Self-Published or Publisher? When is the Right Time?

By on May 30th, 2010

word writer on old fashioned typewriterLynn Serafinn shares thoughts on shifting from a being die-hard indie artist to approaching a major publisher.

Some of you who know me and my work might be surprised to find out that it was only a few months ago when I wrote my first full book proposal. It’s true I was a ghost-writer for another author and my work has been (anonymously) published in several books by a prominent New Age publisher. But I never needed to write proposals for those books. And it’s also true I’ve written loads of business and project proposals in my time– especially when I was the head of a college department– so I know what it takes to write a proposal to “land” a contract. But I had never written an actual book proposal for my own writing until this contest.

Why? Because most of my life, I’ve been something of a “die hard indie”. It comes from my background as an independent musician/label owner in the 1990s. Since the 80s, our band had tried to get our recordings heard by major labels, but learned quickly that it was virtually impossible to get a big label to listen to an unsolicited demo. So, we started our own label, and gradually built up a following by getting our titles into major independent distributors in the US and the UK. We reached a level of success when our release entitled the Imagine EP hit #1 on several club charts in 1994.

It was then we had a brief encounter with a major record label-one of the top 3 in the world. The A&R (the person who signs artists to the label) had been given our record as a “buzz” title from the owner of an underground record shop in Boston, and he called us from New York saying he wanted to come down and meet us in Arizona (where we lived at the time), as he was interested in signing us. Had they done so, it would have meant we would have had worldwide distribution, MTV videos and have been sent on tour with some of the biggest names in electronic dance in the world at that time. It was every musician’s dream come true.

Or so we thought.

When we actually met the A&R face-to-face, it became very obvious he had clear intentions of changing our image and sound into something we were not, and we simply didn’t want to become. Our band was an electronic trance group, but he proposed a long list of “improvements” for us, including bringing in big rock drummers and sexy young female vocalists. Being in our late 30s, the A&R more or less said we were “too old” for MTV and we would have to do something to make us “saleable.”

But the truth was, in spite of the A&R thinking we were “too old”, we were actually “too young” as artists to move into the arena of working with a major label. We weren’t used to working to deadlines and were accustomed to having the luxury of taking as long as we wanted to complete projects. We were still finding our “voice” and creating our sound, and bringing in professional producers who would impose their own “spin” on our embryonic sound threatened to stop our creative growth altogether. And from a marketing standpoint, although we had managed to get a #1 club hit, we were still just getting started on building our following and didn’t really know our target audience fully, or how to reach them at a global level. Because we had a very small platform, if the A&R changed our image as he intended, we were likely to lose the audience we already had, and not appeal to the audience to which he would be targeting.

We started to realise we simply weren’t ready for this leap. Believe it or not, I used to wake up at night with panic attacks at the thought of it! After all those years of thinking this was what I wanted, I realised something wasn’t right about it. As a result, our connection to the label just sort of dissolved after a couple of months, and our label continued on with our own independent enterprises.

My experience in the music industry certainly coloured my decision to go self-published when I was getting ready to release my book The Garden of the Soul in 2009. I figured big publishers are probably like big record labels in that you needed to know the right time to approach them. And now that I have been self-published for the past year, and have since created successful marketing campaigns for many other authors, both published and self-published, I do think my reasoning was correct.

In my experience, there are 7 main factors to consider in your decision to approach a publisher:

  1. Discipline. Could you make a commitment to meet writing deadlines if given them? Have you transcended the trap of ONLY being able to write when you are “inspired” or can you sit down and get into the groove when you need to?
  2. Stylistic maturity. Is your writing style “mature” (well past the embryonic stage)? Could others easily talk about your style and your message as compared to other books? Is your style powerful and developed enough that editors would not want to change it significantly?
  3. Emotionally prepared. Are you ready to “show up” as a public image? Are you ready to be seen, and critiqued? Are you ready to speak transparently on a global level? Are you ready to release your vision, unattached to whether people like it or not?
  4. Identity. Do you know who you are as a writer and as a person? Do you have a clear idea of your ‘public image’, i.e, who you are to your readers, fans and audience? Can you stand calmly within the wisdom of your own identity when dealing with a publisher?
  5. Platform. Do you have a well-established platform (i.e., a large fan base of people who know your name and your writing)? This is undoubtedly one of the major factors publishers will consider when you approach them, and something that will make it much less likely for them to try to “reshape” your image.
  6. Marketing. Do you know how to reach your audience? Do you understand principles of marketing? Can you explain how you would market your book to publisher in a way that would make them say, “Hey, this one has some great ideas”?
  7. Time Commitment. Are you ready and able to commit LOTS of time to promoting your book? Is your life free or flexible with regards to family or other work commitments? Could you travel frequently without disrupting the rest of your life?

Speaking for myself, I couldn’t give a 100% “yes” answer to any of these things when I first met the A&R back in 1994. In 2009, when I went to publish The Garden of the Soul, I’d say I had these covered about 75%. But, in my opinion, 75% wasn’t enough for me to approach a publisher at that time. Before I approached a publisher, I wanted to be able to give my full 100%. THEN the time would be right… at least for me.

When I wrote my proposal this year, I felt it to be truly a transformative process. I realised when I was writing it that I had finally reached my “100% Ready” place. I knew who I was. I felt I could write at the drop of a hat. I had a platform. I understood marketing. And most of all, I had already written my book and I completely believed in it.

Being a self-published writer was ABSOLUTELY the best thing for me when I had chosen to do so. The experience helped me develop as a person, as a writer and as a businesswoman. But now I have firmly established my platform, and really know who I am as a writer, I feel confident about making the shift to working with a publisher over the coming year… and at the same time, I also have the confidence that I am able to flourish as a proud indie author, and enjoy the ride on my own as well.

I hope you found these reflections and pointers to be of value in your own journey as an author. Please do leave a comment below to share your own thoughts and experiences.

About Lynn Serafinn, Creator of Spirit Authors

Lynn Serafinn

Lynn Serafinn is a transformation coach, book promotion coach, radio host and
bestselling author of the book The Garden of the Soul: lessons from four flowers
that unearth the Self.
She also works as a campaign manager for mind-body-spirit authors and has produced several #1-selling book campaigns. She is the founder/creator of Spirit Authors, a virtual learning environment and community that offers training, coaching, business-building and inspiration for mind-body-spirit authors, whether established or aspiring. As part of her work with spiritual and self-help authors, she also regularly hosts large-scale online virtual events (usually free of charge) with world-class speakers on a range of mind-body-spirit topics. Subscribe to her Spirit Authors blog at so you can receive more useful tips and news about upcoming online events. While you are there, do check out the excellent and affordable online courses for authors available. If you are an author seeking 1-to-1 support or campaign managment for your upcoming book launch, you are also invited to request a free consultation by filling in a contact form at



  1. Raven Masterson says:

    Another sensational article Lynn….Congratulations on helping me to see where I am in the process.

    Now I understand why I was so hesitant to self publish the book, when I understand the technology like the back of my hand, and also have over 20 years experience in marketing, both conventional and internet.

    This article of yours is the last piece in my puzzle, and I cannot thank you enough!

  2. Hi Raven,
    I am SO pleased you got value from it. Stay in touch and let me know what piece of the puzzle it provided you. 😉

    Warm wishes,

  3. Julie-Ann says:

    Great article Lynn!

  4. Loved reading your article, Lynn! Really insightful. It helped me to understand that the issue, for me, is not mostly about whether or how I get my books out there, it is more about when.

    Very best,

  5. Glad you found it useful, Diana. Interested to know how it helped you understand your timing more. Was there an “ah-ha” moment?

  6. Lynn, I absolutely love this article! And you so beautifully articulate everything I was thinking when I was trying to figure out how to “birth” my first baby (I mean book). From the work involved, it seemed very comparable to childbirth – that is for sure. Anyway, I did self-publish and I am delighted that I did – for all the exact reasons that you talk about.

    Lynn, this is a very valuable article and I will be passing it on. And in the meantime, maybe you can check out my book: Just Treat Me Like I Matter: The Heart of Sales. It is a sales training book like no other. It comes from the heart and the soul and I embrace all the topics that people need to address if they are really wanting to transform their personal and professional lives! For transformation can only come from spiritual awakening and universal truth.

    I am so glad that I found you on LinkedIn! Next, I am going to find you book and order it!! For not only am I a writer and trainer, but I am an avid gardener.

    Again, thanks for your quality and rich content! Diane

  7. Dear Lynn,
    Thank you for this.
    The best bit for me was the 7 main factors to consider – v useful.

    Seeing you published with a major publisher in the coming year,
    love, Katherine

  8. Great article, Lynn! As an author who has self-published one book (Recreating Eden) and had another one published by a large, mainstream publisher (Choosing Easy World), I’ve walked both paths and they both have their peaks and valleys.

    It is, indeed, truly empowering to know that you don’t NEED a publisher–that you CAN do it yourself–and that’s an advantage when approaching a publisher as well as just being a personal confidence booster. So having a self-published book under my belt was great in that regard.

    I was fortunate to have, arguably, the best editor in the business (Jennifer Enderlin) at St. Martin’s Press–an awesome company to work with all the way around–and my experience with them was really stellar BUT did it take the responsibility off of me for promoting my book? For spending money to get it launched? No.

    I think when authors think of going with a publisher what they’re really hoping for is to not have to do anything but create the book and then someone else does all the rest. That’s just not the way it is anymore, no matter which route you choose. The only huge advantage I see in having a publisher is distribution, and with the rise of the ebook, and the new, more comprehensive P.O.D. outfits like Lightning Source, Create Space, and Hay House’s Balboa, that is less and less an issue. And the percentage of each book you get to keep if someone else publishes your book is ridiculously low for all the work you are expected to put in over and above writing a GREAT book. Not as different from self-publishing as we would like to believe. So…

    Will I approach a publisher for my next book? Maybe. Maybe not. I know my awesome literary agent, who has kindly given her blessing for me to publish in any format that will be advantageous to me, would be happy if I did! But the advantages of self-publishing for someone with an established platform are becoming more and more seductive…

  9. Really good analysis and insights, Lynn! Will share this article with my contacts immediately. Love how you have explained your own journey and how you arrived at the place where you feel ‘ready’ to partner with a publisher, and the analogy with music publishing.

    I also want to acknowledge Julia’s comment about authors hoping they won’t have to do anything but write the book. Savvy’ entrepreneurial indie authors understand their commitments and want only want to be involved in the marketing but want to OWN the plan. Those are the most successful authors in the end, however they choose to publish their books.

  10. Hi Lynn: Thanks for this post, but now I am more confused than ever as to the right path for my upcoming book. I look at self-published indie authors like you and Joanne Penn who are both now seeking publishers for their upcoming projects and wonder … was I right in deciding to self-publish my next book?

    I’ve been published previously by a small press and was displeased with the cover choice they made for the book and the category in which they chose to market the book. it is my opinion that both of those decisions prevented the book from reaching out to the intended audience. Which is why I had hoped to self-publish my next book (a work-in-progress.)

    Seeing both you and Joanna looking the other way has me questioning whether I will be able to achieve the success I am seeking by going it alone.

    I found Julia’s reply very helpful and encouraging, as distribution is my biggest concern as well.


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