In these days of print-on-demand and ebook technology, self (or independent) publishing has never been easier. No longer need we writers employ agents, or write query letters – now it is possible to write the story, edit it and put it up for the world to read.
But should we do that?
I made the decision in 2011, following my “win” in 2010’s NaNoWriMo, to independently publish my novel: Aroha’s Grand Adventure. This was, in part, because one of my prizes was a free proof copy via Amazon’s CreateSpace program. I wrote the novel over the month of November, creating the illustrations as I went, and received my first proof early in 2011. The book was available on Amazon by July 1st, 2011.
Over the next two years, I went on to release my second book, Midsummer Knight’s Quest (which had actually been written prior to Aroha’s) and the first in my Lemur Saga, Fellowship of the Ringtails. So, aside from the lure of the free book, what were the other reasons that inspired me to avoid the traditional publishing route altogether?
1. Rejection letters: OK, so I confess, I didn’t really try too hard to take the trad route. I DID submit my manuscript for Midsummer Knight’s Quest to my favourite children’s publishers, Chicken House, but with little hope and no success – although I do have a lovely rejection letter.
2. I felt my stories were a bit unconventional and unlikely to appeal to the publishing houses’ criteria. Midsummer Knight’s Quest was extremely long and broke some narrator conventions. I knew from the start that I was doing this, and was not entirely comfortable with it, but could see no way to adjust it within the plot. After several suggestions to split it into two books, I’ve currently withdrawn it from sale. As for Fellowship of the Ringtails, it seemed unlikely, even with the success of the Madagascar movies, that any of the “big 5” publishers would take a book about lemurs seriously and even if they did, they’d likely try to force it into the children’s section, meaning I would have to tone down the prose.
3. I wanted to keep control of my stories: if a publishing house purchases your story, it becomes their property. They chose the cover, the illustrators, and may make adjustments. In smaller publishing houses, you may be asked for your opinion, but generally speaking, your book is now out of your hands and your control.
Another advantage of independent publishing, especially via Print-on-Demand technology, is that your book never goes out of print – it’s available for people to purchase for as long as Amazon (or whomever you choose to print through) exist. The “shelf life” in a physical store, unless your book is particularly successful or you’re a popular author, is about 6 months. That’s it. After which it will likely be returned, and pulped, or cycled into the clearance bins. Bookstores cannot afford to keep stock on the shelf that isn’t selling. Most publishing houses will do smallish print runs for unknown/debut authors and, if they don’t sell well, they won’t print more. Of course, with ebooks this is a moot point: ebooks will never go out of print, they don’t take up shelf space or gather dust, and they don’t get shop soiled with time.
That’s not to say indie publishing is without its faults though, for there are many. There are no gatekeepers to indie publishing, so it becomes harder to know what is good and what is not, and some people may choose to self-edit instead of hiring a professional (by way of keeping costs down), which may lead a story to be prone to plot holes and typos or grammatical errors. I do not recommend self-editing. If you can afford it, hire a professional; if you cannot afford it, give proof copies to your grammar-nut friends and encourage them to read it with pencil in hand (they won’t be able to resist correcting the ones they find). But seriously, the editing of your story could make or break your success. Reviewers can, and will, point out the poor editing, and that makes it look very unprofessional to any potential readers.
Also, self-publishing is a lot of work, with very little financial reward. Not only do you have to write the book, but also edit it/have it edited, have a cover designed, format the manuscript so that it looks professional, figure out how to get it up for sale, work through your proof copies to find the typos that were missed and then, once it is finally finished and available for sale, figure out a way to actually sell it.
Because that’s the biggest problem with independent publishing, getting your book noticed. If anyone can do it, and everyone does, then there are millions of books available for sale. How do you make yours stand out among the crowd?
Well, step one is: make your book as professional and interesting and as well-written and edited as possible. Your book must stand by its own merits.
Step two is marketing, and you can learn more about that by attending our May workshop.
Ultimately: if you have a strong, well-written and highly commercial novel, there is no benefit to you rushing the process and self-publishing. If you believe your novel can sit next to James Patterson or Brandon Sanderson or another well-renowned genre-novelist, then there’s no harm in polishing your manuscript, penning a query letter and submitting to whichever of the publishing houses can best fill your needs. If you end up collecting rejection letters, then so be it, you can always fall back on self-publishing! If your novel is, however, a bit avant-garde, non-mainstream, unconventional, or you feel will only appeal to a limited market, then by all means, prepare for the complex and sometimes frustrating journey that is self-publishing.
Do I regret self-publishing? No. I don’t write for the money (which is good, because Amazon won’t pay out until you’ve earned more than $100 in any one Amazon store, and guess what – I’m only halfway there). I write for the characters and I write for my fans. And, most of all, I write for myself.
I do, however, regret rush-publishing Aroha’s Grand Adventure, because I believe, of all my novels, that it had the most commercial promise. And because I was still ironing out typos for months after the initial release. Don’t rush the process!
We will speak more about the self-publishing process in following blog posts, but you might like to check out this previous one on creating a mobi ebook.