The Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing
Running a self-publishing company since the dawn of the modern self-publishing era in 2010, I see much evolving so fast. It’s difficult to predict what changes will happen even over the next twelve months.
The number of books published a month is rocketing on Amazon (now 204,000 in the last 30 days). And Amazon, being 90% of books sales, is changing the landscape beyond reliable prediction. The increase is predominantly down to self-published authors.
But is it worth becoming one – or going the traditional route?
It’s one of the most common questions I get asked, and the answer isn’t straight forward. So in an attempt to clear the muddy waters, here’s what you need to know. Of course, in twelve months, some of these may change. I’ll try to keep the list updated.
PRO – Having 100% Control of your work
If you’re with a publisher, they have the ultimate say over the content of your book. They have editors and proof-checkers directing you to make changes, potentially compromising your voice and creativity.
CON – You will pay for everything
This is editing, proofing, formatting, printing, jacket design (and some marketing). This can cost thousands of pounds. It’s the reason many self-published authors skimp, or not get them done at all. This effects the quality of the writing and book design, hitherto, sales and chances of success. Publishers foot this bill.
PRO – You don’t have a contract to worry about
You will sign a contract with a publisher, usually for more than one book, within a certain time frame. Failing to do so could render you liable to financial penalties.
CON – You have no protection from a publisher
Publishers provide a certain level of protection in the event of a lawsuit or copyright challenge (although this isn’t guaranteed for everything). If you’re self-published, look into the legal side of publishing for your own protection. You also need public liability and professional indemnity insurances.
PRO – You get 100% royalties with self-publishing
Publishers return around 15% royalties for books sold, and you receive a cheque twice a year. If self-published, you receive it all. Although don’t forget to factor in storage and p&p.
CON – No marketing contacts and distribution
Good publishers have a list of contacts and distribution channels they call on for a given genre. When you self-publish, you’re unlikely to have any of these, and so must rely on creating them yourselves. This is likely to be hard work for little return. Having said that, even with a publisher, don’t expect your books to appear on the shelves in Waterstones, or get reviews in the Sunday Times. There are a lot of authors you’re competing with, and the lion’s share of a publisher’s marketing time and budget go to established authors.
PRO – 100% return for your marketing efforts
Whether you’re with a publisher or self-published, you’ll be doing the SAME LEVEL OF MARKETING. Many publishers, before signing you up, assess your online presence and estimated popularity. They factor this alongside the quality and marketability of your writing. The days of mysterious, closet writers are long gone. To put it another way, sales from your marketing time spent, adds 85% to the publisher’s bottom line, and 15% (your royalty) to yours. Whereas if you self-publish, you get it all.
CON – Not getting an advance
This is often the most attractive feature of being with a publisher. They may give you an upfront advance, which may be substantial, although these are now rare. An advance is a loan the publisher forwards to you for writing your book. For each sale they make, they reduce the amount advanced by your royalty. When the advance reduces to zero, you then get paid your royalty share per sale. Unlike a loan though, if not enough sales happen to reduce the advance to zero, you don’t have to pay the rest back.
PRO – It’s to your timescale
You have the choice WHEN your book is published. If you want to take a break for a month (or a year!) then you can. A publisher will give you a deadline and you better meet it unless you want to suffer penalties on your royalties, or be dropped altogether and have to return the advance. Deadlines can be tighter than you’d like, and create considerable stress.
CON – You’ll make fewer sales
Books one, two and likely three, will sell in 10’s then 100’s, depending on your marketing skills and time spent. Publishers will move more (remember you’ll only get a small royalty per sale, though).
PRO – You don’t have to ‘get accepted’
It will take months, and often years before you’re accepted by a publisher (although, to be honest, most writers give up trying long before that). It takes a LOT of time and effort to land a publisher – and most authors don’t manage it.
PRO – Self-Publishing is faster
From start to finish, it can take up to 18 months before your book sees the market with a publisher. You will still be pushed for your deadline, but generating your book is queued, and you have to wait. It may even be deferred. If you self-publish, your book is in print from first draft in six months. Less if the editing goes well.
PRO/CON? – You can publish a terrible book
“Well, even if it’s bad, it’s out there with your name on it, and you can call yourself an author!”
I’ll let you decide if that’s a positive.
If you’re serious about being an author, you’ll master and work as hard at marketing as writing.
It’s a job, a career, and it takes effort to be a success. You’ll need to produce your highest quality of work and product.
If you self-publish, you ‘re unlikely to make a living from publishing one, two or three books, but with the right marketing platform and hard work – perhaps four. Be prepared to financially and mentally survive that period.
With a publisher or self-published, your chances are slim of making it a success. But probably more with a publisher. Self-publishing will return you more income, if you can survive the early years.
But either way, if you’re a born writer, that won’t stop you. And if you’re successful – well – you’re going to be someone who loves doing their wonderful job.
And that’s why people take the risk and put in the hard work…
Good luck with your choice.
And by all means, feedback how this resonates with your experience.
Miles changed careers in 2008 from Senior Systems Designer in aviation to become a self-published fantasy author. His first book hit No 1 on Amazon for Epic Fantasy and knocked The Hunger Games from the top slot in Waterstones. In 2010 he started a self-publishing business, and began creative writing meet-ups in Kent called NAGS which have been running bi-weekly for four years.
He now writes, runs NAGS, and teaches a range of frank and honest courses for new authors on creative writing, self-publishing and book marketing, including for the Canterbury Christchurch University and North Kent College.
“It was great having Miles teaching to us today.
It’s given me some fantastic things to
think about – a very inspiring speaker,
thank you for a brilliant session.”
Emily Dorsett Beard
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