In 1999 I self published my first book, Making Friends with Pain: Learning to Live Well with Chronic Illness (available from Amazon.com). I never went through the submission process, trying to get it published through the traditional channels. Self-publishing was all the rage at the time, and I was sold on the idea of maintaining complete control over my work.
When you are writing your personal story, it's hard to imagine some editor tearing it to pieces or changing the text so much it loses its true voice. I also had written a book that appealed to a very niche market. I did not feel traditional publishers would be interested.
I loved every step of the creative process. Of course I found significant enjoyment in the writing. And I made every decision regarding my book. Designed the cover. Selected the paper. Arranged the layout. Wrote the back cover copy. There was also a lot of tedium involved. I had to obtain an ISBN number. Get my book included in all the distribution channels. Work directly with the printing company.
My biggest failing was that I did not realize it takes much more than simply writing a good story to make a book successful. It requires a great deal of time and money, not to mention connections and a reputation. I lacked all of the above. I had a full time job at the time, and not enough money in the bank to leave it behind to do the things that are needed to properly promote a book.
With very limited resources and no real marketing plan, I consider myself lucky to have sold as many copies as I did. I have a box full of letters from readers telling me the book changed their lives in a positive way. That is why I wrote it, and the feedback has been very fulfilling. Someday, I hope to have a second edition published, since my life has changed so much since the first. But at this time, my writing focus is elsewhere.
With my second book, which explores the decisions women raised during the second wave of feminism make concerning motherhood, I have decided to go the more traditional route. I am currently querying literary agents. But my first book has the potential to actually work against me. Traditional publishers look down on self-published books. First of all, it is often assumed your book is not very good, and was rejected by anyone in the industry who looked at it. Second, when you self publish you go around their channels; you don't play by the rules.
In theory, I should be able to sell my second book on the merits of its writing and potential appeal. And my future literary agent should be able to do the same. We'll see how it all pans out. But I do not have any regrets. Self-publishing my first book was a positive experience and one I learned from. How can that be bad?