Self-publishing is more valid than ever before. For decades, “self-publishing” has been a dirty word that earns writer-entrepreneurs scoffs and sneers. “Oh, so you’re not actually a published author?”
Firstly, self-publishing requires a lot of hard work and money and risk (and coffee).
Secondly, self-published authors can easily make as much as traditionally published authors.
Thirdly, traditional publishing companies are a joke.
Like all legacy media, these big publishing houses have had 20 years to adapt to a changing landscape of book publishing. Yes, traditional publishers know how to sell books to bookstores. But they have failed to adapt to the ever-changing market. Legacy publishers have no idea how to connect with readers.
How Traditional Publishing Works
Also called mainstream publishing, traditional publishing requires a lot of unnecessary steps:
- You write a book. You edit the book yourself. (This happens in self-publishing as well.)
- Optionally, but sometimes required for the next step: Hire a professional editor and/or a professional manuscript formatter to make your manuscript the best it can be.
- You query literary agents to represent you.
- Your literary agent and you work together to compile a book proposal. This proposal is kind of like a marketing plan for your book.
- Your agent sends the book proposal off to multiple traditional publishing companies and imprints.
- If anyone accepts your proposal (not a guarantee), your agent negotiates your contract. You will likely receive an advance against your book’s predicted profits.
- If accepted, the publisher has editors, formatters, book cover designers, and proofreaders work on your book till they feel it’s ready for market. (This is at no extra cost to you, which is arguably the primary benefit of traditional publishing.)
- The book goes to market months (if not years) after you wrote it. The publisher typically keeps more than 50% of the profits.
In theory, this process weeds out the bad books and untalented authors. In practice, the only people who attain traditional publishing are celebrities or people who have family or friends in the publishing biz.
How Self-Publishing Works
The self-publishing process works very differently. For the most part, the process is more flexible because you, the author, are the person in charge of making the book the best it can be.
The main downside of self-publishing is the cost:
- $1000-$2000: Self-published authors need to hire a professional editor. A poorly edited book means negative reviews and far fewer sales long-term.
- $300-$2000: A professional book cover designer is a must. Your book cover is your number one marketing tool.
- $100-$1000: Many authors don’t have the time or technical know-how to make a book look correct. This requires expensive formatting software and a lot of time. (Might I suggest Vellum or Atticus?)
- Marketing costs vary, but you’re probably looking at author website costs, money spent on professional reviewers, advertising on Amazon or Facebook, etc.
The main benefit of self-publishing: Most of the profits (after Amazon’s take). Also, you are the sole determiner of your book’s fate, which is appealing to all you control freaks out there (me included).
Want to cut your teeth with self-publishing? It’s going to take a lot of time, money, and sweat. But it’s worth it if you’re a good writer.
Avoid Vanity Publishers
Make sure to avoid vanity publishers. You should never pay a company to publish your book. Vanity publishers try to get you to pay them money to get your book on bookshelves.
Books published through vanity publishers seldom make a profit. This process is mainly to stroke an “author’s” vanity, so they can say they were published — and not self-published.
The Offensive Stereotype
Too often, I have heard people use “self-publishing” as a derogatory remark, even though self-publishers can make more than traditionally published authors. (It makes me want to pick up drinking again.)
I’ve also heard authors say “mainstream publishing” to delegitimize self-publishing.
Please, if you’re reading this, be a part of the solution. Self-publishing is a perfectly viable career path. Self-published authors have not sold out or given up on “real” publishing.
No offense to traditionally published authors (unless you were a beneficiary of nepotism, in which case, congratulations on perpetuating the cruelest unfairnesses in life), but there’s a reason that traditional publishing companies are dying.
It’s because they refused to adapt. It’s because they operate on an outdated sales approach. It’s because they value author marketability over quality of the book. It’s because self-publishing is simply more modern.