Why I self-publish

I think I can finally say that the book that's been dominating my life is finished—well, as finished as it will be until it's actually launched in late November. Review copies were ordered a few days ago and a press release is being written. My marketing plan, such as it is, is now at the top of my to-do list. I have taken off my author fedora and put on my publicist beanie.

Several people over the last few weeks have asked me why I decided to self-publish Camping with the Communists. For some people, self-publishing is suspect, and I admit there's a lot out there that should never see print. But every day more and more good, and even great books are being self published. And I'm happy to be part of that tribe. Here's why.

1. I'm impatient. For an unknown author to find a publisher or agent is a time consuming exercise. You first must meet the specific needs of the publisher/agent. Then, with hope in your heart, you send out your work. And you wait. It's not uncommon for a publisher to take two to three months to review your submission, because most get thousands a year. And when they finally get back to you it might be a rejection, or it might be, "Great writing! Great concept! But unfortunately not for us. Good luck!" Since you know that some of America's great writers received lots of rejections, that's not enough to stop you. You send it out again. And wait. And I'm not happy waiting. It drives me crazy. It can take years to find a publisher or an agent. No thanks.

2. I'm a control freak. The first book we self-published was in 1995, before digital presses were available and print-on-demand was somebody's dream. My idea started small; it was going to be a brochure answering all the questions people always asked us about traveling. As I wrote, it grew into a 133-page workbook, How to Plan Your Trip to Europe. And because I was handy with Pagemaker and knew a designer who would help me, self-publishing seemed the obvious solution. We thought it would be fun and I liked the idea of controlling not only the words, but how they looked on the page. And I knew I could sell more books than any publisher because . . .

3. Publishers don't really publicize. Yes, they arrange book tours for celebrity authors, and even a mid-list writer might get some help; but for the average Joe or Jane they do very little. It's up to the authors to create their own platform, their own publicity—in fact when you submit a manuscript to a publisher or agent you're encouraged to tell them exactly how you plan to market your book. And since that's the case, I might as well do everything myself, because (1) and (2).

The publishing world has changed and is changing; very very rapidly. Those famous old publishing houses that nursed unknown talents into greatness no longer exist. They've been bought out or eaten up by others, and now they're part of a conglomerate owned by an oil company, or some other unrelated-to-books business that cares nothing about books, but a lot about profit.

I like money as well as the next person, and fat advances are the stuff of dreams. But for me, the fun is creating something, from the moment it exits my head to the moment a reader picks it up and laughs, or sighs, or hates it or loves it. Writers just want to be read, and if digital presses and print-on-demand can get us there, then for some of us, that's good enough. And because (1) and (2).


We're off for a few days in the southern Washington mountains. Maybe when I return I can give you a report on Sasquatch. While you wait, check out my new website at karengilden.com.