Is Self-Publishing the Best Option?

I was triumphant. I broke even in three months… but not from book sales.

I have made my living as a freelance artist and designer since 1982 and still do. Two years ago I wanted to be a writer as well, so penned my memoir. The Incompetent Psychic turned out pretty good — funny, profound, helpful and hopeful. It is set both on Earth and in the Celestial dimension because our spirit guides talk about us, and occasionally jump in to be our dogs. Then I had to figure out how to publish. There are two choices: Traditional or Self.

Traditional would be ideal. However…

Being picked up by an agent and then a publishing house is a long trail up a steep mountain. Getting a good sherpa isn’t easy. A decent agent turns down hundreds of writers begging for their assistance every month. I paid an NYC expert in the field of commercial publishing $100 an hour to find this out. I also learned:

  • You can’t leave the base camp without a sherpa/agent.
  • Acquiring a good one has a .5% chance of happening. That means I would have to have a more successful pitch than 200 competitors for that agent’s consideration.
  • A successful agent might get 6–8 publishing deals for new authors in a year.
  • My memoir isn’t high concept enough for the commercial market because I’m not Oprah.
  • If I was to toss 95% of the manuscript and re-write a book about just talking dogs I might have a better chance.

And then she and her designer suit left with a $200 check and a smile that might have been pitying.

I next hauled stacks of how-tos from the library and perused the internet to learn that you have to have a platform. A platform is all the right climbing gear, amassed piece by piece over years of time. One component is an oxygen tank in case you ever made it to the rarified air way up there. That is a heavy chunk of hope to haul uphill. Oh, and I also saw something about Mount Everest itself, which is now pretty much a very tall heap of frozen human waste, dead bodies and discarded oxygen tanks.

The Indie Route?

Or… I could invest all that time and frustration into learning to be my own sherpa. I would have to finance the expedition, hire experts and beg favors from friends. It would be a rockier, riskier climb, but a short-cut to bypass months or years of rejection. What the heck. How hard could it be?

Thing is, I had already made a similar trek up Mount ArtWorld. I surmounted hundreds of rejections from galleries, foundations, agents and juries over decades, and still kept climbing. No, I didn’t make it to the summit of fame and acclaim, but was rewarded with a creative vocation, self-sufficiency and expansive vistas from some fabulous peaks. I also amassed a decent mailing list of people who liked my work so much they bought it.

How I mercifully broke even.

My investment was six grand — about average for conceiving and launching an elaborate creative project. Over half that was for marketing, including a spiffy re-design of my mernie.com website. That expense would have been a necessary part of a traditional publishing deal anyway, since un-established authors are expected to self promote. I took the IngramSpark route. The learning curve looked like a very scary Covid spike. Editing took much longer than the initial six months of writing a decent draft. I hired a pro to help me through the copyright process, and a techie to format the thing for upload to the printer. Fortunately I didn’t have to hire an artist because I am one.

I created sales pages for signed copies in my Etsy ArtByMernie & FauxLouvre shops, and then mailed 1100 announcement postcards to my beloved customers. Sales poured in… but not for my fabulous new memoir. Lots of people went to my website and Etsy. 40 books were initially purchased, netting $600, or 10% of my outlay. But I got lucky. That postcard mailing generated 70 (mostly small) painting sales averaging $100 each. Ah… my list wasn’t book lovers. They were art lovers and they covered my nut. Ingram boasts 40,000 retail outlets worldwide. Three months later I received my first royalty check for $5 and change.

Is writing and then publishing a book worth it?

NO… and yet a resounding yes!

If I had expected an income stream as an author I would be in a sad, deep hole. It took 14 months of solid effort from initial conception to cartons of colorful books pulling up in a UPS truck. I hardly noticed we were on Covid vacation. But this was a cherished lifelong goal, and I pulled it off with élan and a happy dance. I’ve received delightful feedback and some nice Goodreads reviews. As a labor of love my granny once crocheted an entire bedspread with cotton string and a small hook. It languishes in my linen closet. My labor of love is in the Library of Congress.

Want one?

Back cover. Published Oct 1, 2020

Mernie paints and writes in Woodstock NY. A signed copy of her memoir The Incompetent Psychic available via www.mernie.com