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.