Published November 2019
My Journey to Self-Publishing
Thwock! Through my open bedroom window, I hear the neighborhood outfielders ballplayers laughing as they scramble into action, but I don’t join because I’m writing. Or rather, because I’m 12 and it’s 1984, I’m programming a text adventure on my Atari 1200xl. It’s an interactive short story about an American spy trapped inside a sunken Soviet nuclear submarine that may or may not contain alien artifacts.
My writing is a constant, and through college and into adulthood, I keep writing. Dozens of short stories. Reams of paper.
Eventually I try my hand at a novel. I start and stop multiple novels multiple times. All this time, I keep writing.
But I never send the work out for publication.
Finally, it becomes a battle of wills: can I just write something and for once see it cross home plate?
Why Did I Self-Publish?
Interestingly, I didn’t choose self-publishing out of fear of rejection. After years of working in TV production, during which time I received countless executive and network notes, I developed the thick skin of an alligator.
I chose self-publishing after comparing and contrasting self-publishing and traditional publishing and saw that self-publishing was much more appropriate for me.
The Pros & Cons of Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing
Now that I’m an insider to the process and have done a lot of investigation into both publishing streams, I’ll share a few pros and cons of self-publishing and traditional publishing, so you can make the choice that works best for you.
*If you’re a genre writer, or even if you’re not, you might find a lot of benefit from watching fantasy/SF writer Brandon Sanderson’s excellent lecture series about Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing, which is free on YouTube.
Pro: Traditional Publishers Leverage the Power of Marketing
If you get published with a traditional book publisher, they may take care of or help out with some big ticket items*:
- Pay for and set up your book tour (when you travel around giving readings and speaking on panels), which expands your reach and audience base
- Market the book and place it in brick-and-mortar bookstores and with online booksellers
- Upgrade the content to make sure the book is the best it can be, which includes allocating it an in-house editor and bringing on a graphic designer (or using an in-house team) to create cover art.
*Several factors will come into play as to how much funding is allocated to these efforts on your behalf: size and budget of the publishing house, your marketability as an author, and your book’s expected marketability. The result is you may be fully, partially, or not-at-all supported with these efforts.
**Most new-to-mid-list authors nowadays do have to supplement whatever support they receive from their publishing houses for all marketing efforts, including hitting the pavement with grassroots efforts to sell the book and reach audiences.
A self-published writer of course does not have even the potential of funding and must coordinate, set up, and pay for all marketing efforts (DIY or paying people to do it for them).
Con: Traditional Publishing Is Not for the Impatient
Once a manuscript is accepted, a publisher can sit on the title for months or even a year. If you want to capitalize on the publication of your book by doing marketing or promotion, you have to wait until they have room in their production schedule for the book to hit the shelves.
Pro: Traditional Publishing Brings Prestige + Recognizability = Bigger Sales
A good publisher supporting your book is your street cred. People trust big-name publishers’ publishing choices, so when readers see your book was published by Random House, HarperCollins, Tor or (insert other big name here), that built-in prestige translates to trust and more sales.
Con: Traditional Publishers’ Payment Schedule Can Suck
The publisher pays a percentage of the contract up front as an advance. They pay the remainder upon publication (which, as I mentioned before, could be months or a year down the line). That’s a long time to wait to get paid for something you’ve already sunk years of work into!
Pro: Self-Publishing Pays More Than You Might Think
A writer can retain higher royalty payments through self-publishing than through traditional publishing (up to 70% through Amazon Publishing as opposed to 6-15% through traditional publishing).
Self-published titles start collecting royalties within days after upload. (Note: Amazon keeps a running tabulation of your royalties and pays approximately 60 days after the end of the month in which they were earned).
Con: There Are No Guarantees
We’ve all heard stories of writers like Andy Weir who made it BIG in self-publishing. It does happen. Just not very often. The average self-published book sells 250 copies over its lifetime.
You have to be willing to hustle in order to sell your books, which includes newsletters, blogging, email marketing, live events, book fairs, and readings.
All of which you will do on your own time in order to grow and nurture a dedicated readership.
*Note: most mid-list authors supported by large houses must do this as well.
Unless you’re Stephen King or Margaret Atwood, whose houses allocate most of their budget to marketing their books, you will largely have to enhance whatever your house does for you in order to sell more and more consistently.
Pro: It’s (Almost) Free to Self-Publish
All writers are on the hook for their materials to write their masterpiece: Internet service, computer/typewriter, writing apps like Scrivener, Miro, or Grammarly, and coffee/other yet stronger beverages to get you through.
But self-publishing is FREE with Amazon, Apple iBooks or Smashwords. In a world where almost nothing is free, this is extremely exciting!
*Note: it is also pretty technical, so if you’re not too keen on the frustration that may come with formatting your book and uploading it to one of these platforms, let One Lit Place do it for you and save your energy for other things.
Pro: You Maintain All the Creative Control
In traditional publishing, when you sign on, you agree to let the publishing team manage how your book will turn out both in content and design.
With self-publishing, you get to maintain all of the creative control: design the look of the book yourself from cover art to typesetting, determine the sale price (apart from being mindful of the minimums set by distributors with whom you choose to publish), and either edit the book yourself to your satisfaction or work with an editor you trust who will collaborate with you to get you the book you want it to be.
Also, a self-published writer can publish online through multiple distributors and acquire an ISBN number, allowing the paperback to be sold in brick-and-mortar stores offering co-op. It’s the best of all worlds.
Con: The Flip Side of Maintaining Creative Control- DIY Is Hard!
Being your own boss of your book means you get to make all the decisions about your book. But that also means you have to make all the decisions about your book.
Plus, once it’s published, Phase II begins with the marketing, website, and audience awareness and growth.
- Want to get a spot on TV? Better start networking!
- Interested in people reading your book for their book clubs? You’ll be making the Reader’s Guide PDF and offering it on your website.
- And etc.
The good news with DIY is you get to work with people you choose and have a personal connection with. You can’t conceivably do it all yourself- particularly the stuff that’s not in your skill set. Ever built a website before? Written press releases or managed your social media? These things are challenging if you don’t know how to do them.
Luckily you can outsource some of the tasks. There are plenty of consultants and specialists out there willing to help authors from freelancers who handle one aspect of your marketing or promotion specifically to full-service literary services such as One Lit Place, which exists precisely in order to help and support authors: brainstorming early drafts, editing and proofreading, social media assistance, connecting you to a photographer for your author photo, taking care of your PR, and more-
And you can always enlist friends and family to help you with some grassroots marketing efforts, which is an excellent way of sparking your book promotion and sales!
One More Con: Managing and Designing Your Books Can Be Madness
Although I used Kindle Create (a free eBook formatting app from Amazon) to format my eBook, it took me a few days to format the eBook so Amazon would accept it, and it still isn’t perfect.
Plus, learning Adobe InDesign to format my paperback version was pure madness. A traditionally published writer wouldn’t have to worry about any of this.
And while I could have reached out to get some help from a professional, I wanted to do it on my own, so I could put it into action for my next book.
[This info helps writers get started with self-publishing with Amazon.]
All in all, between the positives and negatives with both self-publishing and traditional publishing, I ended up choosing self-publishing:
- Quick turnaround for publication
- Far higher royalties
- More control over the process and the final product.
There is, of course, a lot more to learn. But I know I made the right choice and am happy to now have an insider’s look at the process so I can share with others and apply what I know to my next novel.
"Everything that Huber’s imagination has invented is extraordinary." Review, Amazon.com