Self-Publishing Shouldn’t be Miserable

miserable depressed author despair-513529_1280Over the past few weeks, I’ve stumbled across a handful of blog posts where self-published authors lament how awful self-publishing is and say they’re giving up. I’ve also seen a few posts (perhaps in response) reminding people that self-publishing is a long journey, that it takes time, and that they shouldn’t give up before they get to the Promised Land.

While I’m personally inclined to take the latter view, I understand that people who’ve taken the former view — that quitting is best for them — may be making a good decision. Life is short. So, if self-publishing is making you completely miserable, if it’s making you dread writing, if  it makes you hate looking at your sales dashboard, if it is stressing you to ulcer level, then for real, give it up. Life is too short to do optional things that make suck away your happiness. Misery is insidious in the way it infects your life, going so far as to make you physically ill. Get rid of misery.

However, I will say, I don’t think people should give up something they love to do because one or two aspects surrounding it are making them miserable. Self-publishing is something that some authors do solely because they want to be published, not because they want to be publishers.

I think the publishing part of self-publishing is the part that frustrates authors into quitting the process. Many are okay with the initial parts of the publishing process: editing, finding covers, and uploading to sites, which is actually a plus because it gives them more access to sales data than they would get with a traditional publisher.

But then comes the other part of publishing. That’s the part where the publisher is responsible for managing multiple titles with the knowledge that they won’t all sell. The part where the publisher makes choices on what to publish to ensure profitability of the publishing company. That means rejecting some books that are decent with the eye of publishing ones that may be more commercially successful. As a publisher, that’s business. As an author, that can feel like blasphemy.

Authors write books they love, and every book they publish themselves is one they adore. Does that mean each book will sell? No. And that’s okay. Or it should be okay. But, many of the self-published authors who become disillusioned with the process are disillusioned with lack of sales. They had expectations — perhaps arbitrarily set or pie-in-the-sky — that they’d sell way more. Additionally, they didn’t have a publishing plan that would account for what would happen if sales didn’t come. What would the publishing business need the author to do to get more sales? Traditional publishers often publish hundreds (small presses) or thousands of books a year. How many does the self-publisher need to put out?

If aspects of the publishing side of the process are causing an author misery, then those are the pieces they should give up. If lack of sales is what’s causing misery, make a decision to have lower sales expectations or come up with realistic plans on how to improve sales. Yes, I said realistic plans. It’s important to have expectations based in reality. A recent study from Digital Book World found that happiness among authors was strongly influenced by expectations. Having reasonable ones will help authors be more at ease with their self-publishing journey, rather than stressed or unhappy.

If low sales or publishing pressures are just going to stress you out at this point in your life, then it’s okay to take a deep breath and move on. If you give up the publishing aspect, does that mean you give up writing books you love? Nope. Not at all. Write all the time. Write lots of books. You’ll probably enjoy getting back to writing with the freedom of no deadlines and no expectations.

And if you get to a happy place and decide to try self-publishing again, you’ll have more work under your belt to go at it with (which is what the publishing side of your self-publishing business will love). Self-publishing should be a fulfilling journey. It’s not necessarily an easy journey, but it should be fulfilling. Self-publishing isn’t the same as your author journey. They can be separate things, especially if your mental health requires it.

If your self-publishing journey isn’t fulfilling your needs, it’s okay to take a step back and figure out if there’s a way to get your needs met (readjusting expectations and creating a publishing plan often help), or if it’s just time to let it go. While I really hope you find a way to make it work for you, and here at IU, we have all sorts of helpful advice, I do understand that your mental well-being comes first. You shouldn’t feel some obligation to stick with self-publishing just so you can say you’re not a quitter. If it’s making your life miserable, stop, and instead do something that brings you joy.

Author: RJ Crayton

RJ Crayton is a former journalist turned novelist. By day, she writes thrillers with a touch of romance. By night, she practices the art of ninja mom. To learn more about her or her books, visit her website or her Author Central page.

48 thoughts on “Self-Publishing Shouldn’t be Miserable”

  1. Sometimes people say ‘the obvious’ and you wonder why no one’s said it before. This post is one of those not-so-obvious things. Thank you for saying it.

    Not sure how I feel about the publishing side of being an Indie but I love writing so I guess I’ll persevere. 🙂

    1. Perserverance is good. I think everyone has to find their own road. As long as you love more things about it than you hate, you’re all good.

  2. Great post, RJ. I had a conversation just last week with an author who is unhappy with her sales. She writes very outside-the-box type stuff, which is what she loves and has always wanted to write. And that’s fine – that’s a major benefit to self-publishing. But the pragmatic, business side of me had to point out that while coloring outside the lines (or writing outside the genres) can be very personally fulfilling, it does make it harder to sell books. I realize that’s a controversial statement, but it’s true. Stores, Amazon, etc., make us squeeze books into a genre. Ad sites make us squeeze books into a genre. People search by genre. The thing that makes her happy (writing outside the box), is also making her miserable (no sales). This is where we have to readjust our goals, plans, and expectations.

    1. I think it’s tough for self-publishers, because it’s rooted in the notion of bucking the system, and still coming on top. However, that’s not the reality of it. The system is in place for a reason, often because it’s worked in the past.

      So, when you buck the system and publish stuff that’s outside the box, it may not sell. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, but you have to have in your mind that that’s a strong possibility. And the thing is, everyone is different. Some people are strong tinkerers, and not meeting doing well just doesn’t bother them. They get revved up to tinker and figure out how to build a better mousetrap. Others feel very dejected by it and it keeps them from writing more, and that’s not a good place to be.

    1. Good luck with your revisions. It’s definitely best to revise sales expectations or ignore them and focus on the writing/revisions. That’s what brought you to the table.

  3. Excellent post, RJ. I have to agree; I think much of the happiness or lack thereof is related to expectations. I have always written because I love writing, published because I can and the rest is gravy. I have never expected to make it rich and still don’t, and I am grateful for every sale. I find immense satisfaction in the entire process but also agree if others find it too stressful, yes, move on. It’s not for everyone.

  4. Yes, great post, R.J. What I try to tell myself is that every job we do has good and bad things about it. As long as the good aspects keep me sane and wanting to carry on it’s all good. But when it comes to a point where it’s more misery than joy – that’s the time to pull the plug – at least temporarily.

    1. Good analogy, Yvonne. Everything in life has good and bad parts, from kids to jobs, so you have to roll with the punches, and think of it as a whole package. When the bad outweighs the good, turning things toxic, it’s time to step back.

  5. I love to write, RJ, but I don’t hold the illusion that everyone will “adore” my stories. I have found, however, that readers are more opt to criticize indie authors than they are traditionally published authors. In that respect, we have to work twice as hard to produce “perfect manuscripts.” For me, that’s the most stressful part. I seldom fret over marketing or sales.

    1. Working twice as hard for half as much? Wonder where I’ve heard that before.

      I think it’s important we all strive to put out our best work. Sounds like you’re doing that.

      1. Criticism is not fun to receive but may contain some snippets that help us improve our work and, from that, obtain a bigger audience.

        I know we can’t get away from some critics who just want to criticise for the fun of it but a thick skin helps!

  6. Very timely, thank you, RJ! I went through a little soul-searching recently, because I was starting to lose sight of what I love most about the process…the writing. And without that, why bother with the rest? I don’t want anything to sour my passion, so I keep writing. Just blocking out the time where I’m not thinking of anything else.

    1. Laurie, I agree completely. I love to write and have found my extremely limited time requires hard decisions as to where to put my efforts.
      R.J., I can’t thank you enough for this post. For me, the creative process was completely overwhelmed by repetitive marketing and promotion. Now because of my other job, which I love, I talk to people about my writing and they are fascinated. I like the soft sell, and yet I see a purchase nearly every time after one of these conversations. I’m stubborn… I haven’t given away my second murder mystery free yet. I’m working on the third, and another project with a more relaxed approach. Your advice to those who have self-published is sound—write, create an excellent product, and then write another. Promotion is important, sales are important, but doing what you love can become a stress if you compare yourself to others rather than feeling an internal sense of satisfaction.

      1. Lois, glad the post was helpful. And you make a good point about the soft sell. Nobody wants the hard sell. Just chatting with people and being personable helps a lot. And even if a person doesn’t sell a lot of books, if the goal was simply to be published, it’s important to focus on the fact that that goal has been achieved.

    2. Good point, Laurie. Blocking out the noise helps a lot, especially when you’re focusing on the stuff that gives you joy — the writing.

  7. Great post. Whenever I get frustrated I remind myself that it’s a long game and that I got into it because of what I want to say, not because I was expecting it to pay off. I would also recommend steering clear of the people who try to sell you no-fail paths to success that might make you wonder what the hell is wrong with you and your sales. (This field seems to be attracting more and more direct marketing pros who are coming up with high-cost courses and tools designed to part you from quite a chunk of your money. I’m not really surprised, since the barrier to entry is really low and the audience is huge.)
    And hey, just because this is your dream and you’re doing this for yourself, that doesn’t mean you don’t need to give yourself a vacation from it sometimes.

  8. The part that depresses me is that I really don’t understand how marketing *works,* no matter how much I read about it and try to learn. I’m beginning to think it’s a talent, not a skill — sure, it’s a talent one can develop, but if you don’t have the seeds there to begin with, you’re out of luck. From the responses I get (or don’t get) to my questions, what I’m asking either makes me come across as not wanting to do the work (when I’d be overjoyed to do the work if I just knew *how*), or combative. And I don’t understand why that is, unless it’s just because I’m socially awkward.

    That’s what makes me miserable about self-publishing. I wish I knew how to get past that so that I could at least give self-publishing a better try before I give up.

    1. I might be able to help a little bit, Meg. I think the key is in finding whatever is a good fit for your personality. I used to hear people talk about blogging, blog hopping, virtual launch parties, joining multiple social networking sites, etc., and break out in a cold sweat. I just can’t do all the social networking stuff – it’s not a good fit for my personality. I do paid ads, 1-2 per month, nothing that breaks the bank. That doesn’t stress me out and is a much better fit. I think the only way to keep from getting anxious/depressed/stressed is to find what feels most comfortable and go with it.

      1. I’m basically frozen at this point, and have been for quite a while. It’s not just the social part that has me that way. The whole thing does. And so trying to choose by what I’m comfortable with is — well, my choice would be nothing. So I need a different criteria — ones that depend on reason, not on my feelings about it. Just *for instance*, I don’t know how to choose what ads, or how to coordinate them with sale prices (which is what I’d assume I’d have to do), or anything else. Everybody says *what* to do. No one ever tells *how.* And comfort seems like a really bad reason to choose a marketing tactic to begin with. I don’t even know how to start.

        1. Hi, Meg. Let me see if I can assist. I would say this is a step by step process for planning a promo: First, pick which book you want to promote first. I would recommend whatever you have the most reviews on with a 4.0 star average. Next, decide if you are doing a free day or a .99 sale. Each one has different benefits. Free will obviously get your book in more hands, but, unless you do a mega-free run (20,000+ downloads) it won’t get you much sales traction after. On the other hand, it might give you a better shot at more reviews. .99 will be more likely to help earn back the costs of the ads, and will help you gain more exposure on some of the sub-genre lists. Choose a date for your promo that is somewhere around 3-4 weeks away. I recommend running between 3-5 days.Then, put a list together of sites that you will apply to. If you have fewer than 15 reviews, that will slightly limit where you can apply. I would start with sites like, Fussy Librarian, Choosy Bookworm, BKnights (on Fiverr) eBookHounds, eBookSoda, Sweet Free Books and People Reads. Apply to as many of them as you think you want to spend if they all accept you. All the sites on this list are relatively inexpensive, between free and $20 or so. Honestly, that’s it. I set up a spreadsheet so I can track what results I get from each site to help me decide on my next promo run. I hope that helps you with the “how.” Let me know if I left anything out.

          1. How far in advance do you actually change the price on the book? Esp. if you’re not in KDP Select?

            How do you choose the genre for the promotion sites if you write cross-genre? Assume there is no “it’s more this than that” answer.

            That latter reason is the main reason I haven’t done a book promo. I don’t know what genre to choose for my supernatural historical adventure books with a romantic subplot [wry g].

          2. I recommend changing the price 48 hours in advance of the promo, while keeping in mind that some places (like B & N) aren’t open on weekends. I also often write in multi-genre categories. I choose the one I think is best for the book. Which genre is most likely to respond positively to your story? If you truly can’t choose, maybe ask one of your beta readers. or your FB page readers for an opinion. If you are truly letting this stand in the way of promoting your own book, you are getting in your own way, I am afraid. Good luck. I hope it works for you. Let me know if I can help.

          3. Thank you for the link, K.S.

            And, yes, I know I’m standing in my own way. I just can’t seem to get *out* of my own way [sigh].

        1. Great advice from Shawn and Kat. Thanks, guys. Just one quick thing about picking a genre. If your book can fit in several categories, pick the genre that best matches your cover. If it’s a historical, fantasy with a dollop of romance, the cover will probably speak more to one of those readers. As most of the advertising sites use a cover and a blurb (and some only send your listing to people who have signed up for that genre), go with the genre where readers of the genre say to themselves based on the cover, “Looks like the kind of book I like to read, let me click through to find out more.”

          1. You know, that was the hardest part about covers — trying to figure out what was genre-appropriate given that I was choosing from stock art and creating my own covers (not wanting to invest a lot of money in something I might not ever get a return on). It would be interesting if there was a site or a group where one could post one’s covers and people could say what genre they thought the cover was for. Strangers, as opposed to people who’ve read the book already or heard me talk about it (which leaves out my FB page readers, etc.). Sort of like The Book Designer only different [g].

        1. Meg, if you’re willing to spend $20 to test something, here’s a resource. (I haven’t tried it myself, yet. And I think your covers are lovely.)

          Definitely try some promos. If BookBub accepts you, you’ll almost certainly make back your investment and then some. Note that you might need more than 48 hours for a change to ripple out to some of the Smashwords retailers, though.

          1. Well. Ask and ye shall receive. Thank you.

            I take it there’s no ballpark for how long it takes for changes to get out to Smashwords retailers?

  9. Interesting post, RJ. It is harder than I thought it would be and much more expensive too what with editing, covers etc. and it’s hard when one doesn’t see a return or even a break even on investment. I don’t mind but others do 😀

    1. Dale, I think that’s a good point that I didn’t address. It’s not just the lack of sales that cause frustration, it’s the lack of sales when they’ve spent money for important things like covers and editing. So, it’s not just that they’re making no money; they’re in the hole.

      I think a lot of people will perservere through that. However, a cup can only take so much liquid befor it overflows. I understand when people at their limit just say enough. I don’t think it means they have to give up the parts they love, the writing. I think they should continue with that, but take a step back from the things that are causing them stress.

      I’m glad you’re in a place of peace in your own journey.

    2. It’s an excellent point, especially for those of us on strict budgets who are afraid to spend too much money with little hope of even breaking even.

  10. Are there good places to go and discuss book promotion where it’s not overwhelming and where people share what they’ve learned? Not blogs where you have to wait for an appropriate post to respond to? I’ve not had luck with FB groups in this respect at all. Thanks!

    1. Meg, you can always submit a question through the contact form. And we have nearly 5000 articles on the site, so there should be at least a couple of articles to help you on your journey.

      1. Okay. I was looking more for give and take discussion like we’re having here rather than just more articles to read, though. I didn’t realize there was a link where I could ask questions.

  11. Last time I did a 99-cent sale with BookBub they recommended two weeks for Smashwords (which is how I get iTunes since I don’t have an Apple device to upload from). That was over six months ago, though, so it may have gotten shorter. I would just ask them if they approve your listing. That’s the hard part!

  12. Meg, I know you are a member of the BookGoodies FB group, and that’s a great place for that sort of thing. It’s a good group because we don’t allow any self-promotion, so the feed doesn’t get clogged up with a lot of “Buy my book” posts. There have been many, many posts just like you are asking about in that group.

  13. I am, Shawn, but I very seldom see anything from that group on my newsfeed. I’ll try posting a question or two there and see where things go. Thanks.

  14. A wise blog article by a rather young writer (if I may say so!). Pragmatic, helpful, and a touch inspiring too. She is going places, methinks.

    May I reblog this, with your kind permission?

  15. A Golden Post, thanks RJ.,

    I’m not beyond hope, I write for myself first. Then turn my work over to an editor and proof reader while I continue on writing my next book. Been writing for about seven years, self published seven books, with some encouraging reviews. The process of publishing and marketing have not gotten any easier, and are a real joyless pain.

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