The Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing; Or, Why It’s Right for Me (But Maybe Not So Much for Everyone)
In my previous post about getting over the stigma of self-publishing, commenter Michelle (a.k.a. The Barenaked Critic) asked me several good questions, one of which was to elucidate on the pros and cons of self-publishing. I think I pretty well covered the pros in my previous post: you avoid the sometimes years-long process of trying to get through the gatekeepers of traditional publishing, which often ends in rejection, often for perfectly good books that simply aren’t seen as marketable by those in charge; depending on the channels you choose to sell your book and what kind of fees they charge for the service, you get to keep anywhere from 75 to 100 percent of the royalties instead of having to give ten to 20 percent each to your agent and publisher; you never have to worry about earning out your advance, having your books remaindered, or seeing them disappear from the shelves after your publisher’s print run has run its course and they’ve moved on to other things; you have the satisfaction of having your work out there, being read and enjoyed and slowly but steadily building up your fan base; and last but absolutely not least, you have total control over your writing career.
Lest all of that sound too good to be true, there is a down side which prevents it from being right for everybody. Self-publishing takes a lot of work. You either have to learn how to be your own story editor, line editor, print formatter, cover designer and marketing and publicity agent, or you have to come up with the money to pay for those services out of your own pocket. I think self-publishing is such a good fit for me personally in no small part because I already brought to the table training and experience as both a copy editor and a graphic designer, and also a strong rapport with some trusted beta readers who are excellent at catching mistakes that I miss. To be honest, if I wasn’t confident in my own editing abilities, or in my ability to produce a professional-looking, eye-catching book cover, I probably wouldn’t have chosen this path, because there’s just no room in our budget currently for hiring out those tasks.
Another thing I bring to the table is writing experience. Restless Spirits is the first novel I published, but it is FAR from being the first novel I’ve written. Between finished trunk novels, half-finished attempts at novels, short stories, and several volumes of novel-length fan fiction, I more than put in my 10,000 hours before I reached a point where I thought my writing could stand up the kind of scrutiny under which my decision to self publish would place it. I’m not some starry-eyed young ingenue who thinks every word she puts on the page is the equivalent of candied rainbow unicorn toots and that the world just needs to wake up and smell her brilliance. I was 38 when I published my first book, and tired of and deeply discouraged by the current sorry state of traditional publishing.
I should make another confession here: I have made attempts to publish via the traditional route, but honestly, not that many. I’m impatient, I have a pathological fear of having to write cover and query letters, and I’m so prone to procrastination when it comes to submitting my work that usually I move onto another project before I ever get around to it and then it never gets done. Which is not to say that it has never gotten done — I have a nice, thick binder full of rejection letters that run the gamut from polite form letters to encouraging hand-written notes. I just hate the submission process and I, personally, would rather put in a hundred hours on editing and formatting and marketing my own work than sit down for two hours to try to craft a decent query letter and then drive myself completely insane while I wait several months for a response. In short, it should be noted that my personality is simply better suited to self-publishing.
But back on point; probably the biggest con to self-publishing, the one I see cited most often by successful traditionally published authors such as John Scalzi as the main reason why they don’t jump ship and go the indie route so they can rake in more money, is that you are completely on your own when it comes to marketing and publicity. There is no big publisher publicity machine to back you up. Although, from what I’ve read from midlist authors, these days the publicity machine is really only there for the established bestsellers, and even then, traditionally published authors are being expected to put in more and more time and work to market their own books. Just as the size of the typical new author advance has greatly diminished over the last few years, so has the amount of support a newly published author can expect from their publisher on the marketing front.
But make no mistake. Marketing your own books takes a lot of work, and it’s something you have to stay on top of if you want it to keep selling, especially in the early stages when you don’t yet have a fan-base who can be counted on to buy your next book.
Self-publishing takes a lot of self-discipline, and it also takes a lot of patience. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and the focus is on long-tail success, which might take years to achieve. It’s definitely not a path that’s suitable to everybody. But if you think it might be the right path for you, then I suggest the following blogs, which are practically required reading for anyone who’s even considering becoming self-published:
- J.A. Konrath’s A Newbie’s Guide to Self-Publishing
- Dean Wesley Smith’s blog
- Kristine Kathryn Rusch
- The Passive Voice