Their faces showed their surprise. Here was someone who had self-published, and who helps others to self-publish and who runs a self-published books accreditation system saying that self-publishing wasn’t a good idea. Why?
Let me qualify it a bit.
It isn’t a good idea if you expect to sell your book, or even if you expect your book to be read. It’s a good idea if you just want your book published and you don’t want to jump the traditional hurdles. It’s a good idea if your book is so unusual that no publisher would pick it up even if you did go that route. And it’s a good idea if you look at it as a hobby and don’t mind that you’re unlikely to get back the money you put into it to make it a professional standard.
The trouble with self-publishing is twofold: the first challenge is getting your book published to a professional standard; the second, is selling it once it is published.
Step one: Getting your book published.
Do you want to be a publisher? Because that’s what a self-published author has to be, unless they get a self-publishing service provider to do it for them. You either undertake a very steep learning curve and do it all yourself—employing professionals for editing, formatting and cover design—or you pay someone to do it all for you. If you choose to pay someone to do it for you, you’ll find yourself navigating a minefield. There’s a lot of sharks out there preying on authors wanting their books published. Join the Alliance of Independent Authors, they have a list of partners who are reputable service providers and will alert members to scams.
Step two: Selling your book.
Say you do manage to produce a quality book, the next challenge is selling it, and there’s a major problem here: Every Joe and his dog are publishing books these days. The electronic shelves are full of them, and a lot of them aren’t very good. Some readers avoid self-published books. I do. I like the guarantee I get from a mainstream publisher that any book they publish will be of a professional standard. I may not like it, but at least it will have met basic editorial standards. Now that the prices of mainstream ebooks have come down, why would I choose a SP book by an unknown author when I can choose something from a mainstream publisher? If I know the author, okay, no problem; hence an established traditionally published author can move into self-publishing with a greater chance of success than a new author.
And even for the readers who are willing to read something from a self-published author, how are you going to get your book in front of them? How will you get them to actually see it amongst all the other books on those electronic shelves? It’s extremely difficult to get your book seen, let alone purchased, and these days, you can’t even give books away for free because there are so many free ones. Even if people do download them that doesn’t mean they’ll read them.
There are ways to get your book in front of readers, but it’s not easy, and it takes time and consistent effort to build a reader base. It’s not just a matter of advertising—any experienced author will tell you that paid advertising rarely covers its cost. Authors have to market their own books regardless of how they’re published, but at least when you have a mainstream publisher someone else has a vested interest in selling your books, and they do have systems in place designed to get your book in front of readers.
Depressing, huh? What’s the option?
The majority of authors taking the traditional route will fail to score an agent or a publishing deal (about 95% of them according to one Australian publisher I spoke to). If you do get a deal, great, go for it. You won’t get much, per book, but you should sell some. If you’re lucky, you might even make back your advance. If you’re really lucky and the stars align, you might hit the big time. The publisher wouldn’t pick it up if they didn’t think it would sell. If you don’t get a deal, then you either self-publish or you stick the manuscript in your archive folder and try again or forget the idea of being an author. Only you can decide.
I decided to publish my books, and I’m glad I did. I’ve achieved step one, and I have some great accolades and awards to prove it, but step two has me beat.
I’m not saying don’t self-publish. I’m saying do it with your eyes open.