Tough Love: Things No One Is Brave Enough to Tell Self-Published Authors

No writer can entirely devote him or herself to the muse. Not one who is traditionally published. And not one going the self-publishing route. So how much work are you are you going to have to do?
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Co-written with Amy Edelman.

2011-05-17-images1.jpegEveryone is writing about how great and glorious the new publishing paradigm is. About the pot of gold at the end of the self-publishing rainbow. About authors getting 70% royalties and having control.

The scent of revolution is in the air.

A writer who writes all the time might still be a romantic ideal but it's not a practical reality. No writer can entirely devote him or herself to the muse. Not one who is traditionally published. And not one going the self-publishing route.

So how much work are you are you going to have to do?

If you have an agent and a publishing house you won't have to make all the decisions or do all the work yourself. You'll have partners along the way -- from editors to publicists. They will do the lion's share of the work and pay the lion's share of the bills. Yes, you might want to -- even need to add to some of those efforts -- adding more marketing or more PR -- but much of the work of publishing will be done for you.

When you self-publish, you are on your own.

Okay. So what's so tough about that?

Part One

1.Writing a great book

Self or traditionally published, you need to produce the very best book that you can.

That means being committed enough to rewrite your book three, four or twenty-five times. Even pros who have been at it for years and have dozens of books under their belts don't have their first drafts published.

So far it's the same for self-published or traditionally published authors. But then the traditionally pubbed author turns his or her book over to professional editors.

If Lee Child, Sara Gruen, Laura Lippman and Jennifer Weiner all get edited, can self-published authors afford not to do the same thing?

Yes, an editor costs money. And yes, an editor might require you to do more rewrites. Yes, you might be tired of writing the book and not even want to work on it anymore.

But if your goal is to sell books, get readers, and build word of mouth -- you absolutely need professional help.

It's like cooking. Just because you can scramble eggs doesn't mean you can make a soufflé. 99.9% of all books can be improved by a good editor (and we're not talking about your sister or your great Aunt Mary, unless they are editors by trade).

What if you don't have the funds? Barter. We're in a recession... maybe you can find someone who will agree to get paid in installments. Do whatever you can but whatever you do -- don't spend a dime until you see examples of their work and get references. You have probably put a lot of time and work into this project. Your name will be on the cover. Do yourself proud.

The average reader buys one or two books a month. The competition is fierce. Your job is to convince Jane S. not to buy Kristin Hannah's newest but to take a chance on yours. To persuade Alan K. to buy your thriller instead of Steve Berry's.

2.Self-Publish for the Right Reasons

Even though Mark Twain and Virginia Woolf self-published, the stigma didn't really lift until very recently.

Suddenly self-publishing is no longer just a fall-back position. It can be a first choice. Just be sure you choose to do it for the right reasons.

Don't self-publish because you think it will be easier than trying to find an agent and a publisher. It won't. Self-publishing is a tremendous amount of work. You have to be prepared, not only to be an author, but a business person, too.

Doing anything right takes time. So don't self-publish because you are impatient (unless, of course, you have a timely subject that you want to get out there fast, in which case you still need to pay attention to quality, but self-publishing will definitely provide you with a faster turnaround time).

Don't self-publish because an agent rejected your book a few times -- or twenty times. There are lots of hugely successful books that have been rejected many times by agents. Harry Potter comes to mind. But if every agent rejects your work, perhaps instead of self-publishing it you should take a look at it again. We can't be totally objective about our own work. Neither are our friends or family.

In fact we'd go so far as to say if you can't get a single agent interested the last thing you should do is self-publishing. There is a difference in believing in yourself and being unrealistic.

Do self-publish because you are an entrepreneur. Do it because you have a vision. Self-publish because you want control of that vision.

M.J. Rose is the internationally bestselling author of 11 traditionally published novels, one self-published novel and one self-published nonfiction book -- Buzz your Book. In 1999, Rose's novel, Lip Service, was the first self-published book (e and print) to be discovered online and bought by a traditional publishing house. Rose is also the founder of the first marketing company for authors -- -- and one of the founding board members of ITW. She can be reached at

Amy Edelman is the author of two traditionally published books and one indie that she sold to a traditional publisher. She has been a publicist for two decades and is the founder of She can be reached at

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