To self-publish or stay traditional: What would you do?

Funny how random events have unintended consequences.

On a drizzly evening a year ago, a pick-up truck banged into me while I waited at a red light in Southwest Austin. The accident came three weeks after I had launched a freelance writing/editing career, following 28 years working as a journalist in Washington, D.C.

I was banged up and rarely left my couch for months. With my future health status unclear, I gave up efforts to be a shoe-leather freelance reporter, traveling about the state writing stories about Texas for Washington outlets.

With time on my hands and still feeling uncomfortable moving around, I decided to write a book, Inside the Washington Times, about one of my former employers.

An historical record of The Washington Times
The Times is a unique institution in the annals of American journalism. Founded in 1982 by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon and his Unification Church, The Times was never a financial success, but the paper had great influence, breaking stories on a regular basis that had an impact on the nation’s political debates. There was an amazing cast of characters in the newsroom, from the old Washington Star journalists who teamed with Unification Church members to get the paper up and running to the hard-charging reporters who made life miserable for government officials. The story gets better with the bizarre behavior of the Moon family, who routinely made decisions based on shamanistic practices of contacting the dead.

But how to get published?
It took several months to write the book and another month to edit it. Now I face a new challenge: how to get the thing published. I didn’t have a contract with a publisher, nor did I think much about a marketing strategy while I was writing.

Only after finishing the book did I begin making attempts to contact publishers, so far without success. One hurdle emerged as I navigated their websites: Some publishers will only deal with an author’s agent.

To stick with traditional publishers or to self-publish?
Another avenue would be to self-publish. I attended a series of seminars at WriteByNight, the Austin-based company offering writing services. The seminars explained all that is required for a self-publishing effort–from interior design and the importance of the right book cover to terms like ISBN numbers and POD (publish on demand).

But self-publishing would require a hefty monetary investment of about $10,000. I would like to think my book would recoup the cost, but I hesitate to pay that much at this point in time.

I could put the book on a website and charge people to read it–maybe make the first couple of chapters free and charge five to ten dollars to read the rest. This approach has the advantage of having minimal costs to implement. Such an attempt would require a clever marketing effort to let people know the website exists.

So what to do? Hire an agent? Keep contacting publishers? Self-publish? Website?

I am taking baby steps as I ponder my next move: talking with an editor, sending some chapters to a prominent blogger I know and searching for possible publishers.

No matter the result of my endeavors, I am glad I got this far. I am more interested in creating a historical record for those interested in The Times than I am in the book being a commercial success.

I wish the car accident hadn’t happened, but I like finding silver linings on dark clouds. At least it gave me time to write Inside the Washington Times.

Have you published a book recently? Or are you trying to decide between self-publishing and traditional publishing? What would you recommend Kenneth do?

Kenneth Hanner, former national editor of  The Washington Times and former managing editor of Human Events, is a freelance writer/editor in Austin, Texas.

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