Self publishing is easier than ever… but should you self publish?
Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you click a link and purchase anything, I earn a small commission at no extra charge to you.
Self publishing has been around for centuries in the form of vanity presses and private printings, but its current popularity has been driven by Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and the development of Print On Demand (POD) technology. Writers of both fiction and nonfiction have jumped on the bandwagon, and they’re not just “people who couldn’t get a real publisher.” In fact, many traditionally published authors venture over to the self-publishing realm and publishers from time to time scout independent authors and offer publishing contracts. (Usually after that author has sold a high volume of books and established a readership.)
Self publishing can be an attractive option in many ways. It allows authors to retain creative control over their work, set their own (faster) publishing timelines, and potentially earn higher royalties than with traditional publishing. Additionally, the rise of email services, social media and online advertising has made it possible for authors to reach and engage with a well-targeted audience .
It’s never been easier to write, format, and publish a book on your own. However, just because it’s easier doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right choice for everyone. Deciding whether or not to self publish a book can be both a personal and practical decision that depends on a variety of factors, including your technical skills, marketing knowledge, organizational skills, and, as an umbrella over all these factors, the confidence that you will figure things out… even if it takes a while.
In this series of blog posts, I’ll explore the various factors that authors should consider when deciding whether or not to self publish their book. Remember: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should or that you want to. It’s your choice.
What Skills Do You Need to Have to Self-Publish Your Book?
One of the big hurdles to get over for authors new to self publishing is the technical aspect of the process. You need to have some basic computer skills beyond using Word (though being a Word ninja will come in handy). You need to know how to upload files to a site (I said BASIC skills!), research (find the best categories or genres for your book, keywords, your competition, service providers, etc.). It may also be helpful to have some graphics knowledge if you’re doing your own interior layout. (I don’t recommend doing your own covers unless you’re already a cover designer.) There are a lot of moving parts, which I will go into in a future blog post. (Promise.)
Marketing Knowledge and a Following or Platform
Writing a book is difficult. Self publishing is a learning curve. You get yourself over those hurdles and you discover that selling the books may be the hardest part of all. In this regard, the self-published author is not much worse off than an author at a small publishing house or an overlooked author at a medium-sized house. Most of any publisher’s marketing budget is going to go to their big name, sure-fire authors. It makes sense: Invest in a sure winner. Knowing up front that merely sticking your book on Amazon or in the IngramSpark catalog will not automatically bring in sales will help you mentally prepare for the task ahead. FYI: Marketing is an ongoing job.
If you already have a large mailing list or you have a platform (TV or radio show, podcast, newspaper or magazine column, you’re famous, etc.) your marketing job is easier. Someone with a podcast that gets 12,000 downloads a month will be able to talk about their book and expect a certain number of sales. (And believe me, it’s always less than you expected.) Someone who is famous will find it easy to get booked on all the morning talk shows. Someone with a large, loyal email list can probably estimate within a 10% margin of error how many of their subscribers will actually click and buy. How about a large social media following? Yes and no. You need tens of thousands of followers, maybe more, to see substantial sales. (In a future post, I’ll discuss a social media launch that failed.)
If you have managed to write a coherent book, congratulations—you most likely have strong organizational skills. Self publishing is a series of steps, but sometimes several steps need to be done at the same time. It’s a matter of knowing what you need to have ready, putting everything in one handy place, and then allowing time for things to screw up. It’s computers. It’s the Internet. It’s humans interfacing with technology. Something will glitch. That’s okay. I haven’t run into anything yet that isn’t fixable. It’s self publishing, not brain surgery.
But that ties into having an overall confidence level in your ability to figure things out. I see people ask questions in writers’ groups all the time that a simple Google search will answer. YouTube has thousands of videos on the topic (and just about every other topic). And, shameless promotion, I have both a low-cost online course ($29) and a bunch (count ‘em) of blog posts on the subject… with more to come. But the people who don’t think to search for answers in the obvious places will most likely not be successful when they try to self publish.
Maybe I DO Want a Traditional Publisher…
As authors, most of us would LOVE to write the book and then hand it off to a publisher to edit, format, print, distribute, and market. That process usually requires first writing a book proposal, finding an agent and then waiting patiently as your manuscript gets sent to publishers. You have to deal with rejection. If your book gets accepted you usually have a long wait (six months minimum, usually a year or more) until the actual finished book sees the light of day. Then it’s a long wait for royalties, longer if you got an advance. Many publishers do the minimum marketing for first time and non-big-name authors. And if you book doesn’t make enough to cover the advance, more and more publishers are “clawing back” the difference.
But if you’re not a fast writer, if you like the idea of someone else doing all the technical work (and really, who doesn’t?), and you’re not in a rush, and you have that option, a traditional publisher is a great way to go. You might want to leverage a traditional publisher to help build your readership base and then go independent. Or not.
The Choice is Yours
More and more, authors self publish because they want to, not because that is their only option. But first you need to understand the process and decide if you are up to the task of basically being the general contractor on the publication of your book. If you have trouble sending an attachment in an email, you’re going to need some help. If you’re the type of person who automatically goes to Google or YouTube to figure out how to do something, you will most likely be able to self-publish with minimal frustration. (Even after publishing as many books as I have, there are always frustrating glitches, big and small. It’s the nature of the beast.)
Learning the self-publishing process makes sense if you are publishing more than one book in your lifetime. While many people think, “OMG! It took me forever to write this one, now I have to write another one??” the truth is the writing bug has a vicious bite. Many of my clients set out to write one book and are now on their second or third (or more!).
Basically, there are two questions to ask yourself: 1) Am I ever going to publish another book again (I.e., Is this worth learning?) and 2) Do I have the technical ability, patience, and desire to learn how to do this?
“No” is not a wrong answer. You can still self publish your book but you will most likely hire out the bulk of the work. I have a free Self-Publishing Resource Guide that helps you understand the process and what things “should” cost, which will save you from many of the predatory “publishing houses” that do the minimum for maximum dollars.
Future posts in this series will discuss the various moving parts of self publishing and you can determine if self publishing is something you want to do, whether you do it all on your own or have someone guide you through the process. (And yes, full disclosure: I offer Self-Publishing Services.)
If you’re up for learning the process, you’ll be able to turn out a professional level book on your timeline and budget. Just as with most things, the more you publish, the better you get at it. As an author, this is a skill worth learning.