Is self-publishing right for you?

Some of the most powerful advice I’ve ever read about self-publishing came from a worm farmer who published her own book more than 30 years ago. While “celebrating the value that small presses contribute to society,” she highlighted several timeless benefits of self-publishing, including the opportunity to exercise creative control over her work.

“My goal…was not to make lots of money, but to influence people’s thinking. To get them to think differently about waste, and give them tools to deal with it. Self-publishing my book was the way I could do that.”

Years after her death, a publisher did release the 35-year anniversary edition of the book. More about Mary Appelhof, and her book, in a moment…

If you’ve been collecting rejection letters and no-thank-you emails from traditional publishers or agents, you have a choice.

  1. You can remember that every “No” could bring you closer to a “Yes.” Rejection letters are beneficial, and not just because some contain feedback that might improve your manuscript or idea. If you’re receiving rejection letters, you ARE writing, and writing is an achievement worth celebrating. One of my writers’ groups has an annual contest that requires rejection letters for entry.
  2. You can say yes to yourself and your work by self-publishing. Today, with a bit of research about your options and various providers, it’s simple to turn your manuscript into an e-book, print-on-demand selection or a combination of the two.

E-books can be a great marketing tool, but many authors self-publish their book-length manuscripts as a labor of love – ready to offer their work to an audience with or without a business reason to do so.

Around 2010, I started learning about composting, and I wanted to try creating a “worm bin.” (Using worms to break down your food scraps is called “vermicomposting,” by the way.) I stumbled across Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof, as well as her online essay. I couldn’t find it on the book’s current website, but the article, Why I Chose to Self-Publish, is available through the Internet Archive. Worm farming wasn’t for me, but Mary taught me about more than composting.

I’ve heard it said that writing is an art; publishing is a business. Traditional publishers seek, edit, design, publish and promote books based on potential profitability. Mary was right: She probably wouldn’t have located a publisher for Worms Eat My Garbage when she released it back in 1982. She found a way to get her message out into the world, and her legacy continues in a new edition printed by Storey Press.

I adore all sorts of books, including many from big-name publishing houses. But I’ve also fallen in love with a variety of e-books from various websites as well as self-published books I’ve stumbled across in independent bookstores. When and how to publish is a personal decision. If you have a book in your heart, write it and then… choose. Authors have never had more options for sharing their work with the world.

(Thinking about self-publishing? Remember something I tell my clients: Purchasing your own ISBN number – buying it yourself instead of accepting a free number offered by your self-publishing vendor – can be an important component of truly owning your printed, “self-published” material. The ISBN is a sort of universal title or identifier for your book. Imagine how frustrating it might be to have to drop the original ISBN in a few years after building a book’s marketing, distribution and reputation just because you want to put all your books under an imprint you create or simply switch publishers. I’m not an attorney. Seek legal advice about your contracts or copyrights as needed.)