Wednesday, August 5, 2015

To Self-Pub or not to Self-Pub: The Burning Question

Self publishing--Indie publishing--is all the rage these days, and for good reason.

In its fledgling days, self-publishing amounted to vanity publishing. It consisted primarily of people who had written a book, mostly for themselves, and wanted to see it "published" so they could give copies to their friends and family. For the most part, they weren't serious authors whose goal was a career in writing novels.

For a long time self-publishing was the illegitimate child of the publishing industry. Books were just plain bad: badly edited, badly written, bad characters, bad plot, bad storytelling...just BAD. It gained a horrible reputation that lingered like that uncle nobody wants around.

But self-publishing has shed the stigma and evolved into a serious, reputable, potentially profitable alternative to traditional publishing, so much so that many traditionally published authors are engaging in hybridization of their careers by doing both.

What are the advantages of self-publishing?

 The major advantage to self-publishing is control. As the author, you have control of everything: cover, content, price, marketing, branding.

You have the freedom to do whatever you want with your book.

You also keep all the subrights to your work, and can sell those yourself.

Finally, you keep all the profit. For ebooks, most publishers pay authors between 25% and 50% of royalties on all sales. As a self-published author you keep most of the profit.

Sounds great, right?

What are the disadvantages of self-publishing?  

You're responsible for EVERYTHING. You may envision yourself living the life of an artist, free to make your own choices regarding your work. And that's true. But once you write the book(s), you have to take off the artist hat and put on the businessperson hat and start all the hard work of cover design, formatting, purchasing ISBNs, interacting with vendors, understanding pricing and SEO and markets and readers and genres and niches.

Part of being a self-published author is keeping your name in the readers' mind, so often self-pubbed authors produce more work than traditionally published authors. Romance, especially, is a high production genre where many authors crank out anywhere from two to four manuscripts per year.

And then there's marketing. So much marketing. When you self-publish you're solely responsible for making sure your target audience knows your book exists, so they can buy it. How do you do that? It's like the quest for the holy grail, my friend, the thing all self-pubbed authors are searching for. Basically, marketing is a shitton of work.

Finally, when you self-publish, you bear all the cost of publishing your book. You must purchase the cover art, pay for the ISBNs, pay for copyrighting, pay for marketing, pay for printing, pay for pay for everything.

A side note about genre: Not all genres sell well as self-published books. In fact, romance seems to be by far the best genre to self-publish, primarily because romance is the best selling genre overall in all publishing formats at over 50% of the total fiction market. Romance readers are rabid, gobbling up books as fast as authors can write them.

Unfortunately, not all genres do as well self-published, so if you're thinking about publishing your own book do some research to see if self-published books in your genre sell very well.

If self-publishing is so much work, why do so many people do it?  

There's a lot of frustration with traditional publishing. Because the publishing industry is evolving so rapidly and expansively, traditional publishing has changed a lot of its models to meet the changing habits of readers. The days of huge advances are gone, and if you hadn't noticed, the days of huge chain bookstores are waning as well. Digital books have taken a huge bite out of print book sales, which means bookstores can't afford to stay in business.

Because of this, traditional publishers are more cautious about acquiring authors for print deals. They don't pay as much, they don't acquire as many, and there are different expectations of authors. As a result, many traditional publishers have started their own digital lines and acquire authors for those more often than for print. Authors get no or very little advance for digital deals, and usually smaller royalty percentages than smaller digital-only presses, or what they'd make from self-publishing.

Digital-only presses offer higher royalty percentages than traditional publishers, but they often don't do much more than what you could do yourself as an indie-author. They bear most of the costs of publishing the book, but often expect authors to shoulder a large portion of the marketing effort.

Because it's more difficult to get a print deal with traditional publishers, and digital-only deals aren't maybe as attractive as they could be, more and more authors are turning to self-publishing.

When is it a good idea for you to self-publish?

First, ask yourself: Why do I want to self-publish? Am I willing to do all the work involved? Do I want a long-term career as a writer? Do I want to publish a book just so I can say I did it? Am I frustrated with traditional publishing and want to try something different?

If you answered yes to any of these's a good idea to self-publish!

BEFORE YOU SELF-PUBLISH: It's important to keep in mind that once you self publish, you can't take it back. You can't take that same book and query it to agents or traditional publishers. So if you self-publish a book and it tanks big time, you can't say, oh, well, I'll just start querying agents now. They just won't look at it because it's ALREADY PUBLISHED.

With that in mind:

If you can afford a professional editor and decent quality cover (some people can do these things themselves, but not many. Be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses);

If you're a good storyteller and have had beta readers (other than your mom, other family, and friends) read it and help you polish the story;

If you've researched and know your genre sells well in the indie-published arena;

If you're a savvy businessperson who knows how to market and publicize your work;

You have all the ingredients to be successfully self-published.

What prompted this post about self-publishing?

My writing partner, Merissa McCain, and I have decided we're going to self-publish our contemporary romances, the Tap Zone Series, set in the world of MMA fighting.

We did extensive research, we've made a to-do list and split it so we each have responsibilities, we've put together a long-term plan, and we're proceeding  according to it.

We haven't set a release date yet for book one, but it will be sometime this fall. We'll keep you posted.

In the meantime...everybody keep writing!





  1. Great Post!!! One that many of us authors struggle with. This is a career for many of us, and knowing which way to go to keep our careers alive is a hard choice. Traditional Publishing has always been the mark of "making it" for an author. And even if readers don't care who published your book as long as it's a good story, to the author thinking that the only way to know your hard work has been validated is to get a traditional pub deal is sometimes more powerful and detrimental to your career. The readers validate your hard work. And that's a hard mindset to break.

  2. Knowing if/when it's time to take on self-publishing is a tough call. Good information here, though. All the best with your project!

  3. Yes, but many of the digit-only publishers are also offering POD of paperbacks via CreateSpace and Amazon, which makes them even stronger. The real question is: can you get your book into brick and mortar stores for off-the-shelf sales. If not, traditional publishers (who also feed into libraries) are still the way to go. Your thoughts?

    1. It depends on whether you're really going to sell a lot of volume in brick and mortar. Some genres sell much better in digital (romance and erotica specifically). It may be more advantageous to go with digital-only, whether it's a small publisher or self-published, because you wouldn't really sell all that much in print anyway.

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