Self-publishing has become a hugely popular way to release books since the advent of Amazon’s Kindle program. The ease of getting your book out there makes it a viable and tempting alternative to traditional publishing. I’ve personally decided that this is the route I want to go, at least for my first book, and I wanted to relate some of the reasons why…
When I first decided that I wanted to be a fiction writer in high school, I naively assumed, without really knowing much about the publishing industry, that if I managed to get a book picked up, I wouldn’t have to work on marketing it. The publishing house would just sell the book and make me famous, and I could continue to just spend my time writing and not worry about the business side of things, which I didn’t want to deal with.
Unfortunately this isn’t the reality of how things work. Publishing houses don’t dedicate huge amounts of resources to their newer authors, generally speaking. They have to handle many different authors, books, and launches, and so they can only commit so much time and effort to a single author. Unless you happen to be a big money maker for them, they probably aren’t going to invest a ton in you until you’ve proven yourself.
This puts the onus of generating a following largely on you. You will still need to run all of your own social media and marketing efforts. I’ve heard of several authors starting out who organized their own readings and interviews. And after your book launch, the publishing house is going to put you on the back burner until you have a new product they can promote.
Now, there are advantages in the marketing department should you go the traditional route; I don’t want to pretend that’s not the case. Publishing houses have established relationships with bookstores and reviewers. They can put your work in front of people who can promote it effectively. Even just having a book published traditionally is a form of marketing in itself, since the acceptance of the publishing house gives it validation, and having it sit on a bookshelf in a store puts it in front of the eyes of consumers.
But if you’re expecting a publishing house to put the full weight of their marketing machine behind you as a new author so that you don’t have to worry about the sales process at all, I think you’re going to be in for a disappointment.
Personally, I figured, if I had to take care of the part of the process I was least interested in anyway, then self-publishing was definitely something worth looking into. And what I learned along the way was that the ultimate reason to self-publish, although it’s more work, is to have more control over the project, both in terms of its creative elements and its fiscal elements.
You’re going to have more on your plate as a self-publisher because you have to take care of the stuff other people normally would. That being said, you have more creative flexibility in terms of both how you write your story and how you market it. Below are some more in depth explorations of the things you can take advantage of while self-publishing and some of the reasons I personally chose to purse this path.
1.) Editorial Final Say
If you self-publish, for better or worse, you will be the person who has final say over what the end product looks like. There won’t be an editor to tell you what to do, since any editor who works on your book is going to be someone you hire and can override, if you feel they’re wrong. Ultimately I have to say that authors should listen to what their editors and beta-readers have to say and at least consider it before making any final decisions on a text. But you won’t have to deal with any “artistic differences” issues, since you have full creative control.
2.) Format Choice
In the world of self-publishing, especially given the rise of e-books, length isn’t problematic. In traditional publishing, books need to hit a certain length to be worth printing. And for newer authors, they can’t be too long because publishers don’t want to spend a ton of money printing copies of large books that don’t sell. But in the world of self-publishing you can choose whatever length or style you want.
I, for example, I’m writing a serialized novel. I’ve seen authors who focus on writing short stories. I’ve seen authors who release novella series. And I’ve seen first time self-published authors with novels that run anywhere from 120 pages to over 500. Whatever format works best for the story you want to tell is the format you should use, and there isn’t anything restricting that choice.
There are also more and more platforms that allow for interesting way to share stories. Wattpad has become a very popular site, and places like Serial Box are presenting even newer options for authors to pursue.
3.) Pricing and Profits
Having agency with how you price your books is a huge plus. Pricing low (even free sometimes) can give you a competitive edge against traditionally published authors or even other self-published authors. If you see a book isn’t doing particularly well, you can decide to change its sale price immediately and not have to worry about running the idea past a marketing team.
You also have more flexibility in this arena than traditional publishing ever could because all of the profits you generate go to you. There isn’t a price point you have to worry about going lower than because you don’t have a company to run and fund.
Crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Patreon have given creators even more ways to fund creative projects, and as an indie author these are options you can explore more fully if you choose.
Being in charge of your own marketing is very time consuming, and it’s another skill to learn. Most people view this as the downside of self-publishing, and indeed, it is incredibly hard to make yourself stand out in such a busy internet marketplace. That being said, as a writer and a reader, you may have a sense of where your niche audience lies and how you can target them. This is especially true for authors writing in unpopular or little-known subgenres that might not be lucrative for traditional publishers.
You’re also freer to experiment with different methods of marketing, if you want to. Not selling enough? Try something new. You don’t need permission to mix things up.
Controlling your own marketing also allows you to promote your books as long as you want. You are not at the whim of a launch schedule or competing for time with other authors. You can tell readers about your backlist as well as any new projects that you having coming up, and you can focus all of your marketing efforts on promoting yourself and your brand all the time.
So this is not an exhaustive list of the pros and cons of self-publishing. I encourage you to do more research into the topic, if you are considering it. What I will say, is that I think self-publishing is a lot more work than traditional publishing, but the upside for the average author is higher. You may or may not ever be able to get a manuscript picked up by a traditional publisher, and even then that’s not a guarantee of greater success. If you self-publish, you can definitely get your work out there and start making money off of it. Even if you don’t manage to be a major seller, you at least get yourself out there and open up the possibility of success.
Are you considering self-publishing? What interests you about it? Are there any good reasons to self-publish that I didn’t cover? Feel free to let me know your answer to any of these questions in the comments or on social media.