One of my clients asked me my opinion on self-publishing, and whether or not I thought it was a good way for a newer author to go.
This is a question most writers will deal with at some point, unless they happen to be absurdly lucky and sell to a big publisher on their first try. Self-publishing vs. traditional publishing is an ongoing topic of debate. There are pros and cons to both.
The problem with self-publishing is that literally anyone can self-publish. Thus, you have a lot of people who write really bad stuff (whether story-wise, grammar- and spelling-wise, or whatever else) and publish it. It used to be where you had to go through a self-publishing company, so you still had that problem, but it was only people with $3000 (or so) to spare who produced really bad books.
With the development of Print on Demand technology, and companies like CreateSpace (there are tons of others, but that’s the most well-known and biggest, primarily because they’re linked to Amazon which is the largest book distributor), setting up a book is free, and all you have to pay for is to have the books themselves printed, which only costs roughly $3/book, so it’s cheap, and thus way more accessible for way more people. And so you have way more people producing really bad books.
Therefore, self-publishing has developed a bad reputation. The general conception is that if you’re self-published, it means you weren’t good enough to be traditionally published, which may or may not be true.
In addition to the general poor reputation of self-published books, you also have a much more difficult time selling your book. Most bookstores won’t take self-published books, and neither will many libraries. Libraries differ, so the library in your area might be willing to stock them, and they might have certain guidelines for doing so. The Phoenix Public Library System, which is where I live, doesn’t do self-published at all. You may be able to find some indie book stores that would be willing to take self-pubbed books on consignment, but again, that means doing a lot of legwork in order to find those places, and you may or may not generate sales that way. So you have to have a really good platform in order to generate sales, and a really good book in order to get people to talk about it and share it with their friends.
On the plus side, you have complete creative control. You get to decide what your cover looks like, what story elements you keep (whereas a traditional publisher may ask you to change things), and so on. You also get to keep all your royalties, so you make more per book than you would if you were sharing that profit with a publisher and an agent.
Traditional publishing, on the other hand, has many benefits. There’s usually a professional cover, a professional edit, a marketing budget, an advance of some sort, and the ability to get your books on shelves in actual bookstores where people shop.
Unfortunately, it’s really hard to get published with a major publisher. Most publishers won’t even look at a manuscript from an unagented writer, so before you can even start trying, you have to get an agent. Most agents receive hundreds of submissions per week, so you have to really stand out from the crowd to get noticed. Then, if you manage to sign with an agent, they have to go through the same steps with the publisher. And the whole industry is very subjective. What one person loves, another hates. Or they may love it, but it might not be what they’re looking for or what’s selling well, etc. Publishers are businesses, and they have to make money, so they aren’t going to take on projects that aren’t likely to make a lot of money. So the percentage of writers who get published by big, traditional publishers is extremely small.
Now, there are many small, indie publishers cropping up. Those have some of the pros and cons of each. You’re more likely to get a better cover (but check the website and see what else they’ve produced–some indie publishers have really low-quality cover designs), a professional edit (but again, they may hire someone who says they’re an editor but doesn’t have experience in fiction, so doesn’t really know what to look for as far as story structure and plot lines–you have to do the legwork and read some of the books they’ve produced and talk to some of their authors about their experience), so even though they’re a “real” publisher, you might not get what you’re hoping for as far as quality. Also, they may have a better shot at getting your books into bookstores, but not necessarily. You will still have to do a lot of the work on marketing and promoting and advertising. Their royalty plans tend to be better than bigger companies, and you don’t necessarily need an agent to submit to them.
So, all that to say, it’s really a personal choice. You have to weigh the pros and cons of each option and decide which things are most important to you and which you’re willing to sacrifice. Are you willing to invest years and years in improving your craft, attending conferences, meeting and wooing agents, waiting, etc., for the chance that you might eventually get published (which even then is not a guarantee of success)? Or would you rather get your book out there and do the work of marketing in order to make it successful, knowing you likely will never have the same level of success in terms of book numbers ?
Either way, you have to have a really good product. If your book stinks, you’re not going to get it in front of an agent or editor, and if you self-publish, you’re not going to sell many copies, because the people who buy it won’t recommend it to their friends. This usually involves some level of professional editing, whichever way you decide. Professional editing can mean the difference between a mediocre product and a really compelling story.
Self-publishing is a very viable option, and one many people are turning to. It takes a lot of work, but you have the potential to make it work. I think if you’re going to do it, you need to do it well. Put the very best product you can out there. For me personally, I self-published my short story collection/novella, The Heir. I had it professionally edited. I paid for a professional cover. And I’ve had a moderate amount of success as far as sales. However, I’m still working toward traditional publishing for my novels. If you’re going to self-publish, make sure you don’t put out a poor-quality product. Learn the craft. Get a good editor. Get a good cover. Make it something you’re proud of, not something you just threw together hoping to make a quick buck.
Do you have any questions? Leave them in the comments or contact me, and I’ll answer them!