Read this before you decide.
- Self publishing today is different than it has been in recent decades. A lot of the stigma is gone, though some remains. But some things never change.
- There is, and always will be, very poorly written garbage that gets published every year.
- Self publishing almost never makes you any money.
- People are going to do it anyway.
Is Self Publishing Bad or Wrong?
No. Not at all. In fact when it’s done well, it can actually help you to get your name out there. You might sell some copies (though it’s rarely as much as you hope to sell). You might have a really good story that is well edited and entertaining.
Most of the time this is not the case. Too often people get in a hurry to see their name in print, they skip steps, they know nothing about the publishing industry, but at the same time they would like to dive in head first.
The result is usually self-destructive. People can get conned. Writers feel like a failure when their book doesn’t sell. They spend more money than they make. Or worse yet, they delude themselves about the realities surrounding their new published book.
I’m going to talk about the biggest pitfalls of self publishing, and how you can avoid them even if you do decide to self publish.
Why do you want to self publish?
Most people never bother to ask this question. They simply see self publishing as the only way to get their name in print. After all, several famous authors started off peddling copies of their own book.
But the truth is that trade publishing (or traditional publishing) isn’t nearly as scary as people make it out to be, once you get over yourself.
Here’s a quick run-down of what is involved. (I’ll go into more details in a future post)
It starts with a manuscript. This is NOT a first draft, or a second. A book isn’t finished until the story has been refined, and most of the text is clear of glaring errors.
The next step is finding a literary agent. Actually, you should find several, because your book won’t be right for all of them at the same time. Make a list with contact information and notes about what they publish.
Write a query letter. This is a short letter to the agent about your manuscript to get their attention. If they like it, they’ll ask for more.
Query one or two agents at a time. The process takes time, so plan on drafting another book or continuing the editing process while this is going on, mostly typo hunting.
If the agent requests a full manuscript and they like what you’ve written, you will get a contract. Actually, it’s a little more than that. If they feel that they can sell what you’ve written to a publisher, they’ll give you the nod. That’s the important key. People are in business to make money, and publishing is a business, a point I’ll come back to in a moment.
Your agent will help you draft up a book proposal, and they will pitch it to publishers. Maybe if you’re really lucky, a publisher will pick up the book, send you a check, and start the process of getting it from manuscript to finished novel on the shelf.
This all takes a lot of TIME and a lot of PATIENCE. It isn’t fast. It’s not self-gratifying. And it will require more work on your part, including working with a professional editor, but this is the way it’s done.
Still want to self publish?
Okay, consider this.
Self publishing pays bigger royalties, but it also sells a lot fewer books. Generally speaking, a failed trade book will earn more money for the author than a good self-published book overall.
Self publishing requires no contract (most of the time) and you can leave an ebook or a POD copy in print for as long as you like. Trade publishing typically makes a run of copies to see how they sell, and it can end with the book being taken out of print.
Now that the process has been outlined, I want to inject my opinion to you.
Don’t self publish until you’ve at least tried to get an agent to pick up your book. It’s a process that every author, self-published or not, should go through at least once, and preferably several times with several manuscripts.
And by try, I don’t mean one rejection letter. I queried around 200 agents over several years with my first book. That’s a good solid try, and that was only one book. I repeatedly try to find representation for my work when I can. It just makes good sense to do so.
Alright, you still want to self-pub, I know. So let’s get on with what it takes to be successful at that.
Self Publishing is a business!
This seems to be the best way to convey this point. It’s a business, and if you are a business of one with no business sense, there will be a very LONG learning curve. That’s assuming you actually want to sell copies versus just moving a few units to friends and family, and whoever you can talk into buying your book.
This is also the reason that nobody makes money selling indie books (well, very few people). They don’t treat their book like a business, but a vanity affair. They schedule some book signings at local libraries, go to a couple of cons, perhaps even give a couple talks at the local VFW.
They treat it like a farmer’s market. Have you been to the farmer’s market lately?
I’ve been to cons and talked briefly with authors who seem to care about nothing except getting your to give up that $20 bill, and when I’ve read their book felt cheated. I’m not talking about typos, but glaring errors on the first page, huge boring chapters that could easily be skipped, simple stories, bad writing, and zero entertainment value.
I’ve read good indie books also. VERY good indie books in fact. So good that some of them later went on to land publishing contracts and agents based on their content. It goes both ways.
The point here is that the indie industry is filled with more peddlers than good writing. And you will easily get lumped into that category if you are lazy.
I’ve digressed here a little bit. Back on track.
Starting a Book Business
Advertising doesn’t mean donating to Facebook for likes. Cons usually cost more than they will make you. Book signings are generally a waste of time, though you will sell a couple of copies at larger bookstores.
First off, don’t start your business by helping someone else’s. Predatory “publishers” are everywhere, and happy to take your money to make you feel good, even if your book sucks. They charge you an arm and a leg for what they call publicity, advertising, an ISBN code, an outsources POD service, editing, etc. They rarely deliver on any of this.
You’re better off to save the wasted money and time, and do things yourself. Remember, it’s a business, and that means learning your trade.
Here’s the scoop, there is ONE company in the US that is responsible for ISBNs. ONE! For a print on demand printer, there are two major ones, and some smaller houses (one is Amazon, the other is Ingram). There are a few ebook distributers.
People selling ad space are everywhere, people actually getting attention to your book are farther between. I’ve had my books list on the front page of Amazon when doing a freebie promotion, while pushing ebooks onto thousands of readers around the world. Some stuff works, other stuff just costs you money. I’ll be doing more articles on all of these topics, btw, so check back once in a while.
But to sum this up, selling books is a business. If you want a successful business, you had better do your homework. Just ask yourself the following question every time you see a “feature” from someone willing to take your money to “publish” your book:
How much does it cost THEM to do this?
Hint, you can get your book on Amazon for free or nearly free. But EVERYTHING will be better if you can take that manuscript yourself, format it for e-book and print, pick good fonts (and pay the font-maker if required), design a cover or have one made by an artist who makes book covers, hire an editor to work with who isn’t related to you, work out a real 6 month marketing strategy, set targets and benchmarks, etc.
Hell, if you have the capital, you can even get your book on that table at the front of Barnes and Noble. You can do a BookBub. All of this stuff is possible, but you have to do the work, and you need a solid product.
Basically, if you look at your book and any book off a shelf at the bookstore, they should appear to have the same quality. This means ISBNs, a publisher stamp, a copyright page, etc. If it doesn’t look professional, then you did something wrong, and very few of these predatory “publishers” are going to make a professional looking book. None of them will get you on a local bookshelf.
That’s what you need to know if you want to self publish. It’s a business, and learning that business is going to require more than scanning a few “how to self publish” articles online. I will try to provide as many of these resources as I can in the future, there is a lot of content that I still need to write, but the answers are out there, even if they aren’t here yet. In any case, you will need to put in the hard work yourself, because nobody else is going to do it for you.
It’s the difference between a quality book and “just another indie book.”
Is traditional publishing starting to look a little better? It doesn’t cost a thing and you will offload most of this work to the most competent people in the industry.
That’s why it’s worth a shot. Happy hunting.