Why I Self-Published—Then Went With a Small Publisher, by Melissa Hansen
I enjoyed every moment of writing my novel—until I had to decide what to do with it. After so many rejections, and with no prospects in sight, self-publishing quickly became a tempting alternative.
Derek, my husband, had self-published a book on hammock camping that was selling well. He knew how to navigate the Amazon self-publishing platform, including the ebook format. By profession, Derek is a graphic designer and marketing specialist, which meant I had my own in-house cover designer. The connections didn’t stop there. My brother-in-law, a brilliant English teacher, agreed to be my editor. He’s an avid reader who took an interest in my story and was personally vested in the book’s success.
On top of this, I had many family members and friends who encouraged me to publish so they could have a copy of my book. All I lacked was the confidence to put my work officially into the world. As many writers can attest, this is often the hardest obstacle of all.
I was terrified, but I took a step of faith and decided to self-publish. I made this decision without a clear understanding of what was required to sell a book. I had no marketing plan, and therefore no commitment to follow through with it. My husband, the pro-marketer, assured me he would help promote it. But with a full-time job, his own book fans and blog, and many hobbies of his own—well, you can guess how that went.
Needless to say, after my family and friends bought the book, sales fell stagnant. I set up a facebook page and author website but did little to promote it. I made some half-hearted efforts to get bloggers to review my book, which a few did. I released the sequel almost three years after the first book, long after the hype had waned—if there ever was any.
And there you have it: everything you shouldn’t do if you want to succeed as a self-published author.
The real issue was, while I believed in my book, I didn’t believe in myself. I was like a cat pacing the edge of a swimming pool, knowing the only way to the other side was to jump in and swim across. And like any cat, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. When I got brave enough to stick in my paw, I worried people might notice the ripple—which is ridiculous, because the whole point is to make a splash. Yet, this fear was too great to get over on my own.
But—I wasn’t ready to give up on my dream, either. So, after a few uneventful years, and while I was working on the final book in the trilogy, I decided to pursue traditional publishing again. It wasn’t easy. I fought the urge to give up, over and over again. I worked a little at a time, improving the manuscript and my query. I attended conferences and made connections. I entered contests and sought feedback. I joined a writers’ group and got valuable critiques. I watched lectures and listened to podcasts to improve my craft. But I still got rejection after rejection. I worried that because I had self-published and “failed” at it, no publisher would give me a chance.
Then I attended a writers’ conference and a representative from a small press called Immortal Works was there. They were open to submissions and seemed an excellent fit for my work. Within a month I had a full manuscript request, and about six weeks later, I received the email of every author’s dream: Immortal Works loved my story and wanted to publish it.
My dream had come true, but the hardest part was just beginning. In my naivete, I thought publishers did most of the marketing work and I could just sit back and let the sales roll in. Ha! That’s pretty funny. I discovered quickly that I was expected to do all the marketing I should’ve done when I self-published--but this time, I wasn’t alone. The cat was at the swimming pool again, but this time there was no pacing near the edge. I’m a cat, after all, and cats avoid water at all costs. I needed someone to grab me and toss me in. And though it was frigid and uncomfortable at first, I’ve gradually gotten used to the water. I’m even starting to enjoy it.
For my personality, self-publishing wasn’t a good fit. I needed a publisher behind me, pushing me forward, and the accountability of a legal contract pushing me to do everything in my power to get my name and novel out there. I wish I could’ve believed in myself on my own, but that doesn’t come naturally for me. Other authors may have that confidence and their chances of success are much higher.
I don’t regret the path I took; it was how I needed to learn. But if you’re considering self-publishing, it’s important to understand how much you’re willing to do on your own. Authors are often introverts with thin, sensitive skin. This isn’t a bad thing—it makes our work poignant and emotional and helps us connect with readers in the first place. But it makes self-promotion, exposure, and criticism difficult.
Make sure you have the chops and endurance to stick with self-publishing if you want to succeed. It’s entirely in your hands. If I’d had more courage and gumption, I know I would’ve had a different outcome. If you believe traditional publishing is best, then keep moving forward. It takes patience, resilience, and a willingness to improve and not give up. Stick with it, and the odds are better than you think.
Meet the writer:
Melissa Hansen is the wife of a hammock guru and the mother of five exceptional kids. Her YA fantasy novel, The Perfect Outcast, which explores the problems of a utopian world, comes out in September. When she’s not reading and writing, she enjoys being outdoors, making friends, playing board games with her family, and eating Thai food. Melissa lives with her family in Southern Utah. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and her blog, https://melissaohansen.com.
When do you find time to write?
It varies depending on what’s happening in my life, but lately I’ve been writing early in the morning before my kids are awake. I don’t get interrupted and my mind is alert and open to inspiration.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I’m fascinated by the science of the brain. I love to study and learn about activities that get me in a creative frame of mind. Yoga, spiritual meditation, writing in my journal, family history work, and playing the piano are all things I often do before I write. And when I do, I always have a more productive writing session.
How do you feel about writing groups?
I’m part of a writing group that has greatly impacted my growth and success as a writer. We’ve been together for several years, but it wasn’t until recently that we got serious and focused about our work. We used to meet about once a month to discuss writing and books, but it was more like a social club with the occasional critique. It didn’t do much for us. We buckled down and decided to set firmer goals and hold each other accountable. Now we meet weekly, critique a passage of everyone’s work each time, read our work aloud, and are much more honest and constructive in the feedback we offer. The improvement we’ve all seen in just a few months is astounding. Writing groups are critical and invaluable when they’re structured and consistent. If taken casually, they are a waste of precious writing time. :)