The pros and cons of self-publishing

There’s a reason why my blog has been quiet this week, and why my head is hurting more than usual this Friday afternoon. As well as plugging away at my new novel, I’ve spent the week intensively researching the pros and cons of self-publishing.

I thought I’d share a bit of what I’ve found for those of you who might also be in the early stages of thinking about self-publishing. I may as well make my headache worthwhile!

The case against self-publishing

Credibility

For me, and many others, a major reason – maybe THE major reason – why I would pursue a traditional publishing contract is for the credibility it would provide me as an author.

Landing a publishing deal is like getting a big gold star. It means industry professionals have read your manuscript and, amongst the multitude that get rejected every day of every week of every year, are willing to back it, and you as an author.

The books I’ve grabbed off the shelves of my local independent bookstore in the past year in the genre of my own interest (Australian contemporary YA fiction) have been mostly fantastic. For an omnivorous reader like myself, these books are a safe bet.

They’ve been through a multi-layered selection and validation process: first by the publishing house, and then by the bookseller.

And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I want to see my own book on that shelf!!!

In contrast, any perusal of self-published books on offer on Kindle or elsewhere online shows that there are no gate-keepers controlling the quality. They’re by no means all bad, but for me it’s a bit more of a mining-for-gold kind of exercise.

If you self-publish, you not only skip the first bit of validation provided by the publisher, you’re also very unlikely to receive the second bit of validation provided by the bookseller. Most booksellers are not willing to stock self-published titles.

Investment

If you are traditionally published, your publisher covers the costs of editing, cover design, marketing, publicity and distribution.

I often read complaints that publishing houses are less and less willing to invest in their lower-selling authors (including debut authors), and that this is impacting on the budget for editing and marketing of books. This may be true.

Nonetheless the alternative, if you choose to self-publish, is that you need to find a way to resource professional assistance with all of this yourself, DIY where possible, or decide what you can forgo.

Taking care of business

The reality of self-publishing, and the reason my head is throbbing, is that it involves a multitude of complex choices.

A traditional publisher makes a lot of those choices for you. If you sign a publishing contract, you are not required to be project manager, publicist, and strategist. While there may be an expectation that you drive some of the marketing and publicity efforts, an awful lot of decisions will be made by people with experience who presumably know what they’re doing.

Self-publishing and online distribution are relatively new and growing fields. One of the results of this is what seems (to a novice like me) to be a proliferation of different delivery platforms, marketing options, and technical issues to navigate.

You might be someone who enjoys spending lots of time figuring this stuff out and finding your way through it.

Or you might rather be writing.

The case for self-publishing

Cut out the middle-folk

Here’s the thing, though.You want your book to be published? It can be, if you publish it yourself!

As you decide, so shall it be.

Sure, you won’t have the instant credibility that comes with the backing of a publishing house, but if you can get your book into the hands of the right readers, they can judge it for themselves, and there are plenty of tools that enable them to communicate their judgements.

This cutting out of the middle folks has flow-on consequences:

  • You can get more work onto the market more quickly. You’re not bound by the time-frames and schedules of a third party.
  • You can write what you want, how you want to and present it as you choose.
  • And, you get a better cut of royalties.

(To be clear though, this may or may not offset the outlay you need to make to send your book out into the world. An often-quoted figure is that on average self-published authors sell 250 books. And these books are almost always sold at a lower price-point than traditionally published work, or even given away for free to build an audience. Don’t be giving up your day job just yet!!!)

Absolute control

This is a kind of follow on from the previous point, but worth stressing because it is a major reason cited by authors who choose to self-publish.

You control everything about the production and marketing of your book.

You choose the cover. You don’t have to compromise on the text. You determine the price-point and vary it whenever you want to. You retain all rights to your work indefinitely into the future, to do with as you wish. You are the master or mistress of your own destiny. It might be that this sounds like something that will bring you satisfaction and fulfillment. If so, self-publishing could be a great option for you.

The future is coming

Online platforms such as Amazon’s Kindle Direct and Wattpad allow authors to get their work in front of readers all around the world more easily now than at any time in history.

Who knows what the future will hold for writers and readers? One thing that’s clear is there continues to be a hunger for stories.

Self-published authors can be agile and responsive to changes in consumption by readers in a way that is harder for traditional publishers heavily invested in traditional models of distribution and production.

One consequence of self-publishing and online distribution which I hadn’t thought of until recently is the huge increase in titles that are entering the market and not leaving it.

While previously, books would be on the shelves of bookstores for limited periods of time and then generally make way for newer titles, the ability of authors to maintain their books on sale online indefinitely means there is, in effect, a HUMONGOUS WALL of books, a veritable tsunami, approaching readers, writers, and publishers head-on.

It’s kind of scary when you think about it.

If you’re a writer, it makes it harder to get your work noticed. If you’re a publisher, it may threaten your existing business model. But one thing that’s certain is it’s not going away.

And if you can ride that wave, using the multitude of tools and networks available, plus your own talents, skills and determination, well that would be a pretty darn exciting ride.

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4 thoughts on “The pros and cons of self-publishing

  1. This is a great summary of the pros and cons of both models. For years I was unsure about my writing and wanted the validation and status of a traditional publishing deal. Then I turned 40 (call it a mid-life crisis if you like 🙂 and realised I was bored of waiting to be picked. I was writing my seventh book and it was time to get it out into the world and let readers decide for themselves. I’m going to self-publish it next year, for all the reasons you said. I’m really looking forward to the design and marketing, and having complete control. Best of luck with your book whichever route you decide on!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Great to hear! Yep turning 40 this year provided a big push for me too. Good that lots of productivity and clarity can come from a mid (ish) life crisis! Look forward to hearing how your publishing progresses too. It’s a big adventure 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think if you start to treat it as a business, then that puts you up a notch or two. I self-publish BUT I treat it like I’ve started my own business. People treat a self-started business as credible once established, right? Every day hundreds of people start being self-employed. Why not see self-publishing as another form of self-employment.

    So in saying that because I self-publish I remove validation. I’d say the opposite is the case. If I want to credibility, I need to make a case to ADD validation to everything I do. A person who starts as self-employed, and I think one of the most famous in this field is perhaps Martha Stewart, who started her business in the basement in 1976. Not really a place where you’d gain validation as a business, right?

    So how can it be different for an author entrepreneur. If you work hard, and take what you do serious, from the writing to marketing to every other business aspect, you can grow what you do into an independent publishing venture.

    Validation comes in many forms. Not just from peers, but as you say, also comes from knowing book stores want your books. This is why investing in the books written is so important, and I agree on you with that. A good cover, professional editing, and doing all the things that a traditional publisher would do, is what a self-employed author entrepreneur needs to do, and then some more.

    I don’t list myself as “self-published author”. I list myself as an “author with an independent publishing imprint”. It’s all about how you present yourself at the end of the day. If you present yourself as amateurish, and yes I’ve had those days but learned fast what not to do, then you will have less credibility or authenticity, but if you treat what you do as a business, and editors, book cover designers, distributors, print on demand, shops all as a supply chain, and all as necessary to cater for your customer base, then call yourself a self-employed author with a publishing business…

    My comment is not meant as criticism on your article, Rachel, but I wanted to add a perspective to the article that shows you can swipe away the case against with how you approach it all…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think that’s a great perspective, thanks for sharing! I agree with what you say. I also think that ultimately, the quality of what you produce should be its own argument. That is what your credibility is ultimately based on. The rest is mostly a question of having the confidence and self belief to make the jump you describe. And having role models out there showing it can be done certainly makes a big difference too… 🌟

      Like

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