so you want to self-publish.

| Friday, March 18, 2011
Today's Tune: The Future Freaks Me Out

So you're thinking of going the self-publishing route. More power to you.

No, really. I'm not being a smartass. More power to you. Taking your published status into your own hands can be empowering and rewarding, but it can also be terrifying and draining. In the current fluctuating publishing market, it's still a pretty big risk, and one that self-publishers need to be realistic about.

While self-publishing is (very gradually) becoming a more and more accepted alternative to traditional publishing, it's still far from perfect and it still carries a heavy stigma with it. It should not be done on a whim. A fair amount of research and determination goes hand-in-hand with the decision to self-pub. There are a number of important factors and tips to keep in mind if you're considering the self-published path.

1.) Possibly the most important: there is no secret, untapped route to making money, money, money with your books. Whether you go traditional or self-pub, you cannot guarantee that you're going to make seven figures, six figures, or even four figures. You can increase your book's exposure through a number of marketing methods, you can go on foot and sell by hand, you can donate copies to libraries, offer the first chapter for free, and try many other methods of getting your book into hands to be read, but none of these things will guarantee sales. The only thing you can count on is that people buy books they want to read, so make sure yours is one people want to read. Even so, good books are still overlooked every day. So don't view self-publishing as a secret cash cow. It'll hurt you right off the bat.

2.) Do not choose self-publishing because being rejected is making you cranky and/or you're tired of waiting. Traditional publishing is a bitch to break into. All aspiring authors know this (or should know it). It has its flaws. It's not perfect, either, and it's changing rapidly. But the decision to forgo it should be made after carefully weighing the pros and cons of each method, not because you're frustrated with your 50th rejection and just want to be PUBLISHED ALREADY. Both methods have their good and bad qualities, and you need to be aware of them before making the leap. What's important to you?

3.) Choose your publisher/press carefully and do your research. There are a number of available methods for self-publishing these days, with more cropping up all the time. Some big ones include FastPencil, LuLu, CreateSpace, and more. Don't close your eyes and throw a dart at a dartboard. Whichever service you choose, you need to make sure you know what you're getting into. Talk to other authors who have published with X service. Read reviews. Read some of the books available. Know which ones can possibly help you get into bookstores and which can't. Know which require you to buy X amount of copies up front and which are print-on-demand. Know which are intended for smaller, personalized runs and which are capable of wider distribution. Look at average sales numbers. Don't be scammed.

4.) If you choose self-publishing, everything's on you. Unless you choose to invest more money in various editing/marketing services provided by some of the presses, that is. Otherwise, consider your investment and start-up costs. Consider this a business decision. You will be your own editor, bookkeeper, contract negotiator, agent, seller, and marketer. Getting this book into book reviewers' hands, buzzing on Twitter, written up in the local paper, sold to independent bookstores - it's all up to you. Can you handle it?

5.) Do not get complacent - to stand out, your book must be as polished and presentable as any traditionally published book. Self-publishing is widely regarded as a catchall for authors who are too stubborn, too lazy, too terrible, or too impatient to go the traditional publishing route. That stigma is slowly changing, but in order to change it even further, you must be diligent. You must produce quality, sparkling work. Editing mistakes, weak plots, poor layout, overwriting, and mediocre characters will be judged twice as harshly in self-publishing, because people are looking for it. Prove them wrong. Self-publishing is, in part, about the freedom to control your own work, but that doesn't give you a pass to ignore craft.

6.) Good luck. Genuinely, I mean it. This is not an easy path. It has a number of incredible benefits, but there are also a lot of obstacles to overcome. It's a commitment and a risk. If you're ready to take it on, then good on you.


{ Arcita } at: March 18, 2011 at 11:39 AM said...

this was a helpful read. sometime in the future after all of my schooling i definitely will want to start publishing, so thanks for the info. it's now stored in the old noggin :p

{ Andrew Leon } at: March 18, 2011 at 11:55 AM said...

The one other thing I would say, being someone that is self-publishing, at the moment, is that, depending on whom you use to self-publish, self-publishing and traditional publishing are not necessarily an "either or" option. Sometimes, it is. But, if you do it right, you can self publish while still seeking a traditional publishing route.

On the other hand, traditional publishing does completely rule out self-publishing.

{ Steph Sinkhorn } at: March 18, 2011 at 12:49 PM said...

True, Andrew, although that's a bit of a touchy subject. It does depend on the method you choose and your success, but a lot of traditional publishers still frown upon self-publishing for a number of reasons. If you self-publish and your numbers aren't good, it can be a problem.

{ KarenG } at: March 18, 2011 at 2:38 PM said...

No I don't want to self-publish but thanks for asking. Excellent post! You bring up so many valid points and many people brush past them in the rush to be the next Amanda Hocking.

{ Old Kitty } at: March 18, 2011 at 3:35 PM said...

I seriously don't envy anyone self-publishing but I wish y'all doing this all the very very very best!!! You've listed great things to remember and think about if going the self-publish route!!!

Take care

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