Planning for Book 2 & Weighing the Self-Publish Option

August 15, 2011

Even as my awesome agent and I prepare to pitch my first book to publishers — that’s my travel memoir about backpacking solo through Africa — we’re already coming up with a plan for Book No. 2.

It’s a practical guide to taking a career break to travel, a kind of how-to version of my memoir, with an emphasis on using your sabbatical as a career-booster, rather than a career-breaker.

When I started this book a year ago at a writer’s colony in Georgia, I never would have considered self-publishing, purely because of its stigma. So it’s ironic that we’re now trying to decide whether I should go the traditional publishing route with this manuscript or publish it on my own as an informational e-guide.

What’s changed during the last year? I’ve learned a lot about the publishing industry, for one. Turns out there’s a huge movement to self-publish nonfiction digitally, and lots of authors are doing it successfully. I’ve also learned a lot about myself, discovering an entrepreneurial gene that’s distracting complementing the part of my brain that usually focuses on writing.

Which means I have a decision to make.

The benefit of aiming for traditional publication is obvious: credibility. Books backed by publishing companies still hold more weight than self-published books. But they also take a year or more to hit shelves, which, to a reporter who’s used to deadlines in five hours, seems like an eternity.

Making an e-guide available, however, would be fast. I’d still hire an editor for the manuscript, so that would take time, but then it’s simply about formatting and creating a cover — and pronto, the e-guide is ready to go.

The time issue comes into play here because career breaks are a hot topic now, and who knows whether they’ll still be hot in a year and a half. I also have several speaking gigs near the end of this year that pertain to taking a career break to travel, and it would be awesome to be able to distribute my book then.

What about money, you ask? Because this is a niche topic, the manuscript probably wouldn’t sell for much to a traditional publisher — if we could sell it. Quite frankly, I believe I could make the same amount or more selling it on my own. (I probably wouldn’t sell as many copies without a publisher’s backing, but I’d get to keep every cent of each copy I sold, which means good profit.)

Plus, doing this project on my own would be exciting. I love spreading the word about topics I’m passionate about! And I have you all to help me, right?

So in some ways, my heart’s with the digital DIY option. But I’d still jump at the opportunity to work with the right publisher, particularly because the street-cred issue could trump everything else.

What do you think? Would you shoot for traditional publishing or let your entrepreneurial side go wild?

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    19 Replies to “Planning for Book 2 & Weighing the Self-Publish Option”

    • Tough decision!

      I kind of think you’re right in leaning towards self-publishing. I think the timeliness issue is a huge one; you are absolutely right that this is a hot topic RIGHT. NOW. and it would be a huge help to you to be able to promote your book during your speaking engagements.

      I think you have the best of both worlds right now getting ready to shop book #1 and prepping to self publish book #2. You’ll still have the opportunity to do both!

      Can’t wait to see what you decide.

    • Alexis, I’ve had so many of these same thoughts. Well, besides the “having a memoir about backpacking across Africa” part. But I love the entrepreneurial side of things (I’m a CPA with a love for small business), and the thought of creating something from scratch and then marketing that creation and sending it out into the world excited me.

      I also can see the major benefits of having a publisher backing a project. But there are downsides to that as well. So, I think I have two thoughts:

      1. Would self-publishing keep you from ever getting a publisher behind the project? Maybe, but maybe not.

      2. Could self-publishing help to get your name and writing out into the world and possibly help you with your next book? Probably.

      I think you’ve analyzed the pros and cons pretty well. Deciding whether to jump or not is much harder. I’ll support you. I can’t wait to read your memoir. Sounds fascinating to me.

      • Alexis Grant says:

        Thanks for such a thoughtful response, Heather! #2 is a good point I hadn’t thought of… Yes, this probably WOULD help get my name out there and further sell Book #1. Here’s one example why: Usually about 15-20 people Google “Alexis Grant” and end up on my blog. (I see this in my Analytics.) After my first e-guide launch, up to 50 people were Googling my name each day to get to my site. Helps with name recognition and driving people to my site, where, of course, I’d feature Book #1.

    • Heather Rae says:

      I can definitely appreciate where you’re coming from on this one. I too tend to lead toward traditional publishing (simply for the street cred). But in this situation, it seems like self-publishing may be the way to go. For one, this topic is certainly big right now. Will it be in a year or so? My guess is yes; I think it’s been a hot topic for a while. However, will the specific information you’re providing be as relevant in a year or so? That, only you know, since you’re writing the book. But something to consider.

      You’ve built a lot of credibility on your website and with other social media. With that, you could likely go far by self-publishing your book. In my experience, a lot of the people interested in career breaks go online first when it comes to researching the topic, so there is a huge audience for this online already. They don’t necessarily assume there’s going to be a how-to guide at the library or book store. So whether you traditionally publish or self-publish, you’ll likely get a lot of your readers from social media marketing. And if more money goes in your pocket, that’s always a good thing. And, as you mentioned, it would be great to have it available at speaking engagements.

      Plus, if it generates enough interest, there’s always the possibility of connecting with a publisher at a later date for an updated version.

      Hmmm…lots of food for thought. Good luck making your choice on this one!

    • John Soares says:

      Alexis, I know you may not want to wait with book 2, in which case I’d go with the self-published e-book.

      However, you could wait until after your Africa travel memoir is published. If it really takes off and is a best-seller, you’d be well positioned to get a traditional book deal for your second book. On the other hand, you could also work out a deal to publish the book 2 e-book at any future time.

    • Catherine says:

      I haven’t spent much time researching both options (I guess the “dream” is to get a book deal through the traditional route, so that’s what I’ve always envisioned) but you should check out this guy’s blog if you have a free moment – he is in the process of self-publishing and it looks like he’s having a ball 🙂

    • E.J. Wesley says:

      Personally, I think the self-publishing stigma is quickly becoming irrelevant because most of the readers I know ask one simple question: Is it on Kindle? I know it’s anecdotal, but I think it matters much more to writers than it does to the folks who are actually going to buy your work.

      Unless I were fairly certain that a traditional publisher would be willing to give me a substantial advance AND be able to market enough to move a whole bunch of copies, I’d publish digitally. That goes for fiction, non-fiction, etc. Unless you’re Stephen King, I just don’t see that many advantages to jumping through the traditional hoops.

      A good problem to have, though! 🙂


    • (Came via Twitter – it works!)
      My first book was published by St. Martins Press, which impressed everyone. However, now that publishers aren’t doing as many ‘niche’ books, my next book will probably be a little more difficult to sell and I’m wondering whether to try the traditional route again or go the self-published way.
      The benefits of a traditional publisher are that you can get some good blurbs from well known people, which in turn helps sell the books. The publisher sends out the book for reviews so you quite often get a mention somewhere that you wouldn’t have access to otherwise. And of course, there’s the “cred”.
      However, except for the big name authors, publishers do very little PR so you’ll still end up doing an awful lot of work after the book is out. And you won’t make that much money. If you get an advance at all, it will usually be what they think the book will make, (and they’re usually right). Once the publisher and your agent take their cut, you’ll probably make about less than 10% of the retail price per book.
      Why not, as another commenter suggested, go for a traditional publisher with the first book and put the second one out as an e-book NOW. Even if you get a traditional publisher for Book #1, it’ll be a few years before it gets published. Plenty of time to work on an e-book!
      Good luck!

    • I vote for self-publishing! Selfishly, because I want to read book #2 (and #1, for that matter 🙂 ). This is a hot topic since the economy is still so bad, and people want adventure, and these people are looking online for information. I have a feeling that this will make you more money in the short term, as well, though I don’t have data to back that up. Good luck!

    • Lexi

      First thought – Distribution, distribution, distribution. You know what I’m saying. Career books are great in university bookstores, independent bookstores, government offices like SBA.

      Second thought – Is your ebook an idea evergreen or not? Does it have a long shelf life topic? If so, I’d go traditional, for the credibility.

      Third thought – How much time and money do you have to learn the ebook route to include serious collaboration with format artists and graphic artists for the cover? I review writing books, and the self-pubbed ones are still short cutted in most cases.

      Just saying . . .

      Hope Clark

    • Mark says:

      Nice of Catherine to link to me!

      I felt the exact same way you did about self-publishing as recently as, I don’t know, a year or two ago. But the industry is undergoing a massive shift in the way business is done, and traditional publishing houses are feeling the hit. They’ve held all the cards for decades now, but suddenly that’s changing. Self-publishing definitely gives you more control over your work, and it’s both rewarding – and lots of fun – to market your own book yourself. Plus, I firmly believe the stigma associated with self-publishing is pretty much history. I address these very concerns on my blog, in fact. As long as you find a reputable company to work with, one that can provide you with quality service (not to mention a kick-ass cover – that alone can make or break your book) and you are willing to put in the time and effort to market yourself, I believe self-publishing is not only one option but THE way to go these days!

    • Alana says:

      I’m starting to put more thought into the idea of self-publishing both for informational nonfiction and my memoir. I think, for informational books, self-publishing is really the best way to go. They’re so hard to sell to traditional publishers.

      Good luck with your decision!

      (By the way, I found you on the NAMW website. I’m thinking of becoming a member. How do you like it?)

    • I think that e-books are the way to go when you are talking about the nonficiton how to type books exactly for the reasons you listed: timing and opportunity. For you to have speaking engagements lined up, and with the success of your first ebook, you have nothing to lose. Plus, you already get your street cred when you sure to sell memoir hits shelves.

      As always, thanks for your insight into the business and sharing your journey with us! It is inspiring and appreciated.

    • Hi Alexis
      I went through the same thought process back in the spring. See it here: I too am glad I went the new way of publishing!
      All the best in your travelling, writing career!

    • Shuni Vashti says:

      What’s the title of book #1? I couldn’t find it on Amazon. But it has been more than a year ago. It should be on the bookshelf already. Maybe if I search by the title, I can get it.

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