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One of the most popular arguments against self-publishing is that the market is already glutted with books, and we need to have some kind of quality assurance so that readers can be reasonably confident that the books available to them are of good quality. We need, they say, gatekeepers (i.e. publishers) who have taste in literature, know what's already out there so there aren't too many similar books, and can assure us that the books we're buying are worth reading both in terms of content and style.
I myself am often overwhelmed by how many worthwhile books there are out there - far more than I'll ever be able to read in a lifetime - and while I agree that there are a lot of self-published books whose quality is not so great, it is also my experience that there are plenty of traditionally published books that aren't so great - even some that have made the bestsellers lists. What's more, I have read some phenomenal self-published books (e.g. Andrea K. Höst's Touchstone Trilogy, Ruthanne Reid's The Sundered, and Ember Casey's His Wicked Games), which is proof that self-published does not need to equate to poor quality, nor does traditionally published always mean high-quality.
What the arguments against self-publishing seem to ignore is the fact that publishing is a business, and publishers are in it to make money. This is why there are a ton of traditionally published books out there that are similar to one another: publishers want to publish what they know they can sell. What is less certain is whether a traditional publisher is likely to take a chance on something by a first-time author that is truly different or that takes a familiar genre and bends (or full-on breaks) the rules in ways that might lose readers. While there definitely are publishers out there who specialize in experimental fiction (more on that in a future post) and small publishers may be more likely to take chances because they tend to be in it more for the love of literature than for the sales, the big names seem to pump out the same types of books with the same messages time and again because they know they will sell.
On that note, here are five reasons you might decide to self-publish:
1. Your target audience is different from a traditional publisher's target audience.
Maybe you're a first-time author who's trying to do something really different that will appeal to a niche market and there isn't a traditional publisher out there interested in marketing to that audience. Or maybe you're writing primarily for friends and family. You're open to other people reading and enjoying your book, but what's most important to you is to share your memoir or ideas with the people closest to you, and you want to be able to put a book in their hands. In either case, self-publishing might be your only option.
2. You want to have the final say.
In everything: the book cover design, interior design, when the book is ready to be published, how much it costs, and how it gets marketed and to whom. When you go the traditional route, the final say in all these things rests with the publisher. The best you can hope for is an invitation to provide input. But when you self-publish, you get the final say in everything. You work with a cover designer and editors, and your choices for some things may be limited because of the technologies available to you, but in the end you've chosen from among the available options what's best for you and your work, and it's 100% your book.
3. You love learning and challenge.
There are loads of opportunities for learning when you self-publish because ultimately you are in charge of every step of the process, from drafting and revision to cover creation to formatting, publishing, and marketing. The entire process is an opportunity to develop/practice your project management skills, and, based on the way things are done now, you'll also need to learn/use intermediate MS Word skills. You'll learn about ebook vs. print cover dimensions and manuscript formatting requirements. With marketing comes learning about new-to-you social media platforms - or new ways of using the ones you're already on - and blogging and virtual book tours. Self-publishing encourages you to think about your current resources and the communities you're already involved in differently and pushes you to make new connections. Along the way you'll make mistakes and fix them, and in the end you'll experience the satisfaction of finally having your book come out the way you want it to. All that will belong to you.
4. You don't want to have to sell your book twice.
When you publish traditionally, you have to first sell your book to an agent or publisher and then to readers. Yes, it's true that less of the burden of marketing to readers rides on your shoulders when you publish traditionally, but you still need to carry your weight. When you self-publish, you only have to sell the book to readers, thereby taking out the middle step.
5. You want to make more money off each sale.
Your royalties are higher when you self-publish because you've invested money on the front end in getting your book in the best shape possible and getting it out there, so when you make a sale, your royalties are two to five times what they would be if you published traditionally - 35-80% (for an ebook) vs. 10-15%.
If you've self-published or have considered self-publishing, what are your reasons in favor of it?
Sione Aeschliman, LLC provides high-quality editing and coaching services at fair rates to support emerging and established writers in achieving their writing and publishing goals. To inquire about my services or ask a question, email me at sioneaeschliman (at) gmail (dot) com.