To Self Publish Or Not…

Self-publishing is a growing trend among writers. With avenues into the various traditional publishing houses becoming narrower and narrower, often times, doing it yourself and going it alone are the only ways you’ll ever see your work in something resembling print.

I first self-published at the age of six (or was it seven? I don’t remember…anyhoo….); it was an original story, with illustrations done by yours truly, cobbled together on lined notebook paper and stapled together on the kitchen table. Granted it was only about six pages long, but there it was. I was so proud.

I continued to write all the way into my adulthood, short stories, poetry, songs, screenplays, etc….all the while hoping that one day I might be discovered and become the next Stephen King. I probably would have never given self-publishing a second thought if it weren’t for my newsletter.

I put out a newsletter as a part of my career in music, detailing what was going on in my life, announcing upcoming shows and projects, and in general trying to make folks’ lives a little brighter by offering some off the wall humor and inspiration. After a time, people began to suggest that this might make good material for a book.

I agreed, partly out of ego, and partly out of acknowledgement that they were right. Many of these inspirational mailings started out much longer and more in depth, whittled down to an acceptable length for a mass e-mail that recipients could read in a hurry. I went back to the source material, picked out the ones I thought were best, and before I knew it, I had half a book’s material in front of me. Over the next three months, I wrote material for the other half.

Then of course, was the question of what to do with it. Somehow, a collection of musings (no matter how brilliant) from a relatively unknown regional musician just didn’t sound like something traditional publishers would be chomping at the bit to snap up. What to do?

Then it hit me…..I was touring full time and had a ready made audience……the people that would likely be on my mailing list were in attendance at my concerts every night. I could produce the book myself, and market it at my various appearances.

The result was the book “Crossroads” published in 2007, and a project which I wrote, edited, laid out, and designed. Probably more than most want to take on, but I sure was proud when it came out.

If you are thinking about diving into the self-publishing well, there are a few things to consider. First, the good stuff:

You have control. You are able to control the whole process. In traditional publishing, once a manuscript leaves your hands, it goes to somebody else for editing, somebody else for artwork, somebody else for marketing, etc. Self-publishing authors retain all rights and control over how the work is produced and used.

You know your market. This was me in a nutshell. You have a product that may have a specific niche audience, one you are very familiar with. I was a Christian music artist and had written an inspirational book based largely on some difficult times in my life. I knew this book would have an audience within the church.

A matter of time. Self-publishing gets you on the streets quickly. If you are accepted by a traditional publishing house, it may still be more than a year before your book hits the shelves. The turnaround time on my book was only a matter of weeks following my beating it into final draft status.

Money. At the end of the day, let’s face it; it’s all about the money. In traditional publishing, an author gets about 10% of the selling price per book. A self-publishing writer can receive up to 60% of the selling price. Greed is good.

Proving yourself. A self-published book that sells well will catch the attention of traditional publishing houses. There are numerous cases of self-published writers whose work was later picked up for release by a major publishing house.

Undivided attention. The self-publishing author can give a project his or her unwavering attention. In a traditional setting, there may be over a hundred books in production at any given time.

Sound good so far? Well, stay tuned, children, because there is always a darker side. Some of the negatives include:

Flying solo. Traditional houses have large teams of professionals in all areas of production, from editing, graphic design, packaging, sales, distribution, legal, etc……you need to either get really competent in all these fields or be prepared to part with some cash to hire qualified help.

Marketing. This is the toughest nut to crack. Many of us can write, but successful marketing is a unique talent all its own. How are you going to convince readers to open their wallets and buy your book? Better…how are you going to get enough of them to buy your book for it to be successful and warrant all the time, energy, blood, sweat and tears you have put into it?

Time. Everything involved with the creation, execution, and marketing of your book will come out of your time. Are there enough hours in the day for you to do it all?

Money. Oops, there’s that word again. In self-publishing, you have to invest your own money into your project, with no guarantee that you will ever see a return on that investment. With traditional publishers you generally get an advance and royalties if your book sells well.

Prejudice. There is a knee jerk reaction to self-publishing, with some people believing “ well, if the author had to publish it himself, this thing must really suck.” Of course self-publishing also put authors in the same company as Charles Dickens and Mark Twain.

So there you are with your manuscript. Weigh the pros and cons, and go after the scenario that best suits your personal and professional goals. Now, go therefore and write well….

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