Is self publishing for you? The current economic slowdown is making it harder than ever for writers-particularly unknowns-to get contracts with mainstream publishing houses, which are cutting their book lists as they deal with slowing sales. Now more than ever it’s time to evaluate whether self publishing is the correct approach to take with your manuscript. The answer hinges on the importance you place on three basic issues: money, prestige and control.
Show Me The Money
Although the cost of self publishing has come down and self publishers are now able to access the distribution channels of online sellers like Amazon.com, unless you have a built-in market for your book and you’re a tireless marketing machine it’s unlikely that you’ll make much money self publishing. That’s taking into account that with on-demand publishers like Lulu.com you will have little or no upfront costs. The fact is, paper and postage are costly and margins-the difference between your costs and what you can reasonably expect someone to pay for your book-are narrow. There is a reason that publishers spend a fortune on advertising: marketing is a difficult, tedious, and necessary part of selling just about anything, books included.
However, authors who do have a narrowly focused, built-in market for their manuscripts can find self publishing monetarily rewarding. Are you a teacher with a study guide that students will find useful? Do you belong to a trade group with an accessible membership interested in your product? Have you written a software tutorial that an online community will profit from accessing? Check out the best-seller list at Lulu.com and see what kind of texts have been successful. Note that not one of the all-time top sellers is a novel or collection of short stories. Why? Because it takes a lot of legwork to get them in the hands of their diffuse target audience.
Maybe money isn’t your top priority. Maybe what you desire most is the thrill of seeing your name in print. (Don’t feel guilty. We all-secretly or not so secretly-get huge satisfaction from the thought.) Maybe you have a personal history that you want to pass down to your relatives, or a collection of recipes, stories, or essays that you’d like to preserve. If that’s the case, if you don’t care what size audience your writing reaches, self publishing is for you.
But, if you’re looking for the respect of others rather than personal satisfaction, think twice about taking the self-publishing route. Some authors self publish in the hopes that having a bound copy of their completed work will impress mainstream publishers and encourage one to handle their next book. This strategy will only work if your self-published book sells well. (Publishers look at your Amazon ranking the same way you do-with keen interest.) Publishing is a business and publishers want to back successful authors whose work they think will sell. A self-published book that hasn’t sold is a strike against an author not a scoring run. Similarly, if you’re a writer looking for a teaching job and you’re considering listing a self-published title on your resume, think again. Any reputable school will recognize iUniverse or Xlibris for what they are, publishing platforms lacking peer review, and they will give your self-published book shorter shrift than one handled by, say, Random House.
Who’s At The Controls?
Self publishing is a control freak’s dream. Every last detail about your book-from content to cover-is up to you as the publisher. You can hire a copy editor or trust your own proofreading skills. You can add professional artwork or use your own. You choose how to market your book and where it gets sold, and when it sells you can take all of the credit for and profit from your success. If you have the skills to write, design, and market your own book and you like to be in the driver’s seat then you’ve found the right publishing avenue.
If you go with a more traditional publishing arrangement the reins won’t be in your hands. And, yes, there is potential for loss of control to become a negative. We’ve all heard the nightmares: manuscripts being accepted then bouncing between changing staff members for years or editors demanding serial wholesale rewrites producing a work counter to the author’s vision. It happens. In return for the trials and tribulations of giving up control over your manuscript, you can reasonably expect to gain a well-edited, finished product backed by the marketing muscle and reputable name of a known publisher. Think of it as delegating to experts and paying the price from your sales.
These days, however, even if you land a contract with a mainstream publisher you can expect to do significantly more work to promote your book than authors have in the past. Times are tough and publicity budgets at even the largest publishing houses have suffered. Gone for many is the standard book tour: too little bang for the publisher’s buck. You can expect to be touting yourself on Facebook and mass emailing friends and family with pleas to purchase your work in much the same way that a self publisher does.
There are pros and cons to self publishing. For some it’s a logical and potentially rewarding option. For others, traditional publishing avenues, increasingly troubled and troublesome as they are, remain the best path. Either way, to succeed you need to produce a clean and compelling manuscript, to believe in its many merits, and to be willing to put in the time and effort needed to get it in the hands of readers.