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Getting Impatient and Considering Self-Publishing or a Small Press? Read This First.

Last year at this time, I was unagented, unpublished, and trying to decide whether my skill level was ready for writing contests. Now a year later, I'm exchanging emails with all the publishing people we writers hold in such awe: editors, marketing staff, publicists, and other office personnel.

Every time a Bethany House address shows up in my inbox, my heart skips, and I think, "Wow, I can't believe little ol' me is talking to someone important at a publishing house."

As you know, last week I had the privilege of traveling to Minneapolis and meeting the Bethany House staff. After years of waiting and wishing to be a published author, it's hard to shed the feeling that I'm a nobody writer.

But when I walked into the beautiful facility, I immediately had the sense they'd rolled out the red carpet for me. They were as pleased to have me visit as I was to be there. Many of them had read my book, were investing time and energy into it, and now were getting to find out exactly who they were helping.

When they welcomed me, I felt like I was joining a big family. I wasn't the lone writer on the fringe looking in on all those big, scary, important people. Instead I was one of them, apart of something much bigger than myself.

The trip got me thinking, however, about self-publishing or small-presses, where the burden of the book falls primarily on the author. If someone is considering self-publishing or going with a smaller press, here are a few things a writer might sacrifice:

Support: The entire staff at Bethany House is working with me, wanting my book to succeed just as much as I do. They're willing to do whatever it takes, because when one member of the family succeeds, then everyone benefits. They are in regular communication with me about everything and have encouraged me to email them whenever I need help or have a question.

Consensus: At Bethany House most decisions are made in a committee. Everything from whether to take on a book and what rewrites the book will need, to the title and cover. The input from so many workers helps ensure objectivity. When a group of qualified professionals discusses every pro and con, I can rest assured they've come up with the best possible suggestions.

Quality: With so many people handling and reading my manuscript, they are pursuing excellence not only in my manuscript itself, but in every other aspect as well. The creative team is paying attention to each detail of the cover, the copy-specialist is crafting the perfect blurbs to go on the book, and the marketing team is analyzing every possible marketing opportunity.

Sales: During my meeting with marketing, I learned that I should do all that I can to help promote my book, particularly the things I enjoy. But ultimately anything I do is really a drop in the bucket compared with what their sales and marketing team will be able to do to help generate sales on my book.

Obviously not everyone needs or wants a big traditional publishing house. But I think all too often writers turn to self-publishing or smaller presses, because we get tired of waiting. Such options might help us get our books "out there" much quicker than if we hold out for a traditional house to notice us. But what will we sacrifice in the process? Look at all I would have given up if I'd grown impatient.

The rooms and halls of Bethany House are decorated with enormous pictures of book covers. Some were from books I'd read when I was a teenager and others from more recent novels. They graced the walls much the same way portraits of family members hang in our homes.

It doesn't really matter whether my book cover ever makes it to a wall at Bethany House. What's most important is having the opportunity to be a contributing member of a supportive publishing family, and that together we're working to make my book the best it can be.

How about you? Do you ever get tired of the wait? Have you thought about making a go at publishing alone? Or are you holding out for traditional publication?

58 comments:

  1. I am just starting out on this big adventure so I have not put much thought into self publishing. I tend to lean towards the more traditional route. I am working on the "Being patient" part of the whole process. Thanks for the post it was informative.

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  2. First, Wow!

    Second, no, I've never considered self-publishing or small houses. BUT, I do get impatient and I can understand why some people would get fed up with the waiting and go that route.

    Thanks for sharing this, Jody! Bethany House sounds WONDERFUL!

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  3. I got published without having to wait. Now, 4 years later, I'm doing the waiting thing. It's not easy, but I'm hanging.

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  4. I didn't get tired of waiting. I made a 'business plan' years ago, and the first step was always: "Get published by a small press." Some people get the idea that a small press is a last alternative. That's not always the case. For me it was a first choice.

    Now, when I'm ready to query for a big company (which was always step #2 in my business plan), I can include in my query, "previously published by small press." It's not the press that matters so much in this case, but that the agent will know I've been through the process. Somebody besides myself saw merit in my writing.

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  5. No, I've never considered it. I guess I feel that if I choose that route, for me, I'd be trying to take the publishing thing into my own hands instead of it resting in God's. Self-publishing might be for some, but not me.

    Actually, a girl asked me this at work yesterday, "What will you do if your books never sell? I mean, won't that be such a waste?"

    I thought, YES IT WOULD! But I told her no, that I'm doing what I need to be doing and if they never sell, then I guess they weren't meant to. Someday, when I'm seventy, I might pay a few dollars to have them book-bound just so my kiddos have a "momento" or something, but nothing more than that.

    However I trust that if I'm obedient to God, he'll have ever end up how it should. Because the REAL purpose is to spread HIS glory, not mine.

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  6. I had a book accepted by a small press a few years back and eventually turned it down. For many of the reasons you mentioned but mostly because my book wouldn't have gotten out there where I had hoped it would.
    I think we need to define the term small as when I was buying books for my store, many of the popular books we bought weren't always from the big houses and many became bestsellers despite where they came from. If it is well-written and has some good backing, it can do well.
    It's all in God's hands:)

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  7. Jody, you are making me so excited for YOU. Thank you, thank you. Your posts are priceless in my journey that I am traveling on.

    Yes! I had thought about self publishing one of my picture books (which are really good), and I said, "no!" I had heard a self-published writer from NC speak at our SCBWIC conference. After, I asked her point blank about the process and if it was harder now to become traditionally published. She said that agents and publishing houses wouldn't talk to her. Her book did well too. Because she worked it and wrote something that would fit into the NC schools curriculum. And I have thought about small press. I know a writer who went with a small press. She is terribly unhappy.

    Your experience sounds wonderful. I could feel your delight as I read your post. (A sign of a great writer, who's book cover will be on her publishing houses wall one day soon.) *grin*

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  8. Definitely I want the traditional route.. give me the 'bethany' way :)

    I absolutely love reading these journey posts of yours.

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  9. As you know, I've chosen the self-publishing route and despite the stigma that comes with it, I feel very much at peace with it. Most of the decisions I make about my life come with a raised eyebrow from someone here or there, so I consider it character building now. Even though I will miss the things you're enjoying, I am confident that this is the right path for me, now, with this project!

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  10. I have just really started the journey with my first novel so I can say right now I am not entirely sure what I would do, I am rather impatient, however I would love the "bethany" way, I think self-publishing wouldn't give me the support that I would need. So I'll hold out!

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  11. I love hearing about your ongoing journey in the publishing world. Thanks for turning your experiences into usable information.

    I never considered self-publishing.

    Small houses? I guess it would depend on the house and the editor and the book, and how I felt about the whole picture.

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  12. I believe your skill, humility and openness to learn have placed you in the position you are in. You are constantly finding ways to uplift others. This is a beautiful quality. It's part of why I believe God is blessing you so richly.

    The other part...writing that soars.
    ~ Wendy

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  13. I'm holding out Jody! Especially after the picture you painted!

    I will wait on the Lord.

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  14. I just love my small press. They have great one on one support and it seems like everyone knows everyone else. They're all really nice too. I like to think of them as slowly wading into the water, not just taking a huge overwhelming dive into the deep end of a major publishing house. Very good starting place to learn the ropes of the business.

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  15. Yes, I get tired of the wait, but . . . my personal philosophy is that things happen when they are meant to happen, and not when I want them to happen. In the end, patience is the key to success. I want the best for my baby (my writing) and I'm not willing to settle for second best (i.e., self publishing). Now, this is just my personal opinion, and in no way a dig at people who self-publish. If that's what works for those authors, and that's what they want . . . more power to them. For me, I'll wait . . . impatiently at times, btw, but I'll wait.

    S

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  16. I'm not at the waiting part yet, but I hope I have patience when I am.

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  17. The small press title does not automatically equal less quality. I signed with Lyrical Press, and let me tell you, they have been amazing! Their editing department has been very thorough...we did 3 rounds of copy edits on my book and now it is in the hands of a line editor. Lyrical does all they can to help with promotion too- message boards for its writers and readers, chats, submitting to reviewers, etc... Small presses, at least Lyrical, anyway, are FAR different than self publishing.

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  18. I've never considered going it alone or small houses, but then I"m not really pushing for bigger houses yet either. Perhaps after years of trying that way, I would settle if that's where I feel lead. Time will tell, I guess.

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  19. Everything you write about the self-publishing route is true. It definitely isn't for everybody. Glad you hung in there and are seeing your idea and your book come to life!

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  20. This is so inspiring Jody. YES I get tired of the wait (why must it be SO LONG), but I've never considered self-publishing. It'll be all or nothing.

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  21. I've always thought that writing, often thought of as solitary, is really a great team effort. Your post here so well illustrates the benefits of that team. Kudos to you!

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  22. Oh, you look fabulous in that photo! That outfit is perfect: festive yet informal yet not TOO casual... well done.

    I would never consider self-publishing a novel, because I'm not prepared to become a full-time promotions/marketing expert. I might go with a small press if they were enthusiastic cheerleaders for my book... if a smaller press was behind me 100%, that might end up being MORE marketing than if a big press just wasn't that into me, and only gave me 10% effort, you know?

    I'm still holding out for an agent. Then we can make those decisions together. If ALL agents say no (which they haven't yet), then I'll probably focus on the next book rather than seek out a small press that takes slush.

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  23. Good points, all true. Speaking from experience, self-publishing is a TON of hard work, especially because you have to do your own marketing -- and you have to know HOW to do that. That said, all writers have to do a lot of their own promotion, no matter how they are published, to keep their books in stores, etc.

    I self-published WRITING HOME, my collection of newspaper columns and magazine essays (on home and family life). I decided on the self-publishing route because a several agents I met at writers' conferences told me that essay/column collections don't sell well, and that few agents will look at them.

    Determined to put my collection together anyway, I enlisted the help of a small publisher in Michigan. As a well-connected journalist with a large column readership, I didn't have trouble getting publicity -- which was key to my book sales and getting my book into stores.

    I'm well into the second printing of WRITING HOME. Like I said, it's been a lot of work, but it also opened many doors that had been closed to me earlier. I've now got another memoir that's being considered by a well-respected traditional publisher who loved WRITING HOME and asked to see more of my work even though I didn't have an agent at the time.

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  24. Your picture is beautiful! What an exciting adventure! Thanks for encouraging us to wait for the best. It really IS worth it!

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  25. I've been thinking about this very issue a lot lately. I've always considered self-pub and small presses perfectly viable *first* options...not because I'm impatient, but because sometimes I wonder whether I want to be in the middle of all the upheaval going through the larger houses, especially now. Would I want to be associated with some of the bigger houses that have been in the press in the past several months? Honestly, I'm not sure. Getting published means less to me if it means doing business with a company I may not agree with as far as business ethics goes.

    I will absolutely self-publish some of my writing...but because I don't want people to just assume it's because I'm "second rate", I'll certainly try (and keep trying) to get traditionally published as well, to "prove" myself to those who thumb their nose at self-pub. But I may well do that through small presses rather than the big houses, depending on what happens in the publishing industry in the next several months.

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  26. I do get tired of the wait, but I really want to have a team around me. I need that. So I will wait for it!

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  27. Jodi, this is a wonderful post. After reading this, why would anyone give in to self pub or vanity pub.

    I have always wanted to be published traditionally rather than self pub. I've likened it to the marrying kind of love or and/or just having an affair with a married man. I know, crazy analogy, but that's the feeling that comes to me when I think about it.

    I will put it in God's hands and be patient and wait for the real thing.

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  28. If I haven't said congrats enough (I know I haven't commented in a while, my apologies), congrats. It is so awesome watching you make your way through the publication process, and I for one appreciate you letting us get a view.

    As for the question, I don't think I've ever seriously considered self-publication. Writing is hard enough by itself. Trying to take on the whole publication process and truly be successful with it would be more than I would be willing to attempt.

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  29. This post came at the perfect time for me. After five more agent rejections this week, I've had it with the waiting game. Or at least I did for a bit (last night I allowed myself to vent!). But having worked in the self-publishing industry for years, I know that is definitely NOT the route I want to take. I want a traditional publisher, always have. I will just have to keep at it, keep waiting, and keep being patient. :-)

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  30. I've never considered self-publishing but I really do appreciate this post.

    I'm glad God has brought you and Bethany House together.

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  31. I haven't started actively pursuing publication yet, so I guess the wait hasn't been too bad so far. :-) But when I start down that road, I'm convinced I want to pursue traditional publishing. Seeing your list confirms that further.

    By the way, you look great in that picture! How many kids did you say you have?? :-)

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  32. The traditional route is certainly my dream. This is a wonderful post, Jody. Thanks so much. :-)

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  33. Jody, I can attest to the fact that feeling affirmed by a whole company, rather than a few friends and relatives who think your work is worthy of publication, is HUGE. I'm watching the movement of self-publishing, curious how it's going to go, but...my allegiance is still to traditional publishing. And I hope it will always be an option. I think the Internet and other factors have made the generation of more quality work possible, which has inundated traditional publishing. It's definitely gotten tighter even than it was when I broke through in 2005 (and everyone then told me it was tight!), but if we believe in ourselves and our work, I still believe we can conquer the odds. We definitely need one another to remain committed. Right now, you are a light to many in this regard. Love the picture of you by the sign. What a beautiful image in every way!

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  34. I holding out, holding on, and holding my breath.

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  35. Waiting is the hardest thing in this industry. I think you have to surround yourself with positive people who believe in you enough to keep you afloat when you feel like quitting. Great post!

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  36. I agree that it's good to be cautious. The growth process cannot be evaded as a writer, and it takes a lot of time to develop writing skill. There's nothing necessarily wrong with self-publishing, but you do lose the team effort and support that comes from a house taking you on. There's also a confidence that is born of knowing that you're not the only one who believes in this project. If a publisher is willing to invest a lot of time, effort and money in your book, that is significant.

    The only times I think you could go with self-publishing and not care are if you have a experience in the publishing/distribution process and so can do it effectively yourself, if you have independent means so it doesn't matter if you fall on your face, or if you have are writing a unique life story that you want to preserve, say, for later generations in your own family. My husband's uncle did this, and even though his writing style is rough, his stories are amazing and we are so glad that he self-published since a traditional house would never have taken him on.

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  37. Thanks for a very encouraging post. For me, submitting my work to a large publishing house is less a matter of impatience than a matter of intimidation. I look at the big publishers and think, "I'm not that good yet. I'll keep publishing through small presses until I'm ready."

    But I guess the only way to know if you're ready is to make the leap. The worst that can happen is they say no and I go back to small presses.

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  38. I'm definitely holding out for traditional publishing. Thanks for sharing your experience with Bethany House.

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  39. I am attracted to small presses, ebook, or on-demand publishing. That doesn't mean I won't try the traditional publishing, but the route seems more accessible with non-traditional. Thanks for sharing your experience, Jody. It was persuading.

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  40. My dream was to be published traditionally, but I waited two years, and no agent. Perhaps I should have waited longer, but I'm older and didn't feel I had the time. I self-published and do question the decision, although I am completely satisfied with the end product. My book is lovely, but sales are few and far between.
    Blessings to you, Jody.
    Karen

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  41. I'm soo glad you had a safe trip. You were in my thoughts and prayers all that day. What a blessing to have had that opportunity!

    For me, yes, the wait is getting to me, but it would be unnatural for it not to. I think I'm on the right path and the Lord is definitely guiding me. I'm glad I never pursued self publishing, no matter what the outcome of my journey brings. I'm a fighter at heart.

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  42. This post really hits home with me. I made the decision about the small press I was with last year because of a number of these points you made, namely support. That small press is a perfect fit for many of the people who are with it, but not for me.

    I didn't get tired of waiting and decide to seek out a small press--actually, they sought me out and requested my manuscript. But it took more experience and knowledge and really searching my heart to realize that I want the support and more that a traditional publisher offers. I'm going to hold onto that dream and keep working hard in the meantime.

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  43. My first choice was self publishing, mainly because I don't see my writing as a career but as a ministry. My devotional/ inspiration book, and my songbook, were printed by a printing ministry and I'm very happy with the quality. Yes, promoting is up to me, but God will get my book into the hands it's meant to reach.

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  44. I'm still so in awe of your experience. :-)
    I'm definitely holding out for traditional publishers. When I feel like I'm tired of waiting, I give myself a mental slap because I know that I really haven't been waiting all that long.
    Thanks so much for sharing some more about this. You look so cute in that pic. I can't believe you've had five kids!

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  45. Thank you for such an encouraging post. It was insightful and helpful. It got my heart beating faster just thinking about how much can change in a year! Thank you for holding out hope.

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  46. I'm happy that you had such a wonderful experience. I have to admit I'm jealous. However, I'm very happy for you.

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  47. I believe the waiting is our time to grow, pray and prepare ourselves so that when the time comes, we can represent our work, ourselves and our God in the best possible way. If we write because we are called to write, He will make His way know.
    That being said, yes, of course it's hard. But, I am a fan of knowing your own gifts and seeing them in others. Can I write, yes ( I think). Am I a sales person who understand markets or a technology person who can set the book and create the best cover - no. I beleive amazing things can happen when gifts come together for the same cause. So, I vote traditional publishing - for myself.

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  48. I can't say I've never thought of self-publishing, but never seriously. I'm nearly into my third decade of waiting, and it's actually easier now than it was the first ten years. If God intends me to be published, as long as I keep writing, asking, seeking, knocking, then I will be.

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  49. It all seems overwhelming and practically impossible, but there you are standing on the threshold of success. It gives me hope.

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  50. Nah, I wouldn't self pub. If it's not good enough to land me an agent, then it isn't ready for the world yet. I'll keep going back to the drawing board until I create something traditional pub worthy.

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  51. Jody, you make a strong argument for traditional publishing here. I think it really depends on the personal goals of the author and their intended audience. But we should weigh the decision very carefully. Thanks for helping us do that.

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  52. You made some great points, thanks for the post.

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  53. I hope to have a major publisher sometime in the future, but in the meantime I chose to go through a small press.

    Honestly, I think it's been a good thing. I've gotten experience in the publishing world, understand things a little better, and while I'm working on my big dreams I still have a book out there to sell and create a fan base with. I've even gotten to do a lot of local book signings, which have helped me so much.

    It's all how you look at it. Congrats once more on your forth coming book! :)

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  54. Patience is a virtue and I'm sticking with it. I feel as though I would rather have a team behind me to help polish and shine whatever I might have to offer.

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  55. I haven't considered self-publication at all. While I'm keen to help promote my books when they are ready to go, I know my efforts can't compare to working with a good publishing company. In such a competitive business I know I'll need all the help I can get to succeed.

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  56. Hi Jody -

    I've seen self-published authors struggle to market their books. I'd much rather have a team of experts on my side.

    Blessings,
    Susan :)

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  57. Another really wise, helpful and inspiring post. I am permanently tired of waiting - patience never being a strong point. However, I'm determined to keep at this until I produce a book worth the attention of an agent and a traditional publisher.

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