Choosing Your Path to Publication, Part 2: Self-Publishing

Welcome back to the second post in my short series on choosing your publishing path. If you missed the first one, click here to learn the pros and cons of traditional publishing. Today we’re going to talk about self-publishing, which means acting as your own publisher. Self-publishing can mean doing most of the work yourself, or it can involve hiring industry professionals to handle different aspects of creating your final product. In either case, you’re assuming full responsibility for creating your book and building your career.

(Note: I am excluding vanity publishing, or paying a publisher a lump sum to produce a book for you, from either of my options. Most, if not all, vanity publishers are looking to scam you and should be avoided. As I said last time, always do your research and read a contract before you sign it!!)

Self-publishing: the sky’s the limit

Pros:

1. You’re the boss.

With self-publishing, you’re the one in charge. You retain full rights to everything you create, and you get to make all the decisions regarding what you write, how often you publish, what formats you use, what your covers look like, and how your work is branded and promoted. You don’t have to consult anyone else on what stories to write next, leaving you free to pursue whatever genres interest you. If you’ve ever dreamed of being a CEO or running your own empire, here’s your chance.

2. You pick your own support team.

Instead of acquiring a team by signing with an agent and publishing house, you get to pick everyone you want to hire. Freelance professionals and businesses exist for pretty much every aspect of publishing your own book—developmental editors, line editors, proofreaders, formatters, cover designers, website designers, distributors, PR/ marketing firms, attorneys, and personal assistants. As an author-entrepreneur (or authorpreneur), you can tailor your team and build your career the way your time, budget, and personal goals allow.

3. Higher royalties.

When you self-publish, since you’re assuming the costs of publication, you’ll receive the bulk of the royalties from your book. Depending on your distributor, you could receive up to 70% royalties on e-books. Print books tend to be lower through online retailers like Amazon, but if you can sell directly at conventions and book sales, you’ll get to keep all the profits after the cost of producing the book. I’ve heard of indie authors making five or even six figures A MONTH selling e-books on Amazon. The sky truly is the limit to the sales you can achieve if you put in the work to create excellent products that appeal to a dedicated target audience.

4. Fast publishing.

While you might have some limits based on the schedule of your editor or cover designer, in general you’ll be able to release your books as quickly as you’d like. In fact, many successful indie authors maintain a rapid release schedule, putting out multiple books or novellas a year. All it takes is a few clicks to upload your finished product to Amazon or Ingram Spark, and readers can be diving into your book within a few days.

Cons:

1. You’re the boss.

Here’s the flipside to all that creative freedom, where you get to make all the decisions. You HAVE to make all the decisions. If you don’t bother taking the next step, nothing happens. If you freeze up deciding on a cover design, the book doesn’t get published. If you choose a poor editor (or worse, none) and your book gets bad reviews or nobody buys it, it’s all on you. You have to do the research, evaluate your options, and make executive decisions to reach your goals. Nobody else is going to do it for you.

And because you’re the boss and this is your business, you bear all the upfront costs. Essentially, you’re acting as your own publisher, so you’ll have to pay for all the services you want to produce your book. If you want a professional book, you’ll need to hire a professional editor, cover designer, formatter, and printer (or use print on demand). You can cut costs by learning to do some things for yourself, but you’ll still need some outside help. Depending on your computer skill level, you might also need to hire someone to design your website and help create your brand.

2. All the marketing falls on you.

Like everything else in your author business, marketing your book rests on your shoulders. You’ll need to create a strong, easily identifiable brand that appeals to readers. If you want author events at conventions or local bookstores, you have to schedule them. You’ll need to learn how to craft ads for Facebook and Amazon and how to evaluate whether they’re working. Those successful authors making five or six figures a month? They’re spending thousands of dollars on advertising to drive those sales. Success like that doesn’t happen without dedicated perseverance and hard work.

3. Your success is subject to the market.

Yes, you absolutely can self-publish a genre-bending, plotless, rambling book that fills a hole in your heart but makes no sense to anyone else. For hobby writers who only want a copy of their own book, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you’re hoping to sell a copy to anyone other than your mother, I’d rethink that plan. Even though self-publishing holds out the golden chalice of creative freedom, you still have to write to market if you want to make it “big.” Successful indie authors invest time and effort in creating a strong brand, knowing their readership, and producing books that will appeal to those particular readers. That doesn’t mean you can never switch genres, but as with traditional publishing, you’ll have to be selective about what you write and how to launch a new genre without alienating your fan base.

Like I said about traditional publishing, it’s hard to make a living as a full-time author, and this applies to self-publishing as well. Very few people can sell enough of their books to earn a salary from writing alone. Most indie authors supplement with a day job, teaching writing classes, freelance editing or design, or selling nonfiction writing books.

4. Self-publishing still comes with a stigma.

Unfortunately, and especially within the writing community, self-publishing carries the stigma that “you didn’t make it” or that your work is inferior. Agents and editors at big publishing houses are often called the gatekeepers because they supposedly only let the best work get through to readers. But as all readers know, plenty of not-so-great books manage to get onto store shelves. While they do weed a lot of garbage out of the slush piles, often excellent manuscripts never get published because the select few who make the decisions don’t see enough market potential. These books would be lost to readers if it weren’t for self-publishing.

The problem lies with the many new writers who jump the gun and publish their work before it’s ready. They might query a few times and give up, or decide to cut all the corners and rush their book out into readers’ hands. Instead of agents wading though the slush pile, now readers have to–which means even those authors putting in the effort and money to produce top-notch books get lumped in under the self-publishing stigma.

Bookstores, libraries, and the NYT Bestseller list don’t generally look at self-published books. Editors at publishing houses will rarely consider a work that’s been previously self-published. Even many agents prefer to work with clients who haven’t self-published or who are now writing under a different pen name. It seems to be far more acceptable to start out in traditional publishing and go “hybrid,” self-publishing some of your books, than to attempt the reverse.

Whew, how’s that for a lot to think about? For the last post in this series, we’ll look at some thoughts on how to make the decision, why I chose traditional publishing, and a list of things every writer needs to succeed, no matter which path they choose.

What are your thoughts on self-publishing? Any pros or cons I missed?

Image credits: Pexels.com.

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