Once the writing is done, what do authors do? In these series of articles, we are exploring which path is the right one for you. In week one we gave a very brief overview on how the publishing business works and this week we look at self-publishing.
Self-publishing is not a new form of publication. The last 500 years have seen the mass production and spread of printed books and, for whatever reason, not all of them were commissioned by a publisher or a religious organisation. Many people have undertaken the self-publishing route at some point or other, and some of them are still remembered today: D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, Mark Twain, Byron, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Beatrix Potter, Rudyard Kipling, William Blake, Alexander Pope, Balzac, Horace Walpole, etc. You would be in good company.
The cost on the author’s part was, however, considerable and became even more so with the increase of the so-called vanity publishing enterprises that sprung in the 1940s. Established in pre-digital printing, these companies would essentially do a print run for you for a hefty cost, deliver hundred of books to your living room and leave you alone to sell them. The vast majority of authors were often not able to shift the stock, perhaps through lack of marketing skills or funds, ending up with a substantial loss and a diminished living space.
Then the digital revolution took place, introducing the POD (print on demand) system: orders were placed and books were printed and shipped once the money had already been cashed, removing the problems of up-front costs and storage. This gave birth to companies such as Authors Online, Lulu, etc. and gave the upper hand to the biggest daddy of all, Amazon, who joined the frenzy with Create Space.
It is only in the last few years or so that “self-publishing” is not muttered whilst coughing and covering one’s mouth. And I mean to say that is the self-pub author that does that!
“What do you do?”
“Me? I am a writer!”
“Oh great! And who’s your publisher?”
“*pretended cough* Myself *more cough*”
“Ah, so not a real published author, then…”
Some of you may well be familiar with that sort of dialogues, and even if that other person wasn’t so mean and quick to put you down, you still felt a nagging suspicion that they thought it. Alas, we live in the midst of a transition of feelings towards self-publishing, from shame to perfectly acceptable, and we are reaping the benefits.
For better and for worst, Amazon did that, it has raised the ante in the publishing world going head-first against the dam that was the monopoly of traditional publishers, and blasted a hole through it, to the benefit (and the detriment) of many. Today, writers are not just making money with self-publishing, but some are selling movie rights, they are landing script-writing jobs and they are finally able to hold their heads up high when they answer the question: “Who’s your publisher?”.
PROs OF SELF-PUBLISHING
- Ease of access. Virtually anyone with internet and an email address is able to write to their heart’s content and upload their story for the whole world to read. You’d think that among the several billion people on the planet, an author can find at least some enthusiastic readers!
And when folks says, ‘Yes, yes, but there is a lot of rubbish out there too. No one wants to read someone’s pointless idea of the best way to trim an alpaca’s genitals. Especially not with spelling mistakes in it.’ Fair enough, but never fear: readers are not shy when it comes to let their opinion be known. If they don’t like a book they will either leave it alone, condemning it to the eternal oblivion of unacknowledged limbo, or rate it down to hell. That’s what digital page previews are there for, and most readers used them as they would a book in a bookstore, just as you and I would – read the blurb, check the first few lines, maybe the whole first page. We can tell pretty quickly if we are hooked or not.
- Waiting times. With small presses and traditional publishers there is a more or less long waiting time for most aspects of the publication – with self-publishing you can decided how long the whole process takes, because you will be completely in charge.
- On being your own boss. No one will press you to write more or faster. You set the pace, and when you want a break or you decide that actually this was your last book for a while, you don’t have to justify yourself to anyone.
- On being the creator. You are in complete control of the entire process – everything – from first draft to bound book. You decide who edits it, you decide what stays and what goes, you decides who designs the cover or interior, you decide the fonts, the trim, the size, the layout and the pictures. You decide what the e-book looks like. You decide what price to charge and when to release the book. You decide EVERYTHING, I tell you. And in the end, all the profits are yours to keep. You become your own business, a sole trader.
- The marketing side. What events are worth attending? One, five, none? All that time spent researching the right cons and fairs where your book would be well received, are now coming to fruition: you know you have an audience, go get them! Your friends are calling you “Social media Joe” and for good reason: there is no Twitter or blog in the verse that can stop you – your ten sets of hands are multi purposely sharing your latest to the four corners of the social globe. The Inuit call you, ‘Jfsdhgvierushgserk’ which means, ‘Author who rides the Northern Lights of The Net’. And remember those days spent networking at those tedious business meetings for sole traders? Well, they will pay off. The guy with the encrusted moustache who did websites for fun is now your number one friend, eager to revamp your tired looking page every month at the price of a muffin. I kid you not.
SELF-PUBLISHING: IS IT FOR ME?
You have to be honest here: see all the Pros I listed under points 4 and 5? They require an incredible amount of determination, business sense, attention to details, time and a substantial investment of money for editing and proof-reading, professional cover designs, marketing and advertising. It’s easy to upload a book, but if no one knows about it … Besides, I’m hoping you’d like your readers to immerse themselves in the story, rather than leaving them confused because they lost the subject/object of the sentence or there is a verb missing. You’ll have to tattoo the verb ‘networking’ on your forehead, and make it part of your daily routine.
If all you are interested in, is the writing part, then I would strongly suggest you approach a small publisher or a traditional publisher, as they will take care of those other aspects for you and at no cost to you. Still, publishers expects their authors to do a minimum of self-promotion these days, and if you are keen for your own book to do well, why wouldn’t you?
On the other hand, if you are simply and truly contented to create a story and make it available to chance readers as a way of passing time – writing is incredibly cathartic – then by all means go self-publishing. Places like Create Space or Lulu make it incredibly easy to do it, helping you all the steps of the way, for free. You will surely make some money, feel happy with yourself and most certainly not be out of pocket.
And since you are doing it for yourself, rather than the money, you could try your hand on platforms like Wattpad (https://www.wattpad.com/), a writing community website for people of all abilities, where others can read chapters of your book for free: the more they read them, the higher the score/popularity. Many writers have been discovered there, so you never know!
As a last thought, self-publishing is a profession and a business: you need the right attitude to succeed and take it seriously.
Next week: Small Presses.