I’m so excited to start this Ask Me Anything: Story & Publishing series, where you can ask me any questions you have about writing, editing, publishing—and anything related. If I don’t have an answer for you, I likely know someone who does! This week, Kari asked a few questions about SELF-PUBLISHING. I am tackling part A today.
Do you have any thoughts on this topic? Have a question you’d like me to research for you? Fill out my contact form, and I will be in touch soon!
Q: Can you lay out some pros and cons of self-publishing? — Kari
A: Yes! :)
All of the authors I have worked with are self-published, and I know several people working closely with self-published authors. Many were enthusiastic to share their experience. I’ve also found some good resources online for you!
I want to first point out that self-publishing (or indie publishing) can be personally publishing or publishing with an independent publishing company. The basic definition of self-publishing is that the author is responsible for and in control of the entire process, from writing to publication. You can outsource (almost) all of these, and it’s still considered self-publishing.
This has been successful for me already because writing this post has achieved my 2 goals for this blog: help aspiring writers, and learn something new myself! After talking with and reading about successfully self-published authors, I am so excited about self-publishing. I think the potential there is far greater—and more fun!—than I knew before. Thanks, Kari, for your question! Here we go.
Ideal for the entrepreneur who wants full control of the process
You have freedom of process! As the writer and financier of the book, you have complete control over details, like the title and cover design, that would usually be managed more in traditional publishing. You can assemble your own team by choosing top-quality freelance designers and editors who are a good fit for you and your book, while with traditional publishing you really don’t get a say in this.
My friend Tara Mixon, who has been in the business for 13+ years (and has a new book coming out soon!), had this to say: “The most successful authors view self-publishing as an entrepreneurial endeavor. They draft business and marketing plans, consider their ideal reader, and research trends in publishing and design.”
Consider yourself an entrepreneur? This is the route for you. (If you don’t, this could be a con—but there are many other positives for the passionate writer!)
Opportunity for more profits per book
Author Meg Collett says, “Indie publishing makes far more financial sense than traditional publishing. If you look at Amazon's top 100 books in the entire store, you will see numerous indie authors among the ranks.” If you are already blogging and have an audience and decide to publish a book, you could more easily have a big seller right out of the gate.
**Note: Everyone I talked to cautioned that this is not a get-rich-quick scheme. There is no magic formula to publishing books and making a fortune right away. Let’s agree that that’s not the primary goal of creativity and writing down the stories burning within us, anyway. :)
That being said, for the author willing to stick with it, self-publishing can put more money in your pocket (or back in your pocket: see “Cons”) as books sell. According to The Creative Penn, an author’s royalties on books can be as high as 70% through Amazon, for example, and traditional formats average 10% to the author.
You can have a relationship directly with your readers
I love this one. I love following authors on Instagram who share their process and a peek into their lives with their readers. These authors treat their fans like friends—and no one supports them better when a book comes out than their friends!
With loyal fans cheering you on as you write, edit, release books, and improve your craft, you will enjoy the process. You can get quick and direct feedback on what your readers are loving about your work, what they want more of. Or who—you could spin off a series about a fan-favorite secondary character, for example!
Want some good names of who to follow? R.S. Grey, EJ Mellow, Dane John Cobain (I’ve worked with Dane!)—plus all the authors mentioned in this article!
Publishing a niche-genre book directly to fans
If you have a passion for a certain genre that’s not producing well traditionally, you may have a hard time shopping that around, no matter how well-written it is. Self-publishing is definitely the best route for this! You can build up your fan base as you write with a strong online presence and a newsletter—be sure to include freebies! Then when your book (or books) comes out, the readers of that genre are already following you, waiting eagerly. You have a market that isn’t being served by traditional publishing.
This may help those of you who have already asked me about writing specific types of stories (e.g. mysteries, romance, self-help, etc.). I will address your questions throughout the series!
P.S. I’m learning a lot about genre from the Story Grid right now. I will keep promoting this method, so just be prepared!
You could still publish traditionally!
The game has been flipped on its head lately. Agents and publishers are now approaching bestselling indie authors with good marketing platforms with contracts, instead of the other way around! Don’t believe me? Recognize any of these people — Andy Weir (The Martian), E.L. James (Fifty Shades of Grey), Alex Elle?
Publishing your passion project
As you venture into self-publishing, know that this is going to be a passion project for you. Tara said that this is what it boils down to. Those who are passionate about the craft, topic, or story are willing to do the work. Even if it doesn’t make you money, you can get your creative work out there into the world.
Commitment and scale is up to you!
Finally, with self-publishing you can be in it for the long haul, or just to get a pet project out there. The commitment and scale is up to you! If you just want to get your story in print to share with your daughter, you can just pay to upload to Amazon and print on demand—including typos, personal pictures, no concerns at all about an audience—and voila. You’re published! :)
If you want to pursue a career as an author, it just starts with one story, and one reader. (Though if you’re trying to reach other people, I’d recommend getting it looked over by an editor first.) :)
Big learning curve
As indicated by the number of questions I’ve gotten about self-publishing, there is a lot to learn! That learning curve could be a barrier to entry for many. (Hopefully, after this series this will be much less daunting to many of us!!) :)
It could be a slower process
If you’re working at your own pace without a deadline, editor, team, or contract, your book could get pushed to the back burner. You must keep yourself on track!
The track to profits could also be slower. Meg said it takes good authors years to build up their readership, their presence, and their collection of works. It is easy to get discouraged when it seems to take so much time.
Lack of expertise could hurt you
Val Woerner, author of The Finishing School, said that a publisher’s input on details like cover design and titles could be helpful because they know what sells. (You can also hire professionals to help with this!)
You must understand the importance of assembling a team of experts
To compensate for the previous challenge listed, you should be aware there are many talented freelancers available to help you through the process. There are also self-publishing companies who can help manage your projects. Their fees must come out of your pocket. Is it worth it to you to assemble this team? You will have to decide your priorities—you’re in complete control of this book, remember? Which services do you most need?
My friend and fellow editor Kate Juniper says this a-la-carte model of adding services to your project to polish your manuscript and platform is a mixed bag. “If you can afford quality, you can get a beautiful, professional, traditional-house standard book; if you skimp, it can be a disaster.”
Yes, you have to finance the process yourself. To get a professional product, it’s in your best interest to hire an editor, and maybe someone to design your cover, at minimum. Most likely, this is not going to foot the bill for a while, and you will need to continue to work your day job in the meantime.
**Note: All this talk of bleeding money and working tirelessly for a while does not mean that publishing traditionally is instant cash flow for little work. In fact, Kate pointed out that as publishing has been changing drastically in recent years, the traditional houses require their authors to do more upfront marketing legwork themselves, and their author advances are smaller these days. Just to keep perspective!
Lack of “prestige” and backing
Traditional publishing does provide momentum, approval, and built-in marketing. Kate says, “Many self-published books can languish unseen and basically vanish without making a sound in the book world.” This takes confidence to promote yourself, wait out the slumps, and continue the creative momentum yourself.
Pros OR Cons
To be a successful self-published author, you have to have your own brand. This could be a pro or a con, depending how marketing-savvy or brand-minded you are. I’m going to lose many of you just by saying that. I’ll admit, as an editor I didn’t want to be an entrepreneur, and I certainly didn’t want to spend time and money on “branding.” I’m working on that. :) But there’s just no getting around it, according to the authors and editors I’ve talked to.
Tara told me that you need to launch a marketing campaign 6 months in advance to generate the buzz needed to have buyers. She also recommended authors EJ Mellow and Alex Elle to follow as examples of good self-published entrepreneurs. Alex Elle self-published her first two books, then once she got a name for herself, she was picked up by a traditional house.
Thank you for reading!
I hope this sheds some light on self-publishing for those interested. I know writing it did for me! :) But I also hope it left you with more questions—a desire to explore this and other writing topics more! Contact me with any and all questions & feedback. I am looking forward to featuring more of your questions!