Should I self-publish? Know what awaits you

I know there are a ton of sites that already debate this issue and a ton of How To books on the subject, but few are written by those who work for trade publishers and I thought it a good idea if I tossed out some ideas from my perspective.

I know a lot of authors who ponder the option of publishing their works themselves because the idea of agent hunting is too daunting. Or they’ve been rejected by all the good agents on their list. Whatever the reason, there are things you need to know – that old look before you leap thing.

True self publishing – where you are the publisher – isn’t for those with weak intestinal fortitude or account balances that hover in the three figures. I’ve seen way too many self published authors implode, and they’re stuck with a garage full of books and nothing in their checking account. To avoid this, authors need to be fully aware of the right way and the wrong way.

There’s a right way and a wrong way. Gee, Pricey, isn’t that true about everything? Yah, yah…shaddap.

To go the right way course, there are factors you MUST HAVE. Thar be no arguing or compromise about this. You either do these steps, or you’ll be a butterfly without wings.

Competition

The very first thing authors pondering this option MUST be aware of is competition. The self published author faces very stiff competition from their fellow publishers – who have more experience, money, industry contacts, and distribution. So right out of the shoot, the self published author is at a disadvantage, and will have to fight to get their book into the marketplace with any kind of impact. Shelves are crowded, and the chain buyers are tight with their budgets. Unless you have a big book, and I do mean big, be prepared to be ignored by the genre buyers, indies, and libraries.

If you have any hope of making even a dent of a market impact, be prepared to work achingly long hours and spend huge amounts of money.

Intent – what is the intent of your book?

You need to have a clear intent for your book before you can figure out which publishing option is appropriate. For example, is it your intent to see your books widely distributed on store shelves, or do you give seminars and are planning on primarily selling  your books at the back of the room? Or book clubs, or private events, or specialized groups?

Market research

Authors need to do full market research in order to figure out whether they’ve written a story in an impacted category. I’ve seen any number of self pubbed books that were written in a crowded genre, and they stood no chance to see the light of day because the competition was simply too stiff, and they lacked a platform in which to bring the book to the marketplace.

Audience

If I had a dime for every time I’ve asked an author who their audience is and they reply like a bobblehead on crack, “Oh, everyone!” – I’d own Hawaii and most of Bali. Books always have a target audience. Always. This is a business about categorizing, identifying, and pigeonholing, and you better figure out your audience pronto because someone, somewhere along the way is going to ask. If you say “Everyone!”, they’re going to consider you a noob [someone who doesn’t know that they don’t know – and they don’t care] and ignore you.

So figure it out? Is your book for adults only? YA? Children? Women issues? Family issues? Catholics? Druids with green teeth and halitosis? Figure it out.

Platform/who are you?

I know…everyone hates this word. But it’s the way of the world these days, so you might as well get used to it – especially if you’re considering self publishing. The first genre buyers from the indies and chains ask is, “who is this author, and why would anyone want to read their book?” If you sit at home stuffing Mason jars with pickled marshmallows, it’s a guar-an-tee that your book will be overlooked. Pinky swear.

If you wrote a fantasy about two surfer dudes, then you better have something up your sleeve that will get people talking about your book. Same goes if you wrote a memoir.

And may I just say that memoirs are really tough because most aren’t marketable. You may feel your life is fascinating and special – and of course, it is – but the thing to ask is why would anyone want to read your book? What do you have to say? What will people learn/experience from reading your memoir? Unless you have a great platform that ties into your memoir, your book is going to travel down the road to anonymity. Remember, you’re up against bigger publishers who have both feet in the door with genre buyers, so you need to have some reason why buyers are going to be interested in purchasing your book.

Distribution

One does not write their book and sit back to wait for the masses to flood your gates. Or the bookstores’ gates. Remember, no one knows who you are, so how are you going to get your book out to the marketplace? Simply listing your title with Ingram and Baker & Taylor won’t cut it because all that does is get your book listed in the online databases like Amazon, B&N.com, etc. it will not get your book on store shelves.

You need to establish a relationship with an independent distributor whose sales teams and catalogs will get your book in front of the buyers’ noses. Now, you don’t just pick up the phone and expect to have your book picked up. Most distributors are gun shy about taking on a onesie/twosie book because there’s no percentage in pitching a product that has a short shelf life. They’re looking for longevity.

There are several independent distributors who will establish a relationship with the onesie/twosie self publisher, but their imprint in the bookstores in negligible. The only way you’re going to really break through this barrier is your platform and your promotion plan. Without it, a solid distributor won’t give you the time of day.

Marketing/Promotion – publicist?

This is where most self published authors fail. Never, ever underestimate the importance of marketing and promotion. This is what opens doors. No matter how big you think you book is, it’s rare that things go viral due to word of mouth. You must get out there and pitch your book to your audience. Let me say that again.

You must get out there and pitch your book to your audience.

Bookstores and event organizers aren’t looking for the casual, “hey, I wrote me a book!” author. This is a big money business, and the hobbyist is going to get mowed over in much the same fashion as when my daughter ran over the sprinklers in our front yard. But where she got attention – lots of it, albeit negative – you won’t. Think about hiring a publicist who has contacts in all types of media.

A word about publicists. There are lots of crap publicists out there, and there are lots of excellent ones. Both can cost lots of money or be quite reasonable. Before you leap into this, ASK AROUND. Books invariably thank their agents, editors, and publicists, so start taking names. We’ve worked with several great publicists – and no, don’t ask me for their names. I’m not a referral service. I only do this for my authors.

Publicists can be the difference between a few hundred sales and several thousand.

Production – editing, cover design, interior layout, ISBN, print runs, ARCs?

The production costs are in direct proportion to quality. If you cheap out on editing, cover design, interior design, and printers, you’ll have a cheap book that’s poorly edited and is visually unappealing both on the outside and the interior.

Whatever you do, don’t think you can edit your own book. You can’t. You’re too close to it and don’t know how to properly kill your babies. Only a black-hearted, scum-sucking editor with an evil red pen can do your manuscript justice. Just like publicists, there are good, great, and crappola indie editors. Be mindful of what you’re buying. Ask around so you can be satisfied that you’re getting a quality person.

Same goes for cover designers and interior designers who can also properly format your manuscript so that it’s print ready.

You’ll need to buy an ISBN [International Standard Book Number]for your book. This is the numeric book identifier used by booksellers, and they aren’t free. You can buy them in lots of ten, hundred, or thousands.

Next you need to consider whether you’re going to print ARCs – Advance Reader Copies.These little babies go out to reviewers and media at least four months before your publication date. If you have a publicist, she’ll want a bunch as well. Depending upon the book, it’s not at all unusual to print up about 100 ARCs. The self pubbed author will more than likely not do this unless they have a big promo plan set up.

Next comes the print run. Unless you have serious distribution in place and a kick-butt promotion plan, I’d advise against getting a huge number of books printed up. Yes, the more you print, the cheaper the unit price. But if you don’t sell those books, they become a fire hazard in your garage – not to mention the dent in your bank account. Be smart.

A viable option is to use a good book shepherd. These are companies who know a hell of a lot about publishing and know just about everyone under the sun. They know editors, cover designers, interior designers, distributors, and are little godsends in helping organize the self published author so they can put out a very good product. Again, they aren’t free. But the good ones are very good at what they do, and can even help find the self pubbed author distribution.

Money

And this where we come to the big enchilada. Publishing is far from free. There are a lot of elements that go into creating a damn good book that’s viable and marketable. Those who prevail with self pubbing their book take all these steps seriously. And before they begin, they make sure they have plenty of money. If you have 20-30-40k to spend, then you can probably do justice to your work.

Most don’t, though, and this is why self publishing retains a blemished reputation. Most do this on the cheap only to find out too late that they never had a chance to begin with, and all they have to show for it is a garage full of books and an anemic bank account.

I take my hat off to those who go this route because the sky is the limit. You are your own boss creating your own destiny for your book. Everything is on your shoulders, and this ride is either literary viagra or literary Maalox.

Be smart, be careful, and always be a sponge for learning this business. Look both ways before crossing the street.

13 Responses to Should I self-publish? Know what awaits you

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    I’ll never be rich enough to self publish properly 😉

  2. cat says:

    Sigh…sorry about the cat hairs. Maybe I really am too old for all this. I have never had 2k to spare let alone 20k.
    Could someone out there purrlease expurrlain why I am even bothering to try? Is it really worth even trying to get a book purrublished? Self purrublishing sounds even harder than the traditional route – and even more likely to fail.

  3. Chris says:

    I think that’s because it is Cat. I have a friend who recently self published. She gave me a copy of her book and as she did, I can still recall her saying, “I rushed to get this out. I’m not happy with itand fix a few things.” Of course she followed that up with “The only reason I wrote it is because in my line of work having the word Author in front of my name gives me instant credibility.” Needless to say, the cover art, even the text looked 3rd rate. Besides, Author is a beautiful word…one I don’t feel should be exploited. Lynn is right. Stay away from it.

  4. Cat, you’re absolutely correct; self pubbing – done properly – IS harder than being well published by an established publisher.

    Chris, I weep for your friend. I run across a lot of writers whose egos surpass their talents. The danger of any kind of self-publishing, be it true self publishing or vanity publishing, is that authors whose literary grapes are still very green now have an opportunity to prematurely feed their sense of importance. They fool no one but themselves. Pity.

  5. Bob Truppe says:

    It really can’t be that hard. Ingrams only has 2.6 million books you need to compete against.

    Lol, Lynn, great post – I hope aspiring authors bookmark and return to this wake-up call.

    Smiles

  6. tbrosz says:

    Cat, you’re absolutely correct; self pubbing – done properly – IS harder than being well published by an established publisher.

    That’s kind of an understatement, like saying sailing alone across the Atlantic in a small boat is harder than taking a luxury cruise ship.

    Oh, of course you CAN sail across the Atlantic alone. And even succeed. But given a choice, which would you prefer?

    I may end up self-publishing someday, but you can bet I will exhaust every other option first.

  7. tbrosz says:

    Oops. That first paragraph was supposed to be in quotes.

  8. CindyLou says:

    I knew it. (Sigh) If only I had $39,999 more dollars, maybe then…. 🙂

  9. Superb article! There is no question that you need to wear many different hats if you self publish, or have a team of friends/family/professionals who can help with marketing and distribution. So good to hear you say how important cover art and editing are! Never a truer word said.

    It is a hard job, but it can be done – have a look at http://www.mousetrappedbook.com self published by http://www.catherineryanhoward.com -she’s done a fantastic job and is getting great sales.

    I’m organising a Self Publishing Conference in Ireland in October (16th – http://www.onestopselfpublishing.com) that brings together industry professionals to show self publishers how to tackle the issues you discuss above and do the best job on a budget. These days with digital printing available from companies like Lulu and Createspace, thankfully self publishers don’t have to stock pile books in their garages anymore!
    All best
    Vanessa

  10. These days with digital printing available from companies like Lulu and Createspace, thankfully self publishers don’t have to stock pile books in their garages anymore!

    Welcome, Vanessa. It’s true that digital printing is a great addition to the publishing bag ‘o tricks. Everyone uses it – printing ARCs, great for backlist books – and publishers are better for it.

    However, this is a dusty road. Many self publishers rely on digital print runs because it saves them money. This means they don’t have all the other elements I discussed in place.

    True self publishers get their distribution, promotion, and marketing needs in place before they ever print a single book. When they do, they get a respectable print run because they realize no reputable distributor [talking indie distributor, not Ingram] will accept them if they only have a couple hundred books on hand.

    When a book takes off, it happens at lightning speed – as witnessed with our new book, Jan’s Story. We blew out 5k units in two days. We got another 10k units printed up within a week in order to meet demand. Likewise, a self publisher needs to be able to get those books to market in the same manner. Most can’t.

    This is why I really like book shepherds because they know the business and can help authors through the insanity of getting a book out to market.

    Your conference sounds wonderful, and I wish I could be there to talk about the realities facing the new author.

  11. […] Price on Behler Blog Should I self-publish? Know what awaits you “True self publishing – where you are the publisher – isn’t for those with weak […]

  12. Thank you. I have been telling writers this for years and it falls on deaf ears. They want it fast with no work involved. Each to their own, I guess one would say. I am still working hard to learn my craft.

  13. Karen says:

    Very interesting post. You covered a question I have been mulling over for a while. Thanks for the tips. I found Dan Poynter’s book, Self Publishing Manual, very helpful. I still have not reached a decision yet, but I am still studying the options. Here is his site: http://www.parapublishing.com/sites/para/

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