Self-publishing: Looking Back After the First Half-Year: Thoughts from Stephen Gallup

Guest post by Stephen Gallup

A few years ago, in an evening course on writing book proposals, I heard the instructor explain an author’s options for publication: go with a big publisher, go with a small publisher, or self-publish. Each had advantages and disadvantages, but it sounded as if the writer got to make the decision.

Subsequently, I sent the proposal for my memoir to many carefully selected agents and small publishers who dealt directly with authors. Times were changing in their industry. People worried about their jobs. Gatekeepers who might otherwise have taken a chance on an unknown writer had no margin for error.

The turning point came when I stumbled into an agent’s chat room and got his frank opinion of “outsiders”—i.e., anyone who did not already have a career in publishing. According to this agent, an author who’d been on the staff of a magazine (say, someone who wrote movie reviews) deserved to have his book published. That person had “paid his dues.” Someone from another walk of life did not. Never mind the relative merits of their books.

That’s when I decided to handle everything myself. I’d already spent several years writing my book, and saw no reason to continue the thankless task of trying to break into that closed circle.

Options exist within self-publishing as well. I considered co-op arrangements and POD before deciding actually to do the publishing, contracting with a designer, printer, and distributor. As a newbie, I needed hand-holding, and hired a publicist who was willing to guide me through the steps.

Six months have now passed since my book’s pub date. I would call the experience a success thus far.

Most important, I’m satisfied with the end product. Certain details could be tweaked, but I like what I’ve done.

On the other hand, the route selected was not the least expensive. True self-publishing has to be a business, which means I cannot avoid the legitimate concerns that all publishers have.

If it were possible to turn the clock back a year, yes, I would do a few things differently. I would still self-publish. I would still take the same basic steps. However, for example:

Given the growing acceptance of ebooks, I would think long and hard about whether the expense of printing is justified. I think it is. But for sure, I would go with a smaller first printing, despite the higher per-copy cost.

I definitely would not mail scores of advance review copies to editors all over the country without first getting an expression of interest from them. Many of those copies showed up for sale online even before my book’s publication.

At this point, I still don’t know what I could do better in terms of generating product awareness. There’ve been a bunch of interviews. I’ve maintained an active online presence. I’ve given talks, all that sort of thing. But spikes in sales, when they occur, don’t correspond with any of that. If they aren’t truly random, they’re sparked by something as casual as a remark on an Internet discussion board. You’d think having a publicist would make this part of the effort a bit more predictable.

Two key thoughts to remember:

First, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. The past six months are a good start. And as the publisher, I can keep my title on the shelves, virtual and otherwise, indefinitely.

Also, on bad days I recall a friend’s words: “If you aren’t disgusted, you aren’t really publishing.” In other words, I’m paying my dues.

Stephen Gallup is the author of What About the Boy?: A Father’s Pledge to His Disabled Son. He blogs at


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