Sunday, December 14, 2008
With print-on-demand technology becoming more widespread, self-publishing is becoming more popular as well, especially among new or inexperienced writers who see it as an alternative to commercial publication. Self-publishing has a number of caveats of its own, though, and I’ve put a few of those in an easy-to-browse checklist format.
1. Reasons for self-publishing
___ All the agents rejected it, and every book deserves a chance with publication
___ All the agents rejected it, but that’s because they only want writers who have been published before or who have written the next Harry Potter
___ If a book is self-published, at least that gets it out there and available to readers or even to publishers who might be interested
___ Lots of famous books were self-published
Although I’ve seen all these reasons given as justification for self-publishing, they’re likely to result in disappointment later. Self-publishing isn’t a shortcut to commercial publication and has challenges of its own – distribution being one of them.
2. Type of book
___ Is your book fiction, especially fiction of a very popular type, like vampire romance?
___ Is your book non-fiction, but very generalized – e.g. good health, world history?
___ Does your book fit into some very unusual sub-sub-genre, like inspirational erotica?
___ Is your book a fanfic?
A safe type of book to bet on, when it comes to self-publishing, is non-fiction that fills a specialized niche. Poetry books are also candidates for self-publication, since there’s almost no market for poetry in commercial publication.
3. Famous self-publishing stories include those of
___ Christopher Paolini, Eragon
___ John Grisham, A Time to Kill
___ Mark Twain
___ Stephen King
___ Benjamin Franklin
If you ticked any of the above, please research them further. For instance, Twain – after he was famous – started a publishing company. It went bankrupt. Writers are often better at writing than they are at business and marketing, probably for the same reason that salespeople are better at selling than they are at writing.
There are self-publication success stories (The Celestine Prophecy, The Christmas Box) but the above examples aren’t among them.
4. Self-publishing non-successes
Are there any Cautionary Tales about self-publishing to balance out the positives?
5. Success in self-publishing
What’s your goal in self-publication?
___ Selling copies to your family and friends
___ Selling enough copies to cover the costs of the books, advertising and distribution
___ Selling enough copies for a commercial publisher to pick up the book
The first two are good reasons, but something to be aware of is the fact that the average self-published book (like the average vanity-printed book) sells 75 to 100 copies. And as for selling enough copies to interest commercial publishers, it’s usually easier to go to the commercial publisher in the first place than to sell the thousands of copies this strategy requires.
6. Startup capital
___ Not necessary, since you’ll be using POD
___ Necessary, since you’ll be paying for a small print run to keep the costs of individual books as low as possible
POD has its own problems, one of which is the higher per-unit cost of books, though as the technology improves this may change.
Do most reputable reviewers accept self-published books for reviews?
If you ticked “No”, why not?
___ Because they’re in league with commercial publishers to keep entrepreneurs down
___ Because the majority of self-published books have no quality control and no editing, and reviewers have enough books from publishers already
That being said, self-publishing isn’t instant doom to a book. But as well as a suitable (and edited) book, authors need experience in marketing, knowledge of the publishing industry, a realistic approach and money for printing the books (plus whatever advertising is needed).
For more information, see this excellent post from an author who's going into self-publishing.