Thursday, January 04, 2018

Things to Consider When Considering Self Publishing

By S.R. Johannes, @srjohannes

Part of the Indie Authors Series

JH: I have a fun new group of indie authors coming in for 2018, so I'm dipping into the archives this week while I get everyone settled in. With the new year, odds are some of you are considering your publishing paths and thinking about indie publishing, so here's another look at things to consider when considering self publishing. It's from 2014, but the questions are still valid for 2018. I've added some comments on things that have changed.

As you guys may (or may not) know, in 2011, I chose to self pub my young adult thriller series (Nature of Grace) after it had some close calls in the traditional world.

I would not change that decision for the life of me – I absolutely love self-pubbing and plan to continue it in some sense. And I love where I am. I have an awesome agent now to help push my traditional work and I have a great foundation and reader base for my self-pubbed books.

These days, all I hear in the media is how great self-pubbing is and how much money writers can make doing it. How the traditional model doesn’t work. I’m not here to say those aren’t true. I’m here to say – it’s not the only truth and it’s not everyone’s truth. I compare self-pubbing to acting. A few make it. Some make it work. But many get crushed in the process.

This road is not all glitter and glamor. So before anyone walks down this path – I think they ask themselves these questions:

Do I care about the stigma? 

I don’t care what people say. There is still a stigma with self-pubbing. Oh it’s underground and hidden but it is still there. You still have to prove yourself a little more with bloggers, agents, editors, readers – they don’t let you get away with anything and hold your feet to the fire much more than traditional authors. If you are okay with this, go for it! Just know it is there and exists so you won’t be shocked when a teacher or librarian refuses to have you b/c of it. Or when you meet an author who doesn’t treat you like you are a real author. It is still there. (JH: This stigma is much less than it was in 2014, but it does still exist. Plenty of authors make decent livings self publishing, but it's a slightly different path than traditional publishing )

How do I define success and what are my goals?

Every writer in self-pubbing has different goals. Is your goal to just write? To just be published on amazon? To hold a copy in your hand? To make money? Put out X number of books a year? Make X$ a month? You need to first know what your goal is and if self-pubbing fits into that goal. Also, what will you do if it doesn’t work?

How much money can I invest up front?

To do self-pubbing right, self-pubbers will spend money – I would say to plan on $1,000 – including a professional cover, professional copyediting, professional formatting, marketing, fees, blah blah blah. I’m not saying you can’t self-pub a book somewhere for 50 bucks, you can. But in my opinion, it may suffer in quality, which will suffer in the saturated book marketplace. I believe you get what you pay for and if your book quality suffers, your book will probably fail. Quality books rise to the top. Self-publishing is not a short cut to writing. It is only a short cut to getting a book to market. So make sure you put your best work out there or it will haunt you forever. (JH:Costs are a little higher these days, with cover design in the $500-800 range, proofreading around the same, and developmental editing can cost up to $5000.)

Do I know what I’m getting into?

It took me a good 4-6 months to get my first book up and out. The learning curves, the mistakes, and the research – it takes time. And I wanted to do it right. Why take years to write a book and then throw it up half ass? It is important to understand the pros and cons of self-pubbing before you jump in. As with any choice, there are always two sides. There are many resources – read them first.

Do I want to just write?

Once I self-pubbed, I wrote even less than before. It’s hard to balance because the marketing can take over. It multiples as you continue to put books out. And for those who have a hard time with marketing anyway, it’s even tougher. Now, I’ve gotten into a groove, but in the beginning, it consumed all of my time. And my writing suffered. Now I force myself to carve out time every day to write but it’s a constant struggle because you don’t want to miss any opportunities to get your book out there and you never know which one will pop.

Do I like doing marketing and business?

The more books a person has, the more marketing, the less time for writing. If you hate marketing and hate social media and hate managing sales and hate running a business in general, self-pubbing is not for you – unless you can afford an assistant to take over.  -grin- (JH:I second this just because it's so important. There's a LOT of business to deal with and it does take time away from writing).

Do I like being a one-man band?

As a self-pubber, you are standing on a corner with a harmonica, a pair of cymbals between your legs, bells on your toes, and a guitar in your hands, playing your heart out. Meanwhile there’s a 50-piece band on the opposite corner that has dancers and baton throwers and FIRE! In self-pubbing, it can get very lonely. Most self-pubbers do not have agents or editors to go to for advice. You have no team to open doors or do the legwork. (JH:Still true, but the industry itself has a lot more self published authors and support for them now than it did in 2014. It's still difficult to open some doors, but easier than it used to be.)

Do I need to make quick money?

Self-pubbing has the same success as traditional authors. A few make it, many hang in the middle, and many never make it far. Please don't think you will put out a book and hit Cash-ola city. You may, but most self-pubbed books never sell more than 1,000 copies. Self-pubbers count on building momentum and are in it for the long haul. (JH:Still true, and after watching self publishing trends for five+ years now, it takes on average three to five books before an author sees solid returns. It's about the long-haul and productivity.)

Do I want the control?

This is the part I love about self-pubbing. The control. I own my own stuff. Put it out the way I want. Don’t have to worry about people rejecting it. I do my book, my way. With the changes in the industry, this is even more appealing to some. I mean, who wants to wait three years for someone to say yes then another two for a book to come out – when you can publish it directly to readers. (JH:Seconding this as well, as controlling when you get books to readers makes a huge impact in today's market. The most successful indie authors release more frequently, are more flexible, and react more quickly to market changes than traditional authors.)

Is my book marketable in self-pubbing industry?

This is critical. You need to know the market to know if your book is going to sell. A self-pubbed picture book is not going to sell. Chapter books are a tough sell too. Research your market because NOT all genres are a good fit for self-pubbing. Adult fiction – especially thrillers and romance – are great. New adult – yes. Some YA – yes. Nonfiction can be great too. Even YA is a tough sell sometimes. Of course the markets always change so keep up with it – this may change in a month or six months down the road. (JH:This is still true in 2018, so check your market and see if it's one that does well in self publishing.)

Indie pubbing has been the right decision for me. I love it. But I love marketing, I’m not afraid to fail, and I’m a risk taker when it comes to trying something even if it doesn’t work. And I’ve enjoyed the ups and down of self-pubbing – because both exist. And because they are mine. My mistakes and my wins.

But you make a decision that is right for YOU and your book (baby). Look at your platform, your support, your journey, your goals, your writing – and decide if this path is what you want to take. If it is what you are ready for. If it is in your heart.

Don't self-pub because you are mad at traditional pubbing, or because you are tired of rejection (cuz trust me you still get rejected if you self pub – just by different people) or if you need some quick cash. Don’t do it because Amazon is fighting with Hachette or the industry is struggling to make changes. Or because Hugh Howey says to self publish. (Though we all love him)

And if you do decide this is the best route for you – put everything you have into it. Go for it 100%. Jump in with both feet and your eyes open. Put in the blood sweat and tears it takes to make your book rise to the top of a saturated market. And do it right! (JH:And remember that it takes time and effort to be successful, and all that is on you as an indie author.)

This is the only way it is worth it in the end if you don't have the success you dreamed or expected.

S.R. Johannes is the award-winning author of the Amazon bestselling thriller series, the Nature of Grace (Untraceable , Uncontrollable and Unstoppable). She is currently repped by Lara Perkins at ABLA, and is the YA advisor of ALLi. She is also a winner of the 2012 IndieReader Discovery Awards (Young Adult category) as well as a Silver medalist (2nd place) in the IPPY awards for YA Fiction, nominated for 2012 Georgia Author of the Year (Young Adult category), a Finalist in The Kindle Book Review’s Best Young Adult of 2012, and a YA Finalist in the US Book News Best Book of 2012.

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  1. Fantastic article, Shelli, and great reminders about the pros and cons of self-publishing.

  2. Excellent advice. Before I indie published, I thought looooong and hard about it. I told myself no for a long time before I finally knew I wanted to do it. I researched the heck out of it too. I'm not the most spontaneous person, and I wanted to be sure I was making the right move.

    Control...that is my absolute favorite part of the whole thing. Like, I just uploaded my print cover this morning for my next release, and OMG it's so pretty. The best part is it was all chosen by yours truly. And I love it.

  3. All of these questions are very necessary in the beginning. By being able to answer these honestly, a writer can really have a good feel on what direction they would like to explore more as they trek along their publishing journey.

  4. Very well stated, S. R. Like yourself I self-published. It taught me a lot about the publishing industry. And I'm glad I had that experience. And it helped realize what I need--to work in partnership with a publishing house to release my novels and short story collections. Thank you for writing this article.

  5. Thanks Shelli. I'm a new self-published writer and I found your comments interesting. I'm hoping and planning to be in it for the long haul.

    One great thing about learning how to use all the social media tools and marketing techniques is that it equips you with new skills and more employment options...just in case.

  6. This is such a helpful article! I'm on the cusp of deciding whether to self-publish or go the traditional route and you made some great points. I'm definitely saving this!

  7. Brilliant article. I took a step from trad to self publishing last year. It's been fun, but it's not made me any money. In fact, with all the initial outlay for covers, edits etc, I'm well in the red. Do I regret it - not really. I learned a lot of stuff and I will get better at this marketing malarkey.
    I do get down about it from time to time (who woudln't), but I'm not giving up on it yet. The trad side is plodding along slowly. It's not either/or anymore. You can do both.