Mar 22 2009
Last week, I discussed why self-publishing is an awful idea for young writers. Here are some of the reasons that self-publishing might make sense for you.
1. You are an unusually savvy writer and businessman. Namely, you have to write and edit your own work, and then market and sell it.
2. You can afford to subsidize your self-publishing, either because you have substantial savings or because you have a full-time salary. Self-publishing is usually more of a hobby than a career. The average self-published book sells fewer than two hundred copies.
3. You have an audience. Having a professional publisher is one way that you can establish your credibility to potential readers. Unfortunately, a self-published author has to rely on his own name and marketing efforts. Do you have an audience? If not, I’d recommend getting your writing out there. Some options include starting a blog or writing for a newspaper or magazine.
4. You can provide everything for yourself that a professional publisher would have provided. For example, take your book cover. You can do it yourself, if you’re a professional artist. You can have a friend do it, if you know a professional artist. Otherwise, be prepared to cough up hundreds of dollars on a freelancer. Unfortunately, professional-grade talent is expensive.
- COVER DESIGN: $250-500.
- EDITING: $600 for basic proofreading and $3000 for a “book doctor” or freelance editor. Beware: many purported “book doctors” are useless. If you plan to hire a book editor, make sure you get a sample before you put any money down.
- BOOK PRINTING FEES: Even if you want to do print-on-demand, make sure you know how much your self-publisher costs in startup fees. For example, BookSurge charges $300 even before the first copy is sold.
- MARKETING/PROMOTIONS: Hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars. I’d recommend looking into low-cost advertising such as Google Adwords, but you’ll probably sell most of your books in person (especially at conferences and author events) rather than over the Internet. Attending conferences will probably cost admission and there may be incidental hotel stays, gas/plane expenses, a booth fee, a missed day of work, etc.
5. You have some good reason to predict that your work is likely to sell thousands of copies.
- GOOD: “I’ve been published before, and my books sold well.” This suggests that your writing is good enough to sell and that you have an audience that’s ready to buy your work.
- OKAY: “I have an audience. Plenty of people read my blog!” Let’s say that you can convince a typical percentage of your blog-readers (1-3%) to buy your book. Unless you have hundreds of thousands of blog-readers, that’s probably not enough to matter.
- BAD: “All of my friends and family tell me my book is great. Of course it’ll sell!” This is mistaken for several reasons. First, everybody’s friends and family love their books. Talk to strangers because your prospective readers are strangers that can be frank with you without letting feelings get in the way. Second, your writing is only part of the equation. Even if you had the best book in the world, you’d still need marketing and business acumen to successfully self-publish.
- DELUSIONAL: “My book is awesome. Of course it’ll sell.” If your book were really that good, why not get it professionally published? (See #7).
5a. You’re writing for friends and family rather than strangers/profit. For example, if you’re writing a family history or a biography of your parents, it absolutely doesn’t matter that it’ll probably have fewer than 100 readers. If money is a non-factor for you, self-publishing absolutely makes sense. You only need to sell thousands of copies if you want to break even or turn a profit.
6. It will really help if you know something about selling books. For example, have you worked in the publishing industry? Or for a bookstore? Do you have experience selling things besides books? Do you know people you can ask for advice in this area?
7. You have a good reason not to get professionally published. For example, perhaps you’ve already been published a few times and want to try an unusual story this time around. That might work. On the other hand, if you’re staying away from professional publishers because your work isn’t good enough to get published or because publishers “don’t get my work,” you’re setting yourself up for disaster. If publishers don’t get your work, why do you think readers will?