Sunday, April 21, 2013

Guest post: How I landed publishers by choosing to self-publish

By Kristen Elise, Ph.D.

Here’s a secret: publishers love the self-publishing author.

When Scott asked me to do a guest post about marketing for newbie novelists, my first reaction was, “I don’t know anything about marketing — I’m a newbie novelist myself.” Then I received two contract offers for my first novel without soliciting them. And it occurred to me that I do know how to market. Even without a book to sell, I have learned how to market my name, and publishers noticed.

Four months ago, I finished The Vesuvius Isotope and began contemplating the next step. I had a choice: I could either learn how to self-publish, or I could learn how to query acquisitions editors and agents. I had no clue how to do either. For several reasons explained here, I decided to self-publish. And it occurred to me that I had just become my own marketing department.

I already had my blog, author site, and other pages up and running. I guess I already had some semblance of a platform. But it was only when I decided to self-publish that it occurred to me just how critical the platform would become: It was now my only connection to readers.

So as I created a self-publishing checklist and started checking its boxes, I simultaneously began boosting my platform. I thought about what I could offer readers that everyone else wasn’t offering. I thought about my target audience and how I could attract them to my site. I thought about how I could develop meaningful connections with people who might one day buy my book. For specific examples of platform-building techniques, click here.

The effort worked: my sites began gaining more readers, members and page views. One of those readers was an acquisitions editor who began asking questions about why I wanted to self-publish. Then she asked for my manuscript and ultimately offered to publish it. Another new reader was an author crazy about his new publisher. He referred me to his acquisitions editor, who ultimately offered me a contract as well.

So I’m now in the uniquely awesome position of choosing how to publish The Vesuvius Isotope. And I would like to reiterate: I did nothing spectacular to get this opportunity; all I did was build the very platform I would need anyway, in order to sell the book.

I cringe when I hear authors say things to the effect that they expect a publisher to do their marketing for them. Reality check: this doesn’t happen anymore.

If you choose to go the traditional publishing route, this means you will solicit agents, typically for more than a year, and if one takes you on, he or she will then solicit the Big Six publishing houses for God knows how long. If you are lucky enough to sign on with one, you are now in the unenviable position of competing with all best-selling authors and the occasional Newbie Novelist of the Year.

If you are that breakout artist, you will have it made. The house will use its muscle to send you on book tours, mass distribute your novel across the globe, translate it into Swahili and connect you with their “people” in the movie business. My sincere congratulations. Please mention my name to your agent.

But if you’re in the other 99 percent, guess what the Big Six will do for you. Nothing. Book tour? Please. They won’t even arrange a book-signing in your hometown. Then they’ll take almost all of your profit. Another reality check: most authors never get royalties, as the publishing house never recoups their expenses. And they need their money to fund marketing efforts for the best-selling authors and Newbie Novelist of the Year.

This grim picture is reality. And that’s why small publishing houses have now popped up all over the place. As a newbie author, these might be your best bet. A small publishing house may take you, a total unknown, because they are also not very well known and they’d like to change that. So they’ll take a shot with you. They’ll sign you on and pay for the publication of your book. They might pay you a small advance. You might even see some royalties.

But these smaller publishers come with a catch. Small houses don’t have the bandwidth to market their authors and titles extensively. They can’t afford to send you on those expensive book tours. They will expect you to do part of the legwork. A large part of it. So they look for authors that are already doing it. They look for authors that have already demonstrated that they're willing to get into the trenches. They look for authors who are already their own marketing teams.

They look for self-publishers.

Kristen Elise is the author of forthcoming novels The Vesuvius Isotope (fall, 2013) and The Death Row Complex (Fall, 2014). A long-time resident of San Diego, she lives in San Diego with her human family and three canine children. To contact Kristen Elise, visit her author site or blog or e-mail


  1. What a great story, Kris! I've been excited to learn more about these publishing offers ever since you mentioned them on your site, and I hope you'll share more details for all of us as the months go by.

  2. Thanks Elliott,
    Officially, I have decided to self-pub and have informed the publishers. The utterly awesome thing is that one of them said, "if self-pubbing doesn't work out, let us know and we'll re-do it for you." I'm hoping it does not come to that, but if it does, I'll have a true comparison of self-pubbing versus traditional publishing for the same book. Which has to be useful info. This is something I've been dying to hear from another author, and haven't heard yet. Stay tuned!

  3. Anonymous10:13 PM

    I like the way you ended it. But basically yeah, self-publishing is the future of the publishing industry and even traditionally published NYT best sellers are deciding to publish on their own because the big houses only focus on their top 6% authors. Thus, if someone wanted to sign you on, it'd have to be a sweet contract as to why they want a piece of your pie.