Before You Self-Publish…

After writing my first novel, my wife and I carefully considered the alternatives. We thought it was pretty good. And, after all, I’d been an honors award-winning English major in college and had taught English for six-plus years.

So I knew good grammar. I knew how to vary the structure of my sentences. I knew a lot more, or so I thought.

And we knew that finding a publisher was a long, taxing proposition. No matter how good my novel.

Furthermore, we knew that the trip from signed contract to fresh, newly published book normally takes at least at least a year. I was going on sixty at the time. Could we afford to waste all that time when  self-publishing opportunities abounded?

I don’t have any training in graphic design, but I thought I was pretty imaginative when it came to a cover design. And between my wife and me, we had editing covered.

So why not self-publish? (They didn’t yet refer to it as “independent publishing” or “indie publishing.”) Sure, it would cost something, but not an extravagant amount. We weren’t going to go hungry or miss a car payment in bypassing the traditional book publishing route and doing it ourselves.

We found a company that looked good and seemed legitimate. We were entirely satisfied with those folks and with the quality of my book–at least the part they took care of.

But readers even then looked askance at self-published books, and–when I started reading numerous writing books and attending Christian writing conferences–I learned two horrible facts.

I’d planned to spend all of my time as an author just writing the next book and the book after that, but my books weren’t going to market themselves. Also, the nature of contemporary novels had changed drastically since my days of lovingly lazing through a thousand pages or more of James Michener’s works, which still take up far too much space on my bookshelves.

I started working hard to improve my writing–to conform to the way modern novels must be if they are to attract modern readers–and committed myself to a lifetime of working to improving my writing. I would never be as good as I wanted to be, but I could always make the next book better.

I learned the rules. The really important ones and the ones that are safer to break–or at least bend. I came to accept the fact that NO book will meet every reader’s expectations any more than it will meet every publisher’s needs.

I learned a lot more, including things I have yet to succeed at putting into practice. But at least I have three novels in print through traditional publishers. I no longer count the self-published one; it was a good learning experience, but well worth forgetting otherwise.

If you have a copy, please hold on to it. Should I ever become well-known, your copy may be worth fifty or sixty cents more than it is now. A strange collector’s item, to be sure.


I called this post “Before You Self-Publish Your Book…” But I’ve talked only about my own writing journey.

Let me explain. An author I’d never heard of before–we were “friends” on one of the social media–asked if I’d read and write a review of his novel. Since I’ve been looking for more reviewers for The Devil and Pastor Gus, I proposed a swap. I’d read and review his book if he read and reviewed mine.

I read the first couple of chapters and then checked to see who his publisher was. Yep, sure enough. Self-published.

I won’t go into detail about the things that gave him away other than the fact that he had what promised to be a great beginning and then deviated from it.  And the fact that his paragraphs were quite long; modern readers (and publishers) like to see lots of white space.

I kept reading, though, and the story was really good. I felt justified in giving it four stars–an average of five for the story and the writing in general and three for the editing problems.

Now let me get to the point. I completely understand how someone who’s written a book wants to get it into print without the hassle of finding an agent and a traditional publisher. I can relate.

But even after paying my dues–years of conferences and study and struggling to make each book better than the previous one–I couldn’t self-publish without professional editing and cover design. I wouldn’t want my readers to be able to tell it was self-published because of flaws traditionally published books are less apt to suffer from. (Yes, I’ve seen some poorly edited books from those publishers, too.)

Not every book deserves to be published–at least from a publisher’s point of view and probably from the reader’s point of view as well. But a book that looks amateurish isn’t apt to do well and may not even recoup the investment the self-publisher has made.

All of that to say, please keep my advice in mind and take it for whatever it’s worth.

Have you self-published–or even thought about doing so? Would you share a comment, please?


I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

“On Aging Gracelessly” is only one of my two blogs. I post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years on  “As I Come Singing.” Check it out HERE if you’re interested.  Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. View the list HERE.

If you enjoy my writing, you’ll find a number of things to read on my website.  Also music to listen to and music-related videos to watch.

My newest novel, The Devil and Pastor Gus, is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Family Christian Stores. Go HERE for links to those places.

Best regards,


2 thoughts on “Before You Self-Publish…

  1. As good a writer as you are you have to get used to the idea that getting noticed by publishers and readers is tightly intertwined with good fortune (luck). That’s just the way it is. Same goes for journalists. You either know someone (as in the case of Andrea Kopple) or you luck into an amazing story (like Wolf Blitzer). Pulitzer prize winning photos are usually just flukey affairs where the cameraman was in the right place at the right time. I know this to be true.

    Very few great poets are ever given their due while they are alive – think Dylan Thomas. Really creepy ones like Rod McKuen get rich and famous scribbling something out of a soiled diaper.

    I’ve read a long shelf of books by Mitchener and his ilk. Whereas I love the historical context, some of his writing can be more tedious than bamboo under the finger nails. My favorite historical book by him would have to be Poland. I like Leon Uris and David McCullough a lot more and they are easier reads for me.

    I have no clue how Harry Potter managed to conquer the world with such unneccesary and pointless slop.

    It’s a tough world out there. You have millionaires with names like Snooop Doggey Dog who don’t even know how to write. It tells me the general public does not want something to think about. Some electronic noise and unintelligable ranting is about all the average person can tolerate.

    I am not trying to be pessimistic, just realistic. As well written as was your Pastor Gus book it seems that with such a cacaphony of gibberish out there your sweet little ditty will not get it’s due.

    Now I’m returning to my cave to paint my hand on the wall. That may get some attention in about 10,000 years…


  2. Thanks for another thought-provoking comment, Tom. Yes, I have millions of competitors out there, many or most of which are no better or not as good as Pastor Gus.

    I’m afraid you’re talking to a Harry Potter fan who’s married to another Harry Potter fan. I’m not saying they’re necessarily the best-written books, but we enjoyed them, anyhow.

    I used to really love James Michener, but now I’m used to novels that are shorter, faster moving, and not filled with so much back story.

    I especially agree about prize-winning photographers and journalists. During the early days of my working at the International Mission Board, one of our photographers, Joanna Pinneo, captured a baby in a crib during mudslides somewhere in South America. Vivid black and white picture got lots of attention and was at least nominated for a Pulitzer. No matter what skill it required, if she hadn’t been at the right place at the right time…

    That’s it for now. *G*


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.