The Holy Grail for Authors. 5 Reasons to Self Publish

This is my next departure from the typical into having another writer guest post. The subject is one I find particularly interesting for many reasons. I for one, would think as many others do, a book deal is the "holy grail" for authors. You know the whole "stack of rejection letters" thing. The urban legend that Stephen King had to get a bigger nail to hold all of his to the wall. If you have been around five minutes, you know what I am talking about.

      Sheri McInnis is one author who has been there, done that and her take and perspective has been enlightening for me. I recently met Sheri on Twitter and have already had some fun and productive conversations as a result, she is enthusiastic, sincere and a pleasure to talk with. On top of that, she's Canadian, do I need to say more? I see an unintended trend. I will admit as well, I did not know until I read the draft for this article she is working on a supernatural thriller. What?! This firmly puts us in the same camp and I am thrilled. Look out Sheri, we are not done here.
      Sheri has become one of the "real people" I have met on Twitter, and I look forward to learning more from and about her. Check this out...

The Top 5 Reasons I'm Self-Publishing – Instead of Going Back to the Big Guys

By Sheri McInnis @SLMcInnis

Gordon asked me to explain why I've decided to self-publish my third novel after working with traditional publishers on my other books. He said most writers consider a book deal the "holy grail." Why would I make the change? 
        I know what he means. All my life I dreamed about getting published too. I was lucky enough to have it happen twice: first by Simon & Schuster/Atria and then again by MacMillan/St. Martin's Press. 

I know a lot of writers are on the fence about going indy, so if you're confused, I hope my top five reasons can help.


I've worked with some of the most successful editors in the business – and I was especially fond of my first one at Atria. But that didn't make the revision process any easier. 

Because as much as publishers hail creative freedom, unless you deliver an 'approved manuscript' your book won't even be published. That means there's subtle pressure on you to take your editor's notes – whether you agree with them or not. 

The editor isn't the only one who requests changes either. Notes will come from your agent, the editorial assistant, even the publisher. And their input can range anywhere from the helpful – to the heartbreaking. 

Even the marketing department gets in on things. For instance, the marketing people didn't like the original title of my first book, so the publisher changed it to Devil May Care. Bad luck for me because at around the same time another 'devil' book came out. But you probably heard of that one. 

The Devil Wears Prada was so popular, people didn't just confuse the titles – they actually thought I was Lauren Weisberger! One bookstore manager was so excited to meet because my book was "just flying off the shelves!"  

You can't imagine how disappointed we both were when I got to the store and he had a huge stack of Prada waiting for me to sign. 

Remember there are lots of people who get involved in publishing your book – and as the author, you aren't the one with the most control. 

Even if I signed a contract tomorrow, the book wouldn't hit the shelves for at least eighteen months – probably more. I simply don't want to wait that long. 

For one thing, I'm not getting any younger. But most importantly, the main part of the book takes place in 2021. There are technological advances and environmental disasters that only make sense with a believable padding of time. 

I also have a specific release date in mind – November 11. The book – a supernatural thriller called The Hunter's Moon – is about witches and this date is pivotal to the main character's story arc. 

But unless I'm Stephen King or Sophia Kinsella, it would be crazy to request a particular release date from a publisher. They have hundreds – if not thousands – of titles carefully staggered over many seasons. 

Even then, a publisher has the right to change the release date – which happened on my second book, By Invitation Only. A more popular writer bumped the release by a monthThat writer was Sophie Kinsella. 


Just a handful of years ago, even a mediocre book advance was in the fifty thousand dollar range (that's what mine were; though I shared the second with my co-writer). 

Unfortunately, publishers didn't fare well after the 2008 recession. My (former) agent told me most advances were down to about 10% what they were – and the business is still recovering.

The downturn also resulted in less money for promotion. Book tours, launch parties and flashy displays are for only a lucky few writers. So whether you self-publish or not, you still have a huge job of promoting the book yourself – both in terms of time and money.

There are still great book advances out there. Romance writer Jasinda Wilder recently signed a 7-figure book deal with Berkley. Of course she had quite a bit of success already – she'd sold two million e-books as an indy author. 

What I find most interesting is that even with a big contract, Jasinda is going to continue to self-publish some titles. According to the Guardian, the most financially successful – and happy – writers are the ones with a foot in both camps.  


In all honesty, it would probably take years – if ever – for me to get another book deal. Neither of my novels were disasters but they didn't perform as well as expected. What's worse, I turned into an emotional wreck after the books flopped and actually gave up writing fiction (twice!). Meaning I wasn't able to quickly write another book to bounce back. 

So why would a publisher take a chance on me when there are so many great first-timers out there? Or thousands of bestselling indy authors who already have a loyal following?

Over and above the performance of my books, I'm launching into a genre that I have no experience in. There'd have to be a lot of changes in the publishing world before someone signed me simply because 'this idea came to me in a dream.' 

So if I want to continue writing, I really don't have a choice but to go indy. Which brings me to  …

Since the beginning of the printing press, books have been expensive and complicated to produce. Which is why authors have always been dependent on publishers to print and distribute their work. 

However, in just a few short years, indy writers have changed the game completely. Today every writer on the planet has the opportunity to reach millions of readers – and there isn't the same stigma to self-publishing there once was. That's not just a change in the publishing world. It's a revolution in the way stories are told.

So whether you decide to follow the holy grail, choose to self-publish – or try some combination of the two – it's an exciting time to be a writer. Because telling stories is what really counts – no matter how we get it done! 

Here are Sheri's pertinent links, her books on Amazon and her blog. Find her blog Sheri's Blog or on Twitter @SLMcInnis 

Bottom note. My thanks to Sheri for writing this post and allowing me to share it.


Mary Hicks said...

Sheri, thanks so much for sharing your insight into the world of publishing. Those of us still struggling with the decision of which to go first, need to hear what you've learned. It's a big help. Thanks again! Good luck in the future.

Karent said...

Thanks for sharing your story. After writing in solitude for many years I came to that fork in the road a few months ago with my debut -- publish as an indie or try for a trad deal? It wasn't a hard decision, and now my first release (contemporary romance) is scheduled for the same day as your book, November 11. Best of luck to you, and let's hope it turns out to be an auspicious day for both of us!

Branka Valcic said...

I have self-published my novel a couple of months ago, and because I am an indie person at heart - just hate when people tell me what to do (gasp!), it was an easy decision. However, a little worm of suspicion burrows from my mind every once in a while, leaving me wondering if I had made the right choice. It was so nice to read your post,learn new things from someone who has had experience with the industry, and see some of my thinking reflected in yours. Thank you so very much for your post!

Sarah Zama said...

Thanks so much for sharing this, it's always intersting to know the experience of womeone 'who's been there' ;-)

I'm seeking reppresentation for my trilogy, but I'm very interested in a hybrid career. I too think this is probably the future of all authors, it just makes sense in my opinion. I do think there's a lot to learn from publishers' professionality, but publishers won't be interested in your title forever (if ever!) so self-publishing may be a good way to start, or to keep your books available even after their life as trad-pubbed books is over.

Great post!

Catherine Garrett said...

Thanks for sharing. I am on my second novel and seeking representation for my Paranormal Romance, Water Whisperer

Like so many, I have yet to find an agent to even represent me. Water Whisperer is the story of Sierra, who speaks to spirit through water. It's a love triangle where she meets her forever lover, Joshua and falls for Jeremy in the real world. But the story goes way beyond this twisted romance, introducing Rainbow, Crystal and Indigo children to the world.

But, I honestly am not pumping my book. My point is that my book is unique, like all books. And, I was shocked yours came to you in a dream. Because that is exactly how Water Whisperer was born. I dreamed the first chapter.

I just find it a shame that there are so many writers who struggle to get representation. It's like there should be an indie underground where we work together to promote our books, hire editors and make it happen, supporting and boosting each other. The publishing industry needs to change. They reject way too many wonderful books, or twist them to meet their own demands. Help and suggestions are one thing, but total control and manipulation is another.

Thanks for sharing!

noextrawords said...

I don't know how I feel about this. As a writer, I hear you and I can totally understand the impulse, especially at this point in your career. But as a reader? I'm tired. I'm tired of so many bad self-published books, of trying to find the wonderful (which I'm sure yours will be) amidst the tearfully bad. I miss the role a good bookseller or librarian or reviewer used to play in helping direct towards the great stuff. In this world of direct to consumer marketing where the "old school" media players don't respect indie, that role is dying but no one is replacing it. I want excellent books to find markets, to find, well, me. But I don't have time to search them out one by one. I need a curator. I'm tired.

Jamie B said...

Awesome post. I agree with a lot of your points, and think it's incredible that so many awesome books have been able to get into my hands without someone else telling me that it's worthy to read.

There's such an abundance of opinions and ideas, and people having the ability to self-pub makes it so much easier to be exposed to a wide range of those ideas.

Indy Quillen said...

Thanks to Sheri for her honesty and openness to sharing her experience! I have many many author friends who are independently publishing now, but they started as traditionally published authors first and already had an audience. So I think that makes a huge difference in experience from the first time author who self-publishes their very first book. I have an agent and came close to getting a book deal, but instead of publishing it myself when I didn't, I continued writing. I now have 3 novels to work with (one is with my agent now and is being read by 5 publishers). I believe going through this process has given me the time and experience to hone my writing skills. I'm actually thankful my first attempt didn't get published! My goal is to be able to both traditional publish and independently publish my novels. That said, I'm thankful that I can get my books out there to readers on my own if the traditional publishing fails. My point is that I think too many writers give up and self-publish without going through the process long enough to raise their skill level and understand the market as well as they should.

Lakshmi Raj Sharma said...

Thanks so much for sharing. This helps me a lot because I have one novel, The Tailor's Needle, published by Penguin India and my next story collection, Intriguing Women, is coming through White Glove in Jan. Now I have a novel that my agent is trying to place with traditional presses but now I know what I might do.

Amanda Uhl said...

Great post...thanks for sharing. I have written one book and am shopping for a publisher/agent. I could go the self-publishing route but how will I ever know my writing is publication-worthy unless a publisher is willing to hand me a contract first? I think too many writers want the easy route, and there are many un-polished books for sale as a result. So I'll keep finessing and polishing and then later may consider self-publishing as a hybrid author. And if no one is interested in this first effort, I don't think I'll rush to publish. I'll just use what I learned from the first effort on the next and try again.

Tim Walker said...

Thanks for this honest and interesting post...I wouldn't be writing fiction if it wasn't for the opportunity afforded to indie authors through self-publishing...

Gordon A. Wilson said...

I say more power to you. Get out there and do it. Its better than the "I always wanted to write a book" approach. There are a lot of benefits to writing a book and most of them are personal for me. Thanks for being part of the conversation.

Rick Power said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the way the business is changing for writers. I am currently writing my first book and, from my limited experience with information ebooks, my first thought is to self-publish.

Your insights have given me the confidence to follow that path once my book is finished.

Paula Houseman said...

Great post, Sheri. Tells it like it is.

I think it's important for Indie authors to engage the services of a professional editor, but apropos the editing practices of traditional publishers, I take issue with the idea of modifying the author's voice in the interest of commodifying.

And to Catherine Garrett, I like your suggestion—'there should be an indie underground where we work together to promote our books, hire editors and make it happen, supporting and boosting each other.' Authors don't need to compete with each other. We all have our own unique styles.

Gordon A. Wilson said...

The underground. Maybe you have found a path to the tunnel to the underground. Let me know if you would like to continue this conversation.

Meredith Lorimar said...

This is an excellent, candid piece. Great comments & best of luck everyone because what I gather from this post & from limited experience, either route into publishing requires hard work.

Yvonne Rediger said...

I am self publishing for almost all the same reasons. Reason 6, apparently my female heroines are not likeable enough. I was told by the editor the reader won't be able to identify with them. 😳 I can't identify with a lot of heroines in many books, doesn't mean I didn't like the book. However I do write strong women that bad stuff happens to, but they figure it out and handle it. No fluffy bunnies here.

Reason 7, you have to find the right editor at the right time who is in a receptive frame of mind. I find that very elitist. Books for everyone I say!

Gordon A. Wilson said...

Everyone needs to find their own path for certain. I wish I were better at it to be sure.

Mima said...

In this article, you've addressed every reason why I started to (and continue to) self-publish. I often thought that it would be interesting if all writers felt this way and walked away from traditional publishing, including best-selling authors. This article also better explained why some authors seem to be 'formula writers'; meaning their books seem to be a carbon copy of one another. Clearly the publisher is more interested in a 'sure thing' rather than allowing a writer to their own, unique artist.

There was a time that my ambition was to be 'discovered' by a big publisher, but over the years, I've managed to find a fan base and slowly build on it. My books are crafted exactly how I want without being bullied into making the stories the fast food of the book industry:-)

I smiled when I read your connection to 'The Devil Wears Prada' because my last book was called 'Different Shades of the Same Color' (which is a line from the book that I felt explained how we are all the same even though we look different) but because it had the word 'shades' in it, people automatically asked me if it was like 'Fifty Shades of Grey' Seriously? They share one word ha In fact, one journalist seemed disappointed when I said no and explained the real reason behind it.

Thanks for a terrific blog. I will be sharing it everywhere;-)

Anonymous said...

I recently self pub'd my political thriller The Patriot Endeavor about a third-party upstart. The time and effort, while working a full time job, are immense and since the launch late June I haven't had much time for myself. And the cost is a factor. Learning twitter,a blog, FB et al was tough too but had to be done. Can't wait until the election is over so I can relax!I imagine I would have to do this if I had a deal with a house but it seems like it would be easier with more support. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Jennifer M Zeiger said...

I've started looking at self publishing this year, and this has greatly encouraged me that it's not such a far fetched idea. Thank you for sharing. =)

Suzy Davies said...

Thanks, Sheri, for this insightful blog! I am not getting any younger either, but I choose to be traditionally published for now. However, your perspective is food for thought!