Those Who Can’t – Self-Publish. Really?

A lot of people put ‘write a book’ on their bucket list. Thanks to Amazon, Smashwords, and fee-based publishing companies, having a book with your name on the spine is easier than ever. There’s never been a better time to be an author, never been more options, but simply being published means very little now.

When everyone is special, then no one is.

The Author Is Now In Control
Authors are entrepreneurs. Gone are the days of the solitary writer holed up in a writing cave never interacting with readers. There’s no longer a stigma attached to self-publishing, the stigma is attached to books that do poorly. Your book must earn respect now with sales and Amazon rankings determining value, not the name of the publisher on the spine. Indie and self-publishing avenues (digital especially) have leveled the playing field. But with privilege comes responsibility. For the first time writers have choices – you can traditionally publish or self publish or both, but either way the burden of responsibility for success rests with the author.

A Leveled Playing Field
Traditional publishers have always offered distribution, something authors couldn’t get anywhere else. The cover art, editing, interior design are all services that many publishers are outsourcing anyway, but with digital there’s no longer any need for distribution. Barry Eisler made publishing news a few months ago when he turned down a BIG (I mean, never have to write again big) deal from St. Martin’s Press. He was then approached by Amazon to publish with them first digitally and then in paper at a much higher royalty rate. He didn’t need either St. Martin’s or Amazon for distribution – he already has a substantial platform, but Amazon offered direct to consumer marketing he could tap into. At the Writer’s Digest Conference (WDC) in New York, Eisler claimed he’s made more on the book published with Amazon, than on any of his traditionally published books. Self-publishing was the smart business decision for him.

Writing Is A Business
Traditional publishers typically offer 17.5% royalty rates, but with self-publishing authors keep upwards of 75% royalties. Writing is a business and the business is connecting with readers. Traditional or self-published doesn’t matter because the self-published or indie author can hire an editor and the same cover designer as the big publishers, and put out a comparably packaged product. But not all books are created equal – and whether you’re self-published or traditionally published, failing to connect with readers will be reflected in customer reviews and sales numbers. Just putting a book out there doesn’t mean anyone will buy it – or find it in this crowded marketplace.

Read more about The Business of Writing with this exclusive GWP interview with author and writing teacher James Scott Bell.

A New Business Model
A new business model is emerging. Previously, a traditionally published author would put out 1 new title a year (or less than that), and then build a speaking and teaching career beneath the writing career. Indie publishers are telling new writers to publish 3-5 books a year to keep readers coming back. Writers must be entrepreneurs. Many of the successful independent authors have a team of writers writing for them – their name has become a brand – almost like a fashion label. But this also opens up markets where previously there were none – like short stories and poetry.

In Summary
If you don’t have a top-notch product (book), don’t have great packaging (interior design, cover art, binding, cover copy), and a social network who will share and recommend your work – you’re playing the author lotto (and the odds aren’t in your favor).

The average self-published title sells 80 copies. You can’t live off that. But the good news is that those are all things you can control through hard work. It’s a lot of trial and error, learning from what didn’t work as much as what did. These authors spoke of testing titles with Facebook ads, and monopolizing a word through Google ads. It’s a serious, purposeful business model being planned up to two years in advance.

Being traditionally published gives you instant credibility with retailers and to a certain extent readers, but that’s overcome with reader reviews, blogger reviews, Amazon rankings, etc. This is a really exciting time to be a writer. Authors no longer need the brick&mortar bookstore, the agent or New York publisher to be a success (whether publishing digitally or not) and that’s changed a lot of things.

Read more about self-publishing from these successful authors:

Debora Geary – paranormal author
LT Kodzo – YA author – Christian market
KC May – sci-fi/fantasy author


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12 comments on “Those Who Can’t – Self-Publish. Really?

  1. The main reason I’m looking at a small press instead of self-publishing because I want to learn the business first. And I don’t have more than one title ready to go. I can, however, see going with self-publishing in the future, once I understand marketing and the overall business aspects better. Seems like it’s the way of the future, but I think building the audience is key, and you’ve got to make the investment to do that.

    • Small presses are becoming an increasingly good option for those very reasons. You get help creating an effective cover and the chance to work with whatever marketing and editing teams they might have.


  2. I cannot admire anyone who would “build an audience” before building a good book. Unfortunate to note that this is happening with great frequency. Quality is low. Repetition’s high. Originality’s all but disappeared.

    • Lots of people have unfortunately published books that weren’t ready, had never been edited, and were just plain awful. This led to the aforementioned stigma attached to self-published books. People pitched one agent, got turned down once or twice and concluded they were misunderstood and the publishing world is out to get them. So they self-published. That’s a mistake.

      Established authors self-publishing has brought credibility and validity to that option. I think Stacy makes a valid point that you should learn the business before publishing. You wouldn’t open a store or restaurant on the spur of moment without due research and preparation – this is the same thing. Writing is a business. Without a really great book that connects with readers (a quality product), the platform and audience won’t matter. Hopefully that point came through in my post :/

      Thanks for stopping by, Anthony.

  3. Pingback: Those Who Can't ? Self-Publish. Really? | Marcy Kennedy & Lisa … | unutikunelam

  4. Great post! I think writers need a lot of the same ingredients for success in self publishing and traditional publishing. Self publishing lets you get your work out there faster and with more control, but you bear way more responsibility for the details that might be outside your area of expertise. As a debut novelist, I’d rather go with traditional publishing or a small press because I need someone to teach me when a book is ready and help put it together.

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  6. barry’s offer from st. martin’s wasn’t “never-have-to-write-again money”. it was $500,000. he’s in his mid-40s, married with a kid. that’s just salary. he can write full time and not need a day job, but $500,000 after taxes isn’t going to keep you afloat for the rest of your born days. (google firecalc to get an idea of how much retirement $ you’ll need someday.)

    not that it’s not a really nice-size two-book advance. 🙂 and what writer wants never-have-to-write-again money anyway? writers want to write!

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