back of her trunk like some other self-published authors.

Sue Ann pointed out that authors who have had success with self-publishing--Pamela, J.A. Konrath--are authors who already had a reader base when they tried that rout. If you're starting without a fan base, getting recognized will be difficult. Also, without the creds of being traditionally published, many avenues are closed to you--offers to speak at conferences, professional writing groups, etc.

Pamela mentioned that a traditional publisher would have to make her a great offer before she would go back. She is an established author with a growing fan base and her royalties are higher as a self-published author. She also wants a book out approximately every year, something that can be difficult through traditional publishers.

When Gay Degani self-published Pomegranate Stories, she wrote the book and designed the cover herself. She produced the book through, intending it only as a gift for friends. The book, which she had with her and which I have read, is professional-looking and a quality product. She agreed that marketing it to readers is a difficult process, one that she hasn't really tackled.

Gay also made a great point. She noted that everything you do to get your name out there is a step forward. She has a multitude of short stories published in anthologies, magazines, and ezines, and every publication is another step forward, as is blogging, appearing on panels etc. Writers should recognize and be happy that they are moving in the right direction.

The bottom line? Decide if you want a professional career in writing. If you do, you may want to try the traditional route first. Either route you choose is going to require a lot of work. Resist the urge to get the book published and make sure it's the best it can be. Both traditionally published authors and self-published authors are going to have to market hard, and self-published authors will have to work even harder to get recognized and get their product out to the readers. 

Sue Ann Jaffarian is the best-selling author of the award-winning Odelia Grey mystery series, as well as the popular Ghost of Granny Apples mystery series.  Out in bookstores now is Murder In Vein, the first book in Sue Ann’s new vampire mystery series.  In addition to writing, Sue Ann is a full-time paralegal for a Los Angeles law firm, and is sought after as a motivational speaker. Here is her website.

Pamela Samuels Young is a practicing attorney and Essence bestselling author of four legal thrillers.  Her newest release, Buying Time, won the 2010 Fiction Award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association, which called the book “a captivating, suspenseful thriller.” In addition to working as Managing Counsel for Labor and Employment Law at Toyota, the Compton native is the Fiction Writing Expert for and is on the Board of Directors of the Southern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America.  A desire to see women and people of color depicted as attorneys in today's legal fiction prompted Pamela to start writing despite a busy career as an attorney.  Pamela is a graduate of USC, Northwestern University and UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law. Here is her website.

Gay Degani has published in journals and anthologies including two The Best of Every Day Fiction editions and her own collection, Pomegranate Stories.  Her stories online can be read at Smokelong Quarterly, The Battered Suitcase, Night Train, 10 Flash, Short Story America, Emprise Review, as well as other publications. Nominated for a Pushcart, she has been a finalist or short listed at Glimmer Train and The Fish Anthology and won a first place at Women on Writing’s Quarterly Flash Fiction contest.  She edits EDF’s Flash Fiction Chronicles and blogs at Words in Place.  Here is her website.


  1. I think people have to do what works best for them. With all the small presses out there though, I'd find one of those before I self-published again. ( I did it twice years ago with not the greatest of success.)

  2. This was a terrific panel and the ladies gave out some great advice. And they all said for the writer to check out all avenues and pick the one that works for them. If it ends up not working, try the next avenue. We aren't locked in anymore. Thanks ladies and Jackie for explaining those options.


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