I’ve Written A Book, Should I Self-Publish?

I have some very hard-to-hear advice: not all manuscripts are meant for publication. There’s no way for me to know if yours is or is not, but you can do some things to determine whether it is or not. There are other things you can do to try to get traditionally published. I’ve blogged before about those issues.

Lately, you’ll hear a lot about self-publishing. It may be something you should consider, but it may not. What questions should you ask?

1. Why am I publishing this book, and what does that imply about the best path?

2. If a mainstream publisher is your first choice, why are you reading this post? Go read some of my others, and at least a couple of the agent blogs.

3. Your market:
–Who is my book designed for?
–Why will they want it?
–What else do I know about them?
–Where can I find them in large groups, and how can I market to them through those clusters?
When you can answer those questions, you can estimate the likely sales of your book. And yes, this is your problem, ultimately, no matter how you publish. If your books don’t sell, you’re going to have a very hard time accomplishing any goals with them.

4. Should you use a self-publishing service? If your likely sales are more than 50 to 100 copies, then you should probably avoid so-called self-publishing companies. Why? I discussed it here. (These services are also called on-line publishers or POD publishers, by the way.) Using one of them will limit your potential sales in most cases. (I have several other posts on estimating sales, and add more regularly. Walk yourself through them, if you’re not experienced in this industry.)

5. Can I run a business?
5a. Can I sell my book to others?
Being an author is being in business, but the penalties for ignroing most of the implications of this are relatively small. When you self-publish, that’s no longer true. And you’re going to have to be responsible not only for the back office nitty gritty, but also for the marketing. Many authors have a hard time accepting that necessity or performing in those roles. If you’re one, don’t even try self-publishing. It’s not going to make you happy.

6. Do I have the time and energy to learn a lot of new things? Publishing is complicated, and it’s very easy to make expensive mistakes. After your first book, things do get less confusing, but it’s not going to stop being a learning experience. After 18 years in this business, I’m still learning something every day.

7. Do I have enough money to do my book justice? Trade publishers spend about $20,000 or more to launch a single title. You don’t need anything like that much, but you do need some money. You’re going to need to buy ISBNs, and register your copyright. You’re going to need some software, and a lot of books on the various disciplines of design and marketing and production. You may need to pay for a print run, etc.

NB: You do not need a so-called POD publisher in order to print POD. You can directly approach any printer, once you have established your own publishing identity. Buying the ISBN and learning something about the business are more or less prerequisites.

8. Do you really understand what you’re getting into? Publishing is addictive, and most people who try it do get hooked. Before you start, do you have permission from
–your spouse or significant other?
–your immediate family?
–your accountant?
–your mental health professional?
I’m joking, of course, but it’s also true. This will drain your bank account, absorb your time and attention, and generally take over your life. You’ve been warned!

4 Responses to “I’ve Written A Book, Should I Self-Publish?”

  1. John Royce says:

    I enjoyed this post, Marion, and as a self-publisher I can attest to your wise words about approaching this with open-eyed caution but not without hope. It’s useful that you put a dollar figure to what the trade publishers invest ($20k) into a new title, though you are right that it does not have to cost nearly that much. But $$$ does make it much easier.

    I’m a newbie to the field, and it seems to be a very much pay-for-play environment and increasingly so. I self-published because of the nature of the book (heavily researched educational historical fiction w/out a pegable genre), not because it was unpublishable by the trade. Library Journal offered a (recommended) review, but they were the only ones.

    There is a feeling from my point of view that the ropes are being pulled up into the Corporate Book Trade treehouse. The big guys seem to see their grip on publishing being loosened, and we are seeing dubious moves by the corporate masters to shore up their distribution lines. The steady rise in fees for low-lot purchases of new ISBNs, Amazon’s ongoing moves toward co-opting small publishers, Google’s alarming copyright infringement and “settlement” and many more Big Boy acts point to the circling of wagons in order to remain gate-keepers. Not for the good of literature or greater humanity, perhaps needless to say.

    My ground-level advice for small or self-publishers is to diversify and work on strategies for marketing and distribution that leverage the new opportunities. Don’t depend only on the big guys; the mask has come off corporate America and it ain’t pretty. I am very hopeful for the future–I’ve never believed in the inherent goodness or value in large profit-seeking entities–but now is the time for networking, critical thinking and new paths.

    A self-publisher today is like a scurrying Eohippus (Dawn Horse) maneuvering the underbrush to avoid being trampled by the dinos. The strategy of banding together worked for the little guys then, and it seems a very good one now.

  2. I agree with you that there are moves by larger entities that make being a small press or a self-publisher more difficult. I don’t see it as deliberate, however. There are good reasons why the larger companies are making those moves, in order to shore up their own operations, without any reference to the self-publisher. I’m afraid that the truth is even worse: they don’t see this burgeoning movement as a threat to them at all.

    On one hand, their low opinion is crushing, but on the other, it’s liberating. Your success and professionalism can only surprise the competition. And you may be surprised at how pleased they’ll be to see it.

    This industry may be growing, but most of the folks in the mainstream companies still have most of the mindset and the personalities that were cultivated when it was a much smaller, and more intimate club for the intellectuals who didn’t care about commerce.

  3. […] (Here’s Gropen’s hard-nosed essay on whether you should self-publish.) […]

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