Alicia Cook: Essay on Self-Publishing

My name is Alicia Cook, I am from New Jersey and I am a writer. My writing is constant, as I write full-time as the Director of Communications at a college in New Jersey, write a series focused on the heroin epidemic (which has been read over one million times to date), contribute to the trendy blog Thirty on Tap, and write daily prose on a myriad of topics. www.thealiciacook.com

On December 24, 2015 I decided I was going to write and release a book of poetry. As a personal challenge to myself, I decided I wanted to draw the cover and write all the material within two weeks. Without giving much thought to the title, I simply named it what I was feeling at the moment: Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately.

With the help of my friend and editor, Jhonny Heller, on January 7, 2016, just 14 days later, it was released and debuted at #1 in Hot New Releases in Poetry by Women on Amazon.

Almost a year later now, Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately has sold thousands of copies, still remains in the Top 10 sellers under Women Authors, is the third most “wished for” book of poetry (Amazon), is sold in a few independent bookstores, is shelved in at least three libraries, and has made it to the semifinals of the Goodreads Choice Awards.

Its rising popularity caught the attention of established Literary Agent, Byrd Leavell, and he now represents me and my work. A part from my book, my writings on the direct effect drug addiction has on families prompted Emmy nominated PBS producer Steve Rogers to contact me and film my efforts for five months for a documentary that aired on television in October.

2016 has been a year of many milestones. As an aspiring writer, the things I managed to accomplish this past year makes me want to pinch myself.

All of this happened because I decided to self-publish a book of poetry designed in a style of a cassette tape. I am an advocate for self-publishing and I take pride in being an independent author. Here’s why.

1.       Timing

Self-publishing empowered me to take my writing to the next level, without the wait. Traditional publishing requires querying agents and or publishing houses directly and waiting for 1) an agent to sign you and become your advocate or 2) the stamp of approval from a publishing house. After all this work spent on selling people the IDEA of your book, you’re not even guaranteed to have a book deal.

Self-publishing allows you to release your book when you are ready.

2.       Freedom

Yes, I have a literary agent now who, yes, is “shopping” my book around to publishing houses. I did not query this agent, he found me because my self-published book was and is selling well. Though I would consider traditional publishing going forward, I am well aware that if I were to get picked up by a publishing house, I am essentially signing over the rights to my book. Yet, I know I can be successful on my own at this point, which means that I will not jump at every single person interested in my book.

Though my numbers have already confirmed that the cover and title work, it’s quite possible that a traditional editor will change aspects of the book; including the title. When you hire your own editor, like I did when I self-published, you have the freedom to decide where to draw the line. During the entire process of self-publishing, my book remained just that: MY book. I had full creative control; from drawing the cover, to titling, to poetry arrangement, to page number, to price.

3.       Transparency

CreateSpace takes about 40% when you sell your book (paperback). Publishing houses usually take about 85%, and your agent gets a chunk of what’s left (usually 10% or 15%). Yes, a traditional house may offer you advances but, in summary, self-publishing allows you to not only keep a bigger slice of your own pie, but see in REAL TIME how many copies sold and how much you’ve made in royalties. I am not sure, honestly, if traditional publishers provide a log-in to a platform that allows you to view your sales whenever you wish – like CreateSpace.

I never have to wonder what I am getting paid or when. I never have to worry that a check doesn’t reach me. At the end of every month, like clockwork, money is directly deposited into my account.

4.       Changing Culture

Now, more than ever, is the time to try your hand at self-publishing. In our technology driven age, your book has a great chance at being successful. Everyone shops online now – it is not professional suicide to not have your book on a physical shelf at Barnes % noble, because self-publishing platforms distribute your books to Barnes & Noble’s online store, Amazon, you name it!

I feel safe in assuming that readers do not care how a book is published. I don’t know about you, but I never stumbled across a book that caught my eye and flipped to the copyright page to see WHO published it.

This month Goodreads announced their nominees for their annual Choice Awards. Just knowing the market, I was able to eyeball a ton of books that I know for a fact were at least self-published in their first editions, including mine! This means that self-published books are up against traditionally published books. This leads me to believe that what readers care about is the actual work, if it is good and of high quality. If you are a talented writer and utilize the resources available to many independent authors (editing, cover, and formatting services), you have a shot at a best seller.

5.       Marketing on Your Terms

Many people I speak with say the thing that scares them the most about self-publishing is they are “on their own” when it comes to marketing the book. Obviously, marketing is a huge part of a book catching on, as people need to know it exists in order to purchase it; but traditional publishing house or not, you’re still responsible for marketing your own work. Yes, a publishing house will assist with press and reviews, but even that depends on the size of the publishing house and how much faith they actually have in you and your work.

Independent authors tend to know one another and help each other out with getting the word out on “Release day.” Bloggers will usually write reviews in exchange for a copy of your work. More so, social media marketing features like Twitter or Facebook Ads, helps you send targeted messaging to those most likely to buy your work. Yes, this is an out of pocket expense, but it does not need to cost you a lot. Amazon helps you out by featuring your book on other writers’ pages in the “frequently purchased together” section. For example, what helped my book a lot, I’d imagine, is the fact that Rupi Kaur’s readers were buying my book too, and Amazon noted that.

If marketing and spending money up front (on book services) is turning you off, I want you to remember that hobbies cost money. If you paint for fun, you have to buy the paint and brushes. If you golf, you have to pay, and that’s a very expensive hobby, if you practice yoga, you have to buy the clothes and mats. See what I am getting at here?

Marketing can seem scary, but look at it this way: you are a talented, organized, hustler who just wrote an entire book. You can definitely jump this final hurdle.

Final Thoughts

While pursuing self-publishing, you can, by all means, still query traditional publishers. It is not one or the other. In fact, I feel like I am “Allowed” to assume that in this day-and-age, you have a better shot at landing a “real deal” if you can show the successful selling patterns of your already self-published book. You can say “Look what I’ve accomplished without any formal help!”The sense of accomplishment and pride I have felt this year because my self-published book has been received so positively, is priceless.