Self-Publishing Online Even if Zeros and Ones Hate You

I’m pretty sure I offended an abacus in a past life. And I’m pretty sure my downward spiral into the underworld of negative zeros and ones is the karmic result. (Don’t tell me there’s no such thing as a negative zero; have you ever tasted plain seltzer?) Most tech hates me, even the tech that isn’t secretly hiding its evil sentience.

But I finally did it. I told the my mental critic that this was 2020, and that their constant yelling about how “any route besides traditional publishing would make me a failure” was no longer helpful. And so I released an ebook on Amazon. And then a KPD book. And someday soon I’ll really know what I’m doing and maybe take it on the road. But I can’t tell you how relieved, proud, and inspired that I’ve found the agency and confidence to undertake this process.

It wasn’t easy. First came a long argument in which my inner critic revealed themselves as a multi-personed “they” who includes:

The ex boyfriend. (Which one? Who cares. They’ve become a blur of soft t-shirts and sharp comments).

The Girl Scout troop leader. She shamed me for not selling enough cookies the winter my mother died. Yes, really. “Sorry, girls; we can’t attend the jamboree because someone (long horse-faced stare my way) didn’t make their quota.” I’m totally over it, though. Tagalongs, what?

The nuns. I doomed them to Limbo when I panicked and forgot their instructions during my First Communion. 

Another blurry ex boyfriend.

Possibly Gandalf. The jury is still out on this, but I’ve always feared I accidentally knocked a loud metaphorical object down into an endless well and drew a horde of Orc into this realm.

My parents. The have staunchly declared they are not part of the critic’s miasma. But I’ve always believed they’d somehow finally be proud of me from the other side if I were a print author. 

Innumerable others. Enough said.

After winning this argument mostly by shoving the critic into a mental broom closet, I began my new life as the author of ebooks. (As I write this, the critic is sulking about the spiders. A fair point. I don’t clean much.) 

Yup. Here is it– the obligatory link to my book. Do I expect a massive sales rush from my few WordPress readers? No. Am I super proud of it and do I want to show it off? Yes. You got me. https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.amazon.com/dp/B08CXD4W91__;!!DV0tHk0!LCAaNIXJb64vQB2ts4kKl9r22N45oQm8mU1lSCsJmU_PflJlSzIn4sIkUCgbautSO4wl$

Why can’t I hyperlink this and call it by its name– The Pox Ward? Because zeroes and ones hate me. Sigh. Sorry, Abacus.

Seriously, feel free back to this blog and ask me questions about this process!

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  1. Do it because you believe in yourself. Being published in print does not make you worthy or guarantee that your book is “good.” And self-publishing online does not make you unworthy or prove your book is “bad.” Though there is, to be fair, a greater chance it’s full of typos. So treat your own book with the same care that a print publisher would.
  2. Do it because you’ll get more for each book you sell. Sure, having an agent and the marketing machination of a publishing house behind you is a huge plus. I’m not going to sugar coat that. But you’ll get a much higher percentage of sales (roughly 40-70 percent, depending on the venue) instead of under 15 % after your small cut and after agent fees.
  3. Do it because if even you get an agent today — and the odds are roughly 1 in a thousand for every query letter they receive — traditional publishing will take upwards of 18 months to get your book into stores.
  4. Do it because the market is changing. Even before Covid 19, online sales were growing. Now many traditional venues for print marketing, such as hosting readings and doing book tours, have been put on hold or changed to online venues. And more people are buying ebooks or buying through major retailers that offer new authors promos and countdown opportunities. Is this sad? Heck, yeah. I don’t want local bookstores to go under, either. You can still sell through them once you understand the process—here’s a good resource for that. https://mymustreads.com/bookstore-merchants/
  5. Other than getting a good cover made — and I do recommend this — going straight to an epublishing involves a very small investment or financial risk.
  6. Do it because it’s a win/win. If you do realize you hate marketing yourself or maintaining websites, then at least you know and can move on and focus on traditional publishing, editors, agents, queries, conferences, etc. And you’ll still come out with at least a small platform and some chops. Now you can assure an interested agent that you know what an author platform even is. 
  7. And lastly, do it because it’s a learning experience and that’s what life should be, for crying out loud! If you’re a serious author, this won’t be your only book. You’ll learn the system. Worse case scenario: if your book tanks you can use a pseudonym for the next. 

I won’t minimize the work agents do. They work hard. Really hard. And the cut from the publisher isn’t stellar in the first place, and their cut is even smaller than yours, and they want you to succeed. I still recommend trying both routes.

Just don’t, if you decide to step into the world of self-publishing, don’t let yourself think for a minute you aren’t good enough. Gaining agency in your life is healthy and brave. Experiencing new things, taking chances, and jumping off a cliff — that’s why we’re here. It may be that deciding you want to “choose your life,” instead of waiting to “be chosen” is a good enough reason to jump. 

I know. Authors writing blogs about writing to other authors is weird, right? If YOU publish a book, that might be one less I sell. Sure, I get that. But I can’t live in that kind of world. I just wish you luck! I want to believe the universe is infinite and there’s room for all of us.

In my next post I’ll talk more about my hints and tips for undertaking this process w/o losing the will to live. I can’t wait to teach my students what I learned!

***Photo of sunrise on bridge by Donal Conn

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