The debate between self-publishing and traditional publishing rages on. I am the first one to pounce on any essay or blog post by self-publishing trailblazers such as Hugh Howey, Martin Crosbie, or Jasinda Wilder to name only a few. They are invariably a damn good read. Rather than pit black against white, however, my choice to self-publish boiled down to five highly personal and idiosyncratic reasons.
1. I wanted to teach myself how to self-publish a book
I am not the sort of person who learns well when someone is trying to teach me things. Within five minutes I zone out and ants start to hatch in my brain. I can only learn things by hurling myself in the deep end and doing them. This accounted for my appalling French mark all through high school (to the desperation of my parents, my french teachers, and my french tutors). When I went on my Rotary exchange to Burgundy in high school and lived with four non-English speaking French families, I was fluent in four months.
I wanted to learn how to build a house from the ground up, so we built a house in Victoria in 2010. I now know how houses are built.
When I decided I wanted to know how to self-publish a book, I knew the only way I could learn was by doing it myself. This doesn't mean I did everything myself - far from it. Just like we had a general contractor and plumbers and electricians build our house, I recruited great people to help me with the parts I knew I couldn't do well - the conversion of Word documents to Createspace and Kindle files, cover design and format by a graphic artist, etc. However, I did figure out how the process worked from beginning to end and learned a ton that I will apply to publishing my next book.
2. I am impatient
You can just ask my husband, impatience is one of my dominant qualities. Being diagnosed in 2012 with a rare and serious auto-immune liver / bile duct disease (PSC) exacerbated it by about...oh...around one hundred per cent. One of the most difficult things us PSCers have to live with is crushing uncertainty. There is currently no effective treatment for our disease except eventual liver transplant, which of course brings its own set of risks. We are at a far higher risk for liver and bile duct cancer than the general population, and because the disease varies so much from person to person we could be asymptomatic for 20-30 years or need a transplant next month.
All this uncertainty compounded my impatience. I decided that I was unwilling to surrender the timing of My Grape Escape's release to anyone.
3. I knew I had a ready-built market for the book
We started renting La Maison des Deux Clochers fifteen years ago. I learned quickly that we did not have to work very hard (or at all, actually) to sell the idea of France or Burgundy. It has already been accomplished in the collective consciousness, and rightly so.
When we lived in Burgundy for five years between 2004-2009 I wrote a popular blog called "The Grape Journal." Over the years countless guests, many of who we have stayed in contact with, asked me to write a book. So before I even started the self-publishing process of My Grape Escape I knew that I had 15 years of past vacation rentals guests who would have a personal interest in my memoir about our Burgundian renovation. I was able to market it on our Grape Rentals Facebook page and we will soon be redoing our Grape Rentals website and linking it more effectively to my book(s).
4. I wanted to donate a portion of my royalties
Because PSC is so rare (only around 100,000 people in the world have it so it is officially an "orphan" disease), most pharmaceutical companies have no interest in researching treatments - there is just not the return of a new treatment for something far more common, unlike a disease such as Hepatitis C. One doctor actually laughed in my face when I asked about new treatments coming down the pipeline.
I do indeed donate 10% of all my royalties to PSC Partners Seeking A Cure (and will continue to do so with everything I publish and sell). This motivates me to write more books and sell more books. It is a win-win for me. I could be mistaken, but I suspected most traditional agents or publishers wouldn't have agreed to this and it was of primary importance to me.
5. Most agents wanted me to remove every mention of my struggles with anxiety from the manuscript.
I went into this in more detail in an earlier blog post "Panic Attacks and Pain au Chocolat" . Basically, almost all the agents who read the full manuscript of My Grape Escape said they were uncomfortable with the fact that I wrote about my struggles with anxiety during and after my Oxford law degree and while we renovated La Maison des Deux Clochers. They felt it just didn't "fit" with an often humorous memoir about the renovation of a revolutionary era house in Burgundy.
I thought long and hard about their comments, but concluded that for me the anxiety was a crucial part of the story I wanted to tell. Self-publishing gave me the freedom to publish the book as I wished. So far the overwhelming majority of readers do not seem to feel it is out of place. On the contrary, they tell me that exposing my own vulnerabilities allowed them to connect with my story.
So there you have it - the highly personal reasons why self-publishing was the right choice for me. I'm grateful that writers have options these days. It wasn't like that in the bad 'ole days ten or even five years ago.
How about you - what made you choose either self-publishing or traditional publishing (or that new beast - the hybrid)?