Should you self-publish?
Updated: Feb 2
When faced with getting my work out there for publication, I had to confront a dispiriting fact: I write poetry. 'Dispiriting' because, the prospects to reach a decent audience with poetry are tougher than with any other genre.
There is not much of a mass market for it, so traditional publishers will not consider it -unless you already made a name for yourself or belong to the academic establishment. As for indies, despite being a new trend I fully respect and support -not least because, being small, they aren't solely driven by profits and are still very close to their tight knit readership- I was warry of going down that road again. Indeed, my very first poetry collection (Gothic poems written in French while I was still a teenager back in France) had been published by an indie (La Bartavelle Éditeur) and I didn't want to repeat the experience.
Yes, La Bartavelle was a reputable publishing house! But, sales had been extremely disappointing. In fact, I remember going from being elated and proud to have signed with such a stable to feeling bitter and disillusioned with it all.
The publisher was not the problem, nor was it my poetry (despite my young age -I actually intent to have them republished...). Marketing was; or, rather, the lack thereof. Here was a lesson learnt: I had given my rights to a publisher, who had left it entirely to me to market myself! This is not unusual, but I didn't know the ropes back then.
Writers having to sell themselves because publishing houses simply don't do it is actually the norm in the writing world. Traditional publishers will just massively advertise their celebrity authors, rarely their newbies. As for indies, they don't have the staff, money, nor resources to fully manage a marketing and PR department. Bear that clearly in mind when deciding how to publish your work: a publisher will offer its reputation, rarely anything else. Given that poetry, again, is a tiny market to start with, why would you sell your rights to a middle man in order to reach it? You can easily gain a decent audience on your own. How? Well, by self-publishing!
For too long, self-publishing had had a poor reputation. It was labelled as the road of the failed writers, whose so bad they couldn't secure a proper contract with a proper publisher. To a certain extent, yes, that's true. I'm an avid reader, always happy to support underdogs, and, trust me, I have seen more than my fair share of bad books stamped 'independently published'! But... Not only!
Edgar A. Poe, Rudyard Kipling, T.S. Eliot... These are famous names who have self-published their works at some point of their writing career. So-called 'vanity publishing' might be, therefore, as ignorant a label as the prejudice once glued to the publishing method it describes. In fact, even the publishing market now strongly acknowledges the value of self-publishing!
We came a long way, and from crowd-funding options to companies like Matador or Silver Wood Books it's now perfectly possible to self-publish and earn as good a reputation as a traditionally published author (who are, by the way, no guarantee of quality either! I'm an avid reader, and, trust me, I have seen more than my fair share of bad books on that side of the fence too!).
My personal experience, though, is not about crowd-funding nor is it about self-publishing companies. It's about DIY. Well, almost!
I surely had to go through a painful learning curve! I had to learn how to format and edit for different platforms. I had to network and engage with a whole range of amazing and creative people -beta readers, professional proofreader and graphic designers, pre-reviewers, fellow authors, bloggers, influencers... I had to rely on my own skills, judgement, and instinct; and, so, made mistakes along the way (some common and expected, some downright stupid!). I had to learn about social medias and marketing strategies. In a word, I had naively embarked myself onto a journey which turned out to be more tumultuous than expected, and is still ongoing! Yet, do I regret the pain and bother and blunders? Not at all!
All along, I have been learning new skills which have helped developing me as a writer, let alone as a person. Above all, by self-publishing I didn't end up disillusioned and bitter as with my first poetry book entrusted to a publisher, but, proud of an achievement. Out of all this indeed, 'A Vow', my first poetry collection in English, had finally emerged, and, more importantly, has been sailing a better course than my teenage poems!
The fact is, by going solo without any backup (not even the reputation of a publishing house!) I had been forced to connect and engage on a very direct and personal level with like-minded individuals from all around the globe. The process was challenging for an introvert like me (which author isn't?) but, in the end, once my book was out, these same people became my street team - and having a street team right at the beginning is a massive asset when it comes to sale! Such strict control and targeted networking, without any middle man on the way, is actually what landed my book right into the hands of whose who truly matter: readers.
'A Vow' has been well-received by readers all over (just check the reviews on Goodreads...). There is no reason why you shouldn't enjoy the same journey with your own work.
Do you write poetry? Well... Self-publish it! And, for more advices on getting your work out there, feel free to... subscribe to this blog!
Thank you for reading. :-)