Is Self-Publishing the Wrong Choice?

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Jun 02 2015

It’s not that uncommon for a querying author to email a question concerning my rejection or something related to her career path. I’m not recommending you do that to me or any other agent, but I do tend to reply, at least in short. I’ll also, probably, blog about it…

In one of those recent emails an author asked my opinion about her decision to self-publish. She’d set a time limit on how long she would query agents for (3 months) and felt that if she hadn’t secured anyone in that time she was going to self-publish. She wanted to know if she was making a mistake.
In my opinion, you’re never making a mistake if you know what you’re getting into. Self-publishing and traditional publishing both have their pluses. They also have their negatives. Waiting to find someone to be on your team, agent and publisher, is one of the negatives of traditional publishing.
Personally, I don’t think three months is enough time, but people in the querying trenches might have another opinion. It might take agents three months just to read your query and another three months to read your material. It might get done faster. That being said, if that’s as long as you want to wait, then that’s your deadline.
My advice about making the decision to self-publish is to make sure you alert agents that you’re pulling your material. It’s so frustrating when you finally get around to queries or submissions, respond and are told that not to worry because the author self-published anyway. Especially if you are requesting something.
Like anything else in life, make your decision, embrace it and go for it. No looking back because looking back doesn’t get us anywhere.

11 responses to “Is Self-Publishing the Wrong Choice?”

  1. Avatar Colin Smith says:

    Having been in the query trenches a few times already, three months seems an incredibly short time to decide you don't want to trad. publish. Considering most writers will query 50, 100, or even more agents, three months is no time at all. I might be so bold as to suggest that a writer who is willing to "throw the towel in" with regard to trad publishing after 3 months isn't really interested in getting trad published, and was just testing the water to see if they could get an agent quickly.

    Might I suggest a different approach? Instead of focusing on whether or not you can get an agent in three months, consider the big picture. Do you want an author advocate who will represent you to publishers, pitch your work, vet contracts, and be there for you every step of the way throughout your career? Or do you want to go it alone, fight your own battles, take your career the direction you want it to go–maybe even into areas an agent wouldn't consider, or might consider too risky? Do you want to hand over 15% of your returns to someone else, or do you want to keep most of your profit? If you don't want to go it alone, then you will write and query, and requery, and edit, and query until either you attain your goal, or you come to the conclusion that perhaps you should consider self-pubbing. If you want to go it alone, then you will research, hire editors, hire cover designers, hire lawyers, promote, and do all you need to do to make your self-pubbing experience a success, or you will come to the conclusion that it's taking too much time, and costing too much, and you're not writing as much as you used to, and you'll start querying. Both of these options take far more than three months if you're going to do either of them any justice.

    That's my 2c.

  2. Having a target and knowing when to move on from the querying scene and actually following through are all commendable goals. You don't want to still be flogging some manuscript 5 or 10 years of querying later. Even if it was a timeless manuscript and it didn't become dated fast, it probably won't represent you as a constantly evolving author anymore.

    That being said, 3 months is a ludicrously short timespan to set. I know a lot of agents who won't even respond to queries within 3 months. I've gotten partial requests after 18 months (not that that's common or particularly professional.) 6 months to a year seems a little more reasonable.

    I guess I just have to wonder whether this querier is a little naïve in thinking 3 months is enough time for traditional publishing, or if she has some special reason for wanting to get it out fast (i.e. chasing a trend.) If it's naivete or impatience, please do yourself a favor and give it just a little longer than 12 weeks before self-pubbing. After all, self-publishing will never disappear as an option, not in 3 months, not in 3 years, but if you miss the boat with traditional publishing, you missed the boat. There's no unpublishing that self-pubbed book and getting your first print rights back.

  3. Agree with the others I've read that three months isn't enough time. There's more to it than that, though. "Do you want to self-publish?" isn't a timeframe type of question, nor should it be a "well, if I can't find an agent" sort of response.

    I'd recommend self-publishing or going with a small publisher at first, honestly. It's nothing to do with agents, or 15%, or big publishers and their quirks and flaws. Instead, it has everything to do with the internal journey we all need to make as writers. I look back at the queries I wrote years ago, and the earlier drafts of my first novel, and I wonder who the muttonhead was who wrote those things. But the traditional advice of "write it, then put it away and forget about it" seems like an awful waste of time when much of what's out there in professional circles is actually fairly mediocre and your desk drawer or hard drive don't ever give you the feedback a well-written review can. I say write it, make it as good as you possibly can, put it out there, rinse, and repeat, and by the time you get a few years down the road you'll be writing at a level you never thought possible.

  4. Avatar Sangeeta says:

    Thanks for posting about this topic. I would agree that three months isn't enough time to secure an agent and tell writers to try to give the process at least a year. Also, here is a piece I recently wrote about self-publishing literary fiction, for which I interviewed two agents. It's great to hear all of your perspectives!

  5. Avatar Beth Writes says:

    The three months is a problem. Waiting to hear from an agent on a full is three months alone. 🙂 But I think the bigger naivete is in thinking she should go one way or the other… or that once she makes this decision, that's it. She'll never do it any other way. I have books self and small press published, but that has never stopped me from going for the agent. The idea being, I want my books everywhere… I want trad-published fans to follow me to self-published books and vice versa. Why box ourselves in? We need a plan for each book and series, and then we should go for it.

    That's why I want the agent. And I could self-publish half dozen books in the next year, but I'd still have another project that I'm taking to agents. 🙂

  6. Avatar John Frain says:

    Does it tarnish a writer's reputation among agents if that writer decides to self-publish? Granted, that particular ms is off the table, that's not what I'm wondering.

    If I go the self-pub route, then write another and try to get an agent and I mention in the query that I have a title published and sold X number of copies, am I tainted in the agent's mind for self-publishing the first one?

    Looking at it from an agent's POV, if my new book sells well and people go to pick up the first, there's nothing in that second sale for the agent, right?

    The short answer might be they won't care, they're only interested in the current submission. But all else being equal, if an agent is comparing two manuscripts from the same genre they represent, and one writer self-pubbed earlier, does that decision weigh?

    Patience is exhausting sometimes!

  7. Asking an agent if you should self-publish, after querying three months, is like asking the doctor about giving birth in your bathtub three days before your due date. Can you do it? Sure. But considering how naïve the question and impatient the patient, it’s ludicrous. It’s also an insult. You are telling the doctor, "…because I can deliver on my own, what the hell do I need you for?"

  8. Avatar Hollie says:

    Arrrgggg, I keep reading this blog with the idea of the learning things I don't know, while I'm still writing my first book.
    Even to me 3 months sounds like a very short time. But it does leave a number of other questions.
    How many agents can you query at once?
    Is it ok to try selling your book to a publisher yourself while querying with agents? Or is it better to keep polishing and starting work on another book?
    Am I over thinking this whole thing and just scaring myself?

    *crawls back to my corner and looks for chocolate and coffee

  9. Avatar AJ Blythe says:

    As everyone else has said, 3 months is woefully short of the querying mark. Particularly if you send queries out in batches. Have you been receiving standard rejections, or getting any personalised feedback? Maybe your ms still needs some work. There's nothing wrong with whatever career choice you make with this book, whether it be traditional or self- publishing, but the one thing you don't want to do is to publish too early!

  10. Avatar Hollie says:

    I haven't sent anything anywhere yet, AJ, I know my MS is not yet ready to be seen in public. But the opportunity to ask questions arrived and it was a good chance to gather information.

    You have confirmed what I suspected don't send my ms to anyone until I think its at 150%.

    Thank you

  11. Avatar DLM says:

    Considering that more and more agents' response time alone is three months, the expectation here is literally impracticable. It's funny, I've been thinking a lot lately (and blogging) about the supposedly slow pace of traditional publishing.

    Suffice it to say, some things in life really are worth the wait.