If you’re a first time novelist and you think your novel is ready for public consumption, you’re probably haunting author discussion groups looking for advise on whether to self-publish or not.
While any analysis can’t cover all circumstances, I hope this broad overview will help you begin to ask the right questions.
There are clear benefits to being published by a for-profit publishing house. These include
- Professional editing
- Professional cover design
- Professional marketing (cover blurb, branding, marketing pitch, etc.)
- Pre-publication publicity, including advance distribution to trusted reviewers
- Listing with distributors that feed bookstores and libraries
- Inside edge for subsequent titles
The disadvantages of Traditional Publishing are:
- In most cases you need to find an agent to represent you
- Finding an agent may take months or longer
- Even if you find an agent, s/he may not be able to win over a publisher, and
- Even if a publisher likes your book, it can be a year or longer before it is published
The advantages of Self-Publishing include:
- You don’t need an agent
- It takes less time to get your manuscript out to the public
The disadvantages of Self-Publishing are:
- Most authors publish before their manuscripts are properly edited for content and style
- Most publish before their manuscripts are properly copy edited (for typos, grammatical and spelling mistakes)
- It’s hard to find qualified editors for under $1,000 per project so too many people use unqualified editors or skip this step
- Formatting your manuscript can be tricky and time consuming
- Most authors are not good judges of marketing materials and therefore their covers, website and other materials look amateurish and detract from sales
- No access to bookstore sales unless contacted one by one
- No access to library sales unless contacted one by one
- No access to reviewers from trusted media
- Finding reviewers of any type is time-consuming and most online reviewers have only a very small audience
- Time it takes to navigate online distribution channels
- Cost of giveaways, discounting and other techniques self-published authors use to goose sales
- Time involved in trying to goose sales through twitter, Facebook, and other social media ploys
Are things really that bad for self-publishing?
Maybe you’ve heard about self-publishing success stories and think it could happen to you. There are two types of self-published books that have sold well in the past–-erotica and books on how to self-publish. EVERYTHING ELSE requires perseverance, luck, and a moderately deep pocket because you’re likely to loose money for years and have to self-publish several books before you’ll be able to build up a reader base sufficient to break even.
But if you still want to self-publish, take these words of advice:
- Don’t self-publish until a professional editor tells you your book is ready. Most writers are bad judges of their own works. Even Hemingway wrote stinkers.
- Use a professional cover designer, not one of those pre-fab covers that cost $99––unless of course you don’t care if anyone buys your books.
- Don’t give up your day job.
Coda: Why then did I self-publish all of my five novels?
Good question! In 2010 when working on my first novel––The Expendable Man––I knew that it was not publishable by a traditional publisher. I thought the plot met the test, but I didn’t think how I told my story was on par with published writers.
I continued to self-publish novels two through four (Making the Grade in 2012, and Last Stop on Desolation Ridge and In the Game both in 2013) as experiments in story telling. I believe a careful reading of each would show a progression in my writing ability.
I self-published House Divided this year for a different reason. I felt my writing was now good enough, but I was worried the story would become dated if I tried to go the traditional route. Events of the summer of 2014 threatened to undermine a key premise of the story.
I’m now at work on novel number six. When it’s ready I’ll be looking for an agent, but if I am unable to find one, I will come back to self-publishing, not by preference, but as a last resort.