Writers looking to publish their book-length work currently face a vast and confusing array of choices regarding how to usher their book into the market. The fact that there even exists a choice is, to use a word of the times, empowering, but the extreme variations within and among the options with regard to quality, integrity, amount of work involved, cost, and other factors make this choice, for some, a very challenging one. There is traditional publishing, and self-publishing (also referred to as “independent” publishing), and various options in between, including “hybrid” publishing, “partner publishing,” “self-directed publishing,” and more. Brooke Warner at She Writes Press has some informational posts elucidating the differences among these here and here, among others. She’s a vocal evangelist for what she terms the “third way.”
So what is a writer to do, how is she to decide which route to pursue? Having recently gone through this process rather blindly, learning as I go, absorbing a lot of information about the publishing industry, having to make important decisions almost on the spot, feeling carried forward in the frothy, low-visibility crest of a wave that I believe is gathering significant momentum, I realize I wish I had understood at the start just how much truth and value there is in Polonius’ admonishment to Laertes in Hamlet:
“This above all—to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
After a lot of fumbling around trying to find a path that made me feel like I was, am, being true to myself and to my book, I’ve settled on a hybrid approach which, had I had the clarity of thought to realize this earlier, is what makes absolute sense for me. Everything about my life has been hybrid, from my mixed-race genetic make-up to my bilingualism to my childhood straddling three continents to my choice of multidisciplinary undergraduate studies (international development studies) and graduate studies (urban planning) to my ensuing multifaceted career. How could I have felt comfortable in a single publishing silo?
So here is a compilation of questions I urge you to answer for yourself if you are trying to get published. Some of them are very practical, others are more touch-feely and might make you decide you really need to go run some errands rather than think about them, but I do believe they are all important.
1. What are your goals?
- For your book:
Why did you write it? To get it off your chest? To feel like a writer? To spread a message as broadly as possible? To change someone’s life?
Who did you write it for? Who is your target audience? How do they hear about books? How do they read them? Will they care how yours is published?
Do you want to see it in the New York Times? Do you want it to be eligible for prizes?
Do you care about subsidiary rights? (Translations, movies, audio books, etc.)
- For yourself:
Whose validation/recognition do you need, if any?
Are you trying to build a career? Will you be writing other books?
Are you hoping to make a living by writing? To change your career?
2. What is your level of self-confidence?
- How good are you at speaking up?
- How confident are you in your decisions, in your judgment? (Would you benefit from having the opinions of others such as an agent, an editor, a publisher?)
3. How do you feel about collaboration? How much control do you need or want to have in the process?
4. What is your risk profile?
- Are you willing to experiment?
- How do you deal with change and new things?
- How do you deal with the unexpected?
5. What types of activities/interactions give you energy? What sucks it away?
Do you enjoy being alone? Do you prefer your day (when you’re not writing) to be full of interactions with other human beings? With cats? Does the thought of calling up someone you don’t know to ask for something make your blood run cold? Do you dread promotion? Or thrive on it? (Hmm, maybe that last one would not be a good sign.)
6. How do you define success?
Does success mean meeting all your goals? Feeling happy? Wanting to do it all again? Catching the attention of a particular person? Being on national TV? Having time to write? Quitting your day job? Being accepted by your family? Selling 100,000 copies of your book? Receiving invitations for speaking engagements? Being reviewed in the NY Times?
7. What is your budget?
How much money can you invest upfront? Consider that with partner publishing, expenses might include an initial fee, developmental editing, a publicist, advance reader copies, etc.
8. How much time do you have?
- What’s your time frame for this project? Do you need to see your book out there within a few months? A year? Can you wait two years (or more)?
- How much time do you have in your schedule on a daily/weekly basis to devote to getting your book published?
9. What are your organizational skills like?
Can you keep track of a lot of details, dates, to-do lists? Do you want to?
10. Are you curious to learn about the publishing industry? Or does your brain already feel overly strained?
Bonus question: What is your support network like? Do you have helpful and supportive friends? Family members? Are you a part of networks (writer network, alumni network, professional industry network, etc) that can provide you with contacts?
Going through all these questions, you can zero in on what matters to you and what you can imagine yourself happily doing, and thus make a publishing choice that rings true to you, and will ultimately be satisfying and successful. And I’m sure there are many other helpful questions–please chime in with some.