self-publishing workshop

5 Things You Really Need To Know Before Deciding Whether To Self-Publish: Workshops and a Cheat Sheet

Four months ago I wrote a blog post with 20 Steps in Self-Publishing, to share what I learned in the six months after a scary cancer diagnosis made me decide to throw myself into forming my own imprint to publish my mystery series myself.

Since that time, I've learned a lot more and have had many people ask me for details about the process. Most recently, two writers organizations asked me to speak about what I've learned over the course of this year. For those of you in the San Francisco Bay Area or the Portland Oregon area who might be interested in attending, here are details about those two events. And for everyone, here's a preview with some key things that are part of what I'll be talking about in the workshops: 5 things you really need to know before deciding whether to self-publish.

Adventures in Self-Publishing
Saturday, August 4, 2012, noon2 p.m. 
Berkeley, CA
Details and directions on the SinC NorCal website. This is a free event.
Speaking to the Northern California Chapter of Sisters in Crime about the pros and cons of self-publishing and traditional publishing, and answering questions about the nuts and bolts of self-publishing.

Different Paths to Publishing: Which is Right For You, and How To Do It Right
Sunday, September 16, 2012, 1 – 5 p.m.
Lake Oswego Fairfield Inn and Suites, OR (near Portland)
Details on the OWC website. Registration is necessary. There is a fee, but scholarships are available.
I'm excited to be teaching this 4-hour workshop with my mom! Sue Parman is an anthropologist who's written numerous academic books in addition to fiction, plays, and poetry. We've each had experience with multiple types of publishing. The first half of our workshop will focus on what you need to know to make a personal decision about which type of publishing to pursue. The second half will delve into publicity and marketing.

5 Things You Really Need To Know Before Deciding Whether To Self-Publish

1. Self-Publishing is not necessarily a shortcut. It's a temptingly lovely path of roses you see off the main highway. When you pull off the interstate, you'll see the beautiful roses are covered in thorns. A few people will have the talent and luck to avoid most of the thorns, many others will be annoyed by the extent of their scratches but will ultimately be happy with the garden, and some people will become stuck in the brambles, never finding their way to a successful spot on the path that was once so tantalizing.

So far, I fall into the middle camp. It's a hell of a lot more work than I thought it was going to be to publish my first mystery myself, but it's also been rewarding in many ways.  It's important to note that even though technology has made it possible for publishing shortcuts to exist, there's not a shortcut to learning how to be a good writer. It's never a good idea to publish shoddy work. The general public is not your critique group. Make sure you've got a damn good book before sharing it with the world. Spend the time you need to write a book that's good enough to be traditionally published, and then decide what type of publishing is right for you.

2. Are you up for dealing with the nitty gritty details of publishing that don't involve writing? I went over many of the the steps involved here, including getting ISBN numbers, designing a book cover and other promotional materials, deciding on a printer and distribution, creating the layout for the printed book, formatting the book for different ebook formats, and creating accounts to sell the book. Whew! And that's not even everything. There are more forms such as copyright and PCIP data blocks, if you decide to get these things.

It's true that you'll keep a lot more of the profits from book sales if you publish your books yourself, but you'll also be doing all the hidden work yourself. Maybe you love having control of all of these things and have the time to do them, in which case self-publishing is probably a great path for you.

3. Do you want to focus on writing above all else? Unfortunately there's no way for a writer to focus exclusively on writing these days, whichever route to publishing you chose. But if you don't want to think of yourself as a business person as much as an author, you might want to stick with having someone else as your publisher.

Fortunately, there are lots of business people who love books, so I've been hearing about many wonderful new small presses popping up. With publishing in flux right now, these aren't the most stable of times—but they're also pretty exciting times with lots of options.

4. Have you thought about your goals? No, really. Will you be disappointed that the vast majority of bookstores won't stock your self-published book, regardless of how professional it looks? Or will you be thrilled to check out your eBook sales directly and see that people who don't know you are buying your book? Any goal is a valid one, as long as you're sure you're being honest with yourself. Otherwise you might end up disappointed later.

5. The books are still the most important thing. This point circles back to the first one. It's easy to get swept up in all of the back-end details of publishing a book and the front-end marketing, both of which could easily be a full-time job. It's all to easy to forget that what you really need to be doing is writing the next book. All of the successful self-published authors I've spoken with agree that having multiple books out is the best way to generate word-of-mouth.

I admit that for a couple of months I got side-tracked and spent too much time focusing on the publishing and marketing side of things. I even joined Facebook! (Gah! Yes, that should show you how crazy things had gotten.) But ultimately I realized I wasn't doing myself any favors. I know I can't do everything. As of two weeks ago, I'm back on track. I need to keep writing the next chapter in the series—and that's is exactly what I'm going to get back to doing after I publish this blog post.

I hope to see some of you at the workshops, and in the meantime feel free to leave a comment below with any questions. I've learned a lot from so many generous people that I'm more than happy to pass along what I've learned.