Back in the day, getting that aspirational book published also meant getting an agent who believed in the project, a publisher who would invest in it, an editor (usually from the publishing house) who would tweak or recast or overhaul it. Didn’t really matter if it was fiction or non-fiction: It was a process, and with rare exceptions, the process was long and selective.
The digital age opened the door to self-publishing. But that was far different than successful publishing. The resulting product was often amateurish. Book editors at most publications eliminated self-published books as a way to manage their teetering stacks. Reviews were essential for audience and sales. Round and round and round … And then the Great Recession hit the book publishing industry, making agents and publishers even more cautious about what they took on. Self-publishing breakouts like “Fifty Shades of Grey” and “The Shack” were the extreme exception that proved all the rules.
The world of self-publishing now
That was back in the day. Now, with the sophistication of all things digital and the rising DIY movement, self-publishing seems to be coming into its own. That doesn’t mean it’s easy or cheap. It takes layers of work and savvy on the part of the author. I don’t have the nerve to take it on — but I don’t have a dream manuscript stuffed in my desk drawer, either.
Writer, teacher, coach and frequent Storyboard contributor Chip Scanlan did have a work he wanted to turn into a book. The brief backstory: As part of his blog, “Chip on Your Shoulder,” he reached out over the months to top writers and editors, asking them answer the same four questions. The cumulated wisdom was as surprising as it was, well, wise. Scanlan was urged to collect that wisdom into a chapbook.
But he wasn’t eager to return to the process he went through with his last three books. So he decided to venture into the world of self-publishing. The result is “Writers on Writing: Inside the lives of 55 distinguished writers and editors.” (Full disclosure: I am one of the 55 people in the book, and often spoke to Scanlan as he worked his way through the self-publishing maze. I had no direct hand in the editing or publishing process.)
Now, in an informative essay published by our friends at Poynter.org, Scanlan shares what he learned by becoming his own publisher. That synchs with our goal of exploring what it takes to do the work we do. In his essay, Scanlan deals with:
- Why he chose to self-publish
- Who and what he needed to enlist to do what he couldn’t or didn’t know how to
- Why he chose to work through the Amazon Kindle publishing arm
- What it cost him upfront
- What he must do to build an audience
- What he might make on a return-per book
Know what you’re getting into
Does Scanlan hope you buy his book? Of course. Are there other places to learn about self-publishing. Sure. Will that world be different in two years? Most likely. Will professional publishing houses still dominate the industry? No doubt. Will your dream book — whether professionally or self published — make you rich? Good luck with that.
But apart from all of that, what Scanlan learned is worth a read and a bookmark as you decide if you have what it takes to DIY your name on the spine of a book.