As an author with She Writes Press—my first book comes out this fall—I’ve been following the articles about the costs charged by hybrid and paid-for publishers, and I think they’re missing the key point which is: does this author have the right mindset? The issue, at least to me, isn’t just about the contractual return on investment, but whether the author can make that investment worthwhile.
Publishing today is so much about the author as marketer. Do they already have a huge email list, or a business to which the book adds value, or perhaps a frighteningly cute cat who already has 30,000 Instagram followers and doesn’t mind sharing? The question is, can you be an effective salesperson for your book?
She Writes Press warns that most first books do not make a profit, and specifically recommends that their authors think of writing as a business. All excellent advice that I accepted in theory—until I came up against the fact that I found it far easier to be a task-driven insurance coverage lawyer than a self-starting book promoter.
Being an author means not just writing a book but reaching out to more established authors for blurbs, and developing an advertising strategy on multiple platforms, and asking to be on podcasts, and garnering the attention of influencers. We didn’t have the word “influencer” in my youth, and for that I am grateful. Or maybe I’m just jealous that I will never be one, unless I find a truly photogenic cat or discover a miracle diet.
In short, being an author today means asking people you don’t know to do stuff for you, and as my therapist said in our last session, “Most people don’t feel comfortable asking strangers for things.” As a lawyer, people asked me for things and since that’s the role I went to school for and knew well, I’m far more comfortable advocating for a legal position instead of my own creative work, or even more difficult, trying to promote myself.
This struggle was exemplified by my efforts to put together my first newsletter. I was at a loss for something interesting enough to say that people would want me in their inboxes. Then again I did spend most of my professional life interpreting insurance policies, which is about as interesting as it sounds.
I’ve blogged for years, and even had an essay published in the New York Times Modern Love column, as well as Woman’s Day, Good Housekeeping, Huffington Post and Reader’s Digest, but I never got a real following or many opportunities out of it. So despite years of writing—and trying to get that frowny faced SEO widget on my blog to smile—I have failed to influence.
Like most of the questions posed in my law school classes, the correct answer to whether a hybrid publisher is a good choice is “It depends.” The issue isn’t just whether the publishing contract is economically beneficial, but whether a given writer is someone who can benefit from the opportunity. Do they have the wherewithal and the resources to effectively promote their book? In this arena, chutzpah is a good thing.
Before making a publishing decision, I would recommend any aspiring author do a deep self-analysis about what they are willing, and want, to do in support of their work. This past year, after signing my publishing contract, I wound up moving from my home of almost thirty years to a new place. I also started living with a new partner. All of this has been good for me, but it hasn’t made me the most diligent author-marketer. In retrospect, I should have been more realistic about my life potentially being in flux when my book needed a lot of attention.
Another element missing from the current debate about paid-for publisher options is that not all of them are equal. My publisher provides its authors with an excellent education across many different aspects of publishing. And it includes a like-minded community of writers who are resources, or who sometimes just commiserate over how much time—and yes, money—it takes to be an author today. I appreciate how She Writes offers a comprehensive and professional framework for a motivated author to go after her dreams.
But no publisher can guarantee whether those dreams will come true. Any publishing choice has risks, and a book’s success depends on so many factors, from whether it happens to garner the support of a big influencer (that word again) to the state of the world, which seems to be spinning out of control these past few years.
In short, grouping all hybrid and paid-for publishers together is far too simplistic, and picking the right publishing option depends on every author’s own thorough self-assessment. Like the legal disclaimers state, individual results may vary.
Debbie Weiss’ first book, Available As Is: A Midlife Widow’s Search for Love will be published by She Writes Press in September 2022. She turned to writing after her partner of 32 years died of cancer in 2013, and she found herself alone for the first time at age 50. Her essays have been published in The New York Times’ “Modern Love” column, HuffPost, Woman’s Day, Good Housekeeping, Elle Decor, and Reader’s Digest. To learn more, check out her website or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.