There used to be two kinds of people: either you hated self-publishing, or you loved it.
But as technology evolves alongside the publishing industry, a gray area has emerged.
Carrie Rollwagen makes no apologies about being in that gray area. This Birmingham, Alabama-based writer has years of experience selling books and spent several years running a bookstore of her own.
Her new podcast, Everybody Hates Self-Publishing, sounds, well…sort of mean. But it goes beyond basic pros and cons to explore the nuances of the self-publishing world.
And what better way to do so than by examining her own project?
Two years after self-publishing The Localist, she’s looking back at the self-publishing process through in-depth conversations with the people who helped her make it happen, from early readers to her cover designer — and everyone in between.
We asked Rollwagen about her new podcast and the state of the self-publishing industry.
The Write Life (TWL): You have background as a bookstore owner, you’ve worked in publishing and you’re an author yourself. How does that all come together into this perfect storm of saying, “This is a podcast I need to make”?
Carrie Rollwagen: My degree is in journalism, and I started out at a newspaper, like you do. And journalism is at an interesting point now…so pretty soon I started freelancing. I found myself at a bookstore, just to have a steady income on the side right after college.
For a long time, I was a freelance writer and bookseller or bookstore owner. And as a bookseller, self-publishing is just not really perceived as a good option. I was definitely on that side.
When I was first working at a bookstore, about 10 years ago, people would ask about self-publishing, and I would just say, “Don’t do it. If you ever want to be picked up by a traditional publisher, this is going to look really bad for you. This is a bad option.”
Also, you had to order thousands of books, and you probably weren’t going to sell thousands of books. The technology wasn’t there. Then about five years ago, I opened a bookstore. And again, people started asking all the time, “How do you self-publish? I’m interested in this.”
And I knew the reasons I had for not self-publishing have changed a little bit. The [traditional publishing] industry still doesn’t like it. So I wanted to explore what it looks like now.
TWL: Your book, The Localist, had a Kickstarter campaign. And then you self-published it, right?
CR: I had this blog I had worked on for a couple of years about shopping local. And I thought, “Oh, I’ll just copy and paste that into a book.” And then I read it, and it didn’t work that way at all. And then when I got into rewriting the book, I thought, “OK, I actually think this is worthwhile. I really want this to be a book.”
I raised the money to print the book and then take a book tour. And it was definitely a really shoestring book tour.
TWL: Are people who discovered you through The Localist excited about your podcast? Does the audience carry over from one project to another?
CR: My projects kind of are connected. And there’s definitely crossover there. But also my podcast is about the book, so I think that’s kind of going to happen. When I was getting ready to go to the launch party [for the podcast], I was talking to one of my friends to make sure I had everything, and she said, “Well, did you get your book?” And I was like, “Why would I bring my book?”
TWL: Might be able to sell a few!
CR: And I actually did! To me, they’re different projects, but [that crossover] did happen. It’s definitely helpful.
TWL: What’s the biggest challenge still for people who are interested in self-publishing?
CR: There’s a couple of things. One big thing is when people are told that the tool is going to do all the work, they don’t realize how much work they’re going to have to do. You really do need people to make the book better. I’m not saying I’m such a stellar writer, but I have written professionally for a long time. And I still felt like the first draft of the book was fairly unreadable. Like, my mom said it was unreadable. But I’m so much prouder of the product now. Some people don’t like it, and that’s fine. But I know I’m proud of what I came with, what we created as a team.
TWL: What can listeners expect from Everybody Hates Self-Publishing over the next few episodes?
CR: I’ve gotten a bookseller, a librarian and a book buyer from a big-box bookstore to come on, talking about issues with self-publishing. It is very difficult to get your book into stores, so I’m excited to be able to talk to some of them about why. I hope it gives a different perspective.
You can find Everybody Hates Self-Publishing on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.