They avoided my questions. Both writers who had chosen self-publishing and writers who had chosen traditional publishing would get cottonmouth when I asked for advice. At times you can sense a competitive tension among authors and speakers that is thicker than Corleone bloodlines. People will shut the shop quickly if you appear overeager. Ask too many questions, and you’ll be slapped with omerta—the mafia code of silence.
In the end, I had to take a risk and choose a path for myself, so I opted to self-publish my first book. It was a lot more difficult than I dreamed, but there are five important benefits that made the challenge worth it. These are the reasons I think you might be glad you self-published your book, too.
If you read this and have questions, you can ask me in the comments section. I promise I won’t go Godfather on you.
1. You will develop respect for the publishing process. I had no idea how many important people make a book possible. In fact, in my ignorance, I had devalued those support roles and elevated the role of the writer. It was only after I saw the remarkable difference that a development editor, a copy editor, two proofreaders, and interior and exterior designers made to my work, that I admitted a book must happen in community. Initially, I balked at the financial investment it required to secure each of those services, but now I am convinced I did not pay them enough. Those wonderful professionals joined me on a project I will always be proud of. Even the tasks of assigning an ISBN and a bar code, registering with the Library of Congress, and creating library cataloging information are components that most writers do not think about as part of the book-making process. When all is said and done, I like having been the “general contractor” on such a worthy endeavor.
2. You will gain instant and lasting credibility for your message. Something happened the moment my book released. Suddenly I looked like I knew what I was talking about. In actuality, I knew the exact same things I had known the week before, but now I seemed more credible. I am not saying this is fair, but it happens. A book might even be crummy, and its author will appear … well, authoritative. See? The truth is, writing a book does say something about the writer. A book says, “I can finish the things I start.” Even if that is the only thing the book says, it is still saying something special. A finished book, whether traditionally or self-published, will be on your resume forever. It may take you as long to write as it did to earn a master’s degree, but it will provide almost as much credibility, so don’t give up on it.
3. You will spread your message to a wider audience. When people leave your presence, whether they were sitting in an audience where you were speaking or sitting across from you at Starbucks, they will leave with your words in their hearts. When people hear good words, they retell them. But like a childhood game of “telephone,” a speaker’s words lose a little efficacy each time they are shared. A self-published book will give you a way to put your exact words, with all their undiluted power, into someone’s hands as well as their heart. Now your words can go into homes and offices that you will never see, all because someone will say, “I heard a worthwhile message the other day! Here, you can borrow this book and read it for yourself!” (a special note here: Right after I published, when readers told me, “Nika, I loved your book so much, I loaned it out six times!” I was fearful, thinking of those loaners as lost sales. Oh, how much I had to learn! Your focus can never be on sales or you will dry up in front of a keyboard all alone, dear writer. Your focus has to be on people, from beginning to end. Do you want to know the exact moment when I changed? It was when a reader walked up and tearfully thanked me for taking the time to write. As she said it, she was hugging a dog-eared copy of my book to her heart. To her heart! The foundation inside me shifted forever.)
4. You will experience the unstoppable power of achievement. There is an imaginary mountain in your mind. No one else can see your mountain. But you can see it—right there before you—dark and real and difficult. You can’t seem to get around or over it. Once you do, however, you will never see it again.
5. You will grow. Not everyone will love your book. Some people won’t even like it. You may watch someone accept a free copy and then drop it on another table to get rid of it. This will make you grow. You may struggle to find words to persuade people to put your work into their bookstores, and still they will say no. This will make you grow. You may carry a 40 lb. case of books through a blazing hot Texas parking lot, sweating through your clothes on your way to your speaking engagement. This will make you grow. These exercises (yes, they are crucial exercises) will humiliate you. But if you are sincere and if you persevere, your humiliation, which is ugly, will transform into humility, which is beautiful. Your writing skills will improve. Your editing eyes will sharpen. Your wonder and appreciation of the page, of any page, will deepen. You will grow. And because growth is the point of life, the growth makes everything worth it. Your growth will make your next book better.It will make you better in almost every area of your life.
Self-publishing may not be the path I stay on forever, but it has taught me to carry my own weight but share the victory. No matter what method I choose next, I can recommend self-publishing because it helped me value the process, gave me credibility, spread my message to a wider audience, brought me the unstoppable power of achievement, and helped me grow. When I think of those benefits, I know self-publishing was the perfect choice as I took my first step into full-time writing. It is an investment worth considering as you take yours.