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But self-publishing is not the right path for everyone, and I believe that an emerging author should consider both options before deciding which route to take.
Here are five reasons NOT to self-publish.
1. You lack the resources to give the indie author route a proper go.
Becoming a successful indie author is like having two full-time jobs: there's the full-time job of writing, and then there's the full-time job of finding and engaging with your audience in order to sell your books.
While traditionally published authors are still expected to participate in marketing efforts - traditional book tours like the ones Bill Cameron does, virtual book tours like the ones Darynda Jones does, or doing interviews and writing articles like Jay Ponteri does - they also have a team of marketing professionals through their publisher who does a lot of the heavy lifting, which saves them time and energy that they can then spend writing their next book or traveling or hanging out with their families. So being traditionally published is only one and a half full-time jobs instead of two full-time jobs.
And then there's formatting your books for publication. Sadly, in my experience a book will not format itself no matter how much begging, pleading, bribing, or threatening you do. They are heartless, selfish things. So you either spend time formatting your books for publication or pay someone else to do it.
If you want to put out a book that's as good as it can be, it needs to go through multiple rounds of editing. Even if the first high-level developmental edit reveals that there are very few big issues to sort out, there's still substantive/line and copy editing. To do a proper job, it will likely cost an indie author a few thousand dollars, depending on how long the book is and the state it's in when they begin working with an editor. [Note: If you're a first-time author, it's still important that you work with an editor to get the manuscript query-ready, but this usually costs less than taking it to publish-ready.]
In addition to the editing there's the formatting (if you don't do it yourself). And the book's cover. Oh, and marketing costs.
If you simply do not have the money to invest in these things - or if you have other priorities for your discretionary income - then the traditional route would make more sense.
When you publish traditionally, you get a team of professionals supporting you at no direct cost to you. Yes, you make less on royalties to compensate, but you don't pay out of pocket for your agent, editors, and marketing professionals, who are all there to provide their expertise and support, and who all have a vested interest in you/your work's success.
Which brings me to reason #2...
2. You want the satisfaction of knowing that someone else thinks your book is worth investing in.
Okay, sure, you could do a Kickstarter campaign or find a wealthy patron who's not in the publishing industry, but those strategies bring their own challenges. And let's face it: neither of those are the same as having an agent or publisher - someone who's been in the business for a while, knows what they're talking about, and has taste in literature - tell you that they believe in your book so much that they're willing to invest their own resources into getting it out into the world and making it a success. If this is how you feel, I suggest that you go with it. Don't try to talk yourself out of it; you could instead be spending that time and energy trying to find an agent.
3. You want to apply for emerging writers' fellowships or residencies.
There are some fantastic opportunities out there for emerging writers to find various forms of sponsorship: cash prizes, places to live rent-free for a while, mentorships, or a combination of the three. But one of the downsides to more widespread acceptance of self-publishing is that a self-published novel or book of poetry or essays now count as a full-length published work, which means that the minute you hit the publish button, you cease to be "an emerging writer" in many organizations' eyes and are therefore ineligible to apply for a number of fellowships and residencies geared toward emerging writers. (For more info on fellowships and residencies, check out this post and that one.)
While there are certainly still a fair share of fellowships and residencies open to established writers, I haven't seen any that include mentorship, which is something that I think a lot of self-publishing authors (myself included) could use, in part for the access to other established members of the professional writing and publishing communities.
True, you also cease to be "an emerging writer" if you're published traditionally, but when you go that route, well, this brings me to reason #4...
4. You want instant access to influential people in the writing and publishing world.
You remember that team of professionals we talked about? Well, they have contacts in the business - other agents, publishers, other authors, reviewers, taste-makers. And becoming one of their contacts gets you one step closer to all the other people they know. They can use their contacts to help you get a leg up, and they might even introduce you to a few of them.
To be clear, I'm not suggesting you get an agent so that you can finally go all stalker-y on your favorite author. The purpose of having access to influential people is to help you sell your brand as an author and present you with opportunities you might not otherwise have access to.
5. Your target audience doesn't have self-published books on their radar.
In Edan Lepucki's blog post about why she chose not to self-publish, she brings up a great point: not all readers have self-published books on their radar. Specifically she talks about her target audience - readers who are into literary fiction - but I think this applies equally well to readers of poetry or children's books. If the way your target readers discover new books is by looking through a publisher's catalog or browsing the shelves of their local bookstore rather than searching an online retailer by keyword or genre, then traditional publishing is probably the way to go.
I'd love to know your thoughts. What are some other reasons to hold off on self-publishing?
Sione Aeschliman, LLC provides high-quality editing and writing coaching services at fair rates to emerging and established writers. Some of my clients have gone on to find success as indie authors, while others have been traditionally published.