Wednesday, June 18, 2014


You had to know that sooner or later, I’d mention self-publishing.

I made a lot of mistakes during my fifteen some-odd years struggling for publication. Pitches made on unfinished manuscripts that then had to be rushed to completion.  Years of resisting craft advice because I arrogantly believed I knew what I was doing. (Note: Having now sold thirteen novels, I can say with unequivocal confidence that I don’t and that my learning curve has only just started.) Then of course, there was the ill-fated experience with e-publishing during the technology’s first go-round. (Remember signing three inch disks?) If self-publishing existed back then, I no doubt would have tried that too. Thankfully it didn’t, saving me from another mistake.

Which brings me to this month’s topic. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.

Step away from the keyboard, self-publishing supporters.  Don’t type that comment quite yet. This column is not about whether self-publishing is good or bad; It’s about making smart choices as a writer based on where you are in your career.

This is an amazingly great time to be a writer. There are options available to us that, twenty years ago when I started, we never would have dreamed could exist.  Becoming a published author is easier today than it has ever been.

With this ease comes great responsibility. The glut of published words on the market makes it more important than ever that we produce books of the highest quality.

Self-publishing can a very good business decision.  But it should be exactly that – a decision based on business parameters.  What self-publishing should never be is a measure of last resort.  Too often, in this crazy roller coaster ride of a business, desperation to become published can lead a writer to make dubious decisions. It’s very tempting, upon receiving another rejection letter, to decide the traditional publishing doesn’t know what it’s doing. Or to bypass the traditional publishing world all together out of impatience/frustration/etc.  Some of these writers might even achieve success.  While I’m happy for these writers, their success also worries me because not only will it discourage them from learning their craft better, but it will encourage other writers to make the jump before they are ready.

Again, please understand, I am not against self publishing. Not at all.  I am, however, against self-publishing prematurely.  Most of the mistakes I listed above came from deluding myself into believing I was ready for publication when I wasn’t.  Now, I know, it’s easy for me, now, to be able to look back and give this advice.  But if someone had given me this advice – actually someone did and I ignored it – my career might be a in far different place right now.  Having wasted a lot of years, I don’t want
So how do you know you are ready?  If heading the self-published route is right for you?
  • Read your rejection letters.  Have you moved beyond form rejections?
  • Does the feedback you are receiving from contests/editors focus on structural elements, such as plot, conflict, character arcs, etc? Or are they referencing things like unmarketability?
  • Are you already published and simply tired of your current business arrangement, looking for better control over the stories you write and the royalties you receive?
  • Are you looking at self-publishing only because you’re sick of being turned down by agents and publishers?

In the end, only you and you alone know whether you’re work is ready, and if you should try for self-publishing success.  The correct answer involves taking a long hard look, and being honest with yourself. No matter what decision you make, remember –There is no easy ride on the roller coaster.  You’re career will have ups and downs no matter what. Best you can do is pick the route that you think will build you the best career the long run, and never ever stop growing.

After twenty years in the business, Barb Wallace admits she doesn’t know everything about writing – in fact, there’s still a ton she needs to learn.  Her latest release, SWEPT AWAY BY THE TYCOON, was the top downloaded Harlequin Romance on Amazon last month. Evidence that, despite her lack of knowledge, she can, occasionally, tell a pretty good story. 


  1. Very timely post, Barbara. I can understand the urge to self-publish when you feel like you aren't getting anywhere. I have received two rejections on a story and neither were form rejections (but they were through pitch madness requests on twitter, so maybe all of the requested manuscripts got some level of feedback?). I did think about self-publishing the story after implementing some of the changes one of the editors suggested, but I feel like I should hold off on self-publishing because I know the issue (the suspense level isn't as high as they would like it for that particular publisher from the very beginning) can either be fixed or the book can be submitted elsewhere and it can still be bought by a publisher.

    I do have a book that I am self-publishing. It is Christian non-fiction. I decided before it was finished to self-publish it. I wanted to have ultimate control over the content, title, cover, and marketing of the book. I wrote it and am publishing it because I feel led to do so. The purpose of writing it is different than my fiction, the audience is slightly different. I have much more instruction and credentials in non-fiction writing than I do in romantic fiction. I engaged professionals to do the cover, formatting, and proofreading/editing.

    This post really makes you think seriously about your motivations for self-publishing and if the quality of your writing stands up to it. It's a decision that writers need to think carefully about before deciding what's best for their careers. Thank you for addressing this, Barbara.

  2. Well said, MzZeyZey - sounds like you know exactly what I'm talking about and are making decisions based on business and motivation. Good luck with the Christian book - I hope it sells well!