Many writers are attracted to the gleam of self-publishing, especially as certain authors announce that they’re making a living doing it. The publishing industry is changing in leaps and bounds, and with the advent of print-on-demand, self-publishing has become not only viable, but extremely attractive–on the surface.
If you’re pondering self-publishing, I would encourage you to carefully consider what is required to make any money at it. You need lots of the following:
- Business acumen
- Free time
- Disposable income
- Good writing
- Ideas for how to market your products
I’ll give you my view on it, and some of my own thought process, but as always take it with a grain of salt. Your situation may be different from mine.
I believe that self-publishing is much more viable than it ever was before, HOWEVER…it is not a get-rich-quick scheme. It takes a lot of work, over a long period of time, before you begin reaping the benefits. You have to build up a body of work, not just one novel, and you’re constantly pimping for new readers to build your audience. It takes dedication to make it work.
The Learning Curve
People like Joe Konrath and Scott Sigler have dedicated many years to this. They make it look easy, but that’s only because we don’t see the hours they put into it behind the scenes, and we haven’t been with them over the years leading up to their current levels of success.
You need an understanding of business, accounting, and marketing, at least, to sell your own work. You must know something about branding, advertising, and about building community. There is a learning curve, and if you approach it with the intent of learning by trial and error, then you’re adding a lot of time onto the period prior to your success.
Fortunately, plenty of folks have put out advice about this, including Mr. Konrath and Mr. Sigler. If you’re not familiar with “The Writing Show,” I recommend you check it out. You can get it on iTunes, but also at this website. Paula B. has several podcasts directly or peripherally related to self-publishing, and she’s got great info.
I do believe it can be done, but it’s a big commitment, so you should carefully investigate just how much time and money is involved in marketing your own work. There are a lot of hidden costs: postage, packaging for mailing to reviewers, promo materials, cover art & layout, ISBNs, copies of the book for reviewers and give-aways, ads, stationery, printer ink for printing info sheets, convention fees, organization dues, travel costs, etc.
I recommend you make a list of the costs you can think of. Assume that it will be coming out of your own pocket and will not get repaid (in the beginning) by sales. Then, if you’re willing to make the investment, you’re good to go!
Self-publishing can be very time-consuming. You have to make time to:
- Write. First of all, don’t forget that this is why you’re doing all this. And second, you have to keep putting out new product all the time. If you fall out of people’s minds too long, they will move on and forget you. It’s a jungle out there, filled with short-attention-spanners.
- Maintain a constant presence online, on Twitter and FB, on your web page, etc. Again, fall out of people’s minds…
- Market. This may include sending copies to blurbists and reviewers, updating your website/Facebook, traveling, spending your evenings in local bookstores, distributing flyers, organizing contests, attending conventions, arranging link exchanges with other writers, talking your book up in interviews and on forums, etc.
- Arranging for or creating a nice cover.
- Arranging for or creating a nice layout, including all the different layouts you need for e-books versus print books.
I keep it in the back of my mind that I may use my publishing company (Wily Writers) to publish some of my own stuff one day, but first, I’m publishing other people’s stuff. This costs me money to pay the writers, do promo and marketing, etc., but I already have a structure in place and an established audience for WW that continues to grow. Migrating people from the audio to print/e-book isn’t going to be fast and furious. More likely, I’ll just slowly attract more readers/listeners. I hope. There is, of course, no guarantee. 🙂
Then, if I decide, later, to publish my own work via WW, I’ll have some audience established there. And, I’ll hopefully also have a novel or two published via an agent & publishing house that will bring a different audience segment over to WW. The plan, at the moment, would be to self-publish only stories that support the main body of my work (which will hopefully have been picked up by that smart and experienced agent and sold to a well-established and respected publishing house).
Ultimately, what I’m learning about publishing (whether it’s with a publisher or self-published) is that it doesn’t happen fast. Even though you are guaranteed to get your book out there right away with e-publishing, that book can easily get eclipsed by all the others that are out there unless you do a lot of creative, active promo.
Gabrielle Faust is a primo example of this. I watched her as she took her marketing campaign to new levels by hiring a marketing firm, slicking up her own image, and raising the quality of her presence online. I’m sure she sold a bunch of books, however, she still talks about being poor, eating ramen, etc. I suspect that her income isn’t growing as fast as she had hoped, though I don’t know that for sure.
That doesn’t, however, mean she should stop what she’s doing. As she continues to put awesome books out, she will gradually attract more and more readers, and the income will follow. She has more than 11k followers on Twitter. That’s impressive and a testimony to how hard she works to provide her followers with tweets that interest them. She has focused (branded herself as a vampire expert) on the vampire genre, which is the subject of her novels. Everything she does is geared toward vampire fans. It’s quite savvy. She’s in it for the long haul (or so it seems now), and she’s building a career and a brand for herself. This is what you have to do when you’re self-publishing.
Attracting a Publisher by Self-Publishing
I’ve seen authors who started out self-publishing, but who then sold their books to a publisher when they finally found one. Self-publishing is not, however, a guaranteed way to get your Great American Novel noticed by publishers. Many of them won’t touch a novel that’s already been out there, unless you’re selling like gangbusters, and if you’re doing that, why bother with a standard publisher? I’ve heard agents and editors alike say that a self-published work is much less likely to end up on their docket. They simply don’t want to sell “used goods.” Of course, there are exceptions to every rule.
Why Hold Out for a Regular Publisher?
The reason is that the publisher brings dollars to the marketing, the production, and the advance. The publisher also brings credibility in the eyes of libraries and bookstores.
I was just listening to a podcast the other day where a librarian was saying that she rarely looks at small press or self-published material, but rather tends to stick with products from the known publishing houses. Part of this is because libraries have limited money to spend, and they take a risk whenever they get in something they haven’t read. If they get requests for it, from readers, however, then they’re much more likely to purchase it.
Good Story is Good Story
The industry is changing daily, and many many people are beginning to self-publish. It feels like a shortcut to success, but I think that’s an illusion. Ultimately, no matter what, your story has to be good. That’s what will make you a success or not. So, focusing on making your story the absolute best it can be will take you much farther than anything else.
Don’t let any initial rejections get you down. Even the first Harry Potter book was rejected many times before someone finally picked it up.
I’ve been reading “Writing the Breakout Novel” by Donald Maass, and it has amazing advice in it. I am now planning on going back through my novel again and implementing that advice. It means I put off my agent search a little while longer, but I believe it’s worth it.
Primary Benefits of Self-Publishing
The primary benefits of self-publishing are: 1) greater percentage of monetary return per book, 2) you get published w/o having to convince an agent/publisher to like your book, 3) you get complete creative control over your book, and 4) it gets into the distribution stream quickly.
Primary Drawbacks of Self-Publishing
The primary drawbacks are: 1) you shoulder the costs, 2) you shoulder the work, 3) you’re entirely to blame for any screw-ups or deficiencies in the layout, etc., and 4) you still do face some discrimination by librarians, bookstore buyers, and even readers themselves because you haven’t been vetted by a professional publisher.
This is only what I know from my own experience, which is naturally limited. 😀 I absolutely welcome any comments, questions, or additions from anyone whose experience has been different from mine.