I said during the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention back in April that, judging from the number of panels on the subject, self-publishing was the new black. And in the two months since then, the pace has only accelerated. Authors who were cut by publishers back in the first midlist publish in 2006 are now resurfacing, my favorite among them being Candice Hern, and many solid midlist authors have recently either begun to self-publish or have announced that this is route they’ll be going (Courtney Milan, Emma Holly).
With the relative success of my first experiment in self-publishing, I’ve decided I can’t see many downsides to going it alone, at least for some of my work. This isn’t to say that I’m shutting the door on publishing houses, but from a business perspective, unless a publisher is going to offer me an advance and strong print distribution, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s probably not in my best interests to sign away my rights. I need some evidence that the publisher can bring something more to the table than cover art, copy editing, and distribution to the major online retailers that’s actually going to result in significantly more sales than I can achieve on my own.
But this is not to say that self-publishing is the holy grail or something everyone needs to rush to do. (In fact, please DON’T rush to self-publish. More on that later.)
There are some really GOOD reasons to self-publish. Among them:
1. You control the price point of your book. As soon as you give a publisher the rights to your book, you allow them to set the price, which means that if the book is selling poorly because it’s priced to high (or selling well but could probably sustain those sales at a higher price point), you don’t have the right to change it.
2. Your work need not be constrained by word counts or genre limitations. Although it is true that digital-first/only publishers have been offering more flexibility in terms of word count and genre for years, they are still largely focused on the adult romance market and on erotic romance in particular. If you’re writing outside of those genres, there simply aren’t a lot of options for you to place your book with a publisher, even if you wanted to.
3. You have an established fan base that isn’t large enough for a publisher to offer you a print contract (or the terms of the print contract offered you are execrable) and you want/need the flexibility offered by points 1 and 2. In this scenario, it’s possible that a digital publisher is a better option, especially if you don’t want to handle subcontracting the cover art, editorial, and formatting (or doing the formatting yourself–not necessarily HARD, in my experience, but definitely time-consuming to do right).
4. You are willing to put the time, effort, and emotional commitment into producing the best book you possibly can. This should go without saying regardless of who publishes the book, but the bottom line is that self-publishing RIGHT requires an investment from you that other forms of publishing don’t. You’re going to be doing it all yourself–choosing the cover art/artist and approving the design (do you have the eye for that and know what’s marketable/not marketable), finding a content and copy editor and then being tough enough on yourself to take input from them even when you are paying them (are you willing to kill the sacred cows in your writing if you don’t HAVE to?), and so on.
5. You can afford the monetary risk of failure. If you can’t expend a minimum of a few hundred dollars to produce a quality product and not go broke if you never earn that investment back, you shouldn’t self-publish. Period. Because there are no gaurantees.
Those, in my opinion, pretty well sum up good business reasons reasons to self-publish. (Note that “get rich quick” is NOT on that list. )
Also not on that list are my other top reasons NOT to self-publish:
1. It’s quick and easy! You just finished your book yesterday and you can be selling it tomorrow.
2. You can’t be bothered with polishing a book until it’s “good enough” for an agent/editor’s slush pile. Especially not when you can make a quick buck by throwing it up on Amazon.
3. All your friends/family say your book is great, but agents/editors keep sending you form rejections. What do THEY know, though? You KNOW you’re the greatest writer ever, and readers will flock to your book by the thousands once you get it up.
4. Amanda Hocking! HP Mallory! John Locke! Look how EASY it is to be successful in self-publishing!
5. Instant fame and fortune. (Yeah, I know I already mentioned this one. But it bears repeating.)
Right now, the self-publishing boom is a mix of people self-publishing for the right reasons and those self-publishing for the wrong ones. Some of those who are doing it for the wrong reasons do well in spite of themselves. But most won’t.
So before you decide to follow the lemmings off the cliff, ask yourself if you’re doing it for the right reasons or the wrong ones. Because self-publishing, as freeing and motivating as it can be, isn’t for the lazy or the faint of heart.