Should you self-publish your book?

Self-publishing doesn’t seem like such a bad idea lately. Everyone is babbling about what it means and debating whether it’s a good thing, but one thing is for sure: more authors are having better success with self-publishing now than perhaps ever before, and the stigma is going away. Four Smashwords authors made this Sunday’s NYT Bestseller list, hundreds of indie authors are selling 50,000 plus ebook copies, and B&N is making an effort to put print copies of self-published books in their stores.

There are three keys to this success, the first of which is price points. Your average reader, when given a choice between an appealing romance novel that’s $12.99 and an equally appealing romance novel that’s $0.99, is going to buy the cheaper book (or maybe 10 similar cheap books and still spend less than they would if they had bought that one for $12.99). As long you make sure that your book is a contestant, you can win the sale with a low price-point.

That brings me to the next key in self-publishing, which is marketing. If you create a book, get it up on Amazon, and sit back to wait for the sales to roll in, you’ll probably be disappointed. You have to make sure that your target readers know that your book is out there. Get people to write reviews, see what tags are on similar books and tag your book the same way. Go to events and offer to send your book for free to people, so they’ll start talking about it. I’m not a marketing expert, but you see what I’m saying. Once you build a buzz around your book, it will show up on recommended lists.

Self-published authors could do all of this before though, so why now? The big retailers, namely Amazon, are starting to promote self-published authors who follow these rules. Amazon is constantly recommending books in my preferred genres that are self-published, right along with the traditional books. They also have a list of Top 100 Free books on the bottom right of the Books homepage. This list used to be a mix between indie-authors running promotions and public domain books, until last week when Amazon assigned new ASIN numbers to all the public domain books last week, pushing them to the bottom of the list. (Hint, Hint, if you were thinking about running a free promotion, now’s the magic window before the public domain books start gaining momentum again.)

So, should you self-publish your book? Consider that you need to find a vendor for each step in the process: editing, typesetting, file conversion, distribution, and sales tracking. You also to market the hell out of it. AND start thinking about the next book. But if it’s the only avenue available to publish, it could be worth it, even if you’re thinking of traditional publishing down to road. Successful self-publishers occasionally draw the attention of traditional publishers, much like E.L. James drew in Random House with the web-success of Fifty Shades of Grey.

On the other hand, traditional publishers handle the business aspects of the book and leave you to the writing. They also do things that are still very difficult for indie-authors to do, like create beautiful covers and paper stock for print products, sell translated copies overseas, and cover the author’s expenses with an advance until the book starts earning royalties. For more insight, check out indie-author Joann Penn’s post on why she decided to  go the traditional route for her next book: Why I Signed With A New York Literary Agent.

I’m not going to suggest that one way of publishing is better or worse. Self-publishing seems to work well for people who want to publish something for a local community, people who are very entrepreneurial, and people who have been repeatedly dismissed by traditional publishing. Traditional publishing is changing and adapting to the digital age; it may gain some insight from the self-publishing phenomenon, but it’s still an ideal option for writers who want to focus on their writing.


One thought on “Should you self-publish your book?

  1. As a writer, my fundamental ambition is to have people read my stories – and be entertained etc. (I’d like to make a living at it too!)

    Six years ago, I thought I’d made it as a published (print) author when my novel ‘The Tale of Findo Gask’ won the national prize in a UK competition for new authors. I got the publishing contract, the prize money, had the book launch… and then the publishing company went bust!

    They never got as far as promoting my book widely so sales were minimal and I went back to the depressing task of trying to get agents and publishers to even look at my work.

    Earlier this year, I discovered Kindles and self-publishing. I’ve now got three novels and a collection of short stories available on Amazon. I’ve had some excellent reviews (and a few not so good!). I’ve given away about 11,000 books through free promotions but more importantly I’ve also sold several hundred.

    No, I’m not rich yet but the ball is rolling and a lot more people are now reading my work than ever before. And that is so rewarding.

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