I’m frequently asked what I think about self-publishing and whether I’ve considered it. I don’t mind the question at all, and in today’s environment, more and more authors are choosing to go that route.
Why I’m not currently self-publishing
While my thoughts about self-publishing have evolved in the last three or four years, it’s still not something I’m considering when it comes to publishing my next novel. I readily admit to the fact there are tons of self-publshed writers much more talented than me (who have also made way more money than me), but I still have reservations.
In today’s world, anyone can publish a book. That’s good news for anyone who has been dying to say they wrote a book, but saying I wrote a book isn’t my goal. Publishing a book isn’t even my goal since, I’ve already done that with a small press. (Making a living off my writing is the goal, for anyone asking.)
But putting aside the money thing, another reason I’m currently avoiding self-publishing a novel is that I’m not an artist. Nor am I an expert in marketing and advertising. Nor am I a professional editor. To gain any measurable success self-publishing, you need to either become your own editor, cover artist, and advertising agency, or be willing to pay for those services. With no publishing company behind you, you’re responsible for all expenses, including ISBN, print copies, and bookstore-to-bookstore (and coffee shop-to-coffee shop) marketing.
No matter how good you get at that stuff, it’s a lot of work. I’m not afraid of work, and I’m not afraid of going around trying to plug a book (I’ve already been doing it with Holy Fudgesicles, after all), but I figure with my next book, I’ll still be way better off finding an agent and a traditional publisher to take care of all the legwork.
As a quick disclaimer, I would like to mention that I’m only talking about self-publishing in then context of fiction novels here. I do think it may be a good idea to consider it with non-fiction, and I’m even bouncing around that idea in my head. But that’s a post for another day.
In the meantime, let’s move on to…
But if you Do want to consider self-publishing…
So like I said earlier, while I’m not considering self-publishing at the moment, that doesn’t mean it’s not a legitimate way to publish your novel, and it may even be the best way for your to publish your novel.
I do want to start with a warning, however:
If you decide to go down the path of self-publishing, you’ve got to make sure that your product is as polished and professional-looking as possible. That means no cover drawn by your three-year-old and no grammar or spelling errors. Don’t be afraid to pay for an artist and and editor. In fact, you probably should pay for an artist and editor.
So why would anyone want to self-publish? Let’s start with the easy answer. You’re tired of waiting. You’re tired of sending out queries. You’re tired of agents telling you that your novel “isn’t right for them” (if they answer your query at all) and you just want to get the freaking book published and be done with the whole process.
Do not let your impatience cause you to rush the process. If your product isn’t near perfect, you will look like a desperate author who took out a loan and went over to the nearest vanity printing press just to say they “published a book.”
If your goal is to make it writing full time and you want to use self-publishing to jump-start your professional writing career, then you first need to know exactly how you plan to succeed at it and what the risks are.
Since I brought it up, let’s talk about the risks. The most glaring risk is that if you self-publish your novel with little or no success, you could very well be jeopardizing your chances with a traditional publisher. An agent or publisher won’t want to hear about your self-published novel that sold 50 ebooks to friends and family. They’ll just consider it one of those books that wasn’t “good enough.” (Now, if it sell 50,000 copies, that’s a different story.)
But there are bigger risks than that. If you really want to achieve any measurable success with your self-published novel, you’ve got to invest money and time into it. Lots of money and even more time. Remember that if you self-publish, you are your own advertising agency. It’s up to you to get the word out. And simply posting it on your facebook wall won’t do the trick. Every second you have will need to be devoted to selling your book.
It’s up to you to spend the money on the print copies and drive them around to coffee shops, libraries, and conventions. Don’t overlook the cost of event registration fees as well as gas and hotel fees. And for those measly dollars you will manage to make at those things, don’t forget a certain greedy government that will be out looking for it’s “fare share.” Yes, make sure you put a portion of your profits aside for taxes.
Think of it like a business. Because it is one.
If you think about the process and work involved in publishing, you could make the argument that using traditional publishing is like finding a job in the private sector, while self-publishing is like starting your own business.
What you go through to find an agent or a traditional (including small, independent) publisher is similar to what you go through to get a new job. You send off your query letter and samples of your writing, not unlike the way you would send out your resume.
Likewise, if you decide to self-publish you need to have your groundwork in place. You need a completed product, a marketing strategy, and target costumer base. Without that in place, a small business, or a self-published book will fail.
So let’s say the entrepreneur inside you says, “hell yeah, let’s do this” and you are ready to self-publish your novel.
You’ve got so many options. You can go straight to ebook, print-on-demand, or bulk print. Whatever you choose, don’t just do it for the sake of doing it. Do it to win.
Look at the top-selling self-published novels in your genre. Is your book similar enough to sell copies to that audience? Or is it too similar to stand out? It’s a fine line, so be aware of it.
Regardless of your publishing path, don’t go half-way. Continue to write the best fiction you’re capable of and the do your damnedest to get that in the hands of readers.
Have you self-published a book? Leave a comment and let us know what the experience has been like for you!