You may very well be asking what Robert Frost has to do with self-publishing. After all, he’s rather more a titanic figure in the world of literature (read: traditionally-published literature) than an icon of the D.I.Y. generation. But here’s the thing: Robert Frost wrote about choices. A lot. And while the poem means as lot things to a lot of different people–a lot of things and a lot of people–Frost himself was taken aback to discover how seriously his readers took it. He’d written it, quite literally, about his friend and walking buddy Edward Thomas, who had rather a lot of trouble making up his mind where to go while they were walking together.*
If Frost had a point, it was that indecision can lead to rather long walks–and maybe damp hair, if there’s a fog or a rain cloud about. And as you can no doubt verify, the same principle is at work when it comes to choosing a self-publishing company: indecision leads to long waits, and long waits have more consequences for books than just damp hair. Timeliness is an important part of a book’s appeal, and when we delay publication for whatever reason, that timeliness is undercut. But making a rash decision can be equally if not more problematic, can’t it? Finding yourself trapped into a contract which privileges the company and not the author is always a bad thing. And so we come to it; if I have any advice in choosing a self-publishing company from my years working with self-publishing authors, I could boil it down to these three pointers.
How to Choose a Self-Publishing Company:
1. Choose the people, not the platform.
A lot of self-publishing companies keep costs down by sacrificing customer support and real humans on the other end of certain processes. But believe me when I say these companies have lost something vital and important; publishing, even or perhaps even especially self-publishing, is about connection. Connecting the dots between manuscript and book, between author and readers, and yes! Between the author and the process of publication itself. If there’s no one on the other end of the line, the final result will suffer.
A good self-publishing company, on the other hand, hires professionals who really and actually care about producing beautiful books that their authors are proud of. A good self-publishing company hooks you up with partners, with people who care as much about bringing your vision to life as you are. Choose the company who makes you feel like a priority, who makes you feel like you actually matter.
2. Post-publication assistance matters. A lot.
Publishing your book is just the start; there’s a lot that comes after. Don’t just look for a company that offers pre-publication assistance (like copyediting and custom book cover designs) but one that also offers post-publication assistance. A good self-publishing company will offer marketing assistance, maybe some merchandising options, social media insight, and distribution not just to online retailers like the Apple iStore or Barnes ?& Noble’s Nook Store, but also to physical retailers like Ingram and to reviewers, award committees, and book fairs. It doesn’t matter if one or two of the offerings don’t strike you as must-haves … but it does matter that you choose a company with diverse options available (which proves they have a lot of muscle, and a lot of influence) and that you choose a company which can still be useful to you after your book hits Amazon. A company you can turn to if, for some reason, your book sales stall six months on.
3. Don’t give up what made you decide to self-publish in the first place.
Look, I get it: most of us choose to self-publish because of money. Or because of intellectual freedom. There’s usually a bank balance or an ideology at work, and I would caution you against thinking of this as a bad thing. Something pulled us towards self-publishing, even if it’s just plain old simple curiosity, and that something is both valid and worth hanging on to. Stick with your guns. Don’t give up on your instincts–because ultimately, your instincts are the most trustworthy and valuable thing you have when it comes to choosing a self-publishing company.
You are not alone. ♣︎
* And when Thomas himself took the poem seriously and made some rather intense life choices–for example, going off to WWI–Frost was devastated. He was even more devastated when Thomas died in Arras. The moral of this story being, it would seem, to make major life decisions upon thorough research and consideration, not the (misread) interpretation of a poem.