So You Want to Self-Publish: 6 Questions to Ask Yourself First

Today’s guest post is contributed by Laekan Zea Kemp, self-published author of The Things They Didn’t Bury, Orphans of Paradise, and Breathing Ghosts. [Julie’s note: I have personally read and absolutely LOVED Breathing Ghosts. More on that and Laekan’s experience writing it here.]

Despite the fact that every person and their dog thinks that they can write a book, living the life of a writer is not for the faint of heart. And whether you choose to publish through a traditional route or independently, the road to success isn’t an easy one.

There’s a misconception about self-publishing that it’s somehow easier. And the draw for a lot of people is this ignorant idea that going indie means you get to skip all of the hard parts. But I’m here to tell you that, not only do you still have to suffer through all of the revisions and rejections and self-doubt, but you have to go through these things alone.

This is the cost of the indie writer’s dream. You want total control? You want freedom? You want to be 100% in charge of your own destiny? Then have at it. You might end up finding that it’s the most fulfilling thing you’ve ever done or you might end up with fifty one-star reviews and a permanent hangover. Like I said, not for the faint of heart.

But if you are considering self-publishing, it’s not all doom and gloom and talking to yourself in your dark apartment because the electricity’s been turned off. Those amazing things you’ve heard about going indie—the freedom, the ability to genre hop, setting your own deadlines, having total control over pricing and cover design, writing for you—those things are true. And if you think those things are worth pursuing in lieu of a traditional deal that might place more importance on financial gain than your creative freedom, I’ve created a self-publishing checklist to help you see if you really are ready to take the plunge.

1.  Are you chasing someone else’s dream?

A lot of people want to be writers. They romanticize what we do. They think it seems so glamorous and exciting and a lot of other adjectives that it just isn’t. Because what most people see is just the end result. They see the book signings and the accolades and the money and the fame. But they don’t see the late nights spent hunched over a laptop or the eye strain or the callouses or the hand cramps or the gray hairs or the self-loathing or the guilt or the years of not making a goddamn cent or the sacrifices or the health problems that come with stress and sitting at a desk all day because we have bills to pay and if we could do anything else in the world to pay those bills we would. We would abandon writing in a second if it wasn’t the only thing we could do well. And we’d be glad.

They don’t see the struggle. And the truth is they probably don’t want to. And even though writing and living a creative life is incredibly rewarding, the end reward isn’t why writers write. Writers write because they have to. So if you’re chasing a dream that isn’t yours, the dream of becoming a writer, let go. Do it now and save yourself the heartache and leave the writing to the people who love every second of the suffering just as much as they love the end result.

2.  What are your intentions?

There are two types of self-publishers—those that self-publish for family and friends and those that self-publish to make money. Among those that self-publish to make money there are also two types—the self-publishers trying to get rich quick off of a one hit wonder and the self-publishers who want to be career authors and make a living (any living) as a writer. I only want to speak to this last sub-group.

If building a career is truly your intention, don’t rush into self-publishing. And more importantly don’t rush your story for the sake of putting it on sale as fast as possible.

Do your research. Find out if self-publishing really is the best option for you. If you’re a prolific writer who has a distinct vision for the kind of writing legacy you want to leave behind and therefore would prefer to have total creative control over every decision, self-publishing might be for you. But if all you want to do is write and you’d prefer to leave all of the promotional and technical responsibilities to someone else, you might be happier going the traditional route.

If you’re still set on self-publishing there are quite a few things you’ll need to get in order. Which brings me to number…

3.  Do you have the stamina?

If you’ve only written one book in your entire life, you’re not ready to self-publish. Now, remember, this is just my opinion and I’m only speaking to self-publishers looking to become career authors, BUT knowing that you have the will-power and the desire to FINISH is extremely important. And when I say finish, I don’t mean one book. I mean finish what you start, each and every time. I didn’t self-publish my first book until I was halfway through the first draft of my third. Why? Because I wanted to be strategic about when I published and I wanted to prove to my readers that I was in this for the long haul. Careers aren’t built on just one book (and don’t give me some one in a million example of an author who did just that *cough* Harper Lee *cough*) they’re built on hard work and consistency. So before you even think about self-publishing, focus on building a backlist that will prove to you and readers out there that you’ve got what it takes to be a career author.

4.  Do you have the money?

Here’s another misnomer about self-publishing—that it’s cheap. The truth is, it’s not if you do it right.

So before you think about self-publishing make sure and research the costs because there are a lot of products and services out there that claim to be absolutely necessary even though they usually aren’t.

Two things I wouldn’t skimp on—editing and cover art. Don’t even concern yourself with marketing at this point because there are so many opportunities to do that for free. The editing and cover art on the other hand are absolutely crucial and they must be up to par. If you’re lucky, you might come across an opportunity to snag these things for free as well, but don’t count on it. For just these two things, which is honestly all you need, budget for triple digits and be wary of anything that costs more. Although self-publishing can be expensive, it doesn’t have to be outrageous. After all, you’re the one trying to make money here.

5.  Do you have the talent?

I probably should have started with this one but “talent” is incredibly subjective and who’s really going to answer that question with a no.

I guess what I’m really trying to get at here is that we are all born with specific gifts and talents and if writing is not one of your gifts or talents, don’t bother. This might seem like common sense but remember what I said about people who glamorize the writing profession? There might be some of you reading this right now who believe you’ve passed every one of the items on this checklist with flying colors and therefore are ready to self-publish. There’s probably some of you who have actually finished a book. Maybe even more than one. But regardless of how closely you’ve followed all of the rules, if you’re not meant to be a writer you’re just not meant to be a writer. And that’s okay. Because writing a book is hard but writing a good book is even harder. And it truly is something that not many people can do.

Of course you can take classes or attend workshops or buy craft books and try to make yourself a better writer but when it comes down to it, if this is not your destiny it’s just…not. You can still love writing and you can still write but it’s also important for each of us to respect those with skills and talents that we just don’t have. And by respect, I mean respect the huge amount of work that goes into writing good books and don’t look at self-publishing as a means to make a childhood dream come true even though it was never your dream to begin with.

6.  Do you have the drive?

If you feel like I’ve just punched you in the gut, I’m very sorry. But if you feel like I’ve just punched you in the gut and you still believe writing is your destiny and you’re prepared to do anything to make it happen, then congratulations. You have drive. It’s that little voice inside you, directing every move you make, encouraging you, promising you that all of the hard work will pay off. And if that voice is louder than all of the others then you just might succeed.

It’s especially important for indie authors to recognize their own voice above all of the questioning and self-doubt because we don’t have the luxury of an agent and a publicist and an entire team of people reassuring us that we are actually talented. We must become masters of the pep talk and we must believe in ourselves no matter what. Because that’s really all it takes, an unwavering will to make your dreams come true, and then they will.

If, after all of this, you still make the choice to go indie be warned that there will be no cheerleaders glancing over your shoulder, no team of PR people behind you doing the grunt work or telling you it’ll all be worth it. You’ll spend months refreshing your sales page or Goodreads reviews with nothing new to show for it. You won’t make a dime and you’ll second-guess all of the money you spent on copy-editing and cover art and marketing that could have gone to something else like groceries or gas. You’ll feel discouraged and like you made a huge mistake. And you’ll want to give up.

But if you really want to be a writer you won’t quit. Because even though there’s no one in your corner, reassuring you or stroking your ego or cutting you a check, you should still believe in yourself. You have to. That’s what separates the successful career indie authors from the failures and one hit wonders. To make it, there is just one secret. One rule. You have to know your own voice and even more than that you have to trust it. Absolutely.

So when that voice says to you, I am a writer, believe it. Follow it. Do whatever you have to do to live out that purpose even if that means self-publishing because you couldn’t get a traditional deal. Even if that means going it alone with no support from friends or family. Because when you’re called to be a writer it’s not a dream, it’s a responsibility.

Author Interview: Laekan Zea Kemp on Breathing Ghosts

Today I am excited to be hosting author Laekan Zea Kemp on her celebration blog tour for Breathing Ghosts, a phenomenal book I had the privilege of beta-reading and absolutely loved.


In this interview Laekan gives us the scoop on Breathing Ghosts, her writing experience and next project here. Give it up for the author!

Me: Tell us a little about Breathing Ghosts.

Laekan Zea Kemp: Breathing Ghosts is a coming of age story about first love, self-acceptance, and conquering your fears.

Me: Where did the idea for Breathing Ghosts come from?

LZK: This will probably sound strange but I honestly can’t even remember anymore. The story actually started out as a screenplay and my goal was to create something that would be really interesting visually. I think the road trip aspect of the novel just developed as I was trying to pick a setting–there were too many interesting places to just choose one. River was also the first fully developed piece of the puzzle and since he was so closed off emotionally I knew sending him on a road trip would be the perfect way to get him out of his comfort zone.

Me: What was the most enjoyable part of the project?

LZK: The most enjoyable part of writing this particular book was seeing how much I’ve grown, not just as a writer but as a person. I hit a huge growth spurt during the writing of this novel and it really boosted my confidence. Not only that but by taking a character who was so closed off emotionally and forcing him, by the end of the story, to knock down those walls, I was able to knock down some of my own. I share many of River’s flaws and while I hadn’t intended to face them, that’s exactly what I ended up doing. And even though it was uncomfortable being vulnerable there’s no way I’d be the writer I am today had I not gone through that experience along with my character.

Me: What was most challenging part of the project?

LZK: For this particular story, I would say the hardest part was being driven by so many questions concerning grief and death and the meaning of life and never fully realizing all of the answers. But, in general, the hardest thing about writing is always the daily battle with self-doubt. It’s so hard to remain subjective enough to critique your own work while also being your own cheerleader. Trying to maneuver those highs and lows can really do a number on your emotions and I’m always drained by the time I finish a book.

Me: Any external influences that significantly informed the novel? Your own experiences, another book or story that inspired something?

LZK: Story ideas always come to me in the form of relationships and then as they develop, no matter how detached I think I am from a project, they always end up being about something I’m going through emotionally. It’s totally unintentional but through exploring River’s grief I was finally able to come to terms with my own–I’d lost my father about four years ago and it was the worst thing I’ve ever been through. For four years I’ve seen how that tragedy has changed not only me but the people around me and I wanted to know why. Why grief propels some people and destroys others. Why it pushes some people closer together and tears others apart. I wanted to know when it stops hurting and I wanted to know the trick to surviving in case it never does. Those were the things that drove me to my computer every day and even though writing this story didn’t deliver all of the answers, it was still a really incredible journey for me personally and I hope that comes through when people read the book.

Me: How did you start writing novels?

LZK: Choosing to write novels as opposed to short stories or other forms of story-telling was never a conscious decision. I think I tried writing my first book when I was in 8th grade and didn’t attempt it again until my senior year of high school. But in those years in between I would daydream about making movies and writing characters like Buffy The Vampire Slayer. My college years were spent writing short stories and I even explored news writing but for some reason, whenever an idea for a story would strike me, the scope just always felt too big for it to be anything other than a novel. I think I just prefer slow burns and emotional stories that I can really sink my teeth into and it’s just easier for me to explore those things in a novel.

Me: You now have three published books: Breathing Ghosts, Orphans of Paradise, and The Things They Didn’t Bury. Do you have a favorite among them?

LZK: Let me put it this way, I hate all of them equally. Okay, I’m joking. The truth is I’m really strict when it comes to dedicating all of my attention to one project at a time. So whatever I’m currently working on usually ends up being my favorite. But as soon as I reach the finish line I usually can’t stand to even think about the story anymore. It doesn’t mean that I don’t still love those characters or those stories but moving on to something new is one of the greatest feelings in the world. I will say that even if I was emotionally capable of choosing a favorite, it would probably be impossible. All three of those books are so different and they all represent very different times in my life.

Me: Since I have you here, Laekan, and I can’t pass up the chance to ask another writer…who are some of your favorite authors? Favorite books?

LZK: Growing up I was really drawn to character driven stories and looked up to authors like Wally Lamb, Khaled Hosseini, and Melina Marchetta. But I also really love stories that feel contemporary but also have a sense of magical realism like Maggie Stiefvater’s books. Her prose is just so lyrical and that’s definitely something I strive for whenever I write. My current favorite reads are On The Jellicoe Road and I Know This Much Is True.

Me: What are you working on now?

LZK: Right now I’m working on a YA contemporary trilogy (with a side of sci-fi/magical realism) and am half way through the first draft of book 2. Without giving too much away, it centers around a seventeen-year-old girl who suffers from Klein Levin syndrome, better known as Sleeping Beauty syndrome, and it’s probably the most romance heavy of all of my projects.

Me: Where can readers connect with you and learn more about you and your work?

LZK: Readers can feel free to contact me at lzkbooks [@] gmail [.] com or at any of the links below!