Self-publishing for the first time after a decade of working with publishers is scary, time-consuming, and . . . absolutely exhilarating. (Image courtesy of Shutterstock.)

Self-publishing for the first time after a decade of working with publishers is scary, time-consuming, and . . . absolutely exhilarating. (Image courtesy of Shutterstock.)

A number of friends and colleagues have asked me lately why I’ve chosen to self-publish The Twible, the biblical humor project I’ve been compiling on Twitter these last few years. Some seem puzzled by my decision. Others cling to the outmoded fallacy that self-publishing is the last resort of perennial rejects.

I did think seriously about publishing this project traditionally, like I’ve done with all my other books. And I even had a couple of informal offers from editors I know who were casually interested. But from the start, this particular project was my own bizarre, quirky little baby, and . . . what can I say? I am a control freak.

I’m sure I will do more books the traditional way (and in fact have two under contract), but I love it that I now also have this other option when I feel that a project requires it. The relative ease and low costs of self-publishing have leveled the playing field for authors in a remarkable way. Through blogging and social media, authors have more opportunities to access their readers directly than ever before—and for free. So for motivated authors who are prepared to hustle their books, self-publishing can be a terrific idea.

Late this year when The Twible is released, I will join the ranks of “hybrid authors,” those who have published both traditionally and alone. According to industry research, we are an elite group. Phil Sexton said at BEA in May that “hybrid authors are more aggressive and successful, and they are more sophisticated and strategic about publishing.”

But this takes time and money. Being “sophisticated and strategic” about publishing has meant, for me, that I am not just a writer but a general contractor. Just like a GC assembles a team of professionals for a home construction project—who is the best plumber? Who has the most experience at refinishing hardwood floors?—I have spent the last few months courting my Dream Team. As a private client, I’m hiring the best book publicist I ever worked with, the best designer I ever worked with, the best copy editor . . . you get the idea.

My chief concern throughout has been to have excellent work done in all areas, which frankly is not something an author can realistically expect from most publishers. For several of the books I’ve published traditionally, I got excellent editing. For others, I got minimal editing, and for one I got no editing whatsoever. (Not surprisingly, the two books that had the outstanding editors are my bestselling books to date. The one that received no editing is the second-worst-selling project I’ve ever done.)

I am taking a calculated financial risk upfront by self-publishing. Drawing from the sales I’ve had of my previous books, I made a P&L—a profit and loss statement—anticipating production costs and projected sales. The bottom line is that I need to sell about 3,000 copies of this book to recoup my investment, but since that is a fraction of the sales of my other books I think I can do it even without the bookstore distribution that a publisher can provide. This is not a book that will ever sell in Barnes & Noble, but I believe that sales online and at my own speaking events can compensate for that.

And even if the book bombs, being my own GC has been a tremendous learning experience, and I can’t put a price on the valuable education it has afforded. I’ve had to study trim sizes and printing costs; evaluate price points for the book’s print, Kindle, and iPad editions; and weigh the differences between CreateSpace and Lightning Source. (I’m going with LSI.)

I’m sure I have made many mistakes and will continue to make some more as the book is released, but in the end, I’m an author for the journey, not for a set destination. And the journey has never been more fascinating.

6 Comments

  1. Wow. This post is a fantastic intro to the calculations that go into doing business yourself. And my completely uneducated opinion is that The Twible will sell like hotcakes!

  2. Having purchased multiple copies of your previous book, I, too, have no doubts that your newest endeavor will be wonderful. I look forward to The Twible (are your pronouncing it as the “Bible”, or as “twitter”?) and wonder when it will be available for purchase?

    I was very disappointed- when you came to Utah to promote “Flunking Sainthood”, I had so wanted to come and meet you, perhaps have you sign my copies of it, but was unable to. Will there be any chance you will be coming again to Utah, to promote The Twible?

    Best of good luck to you on this project! Happy day, Duck

    • Jana Riess

      Thanks so much for the kind support! I’m glad you enjoyed “Flunking Sainthood.” I’m speaking in SLC in about a month at the Sunstone conference — I believe it’s Friday, August 2. I’m on a panel with Kristine Haglund, Curt Bench and some others about why we love Mormonism and stay active in the LDS Church even though we have questions/issues.

      It would be lovely to meet you, so be sure to introduce yourself afterward if you can come. I may also be back in Utah this winter when the Twible (rhymes with Bible) comes out.

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