Should I self-publish?

I see this question a lot in the writers’ groups on Facebook. The full question usually ends with something like ‘…or should I go traditional?’ Like most of us have a choice!

So…should you self publish?

Yes, I think you should, if you fit any or all of the following criteria.

  1. You want to! Is there a better reason? Ask yourself; Do I have the time and the will to sit in front of a computer and work through the process? If the answer is yes, go for it! I urge you to do your research, and learn everything you can. Don’t be like me and just bung your manuscript up on Kindle Unlimited. Listen and read all you can about the process – that way you will be less inclined to make a whole bunch of mistakes! There are YouTube videos for anything and everything to do with Self-pub and I wish I’d known that 2 years ago…
  2. You are playing the long game. You are a writer who wants to write and publish into the future. If you are producing just one or maybe two books as a tool to promote your business or yourself as a speaker or educator I would only suggest self-publishing if you consider yourself computer literate or you’re keen for a challenge. Amazon is a very easy platform to master and there are other platforms such as IngramSpark, Kobo, StreetLib etc who give you access to readers all over the world including in libraries on a pay-per-use basis.
  3. You have a head for business. You are keen to run your own small business and once again either have the skills or are ready to learn. Many self-publishers use their own name to publish, but more and more are registering imprints. Mine is called Time Step Press. Believe it or not, Oprah has her own imprint called Flatiron Books, as does JK Rowling who owns and publishes all the ebook and audio book rights to her own work under the imprint Pottermore. Running a small business can bring all kinds of challenges. In the early days, when you just have one or a couple of books, it’s not hard to stay ahead of the bills and incomings but once you have a backlist things can get a little more complex. Start out right by learning all you can about the business of being an independent publisher and you will be glad you did. Having said this, it’s crucial to learn the business of publishing if you intend writing as an on-going interest even if you the pursue traditional publishing route. Knowing how to read a contract at the very least, will come in very handy.
  4. You are passionate about what you write and keen to promote your work. You must have this quality regardless of how you choose to publish. Gone are the days of huge advances and company-funded book tours unless your last name is Obama or Kardashian! You have to be proactive in finding your audience and getting your work in front of them is the only way to do it. It can’t just all be about ‘buy my book, buy my book!’ You have to engage with readers and the proliferation of social media has made this easier than ever before. In addition, self-published authors are finding themselves welcomed with open arms at many traditional publishing conferences and book fairs around the world such as the London Book Fair and the Frankfurt Book Fair.
  5. You want to maintain control of your intellectual property (IP). You own the rights to your work and make all the money, once you’ve paid the costs of publishing which are as little or as much as you want. Amazon is basically a free service but you pay them a percentage when someone buys/reads/listens to your work. You also get to decide on how long your works stay in the marketplace. No hidden CFO can pulp your books! Not that trad publishers are doing massive print runs any more – Print on Demand is catching on even in the lofty heights of traditional publishing.

By far the major win when it comes to self-publishing a print book is Print on Demand. You don’t have to have hundreds of books printed, you can print as many or as few as you want. My book at 360 pages costs me about $6 to have printed. Major Traditional publishers are moving towards a POD system with Bloomsbury, Random House, and Harper Collins already on board. It’s environmentally friendly too!

Remember, publishing isn’t only about producing a print book. Many authors create only eBooks and make an exceptional living from it, writing within specific genres and using the subscription platform Kindle Unlimited, (like Netflix for readers). The group 20booksto50k is made up of hundreds of writers using this business model. Google it…but do so at your own risk – it’s contagious and serious. (A word of warning if you do join the conversation; read the manifesto – they don’t suffer fools and will boot you out for asking dumb questions that are already answered in the document. You have been warned!)

There are many platforms on which you can publish your writing, find your audience and even earn an income. Social Media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube are a form of publishing, as are blogs. Then there are art books, hand-made books that are more like a work of art, hand lettered poetry, audio-books, podcasts, vlogs. The world is your oyster and your audience.

Barriers to self-publishing – I can truly only see one barrier to self-publishing and that is fear. You need to get past what other people think if you go this way because there will always be those who are shouting at the players from the cheap-seats. You just have to decide if you’re in the arena or in the commentary box!

So much of the fear and distrust around self-publishing comes from those who have lost income or stand to, as writers bypass the traditional publishing routes. These authors have been flying the flag for years and have blazed a trail for us to follow – Joanna Penn, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Orna Ross, Dean Wesley Smith, Craig Martelle, Michael Anderle, Amanda Hocking, (a great article on Amanda including a list of Kindle Million Club) Mark Dawson…and many more) who are making six and seven-figure incomes from their indie publishing businesses.

At the end of the day, it’s up to you and that’s what many find intimidating about self-publishing. It’s not easy, and sometimes it can be frustrating and confusing but like anything worthwhile, the effort put in will be worth it in the end, even if you don’t make a million dollars!

Feature Photo by Jimmy Conover on Unsplash