Several years ago self publishing (selfpub) was considered the ugly stepchild of traditional publishing (tradpub). Also called vanity publishing, it was seen as a last ditch attempt by people ‘not talented’ enough to convince a publisher to take them on.
Thankfully a lot has changed since then (although someone may have forgotten to tell the Huffington Post). Self publishing is now a perfectly valid route to making money as an author and may actually be preferable, depending on your goals. There’s no wrong way to publish your book, both have their pro’s and cons.
Here are the top 5 reasons I chose the selfpub route:
1. Novellas don’t make economic sense in tradpub
Tradpub is first and foremost a business. Their goal is to figure out what will sell in the mass market, taking into account the cost of creating large piles of dead trees and ink. Unfortunately this means a lot of genres and stories simply don’t make economic sense. Novellas fall into this category. Too long to be included in anthologies and too short to charge full price, they occupy an awkward middle ground between short stories and regular length novels. Why spend money promoting a cheaper novella when you could promote a full price paperback? Why waste the shelf space?
Nowadays this is less of an issue. With the increase in ereaders and ebooks Novellas have found their niche. Lots of people want to read deep, engaging stories but can’t commit several hours to reading a full length novel. In the selfpub world your story can be as long or as short as it needs to be. I can write 3 novellas instead of one novel, and tell the stories I want to tell. That kind of freedom simply isn’t available in the tradpub space.
2. I’m a control freak
As a writer I am rarely in control. My characters do whatever they darn well please, my grand plans fall by the wayside three chapters in and I can’t stick to a word limit to save my life. It’s therefore nice to have some element of control when it comes to deciding how to present them.
My stories feel so personal that I name them as if I am naming another child. I make my own covers, which everyone will tell you is a terrible idea (they may not be wrong). Basically my books are like a small part of me that I release into the world. I dress them up in their Sunday best, comb their hair and send them out to fend for themselves. I couldn’t imagine outsourcing this to somebody else. Who know’s what is best for your story better than you?
3. Fast turnaround
I am not a patient person. When I finish a book it is a tremendous victory, something to be celebrated. I can’t wait to share it with everyone. Once I’ve dealt with all the feedback from my beta readers I often have to force myself to put it in a drawer for a couple of weeks so i can come back to it fresh for a final review before releasing it. When it is ready to go, it’s a matter of uploading it and pressing a few buttons. The process is basically instant in the selfpub world. I can push release and move on to the next project. I can have sales by the end of the day. If I want to make changes, edit a blurb, rework a cover, those changes are instant too. I can adapt as quickly as I like.
Compare this to tradpub. Rejections alone can take months, and you’re only supposed to submit to one publisher at a time. It could be years before your book is accepted, if indeed that ever happens. That’s not even the end of the process though. Now you’ll need to wait for a book cover, line up with the marketing departments schedule, find a release window that suits the publisher. That all adds months to the process. That masterpiece you’ve spent 2 years working on could languish on someone’s desk for longer than it took you to craft it. Your brilliant, unique concept could be the next big hit for a selfpub author who got to market 6 months before you did.
4. Royalty payments
I am under no illusions that my books will sell a million copies. I don’t write to market, I write whatever daft stories pop into my head, the audience for which may span into the tens or hundreds. I’m not releasing my books to make money, but it’s certainly nice to earn something from them. Tradpub typically pays first time authors lousy royalties (estimates I’ve seen range from 4-8% of the cover price). You have to sell A LOT of books at that price to make any money. With the kind of stories I write, I would be far from the top tier of tradpub authors, so it’s likely I’d be left to my own devices for marketing and promotion. Of course being in bookstores would help, but does it help sell 20x more copies? Amazon pays 70% once your book is over $2.99. That’s $2 per book sold. It’s hard to trade that for pennies from tradpub.
One other thing to consider. If I did ever have a book sell like hot cakes using selfpub it puts me in a much better negotiating position if a tradpub offer comes my way. Instead of me going begging to the tradpubs for scraps, they can come to me with an offer I can’t refuse!
5. It’s all about the readers
Tradpub makes you answerable to several people, your agent, your editor, the publisher. You first need to convince all these people and more that your book is worthy of releasing. These people supposedly represent the tastes of the end customers, the readers. The problem is, what if they don’t? What if they are only catering to a small subset of the market?
There are those that believe that convincing these ‘gatekeepers’ your work is good enough is validation that you are a ‘real’ writer. While it is true that this is a difficult thing to accomplish, it doesn’t mean that not going this route makes you any less of a writer. In fact I would argue it brings you closer to your readers. I don’t have to answer to anyone, I can release one book a year or five. I can give away books for free. I can take a break to focus on an interesting side story that won’t be profitable but will be creatively fulfilling. All of this is good for my readers. At the end of the day, if they are happy then I’m doing my job properly.
So that is just a few of the reasons that I chose the selfpub route for my stories. Which ones did I miss? If you’ve gone the tradpub route, I would love to hear the other side of the story.