Why Everybody Hates Self-Publishing


crollwagenIf you go to Carrie Rollwagen and ask her how you can self-publish your book, you probably won’t like her first piece of advice: “Don’t!”

This might surprise you considering Rollwagen’s own self-publishing experience was such a success. In 2014 Rollwagen published The Localist, which explores her quest to only buy local for one year and her experience as an independent bookstore owner. (Rollwagen formerly owned Church Street Coffee & Books in Mountain Brook.) Through a Kickstarter campaign she raised over $8,000 to publish the book and fund a book tour, and she sold enough books to turn a profit.

Because of this success and her experience as a bookstore owner, Rollwagen is constantly asked questions about self-publishing. She’s asked for advice so often that she recently launched a new podcast designed to answer the questions many aspiring authors have. She calls the podcast “Everybody Hates Self-Publishing,” and it helps explain why Rollwagen might discourage you from self-publishing in the first place.

“I had a great experience self-publishing, but I understood that I was pretty much committing to setting up an entire business,” Rollwagen says. “I had to work on my budgets, marketing plan and cost/benefit analysis just as much as I did to open Church Street Coffee & Books. If that sounds appealing and exciting, self-publishing is probably a decent choice. If it sounds overwhelming, I’d go a different direction.”

I had a chat with Rollwagen recently about her new podcast, self-publishing, and her future projects.

So does everybody hate self-publishing?

The traditional publishing industry is sort of notorious for “hating” self-published authors because we don’t have to go through editors and gatekeepers, and although some of us do a great job of getting that work done ourselves, the vast majority of self-published work is under-reviewed and full of errors.

On the other hand, you have a large group of self-published authors who get very excited about the idea of self-publishing because they’ve always dreamed of being authors, but then they actually get into the business and realize it’s a lot of work, and almost none of that work is actually related to writing. Self-published authors also tend to get a lot of pushback from the industry and from booksellers and librarians who can’t accept their work because of logistical reasons, so often this big dream of being an author just kind of fizzles in a sad and depressing way. Then those people end up hating self-publishing, too.

I think anyone involved in self-publishing at some point is going to hate it because it’s pretty difficult. In the best cases, that’s a passing feeling.

Why did you choose a podcast to educate people on self-publishing?

One of the main things I wanted to do was to let the team who helped me put my book together share their expertise. I didn’t want it to be just my perspective on publishing. Since so many people helped me with my project, I wanted to convey that and to let them tell their stories. Podcasting seemed like a good form for that.

So far you’ve covered choosing a first reader, getting an editor, crowdfunding, and cover art. What other topics can we expect?

I’m going to do interviews with industry professionals like a librarian and a buyer for a big box store as well as local booksellers. It’s a little tough to get people from inside the book industry to speak on the record, so I’m excited that I’ve been able to get some brave souls to help pull the curtain back a little.

What are some of the biggest mistakes you see self-published authors making?

The biggest mistakes I’ve seen come when you’re approaching a bookstore about carrying your work. Authors feel they need to be aggressive, and that attitude usually doesn’t work at all.  Authors also usually don’t understand that they probably won’t get an in-store signing without proving they can promote it themselves, that they shouldn’t demand shelf space, what their pricing structure should be or how to offer consignment.

If I had to boil it down to one problem I see all the time, it’s publishing through CreateSpace and then asking locally owned bookstores to carry the book or host a signing. Since CreateSpace is owned by Amazon and Amazon is very predatory toward indie bookstores, that’s like walking into an Auburn game in full Alabama gear—you can certainly do it, but you probably won’t get a very friendly reception.

Would you self-publish again?

I’m always working on something new, but some of those projects either don’t see the light of day or go dormant for a while before they do, so I’m not sure when I’ll pursue publishing again. I wouldn’t rule out self-publishing, though, if it’s the right project. Because The Localist is non-fiction and has such a focused audience, I think self-publishing was the right choice. If I found another project in those parameters, I wouldn’t mind doing it again.

Learn more about Carrie Rollwagen, The Localist, and the “Everybody Hates Self-Publishing” podcast at carrierollwagen.com.

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