NOTE: This post has been substantially revised. Thanks to one dedicated and knowledgeable reader (please read his comments below), I realized that my intent to show self-publishing as a viable route to get your work out there didn’t come across at all.
Now let’s get to the meat of the post.
Do you think all self-publishing is merely vanity projects? Are you worried anyone can slap a few words on a page and click on publish to become a published author? Do you also fear any self-publishing company will publish an e-book or spit out print books no matter the quality of writing?
When you meet an author, is your first question, "Who was your publisher?" And when they tell you they self-published, is your knee-jerk reaction their book wasn’t good enough to be picked up by even a mediocre publishing house?
If the above questions touched on some deep, dark places in your mind and heart, you may be a snob who thinks self-publishing is for amateurs.
Is self-publishing for amateurs?
There are vanity presses out there who, for the right price, will publish anything. That’s not what self-publishing is about.
The key question to mull over when considering self-publishing is "Are you an entrepreneur?"
You must be a self-promoter and have a robust marketing plan in place, or you won't make a living from your self-published books. The truth is that if you have a fan base you can promote your books to, you can make more money from self-publishing than traditional publishing.
We had a post a while back from author Iain Rob Wright who shared all that he has learned as one of the early adopters to the self-publishing world: How to Self-Publish Your Book: Advice from Iain Rob Wright
To get a sense of how writers earn from the two systems, here is a simple equation:
Sells 10,000 books at $15 a book, and you get 15% of the profits
- 10,000 x $15 = $150,000 x 15% = $22,500
How do we know a traditional publisher can sell that many books? Because most publishing companies won’t accept a book if they feel it won’t sell at least 10,000 copies. They have a whole promotional system that will get your book into shops and in front of the readers that matter.
Let's use a self-publishing company like Standout Books to compare. They offer a variety of self-publishing packages and you pay a one-time fee depending on the package you choose (from $799 to $2,099), but you keep 100% of the profits.
Let’s say you sell 1,500 books at $15 a book and get to keep 100% of the profits
- 1,500 x $15 = $22,500 (less your publishing costs)
So, the potential is there to make more money; you just need to have some great marketing skills to make sure that you can sell more than 1,500 books. With self-publishing, you can earn more money by selling fewer books than the traditional route, but it relies upon your ability to find those readers.
The truth about self-publishing
Times have changed. It was true in the mid-1990s that anyone could publish through a vanity press. But with any book published today (self- or traditional), the good ones will rise to the top. As such, the success rate for self-publishing isn’t that different from traditional publishing:
A few authors end up as best-sellers, and several will make a comfortable living. The rest won’t.
So, if you’re in this business to get rich, statistically speaking, it’s not likely. But if you’re in this business to get your thoughts and ideas out there, self-publishing is a viable way to accomplish it.
Jane Friedman has extensive experience in the publishing industry, both self-publishing and traditional. It’s to her well-respected opinion that we turn.
She wrote a fabulous article that anyone ready to publish should read first, "Should You Self-Publish or Traditionally Publish?" In it she asks 6 pointed questions about your motives, your entrepreneurial skills, and your target audience. Jane also offers advice gleaned from her years in the publishing industry you should heed.
Self-publishing requires a host of skills
Not only do you need to captivate readers and keep them turning pages with an excellent plot and characters, but you’re the CEO of your own company, one that sells books.
You need to wear many hats as a self-publisher. It’s on your shoulders to make sure your manuscript is the best it can be, build your author platform, market your book, manage inventory (if you’re selling print books), and the administrative and financial aspects of running a business.
If you’re considering self-publishing your novel, watch out for scams. Scammers will reel you in with phrases like:
- "Become a successful published author in less than X days"
- "Guaranteed to become an Amazon best-seller"
- "Skyrocket your career and your sales with self-publishing"
Take the time to learn the publishing industry. There are plenty of successful self-published authors out there who share their knowledge and advice. It’s imperative you learn the best way to self-publish.
Finally, never self-publish without editing and proofreading. Use ProWritingAid to polish your novel and then send it off to a respected editor to strengthen it. Because when you publish without ensuring your manuscript is the best it could be, it shows. And your sales—and your reputation—will suffer.