Why did you self-publish? This question comes up a lot, especially when people learn I chose to self-publish rather than do it as a last resort. The question is usually partnered with another, either direct or implied: why not try for a publishing deal?
Before I go any further, you need to know that I am not anti traditional publishing. This is not a rant about the ‘evils’ of the big 6 publishers or a diatribe against agents. I’ve read many blogs promoting self-publishing to the detriment of traditional publishing. Many are right to point out that the traditional publishing route is no panacea but as with anything in life what is right for one person is wrong for another. If your dream is to become a published author in the traditional sense then you should go for it. I wish you every success.
And to say that I didn’t try to gain representation would not be telling the whole truth. I did send out some queries – four in all – because it was what I was advised to do, but I soon realised this route wasn’t for me and here’s why:
For me, maintaining control over the whole process was the biggest single factor in my decision to self-publish. This is because the act of sending out your query means you become reliant on others over the success or failure of your publishing future. It took me a week into waiting to hear back on my submissions before I realised this wasn’t for me. I’ve never enjoyed being reliant on others (this is not to be confused with working with others, which I’ve always enjoyed) and this was no different. I am much happier being the master of my own destiny. The moment I decided to self-publish it felt as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders because I had taken back control over my writing future, and whatever happened next would be purely down to me.
I saw a conversation on twitter the other day where a person said they couldn’t understand why people chose self-publishing over traditional publishing because you have to invest your own money with no guarantee of a return. Let’s set aside for the moment that with the traditional route you can be writing and submitting books with no pay for years and have no guarantee of a return, and look at this further. To self-publish does cost money and the amount of return you get on that investment – at least initially – can be relatively small. However the costs of self-publishing are no way near as much as many people think. In order to publish my book I spent £30.43 ($45) for Scrivener – so I could write my manuscript and produce the .mobi file for my ebook and .pdf file for my paperback myself, £27 ($40) for an ebook cover and £47.62 ($70) for a createspace cover from goonwrite.com. Editing was free (from a friend who is a professional editor) in return for building him his website benjaminway.co.uk. While it is true that editing can be the largest single cost of the process, there are alternative options available.
With self-publishing you can generate an income almost instantly (thanks Mum and Dad), although you still have to wait 90 days to receive it as per Amazon’s standard terms. Don’t get me wrong, unless you are incredibly lucky this is no get-rich-quick scheme. Getting your book noticed from the millions already out there is difficult, and building a loyal readership takes time and a lot of effort. However for each book sold you receive some money. I managed to pay off the costs of creating Second Chance in e-book and paperback after the first month. After that, every copy sold delivered pure profit.
Lower threshold for success
To be seen as a success in traditional publishing you have to sell a lot of books. I understand this. Publishers invest a lot of money bringing a book to market and they expect a return. In the past, publishers would give authors two or three books to build an audience. However, as Hugh Howey points out in his post The New Top-Down Approach, publishers nowadays expect almost instant success. Of all the books released by new authors, only one or two become major hits. The rest either receive less marketing support (making it even harder to become a success) or are dropped.
With self-publishing you don’t need to sell huge volumes of books to make a living (or to supplement an existing income). There are tens of thousands of self-published authors who make a good income from self-publishing, many of whom you have never heard of. When I started writing my goal was never to become a famous author but to earn a living doing what I love (OK, this was a secondary goal. My first goal was to write something somebody , somewhere might like). I am a long way off that target as yet but I can see a path to get there. Keep writing, keep publishing book and gradually build an audience.
The low-risk career option
While this didn’t come into my thinking at the time, those of you who are still unsure about which route to take should know that deciding to self-publish does not automatically exclude you from the traditional publishing route. In reality, successfully building an audience through self-publishing makes you a more attractive option for traditional publishers because you have a ready-made readership. In the New Top Down approach, Hugh Howie takes it one step further by asking why anyone nowadays would want to try the traditional route as a first option? The chances of success are slim and if you try do eventually get published and for whatever reason your book isn’t a success, once dropped from one publisher it is very difficult to get a contract with another. He argues any savvy new writer would choose to self-publish and build an audience so that they could negotiate with a traditional publisher from a strong position.
While the answer for each writer will be different, the arguments to self-publish appear to be getting stronger by the day. So where do you stand? If you have self-published, what was behind your decision? If you are pursuing the traditional route, what are the attractions for you? Then there are those of you who are published by small, independent publishers. What has been your experience and would you recommend the route to others? I’d love to hear from you.