Why I Decided To Self-Publish

I’ve been scribbling something or other since I could first hold a pen, but I have been writing seriously for about five years.

It all started with a trip to South America where I heard a story from the Independence Wars that hooked me. I started researching the background to it – just curious – and before I knew it, I was writing a historical novel.

It was a monster and took me over three years to write, but it gave me an excuse to go back to South America for another nine months. When I was finally done, I started querying agents.

I spent eighteen months researching agents, sending out submissions, and rewrote the novel three times based on feedback. At Christmas last year, I thought all that hard work had finally paid off.

An up-and-coming, well-respected New York agent expressed interest in representing me and we spoke twice on the phone.

He told me how much he was in love with the novel, how everyone in his office had read it and loved it, that it was “big, sweeping, really great”, then never contacted me again or replied to any emails.

I found that very disheartening, and couldn’t summon up the energy to start looking for an agent again. I was working on a second novel, but I found myself questioning everything I was writing.

I had read a little about self-publishing, but it only became a serious option for me in the week that Amanda Hocking signed a big trade deal and Barry Eisler walked away from one.

I saw both these events as a validation of self-publishing and spent a week tormenting myself wondering whether I should self-publish my novel or not.

I broke the impasse by deciding to start off with some short stories. I already had some success publishing those, and it seemed like a low-risk way to both learn the process, and test if I wanted to do this with my novel.

At the same time, I started my blog, and within a week or two I was getting over 200 views a day, and feisty conversations in the comments.

After four weeks of manic preparation and very late nights, I released my first e-book. It cracked the Kindle Top 40 Short Story charts on the first full day and picked up some lovely reviews.

In the month or so since I made my decision to self-publish, I have never worked so hard on writing. Aside from setting up a blog and posting over 1,000 words a day to it, I had to hire an editor, and find a cover designer. I had to learn how to format an e-book from scratch, and how to sell them.

I put together my first e-book, published it, and wrote a brand new 6,000 word story, and started two more. On top of that I wrote 30,000 words of a non-fiction project.

I have found the whole process exhilarating. I love being in complete control about what I can write, what I can publish, and how I publish it. I love having the final say on every little detail, choosing the price, and promoting it myself. I love coming up with fun competitions.

But the most gratifying thing is how much my productivity as a writer has gone up, even with all the extra work I have to do. There is something motivating about self-publishing.

I guess it’s knowing that the reader will get to see your work as soon as you are done and they – and no-one else – will decide if it’s a success or not. It’s very democratic.

I still haven’t made an official decision whether I will self-publish the South American novel or not, but I know in my heart what I want to do.

I promised myself that I wouldn’t get caught up in the excitement of publishing my stories, but that I would wait and evaluate everything after a couple of months. Besides, at that point, I should have some sales figures on two or three titles to make my judgement.

And anyway, I’m having fun focussing on short stories at the moment. They are great for trying out new ideas, new genres, and new styles. If you hit a permanent dead end, you have only lost a few days writing time, rather than a few months.

People always ask me where I get my ideas from, and I usually give some glib answer like, “I make them up, that’s my job.” However, that’s not strictly true.

Often a short story starts with half an idea, or a concept, or a name, or a character. The title usually comes next and then the whole story unfolds in front of me, and I struggle to keep up with my brain as I write (I work with paper and pen first). And the idea always comes from somewhere.

The second story in my collection was written just after I moved to Stockholm, in the depths of winter last year. I guess I was struggling to learn the language and to make friends, and was finding the dark days a little too much. The first story was something I actually wanted to do in real life, but it would have been too expensive.

That’s the beauty of fiction; you can live out your dreams. I’ve already achieved one already.

If You Go Into The Woods is available from Amazon, Amazon UK, and Smashwords for 99 cent. You can read the first few pages here for free.

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

14 Replies to “Why I Decided To Self-Publish”

  1. “There is something motivating about self-publishing.”

    This. Absolutely this!

    Since I made my decision to self-publish, I’ve been quite literally galloping through the writing process of my second book while polishing the first to a shine (And waiting for my editor and cover artist to finish their bits.). I’ve joined Twitter, ramped up Facebook, and really got serious about posting to my blog at least a couple times a week (Haven’t made it to every day yet.). I’ve even started setting up appearances on blogs (Though will focus more on that closer to the release.).

    I’m EXCITED! I decide what I write, how I write, what the cover will look like and so on and so forth. If I want to mix six different genres into one crazy tale, I can do that and no one is going to come back and say they can’t sell it because they don’t know what shelf to stick it on. (Dumb ass reason, if you ask me.) My fate is no longer in the hands of anyone but myself and my readers.

    And that is a very good feeling, indeed.

    BTW, I vote YES for self-pubbing your novel. 🙂

    1. Hi Shea,

      That’s great – and we should sort out a guest blog spot for you here around your release date.

      It is all so very exciting taking control of all these details. And you are right about genres. My novel is historical fiction. The next novel I wanted to write was a tragic-comic novel set in the Middle East in the 1970s, but I thought that an agent would want another straight up historical fiction from South America, so I started writing something else. It’s only dawning on me now that I can write whatever I like. The next short story I’m going to release is a technothriller, and the one after that might be science fiction (and I have a historical one planned too, as well as a suspense one). An agent would never let you do that! They would go crazy!


      P.S. So that’s two votes for self-pubbing the novel (the other person is, ahem, a secret voter).

  2. Same here. I also decided to go indie instead of waiting for some braniacs to decide what is good for my work. Since that time I already set up a brand new shiny website (It’s under my name), I also created some high quality cover arts and additional arts for the work (Something what you can’t do if you’re working with publishers) and the most important; I set the release date (So I don’t have to wait two+ years.). And the best is; no one is ever going to tell me how the story should flow. No one is going to tell me to delete details because some of them are unable to understand trivial things. I don’t have to add trendy opening scenes filled with senseless cliche action. No one is going to tell me to change my character to a botox babe because that would be trendy. And no moron with some taste glitch is going to tell me to give a chainsaw into the hand of an angel, because that would make a high fantasy work soooo trendy and mainstream (These are all happened in the past.). Working without stupid restrictions is a very-very-very good feeling.

    Just as you Dave, I rather take this path instead of taking my work into the hand of some self-proclaimed people who is also forgot some basic manners when we’re speaking about business (i.e.: no responses to your emails, or speaking from a very high horse, because they believe they can do that. No, they can’t.).

    1. I had guessed a lot of the stuff you mentioned were some of the “pros” of going indie, but I never guessed the boost I would get to my productivity. Instead of wasting time reading sports pages (or whatever), I learn something new or write something new, it’s so motivating. And the freedom to write whatever you like? That’s only starting to sink in.

      I have met quite a few agents, and all (bar one) were extremely friendly, personable, and open. However, there is no doubt that there is a lot of bad behaviour going on. I don’t expect agents to reply to every email they get, or to do more than use a form rejection when they are not interested in something. I do, however, expect a reply on a requested manuscript. That is unacceptable and has happened to me on more than one occasion. I suppose every writer has their own agent story, and I have heard lots worse than mine.


      P.S. That is a very fancy looking website.

      1. Yep. There are good and friendly agents too. I have a short list about them. A very short one. 🙂 But just as you said, when they’re requesting a manuscript and then silence… or when they’re trying to transform, change your story to their very own taste, that’s outrageous as it’s not their job and you, the writer is not a writer for hire.

        And yes. Going indie is also raising your productivity with 150-200%. The reason; there is no stress as you don’t have to fulfill the expectation of some weirdo.

        “I don’t expect agents to reply to every email they get, or to do more than use a form rejection when they are not interested in something.”
        Actually I do, because of one reason. You, the writer is taking the time to write the query letter. You, the writer is fulfilling every idiot rules what the agents are figuring out (Half of those rules are useless and originating from endless snobbism.). And then they’re telling you, or me, or any other writer; sorry, we’re tooooooooo busy and tooooooo important to reply to a 200 words long letter (Average response time with a pre-prepared “Copy paste No Thanks” letter is five seconds or less.). So whoever is saying that he is busy to respond to you, that one is lying (And the newsflash; we, writers are also busy.).

        “That is a very fancy looking website.”
        Thanks. 🙂

        1. The way I see it is, we are seeking something from them, and we are emailing them unannounced, so it is their prerogative whether to reply or not. However, after they have solicited something from us, the relationship has changed, and I believe they are under obligation to respond. I know a lot of agents have switched to non-response because of the sheer amount of submissions. Even if it’s only an extra five seconds (or whatever) when you are getting thousands of submissions a week, that adds up.

          You may disagree, but if you look at the amount of people seeking representation versus the amount of slots available, that power dynamic allows the agent to do whatever they want.

          However, I accept there are different views on this, and I can see the other side, for sure. And, if people stop submitting in numbers that dynamic will change pretty quickly.

      2. “Even if it’s only an extra five seconds (or whatever) when you are getting thousands of submissions a week, that adds up.”
        Yes, it may add up, but when the busiest agents, such as Jennifer Jackson, Janet Reid, Christopher Little, ex-agent Nathan and few others are capable to respond to every single letter, while presumably they get the most letters of all, I can’t accept this excuse from other agents (Maybe I’m too rigid. 🙂 ).

        “The way I see it is, we are seeking something from them, and we are emailing them unannounced, so it is their prerogative whether to reply or not.”
        It’s partially true, but you forget that they’re living from your work. We’re not looking for a job as we have a job. We’re seeking someone who is capable to represent us. Remember; Writers can live without agents. Agents can’t live without writers. Yet some agent is handling us as some tertiary elements. But as you said, there are different views. This is my view, but that doesn’t mean I’m right. 🙂

        1. You make very good points in both cases.

          Re the second one, I will say this: the agent is not making a living from the deluge of unpublished writers who are contacting them, it’s from their existing clients. And if I had an agent, I would be more than miffed if they spent all their time trawling for new clients rather than looking after their existing ones.

          But your general point I am 100% in agreement with, agents can’t make a living without writers, and now that writers have a way to get their books to readers that bypasses them completely, we may see a change in some of the practices that everyone complains about.

  3. I also self-published by debut novel after spending three years working on it. I hired an editor and someone to format the paperback and eBook versions (I’m useless with anything like that) and also had the cover professionally designed. And yes, I spent months waiting for replies from agents, some of whom never even bothered. It’s been on Amazon and various other sites for while now and even though I haven’t sold as many I probably would have done had it been on shelves in shops, I’m still pleased to have sold the ones I have. It’s a very satisfying way to earn a few bob.

    Good luck with your sales and good luck with your next project.

    Crystal Jigsaw (aka Kathryn Brown, author of Discovery at Rosehill)

    1. Hi Crystal,

      The thing I keep hearing from successful self-published writers is that it takes time to find your readers, and time for them to find you. And don’t forget, the best promotional tool a writer has is new material. While all these marketing tips and tricks can boost sales, it’s often temporary, and what will really grow your readership is more great stories.

      Best of luck to you.


  4. Hi, I saw your blog through AQC. We’re on a similar path about publishing. I recently published a collection of short stories for the Kindle and Smashwords, mainly to learn the ropes of e-pubbing, because I’ll probably publish my first novel in a few months through Kindle and all the other e-publishers. I still have a lot to learn about e-pubbing. I’ll keep tabs on your success.

    1. We are following very similar paths indeed.

      Testing the waters with some short stories is an excellent idea. It won’t necessarily give you a great idea on potential sales of your novel though, as shorts tend to sell in far smaller numbers, even for the big guys, with some notable exceptions in certain genres.

      For me at least, it was a fun, cheap way to test out a few theories, educate myself, get some new readers for my stories, and see if self-publishing the novel would be prudent. It’s early days in the experiment, but I’m leaning that way already.

      Best of luck to you,


  5. In the trend of following similar paths, I had a close call with my own MS that almost resulted in a ‘real world’ deal. Summersdale Publishers, who I sent an unsolicited sample to, request the full, read it and strung me along for almost 6 months before coming down with the old ‘The sales dept. don’t think they can sell it because you’re not famous,’ saw. It put me on a bit of a downer for a while, but the next possibility was a US agent in a boutique agency. I found her by researching awesome authors in my genre and discovering their agents. She loved my stuff and said she’s have gone for it – except that the author she already repp’ed was currently writing a book in direct competition with mine – even the title was very similar! I shit a brick at that, which was another factor in my decision to self publish – no matter how good this author is (and he is!), my book will still come out at least a year before his! So who’ll be the copy-cat then eh? Even if his book had been finished before mine, I’d still be on sale months before him. I do start to wonder at the wisdom of traditional print publishing – other than for the immense ego boost of having ‘made it’ as a ‘real’ author!

    1. A real author is one who can sell a copy to a stranger.

      You will have lots of chances to sell lots of copies to lots of strangers before this other writer gets near a bookshelf.

      And when his book falls out of print, you will still be there on Amazon.

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