I hear that question a lot at conferences, and it always makes me wince because I know the question doesn’t come from someone who understands the business. They’re asking my opinion, and the truth is, there is no quick answer.
Sure, it’s easy to screech out a quick, “NOOOO! Save yourself! Don’t do it!”, but that wouldn’t really answer the “why?”
Before any decisions can be made, you need all the facts, right? It’s like looking at a used car’s shiny paint job, new interior, and brilliantly clean engine. Sounds great, yah? No one would ever guess it had been in a smash up on the 405 freeway during rush hour. Still want that car? Most people who are experienced at buying cars would know to ask for the car’s history.
So goes it with publishing. Most authors who ask me this question are still very green. They banged out their manuscript without really understanding how to write. Maybe they sent out a few queries and received a few rejections, and now they’re disheartened. It’s too much “I want” and too little “I know.”
If authors have all the facts, they can legitimately decide whether they want to go the self publishing route. So what questions need to be asked?
Intent: What is your goal? If it’s to sell or give away a few books to friends and family, and have a little fun, then this is probably the way to go. If your book sold to a publisher and you had no intent on promoting your book to a wide audience, your name will be mud, and you’ll have a very angry editor who may have a spiteful beagle for a secretary. Believe me; she knows people who know people.
Is your intent to get reviews from trade magazines? It’s unlikely this will happen because they won’t review self-pubbed works. That isn’t to say you can’t get blurbs from big names, if you know any.
Money: If you want to have a wider audience than friends and family, you need the greenbacks to fuel your dreams. This will pay for proper editing, cover design, interior design and layout, printing costs, warehousing, advertising, and promotion.
Platform: This is vital for every author, but even more important for the self pubbed author because they don’t have the backup of a publisher’s resources. They need that platform to draw audiences to their events. This takes understanding and analysis about marketing and promoting yourself and your book.
Product: If you’re doing this yourself, you need to understand how to present your book in the best possible fashion. This means getting a good cover, designed by a professional. There are a lot of tricks of the trade that goes into cover design, so don’t depend on your neighbor who designs garage sale fliers. They be a different animal altogether.
Distribution: Self pubbed authors won’t be distributed with a sales team and such, so this is going to be a major block to getting your book into readers’ hands.
In the end, the absolute hardest part for me is watching a very green author jump the gun. You have to learn to crawl and walk before you can run. Slow down, look, learn. Only then will you have the tools to discern a pristine car from a history of accidents.