Should you self-publish?

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The short answer: YES

The medium answer: Yes, as long as what you are publishing has been properly vetted and edited.

The longer answer is more complicated. Let’s look at the downsides first.

  • It doesn’t appear as legitimate as traditional publishing.

People tend to regard self-publishers with a wary gaze. This is quickly changing, however, as more and more well-known authors move toward self-publishing. Now readers are looking for those cool, $0.99 hidden gems. The only people who might have a negative opinion about the legitimacy of a self-published book are university hiring committees and your mother.

  • You have to do you own marketing.

Now this is a major downside. If no one knows your masterpiece exists, no one will flock to Amazon and drop $4.99 to read it. And getting people to not only see your book, but also be interesting in reading it, is much harder than you would think. You need an online base to do some word-of-mouth promoting for you, which means working on your social media presence NOW.

This is the number one question I get asked about self-publishing. How do you get people to read this wonderful book? The answer is you need to build a following. If you’re not on social media, get on it. Twitter, Facebook, personal website, Instagram, Goodreads, etc. Make profiles that are specific to you as an author, away from your personal or private profiles. Then get networking. Make friends who will share and promote your work on their profiles and pages. Unless you want to fork over major dollars to market your work the way a traditional publisher would, you must create a strong online presence. This is not negotiable. And plus, if you do land a publisher or agent, the first thing they’ll want you to do is get online. Not negotiable.

You will also have to do free promotions, giveaways, etc. I’ll get into that in a separate marketing post.

  • If your book is bad, has a lot of mistakes, or is put together poorly, it will not sell and you will have a hard time living it down

The internet is harsh and it’s forever. Don’t put crap out there with your name on it. Get a professional editor or at minimum a proofreader. Invest in manuscript software to take the guesswork out of formatting. My favorite for manuscripts is Scrivener, which is available for Mac or Windows. Make sure people have read your manuscript before you publish. And I don’t mean your sister, or your best friend, or your barista (unless any of those people happen to be paid authors, editors or proofreaders). You must find people who will be honest with you, and then you MUST be able to take their criticism. Writer’s groups are great, but if your group consists of a bunch of hobby writers, this will not count as vetting. Try contests, search for editorial services. Do not be above paying money for this. Believe me, your work will be better in the long run. If you’re self-publishing because you’re a control freak who can’t stand to see anyone reject, criticize or make suggestions on your work, then you are exactly the kind of person who should NOT self-publish.

  • You’ll have to spend some money upfront.

You’ll need someone to do the cover art for you. If you are a graphic designer, this is not a problem. If you’re not, then you’ll have to pay. Cover art is the first thing prospective readers see. It must be eye-catching and intriguing. This is on top of the software, the editing, the proofreading and the hours of time you’ll need to get your book into shape.

Now for the good news.

  • Self-publishing is taking over the traditional publishing business

The stigma of the vanity press is (almost) no more. Good work can stand on it’s own.

  • You will get higher royalties

Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing pays up to 70% royalties if you charge over $2.99 for your book. Under $2.99 is 30%. Traditional publishing, you might be lucky to get 10-20%. Now, the marketing thing comes into play. Let’s do some easy math. If a traditional publisher sells 10,000 copies at $8.99 you might see $8,900. To get a similar amount self-publishing a book at $2.99, you’ll have so sell over 4,000 books. But you’ll have to do it all by yourself. If you don’t have 4,000 friends in your contact list willing to drop cash for you, that means you’ll have to find ways to put your book in the hands of strangers who will. Which is not easy.

  • Self-publishing does not mean you book can not be traditionally published at a later date

The fairy-tale is that your book will do so well on it’s own that it will attract a traditional publisher with whom you can negotiate high royalties because the property already has a following. But for every 50 Shades travesty, there’s a million other equally bad books that languish. But it’s happened before, right?

  • As a new writer, traditional publishers will not spend the big money marketing you and your book

You will end up having to do some of your own marketing anyway. Why not keep more of the money?

  • You will have more control over the end product

We already discussed why this can be bad, but it can also be a good thing.

  • You don’t have to wait for the one acceptance in the vast sea of rejections

Everyone loves to trot out rejection letters publishers have sent to now-famous authors or reference JK Rowling’s origin story. It’s true. Rejection is part of every writer’s life. But if all you want is for people to read your work, we now have the ability to cut out the middle man.

The bottom line is: if you have a book that is ready to publish, and you’re willing to put in the work, go for it.

In the next post, I’ll discuss ways to put your book together so it’s ready for action in the digital world.

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