Saturday, March 7, 2009

Ask the Editor - Should I Self-Publish?

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My memoir, Someone Stop This Merry-Go-Round; An Alcoholic Family in Crisis is completed. The sequel, Please, God, Not Two; This Killer Called Alcoholism is being polished.

My question is this: I'm leaning toward self-publishing because of my platform that I've built. I don't want to wait two years to get published, but I have my eye on an agent in California.

In November 2006, my first memoir A Healing Heart; A Spiritual Renewal was published. I'm already doing speaking engagements at rehabilitation centers, Catholic organizations, etc. They all want my book. I want to be able to present it when I do the engagements. I also teach a writer’s workshop.

Am I making the right decision to self-publish to get the book out right away and then query the agent?

Thank You,
Alberta H. Sequeira
Website: http://www.ahealingheart.Net

Alberta, thank you for your question and the run-down of your books.

As an independent publisher, I see a number of submissions where the author has recounted his/her personal experiences, and have selected a few of them for publication. It is a very tough area, however, and the risk of the title earning back its production costs is a big one. This makes most publishers think twice and twice again before taking on the project.

The first thing an acquisitions editor must think is: “Who will read this book?” More specifically, “Who will want to read this book enough to buy it?” This question and its answers are going examined more and more closely as our nation works through this economic downturn. I know, at Oak Tree Press, I am focusing more on the marketing analysis than ever before.

In the rundown of your projects, you enumerate your platform, your speaking engagements, writing workshops and connections to recovery centers. This, in my opinion, makes your books ideal candidates for self-publishing. You’ve identified your market, have already established yourself as an authority on your subjects, and have a ready-to-go list of sales venues.

My advice to you is to go for it! There are many ethical and credible companies who can help you with cover design, layout and printing options. It’s possible you could have books in hand in 6-8 weeks.

So far as contracting an agent goes, if that is still something you want, you can do that. An agent can arrange for things such as foreign sales, audio and even film options, if your books lend themselves to those venues. I would be less optimistic about leveraging your self-pub experience into a book deal with a larger house. Yes, it happens, but not that often. Besides, a well-executed self-pubbed book can make you more money over a longer period of time than a deal from a publisher that will front the book for 6-10 weeks, then consider it backlist.

I think you are very wise to consider this course, Alberta. You are right, the process of finding a publisher, negotiating a deal and getting on a list is very time consuming. Most of my books come out 9-18 months after contract, which is really fast. Big houses run much closer to 24-30 months. Plus, by publishing yourself, you will be in control of the project, and there certainly is something to be said for that!

Billie Johnson, Publisher
Oak Tree Press


  1. How do I go about finding these "many ethical and credible companies" that will help me self-publish? Can you recommend some? Thank you.

  2. Billie, I love hearing from you. You always give good advice.

  3. Billie I think your advice is spot on. A non-fiction author who has built up a platform and links her books with speaking is exactly the one who should self-publish. She's already done all of the marketing work which is really the bulk of what you need from a publishing house. I don't really see the need for an agent.

  4. I've never been so confused in the last two months on which way to go with my book. I sent query letters to agents and will wait the 3 months to see.
    What Lauri said makes sense. I never thought of it that way with an agent looking for my marketing network and I've already found it.
    I can easily sent letters to the Al-Anon Headquarters and schools to speak. The market for Alcoholism is wide.
    Thank you.

  5. I reckon all that analysis re self-publishing is spot on. One suggestion you may consider to reduce your investment costs is to look at on-demand publishers like or iUniverse. I've not used them because I'm still trying for the traditional publishing route. BUT with on-demand, you don't have to keep an inventory of books in storage and you don't have money invested in that stock waiting to be sold. You can also update the information as needed, something that might be of value in your area. AND you can advertise through their programs and your own website, and they'll print and send the book, taking that chore off your to do list.

    The risk is that you may lose the sale of an impulse buyer at your talks if you only rely on online sales. In that case, you can prepurchase your own smaller supply to have on hand, but also refer your potential buyers to online purchase for word of mouth buys by others they think could benefit from your book.

    Good luck with it!!

  6. Instead of paying an author services company, a writer should consider becoming a REAL self-publisher.

    A REAL self-publisher either does all of the work, or hires others such as editors, designers and illustrators for specific work.

    By publishing this way, a writer can pay less, earn more, have more control, and have a better book on the market faster, than when merely paying a distant company to do the work.

    Michael N. Marcus

  7. Cher,

    One way to find credible houses that do good work is to take a look on your bookshelf - especially if buy books from e-stores. You may be surprised at what you find.

    I would caution anyone considering this approach to do your homework. The self-pub providers range from places that take your money, slap something togther and expect you to buy and store hundreds of books. These places often have no other distribution paths. They make all their money from the authors.

    At the other end, you'll find full-service organizations that provide professional editing, cover design, marketing assistance, book block that you approve before it goes to print, and distribution through Ingrams and/or B&T. Of course, the more services you want, the more you pay.

    Some of these places even offer - for a fee - to make your books returnable. The returnable issue is the biggest stumbling block to getting self-pub books into traditional stores (assuming your product - the book - is professionaly designed and edited).

    Bottom line - self-pub gives you many options, lots of control, long life for your book, It also provides you with the opportunity to bury yourself in marketing tasks. Be ready for the time and energy it takes to promote your book. Without a traditional publisher name behind you, don't waste your time on the chain bookstores, work your niche sites. You'll be happier with the results.

  8. Charlotte, thank you for answering my comment. I really appreciate the advice and the time you took to do so. I will now stumble forward!

    The Texas Woman

  9. I thought I'd let everyone know how I decided on my book Someone Stop This Merry-Go-Round: An Alcoholic Family in Crisis.
    I self-published with Infinity Publishing, and it was released June 19, 2009.
    ISBN# 0-7414-7515-7; Price $18.95; Purchase at
    I'm thrilled. My first 100 books sold in two weeks and I had to order new books. Such a problem to handle!
    Many benefits to this publisher.
    I've been on radio and TV shows.
    Thank you for the support.
    Alberta Sequeira


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice.