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?

___ Yes
___ No

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.

7. Reviews

Do most reputable reviewers accept self-published books for reviews?

___ Yes
___ No

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.


Jane Smith said...

The one point that's never, ever made is that when a self-published writer is considered a success it's generally because he or she has moved to mainstream publishing and THEN sold a lot of copies. It's rarely because the self-published version has sold several hundred thousand copies: now why do you suppose that might be, Marian?


Anonymous said...

I think self-publishing burns a lot of people. Now, if someone has lots of extra time and extra money to spend on marketing- that's one thing. But most people don't. And they end up losing a lot.

Anyone thinking about self-publishing really needs to take off any rose-colored glasses and really study the industry. And then decide if it suits them.

Marian Perera said...

Good point, Jane!

These days, it's relatively easy to get your (generic your) manuscript printed and bound and fitted with a cover.

But considering how many books already exist and are being published, what's difficult is to make readers aware of your book and to make it available to them at a reasonable price. That's where self-published and vanity-published books alike run into problems.

I just wish that more people would research it rather than quoting that list of famous supposedly self-published writers.

Marian Perera said...

"Now, if someone has lots of extra time and extra money to spend on marketing- that's one thing."

Add experience as well.

That's one reason I'd never go into self-publishing. I know I don't have the marketing skills, and it's easier to become a better writer than to become a salesperson. Especially if I'm too busy doing the latter to keep writing.

writtenwyrdd said...

If you are into self-promotion, then maybe self-publishing would work for you. But I wouldn't do it, except, perhaps, for a volume of poetry. But I'd figure that would be really my vanity.

What seems to be a better option is to try and get published by a POD (print on demand) firm. These are small presses with smaller budgets, and because the books do not need to be printed, their marketing money can be better spend on getting people to order the books.

The brick and mortar stores don't have the books with a POD press; but you can sell online. (Or that's my understanding.)