Self-Publishers: Do You Need Nurturing?

I get several emails a week from people who are self-publishing or thinking about self-publishing. They ask me questions about the process.

Sometimes I can answer: “What’s a good program for making an ebook?” (look here)  “My ebook has weird characters. What’s causing that?” (look here) “What does Smashwords do?” (it’s an aggregator that distributes ebooks to various retail sites. Click here) “I have a backlist, but the books are old and I don’t have the manuscript as a digital file. Can it be turned into an ebook?” (not as difficult as it sounds. Here.) “Will you publish my book for me?” (I produce books, I don’t publish, but I can show you how to do it.)

Sometimes I have no answers: “What’s the most effective type of marketing and promotion?” (who knows?) “Will I make money selling ebooks?” (maybe, maybe not)

Sometimes I get worried. A writer will send me a link to a vanity publisher or the latest scam cooked up by formerly legitimate publisher and ask me if I think if it will be money well spent. Um… no.

A common thread running through most of those emails is this: I feel alone and I’m not sure what to do.

I want to assure those folks that one) self-publishing DOES NOT mean going it alone; and two) by asking questions, you are doing EXACTLY THE RIGHT THING.

The number one reason I hear for going the trad pub route is this: “I just want to write and let a publisher or my agent take care of all the business-production-marketing stuff.”

I understand that. I honestly do. When I’m caught up in creative throes, I don’t want to bothered by, you know, life. Here’s the reality. I sold my first piece of writing in 1990. I’ve worked with several publishers. I have a stack of book contracts. I’ve belonged to several professional writer organizations. I’ve listened to and talked to hundreds of industry professionals–writers, editors, publishers, publicists, agents, and booksellers. So I’ve been around the block once or twice. One thing I know for a hard fact is this: The industry is full of weasels and sharks, and if you abdicate your responsibility to your writing and your career, you will get bitten. It might be a small, barely noticeable wound, or you might get eaten altogether.

This isn’t about traditional versus self-publishing (choosing to do either is an option, doing both is an option–whatever is best for you and your work). It isn’t even an admonition to writers to wake up and take responsibility.

It’s actually more in response to something I’ve heard several times in the past week. Proponents of traditional publishers and agents proclaiming their valuable role in “nurturing” writers.

Um… no.

Nurturing is what mothers do for babies. Writers are not infants. Most aren’t children, either.

Despite my raised hackles over such condescending bullshit, I still understand the appeal. Writing can be lonely. Loneliness leads to frustration. Frustration requires relief lest it fester. You need someone to tell you that you aren’t wasting your life on a dream. You need assurance that you are doing at least something right. Gold stars and pats on the head don’t do a thing for me, but I do understand the very real need for recognition and acknowledgement for a job well done.

So this is for the writers who are looking at self-publishing, but are afraid that it’s a leap into a lonely abyss. Afraid it is too hard. Afraid they’ll make mistakes.

First, you will make mistakes. Everybody does. But self-publishing isn’t parachuting, so mistakes are rarely fatal.

Second, self-publishing is hard work, but it’s not complicated or difficult. If you’re smart enough to write, you’re smart enough to self-publish.

That leaves the lonely abyss. The scary place. The place where “nurturing” sounds like a good idea.

You don’t need nurturing. You need connections and support. One of the most fabulous aspects of self-publishing is that the community is large, noisy, active and supportive. Generous, too, with information.

Information is knowledge and from knowledge springs wisdom.

Want the daily news about what is going on in the world of publishing? Follow The Passive Voice blog. Facts and figures? Joe Konrath spills all, and David Gaughran is becoming world-renowned for his industry analyses. Day to day realities? Check out Dean Wesley Smith and Kris Rusch. Worried something might be too good to be true? Visit the good folks from SFWA who publish Writer Beware. Want the nuts and bolts about producing your books? This blog, Paul Salvette at the BBEbooks site and Joel Friedlander’s blog will answer almost any question you might have about production.

That’s just a tiny sampling of the many, many people who share what they know and learn. Spend a day, or even a few hours link hopping and you’ll see what I mean.

While you’re learning about self-publishing, develop your side skills. Do you have an eagle eye for typos? Become a master proofreader. Do you have an artistic streak? Try your hand at making covers and designing blogs. Do you have editorial skills? Formatting skills? Can you write blurbs and promotional copy? Nobody is good at everything, but everybody is good at something. When all those “somethings” come together, communities are born and magic happens.

Which leads me to how does one find a community, and more importantly, become a part of it?

GIVE

Take a look at the most successful and well-known self-publishers, those with the strongest community ties. The write different things and have wildly differing personalities, but one thing they ALL have in common is generosity. They share time and hard-won wisdom and resources. Take a look at how much they give and it’ll be no mystery at all why they are so successful.

When you’re feeling frustrated or lonely, the best cure of all is giving.

So, to answer the question: Do you need nurturing?

NO

You’re grown-ups. Your momma nurtured you and now you can take care of yourself. You need education. You need support. You need friends. If you’re ready and willing and unafraid of hard work, that’s exactly what you’ll get.

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56 thoughts on “Self-Publishers: Do You Need Nurturing?

  1. Ummm, yes, with caveats. But it isn’t just about wanting a publisher to do all the hard work for you. Questions are good, and I answer a lot of them on my blog as well as writing informative posts, but … Some people think being nurtured means that they don’t have to do any work at all. Just dump a bunch of questions showing that you haven’t bothered to do any research for yourself, and then get pissed when people just don’t have the time to hand you a complete education.

    • Well, unfortunately, there are many takers out there. I liken them to baby birds with their beaks open wide while begging for food. Either they will work up the nerve to fly or they’ll sit in the nest and starve. Their choice.

  2. I love this! The happy part is this – a lot of us are more than willing to share and connect. The sad part is this – contract be damned, unless you’re a big-time player nobody is going to hold your hand and nurture your skills and promote the hell outta your book.

    • ‘Tis true, Julia, very true. If a writer thinks they will be nurtured and ditch their responsibilities, they’ll be seen–and treated–as prey. The reality is, while creativity is limitless, resources are not. A trad publisher is going to put their resources in those places where they think (hope, guess, pray) it will do the most good. Actually, self-publishers who develop the same attitude about their productivity and resources might do better for themselves. Set a goal, figure out how to get there, then focus your personal resources on meeting that goal. Be flexible enough to realize if something is NOT working, then stop.

  3. You’re a marvel, Jaye. And just one hell of a fine ebook designer/producer. Hope you feel the steady state of thanks directed toward you, from me and from others we both know.

  4. You know, I really wish we could find another term for this other than “self-publishing” which has been loaded down with all sorts of negative interpretations. We use a team approach here. My editor is my roommate, Leigh Strother-Vien, who has been with me for almost 24 years and also does the interior typographical design. (We spent three days just picking out the type we use for print editions). Our designer is my old friend George Mattingly of George Mattingly Design in Berkeley, California. I buy art from freelancers through Freelance.com. Our printer is Lightning Source and our distributor is Pathway Book Service. We’re hardly amateurs now, having been at this for nine years, but we still get the “oh, you’re self-published?” sneer. Recently we have moved into audiobook editions through ACX.com, which has high technical standards. Our latest it the audiobook of “The Shenandoah Spy” narrated wonderfully well by Gail Shalan, with John Zdrojeski. which goes on sale May 9th. 0 It may take a village to raise a child, but it definitely takes a team to publish a book. This is a business, not a hobby.

    • Hi Francis. I’m an irascible old broad who pooh poohs the labels of others. I call myself an indie who happens to self-publish. If someone wants to sneer, pfft to them and their biases. You are dead on right about every effort being a team effort. I have my own team of cohorts. We pass raw documents back and forth, share information, work on production, and get the job done. Everybody has skills they bring to the table. Everybody has contacts to spread the word. It works.

      • Thanks to Jaye for the original post and to both of you for this exchange. The idea of trad publishers nurturing anybody has been dead for 35 years and was little more than legend in the days of yore. I appreciate the advice you two exhange here, good for us all.

  5. Always dead on and helpful (very rare thank you). This industry is loaded with fragile personalities and those who take advantage of them (us) should be ashamed. Not for taking advantage but for taking the easy road to selfishness

    • Thank you, John. The book biz is tough. Always has been, always will be. Sensitivity belongs on the page. Once the publisher hat is firmly settled, it’s time to get tough. Tough doesn’t mean cynical, though, or mean or obnoxious. It just means having the ability to rise to the challenge(s).

  6. Hi Jaye:

    Methinks you’ve struck a nerve here, and a positive one at that. Brilliant commentary! I know at least a dozen people who MUST read this posting of yours. I can’t ensure they all actually read it, but I can at least share the link.

    I learned very early in my career that knowledge hoarded is knowledge wasted. It is refreshing to find others, such as yourself, who share that philosophy and who make it a part of their day-to-day life.

  7. I love this! I tried my hand at traditional publishing before jumping over to indie. I couldn’t believe the difference. Whereas traditional publishing felt like a closed club, indie publishing was full of generous people who shared all their hard-won knowledge. I wish I’d joined Twitter sooner because it’s indie author central and I learned a ton just by following other indie writers. I am go grateful to all of them (especially you, Jaye!) for sharing what they know.

    • Thank you, Margaret. I know what you mean about Twitter. I resisted it for the longest time, then realized one day that it’s full of information. That was an eye-opener.

  8. Well, I’ll confess that sometimes I need a little nurturing. I have doubts about my writing, I hit a roadblock I need to figure out how to get around, there’s a difficult decision I need to make. But I’m more likely to want to ask a friend — preferably someone who’s a writer & has been where I am, yet still first & foremost a friend — than someone I’m paying 15% to. The problem I find with getting nurturing advice from someone ostensibly working for me is that I’m never sure what I’m told will benefit me first, or that person. I never can be certain I’m getting my money’s worth.

    This doesn’t apply just to literary agents. It can apply to anyone you pay money for some kind of benefit. Successful businesspeople don’t let personal relationships influence their business dealings. And nurturing is a form of personal relationship.

    • Hi, S., I’ll agree and disagree with you. The only person you can trust with your insecurities is a therapist. Agents and publishers aren’t therapists, they’re business people. There is nobody–NOBODY–you can hire who will put your interests above their own. That’s a reality. That’s business.

      So you partner up with those who have a vested interest in your success. The harder THEY work, the better YOU do, and the better YOU do, the more THEY benefit. That’s the kind of cycle upon which fortunes are made.

      When I talk about nurturing, I’m talking about something destructive. It’s infantalizing working adults, “protecting” them from grown-up realities. Grown-up writers don’t need their tender-wender wittle feelings wrapped in bubble wrap. Grown-up writers don’t need a pat a head and then sent to bed with a cookie while the Big People talk business. Grown-up writers shouldn’t be afraid of their editors and agents, terrified that questions or complaints will make “mommy” or “daddy” mad at them.

      The key to survival and success is education. Learn enough about the business side so you know when someone is doing a good job and when they’re dropping the ball. Don’t hire an agent because you hope they’ll make your life better–hire them to sell your books.

  9. Pingback: Self-Publishers: Do You Need Nurturing? | The Passive Voice | Writers, Writing, Self-Publishing, Disruptive Innovation and the Universe

  10. Hmm… If you interpret “We nurture our writers” as “We tell our writers what to do and when to do it,” then it starts making a little more sense, in light of the employee mindset vs. the entrepreneur mindset.

    Some people just want to be told when to do what (to varying degrees of specificity), and such people are innately employees. They might have entrepreneurial ideas, but getting them to actually attempt any such thing is like trying to pull out a dead tooth with pliers. (Note: The roots of teeth tend to be twice as long as the actual tooth.)

    Personally, I prefer being a contractor. I have deadlines, sure, but my time is my own. When and where I get my work done doesn’t matter to anybody but me. And if I take a break and work on a short story? No problem. Pick up an extra project? Can do (as long as I have the time in which to do it).

    Granted, if I have no clients in a week, that’s on me, too—but I also don’t have to sit and twiddle my thumbs. I can find more work.

    But that’s my point—I am an entrepreneur. I’ve tried being an employee, and I did best in positions wherein I had at least some flexibility and responsibility. I prefer entrepreneurship.

    Other people are different, preferring to be employees, and they carry that attitude into their careers as writers. Thus the “nurturing”.

    “Nurturing” is still condescending and unnecessary, now. But I think that employee-entrepreneur distinction has more to do with it than loneliness. Writing actually isn’t all that lonely, if you have the drive and inclination to seek out folks you can get along with.

    • Writing used to be a lot lonelier. Depending on where a person lived, there might not be any other writers in the area, or very few. Conferences were a great place to network and connect with friends, but those happened only a few times a year. And, way back in the days of the dinosaurs writers didn’t talk about business. Or if they did, it was always followed by, “But don’t tell anyone I said that!” Very few talked about money or contracts. It was all hush-hush and don’t let dad hear you! The dark thought circulated that “publishing is a very small business and if you get the reputation as a troublemaker, you’ll never sell another book.” When everybody is toeing the publisher’s line, it’s difficult to say, “Hey, wait a minute, what? This isn’t right.” Because everybody comes right back with, “That’s what everybody does. It’s the standard.

      That’s all changed. It’s for the better. And yes, I can see where it makes agents, editors and publishers very nervous. It’s pretty damned difficult to get away with underhanded behavior if everything you do shows up on blogs and in forums and on Twitter. They must be flabbergasted every time a writer shakes their head and walks away from a deal.

      It strikes me as curious and extremely annoying seeing agents and publishers talk about “nurturing” writers as though it is a good thing. If they mean “developing” a writer, that i can see value in (though in today’s climate, I’m not seeing much evidence of that).

  11. Pingback: Self-Publishers: Do You Need Nurturing? | Yvonne Hertzberger

  12. Pingback: Self-Publishers: Do You Need Nurturing? | Books...

  13. Great post. Support is how I ended up holding my books in my hands. When my mentor died I floundered, and sent out an email question to a friendly blogger. She didn’t write the same genre as me but had an approachable persona. Three years later, we proof read for each other, and I have three novels under my belt. Our friendship is a virtual one but I am moving back to the UK, and we are going to meet face-to-face. *Exciting times*
    Appreciative of the support I gained through her, and other authors, I decided to pay it forward, and developed a blog purely for showcasing, (not reviewing), books for authors. I set up five per week, and get lovely emails from folk about how they appreciate my support. What they don’t know is that they are supporting me. They bring books of various kinds to the site, and spread the word. They make me feel less isolated over here, in Cyprus. They make me feel part of the writing community.

    • That’s the kind of story I love to hear, Glynis. As often as I hear it, I never get tired of it. While I bop around the net, I see little communities and coalitions springing up. Old-style publishing was based on scarcity and fierce competition. Digital publishing and self-publishing are proving it doesn’t have to be that way.

  14. Wonderful post! It’s so very true that even with Traditional Publishing an author needs to have an eye on the business side. Friends and fellow authors are for the ‘nurturing the craft’ aspect. Everyone else has some invested piece of you they are looking to profit from. If they can’t turn that buck, they will invest elsewhere. Strict business. Sadly, we have to remember this. And the Indie community has been phenomenal about helping each other out, still is. We all have the same things riding on the line and understand how scary, frankly, the publishing world can be.

    • Good point, Claire. There is a difference between “developing” an author and “nurturing.” Development requires recognizing raw talent, then helping a writer shape and hone and polish. Publishers used to do that. Editors were rewarded for spotting tomorrow’s stars. Writers were given a chance to figure out what worked and build an audience. That function slowly disappeared (and its disappearance began long before self-publishing caught hold). Publishers lost the patience to discover new talent. Or maybe they lost the confidence to take risks.

      Indie publishing opens the field back up again. Writers can practice before a “live” audience. Feedback comes from the people who actually matter. Readers.

      Sometimes the very best thing one writer can do for another is say, “Well, that didn’t work. Try again. Let’s see if the next one does.”

      • Hello Jaye – thanks for your generosity in sharing all of this. This could well become my ready reference!!! And now, confession time! I tend to be one of those lazy writers who rely possibly too heavily on my business partner (AKA my husband Alistair) but I’m sure I could do much of the stuff if I didn’t have to do all the other chores that life throws at us as well. well that’s my excuse for what it’s worth!
        I tend to think that the Indie community is far from lonely, and through twitter and the likes you start to build up a rapport with like-minded individuals. I love it – a joke here, a question there, or simply a thumbs up for whatever someone has said. Thanks again!

      • Hi Maranna. Share the chores, share the wealth.

        You bring up a point that really can’t be said enough. There are a lot of small and large jobs involved in bringing a book to market (but no unimportant jobs!). I’m sure there are a few people who can do it all, from start to finish with skill and grace. Those people are rare, and if they’re prolific writers, then they are sorely overworked as well. Most writers, just because they are creative types, tend to be multi-talented. When multi-talented people get together, they can and DO just as well, or even better than a traditional publishing house.

        Have a lot more fun, too.

  15. Pingback: Why I’d Rather Write About a Fictional Attorney | Debbi Mack's Blog

  16. Reblogged this on matthew iden and commented:
    Nice indie manifesto from JW Manus, incidentally filled with a dozen great links and tips. A mental and emotional shot in the arm that will take the binky out of your mouth and put the pen back in your hand.

  17. Pingback: Writer Wednesday | creative barbwire (or the many lives of a creator)

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