To self-publishing or not to self-publish?

Self-publishing is a growing industry, especially now that digital technology has become more prevalent in all aspects of our lives. Authors have more choices when it comes to self-publishing; they’re no longer bound by print but can branch out into e-books. They can choose from a number of subsidy publishing companies or create their own publishing house, if they so wish, all based on information that is only a click away.

But the idea of going it alone is intimidating, so we’re going to break self-publishing down into manageable pieces.

Self-publishing defined

Wikipedia defines self-publishing as: “The publication of any book or other media by the author of the work, without the involvement of an established third-party publisher … Instead, the creator or creators fulfill this role, taking editorial control of the content, arranging for printing, marketing the material, and often distributing it, either directly to consumers or to retailers.”

Moira Allen says that you need to distinguish between subsidy publishing and proper self-publishing.

Basically, subsidy publishing is what most people assume when think of self-publishing. It involves finding a publisher and paying them to print your book. The service is purely technical, they take your manuscript – which you have formatted according to their guidelines – and put it to paper.

Proper self-publishing when you become the publisher, you set up shop and do absolutely everything yourself.

For the purposes of this blog, however, we’ll use self-publishing and subsidy publishing interchangeably.

When not to go the self-publishing route?

Simon Haynes is a science-fiction author; he’s gone both the self-publishing and publishing company route and has experience when it comes to which method works best for what.

Contrary to what many writers believe, self-publishing is not necessarily a good way to break into the market. For starters, you’ll have to do all your marketing yourself; which is incredibly hard work, especially if you’re not salesy by nature. You have to convince bookshops and libraries to carry your book, which is not easy to do because they may not fancy the risk. They prefer to get stock from publishing houses that have already determined the sales value of their products – why else would they invest in them?

Second, self-published books don’t often cross the desks of high-powered publishing agents. So if your aim is to attract attention to your work and convince a publisher to republish your book and take over the marketing side of things you’ll be sorely disappointed.

As harsh as it sounds (and it sounds very harsh), Haynes says that if you have a good book, it will be picked up by an agent – eventually. But if your book is mediocre or publishers don’t think it will appeal to any audience then it’s probably for a good reason. Going the self-publishing route won’t change that.

There are, of course, exceptions, but they are very, very rare.

When self-publishing makes sense

Some people write books just to see if they can. They don’t intend them for a large audience but think that they’ll make nifty gifts for family and friends. Self-publishing was almost made for these people because, for relatively little expense, they get the satisfaction of seeing their work professionally bound, with an honest to goodness cover which they can gleefully distribute among their social circle.

That’s not to say that only casual authors benefit from self-publishing. According to Haynes, it’s a great way to go for non-fiction authors with very narrow areas of expertise. Specialists can have books printed and take them along when they are invited to seminars or are guest speakers at industry conferences and the like.

Consider this …

If you have decided that self-publishing is for you, there are still a number of factors that you need to consider, such as:

  • Proofreading and editing: subsidy or self-publishers seldom include proofreading and editing in their service package (if they did they wouldn’t be much different from traditional publishing houses). It’s up to you to ensure that your book is as perfect as it’ll ever be. If you’re serious about your book, hire a professional proofreader and editor to go over your book and help you polish it up.
  • Cover design: once again outsourcing is your best bet, unless you’re a whizz with Photoshop or adobe or other design software. We know never to judge a book by its cover but you’d be amazed how often people break this rule. Your cover is your first point of contact with readers. It attracts them to your book, so it needs to be good. Don’t put something together on Paint and think you’ll get away with it.
  • You’ll need convincing blurbs: you can write these yourself, in fact you should write these yourself, but go back to your editor and proofreader to make sure that they fit in with the style and tone of the book.
  • You’re responsible for formatting your book: your subsidy publisher will probably provide you with guidelines but ultimately it’s up to you decide on the size of your book, whether you want it in soft or hard cover and how you want it bound.
  • Marketing: it’s up to you to bring your book to the attention of the public. You can approach bloggers to review it, exploit all the features provided by Amazon, visit bookshops and libraries, send out press releases and develop a website and do everything and anything you can think of to generate sales. And keep doing it because marketing is an ongoing process. Especially if you’ve got other books in the pipeline and you want to expand your readership.

If you have the money you can pay people to do most of the grunt work for you, but not people are fortunate enough to be in that position, so be prepared to work long and hard to make your book a success.

For self-publishers, finishing a book is only the beginning of a much longer journey, but one that can be rewarding as you’ll know you did it all on your own.


(Image by Dave Bleasdale, Penguin Pencils,Creative Commons License)

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