Beginning Novelists: Is Self-Publishing the way to go?

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

  1. Professional editing
  2. Professional cover design
  3. Professional marketing (cover blurb, branding, marketing pitch, etc.)
  4. Pre-publication publicity, including advance distribution to trusted reviewers
  5. Listing with distributors that feed bookstores and libraries
  6. Inside edge for subsequent titles

The disadvantages of Traditional Publishing are:

  1. In most cases you need to find an agent to represent you
  2. Finding an agent may take months or longer
  3. Even if you find an agent, s/he may not be able to win over a publisher, and
  4. Even if a publisher likes your book, it can be a year or longer before it is published

The advantages of Self-Publishing include:

  1. You don’t need an agent
  2. It takes less time to get your manuscript out to the public

The disadvantages of Self-Publishing are:

  1. Most authors publish before their manuscripts are properly edited for content and style
  2. Most publish before their manuscripts are properly copy edited (for typos, grammatical and spelling mistakes)
  3. It’s hard to find qualified editors for under $1,000 per project so too many people use unqualified editors or skip this step
  4. Formatting your manuscript can be tricky and time consuming
  5. Most authors are not good judges of marketing materials and therefore their covers, website and other materials look amateurish and detract from sales
  6. No access to bookstore sales unless contacted one by one
  7. No access to library sales unless contacted one by one
  8. No access to reviewers from trusted media
  9. Finding reviewers of any type is time-consuming and most online reviewers have only a very small audience
  10. Time it takes to navigate online distribution channels
  11. Cost of giveaways, discounting and other techniques self-published authors use to goose sales
  12. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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