In writing this title, I’ve already committed one of the cardinal sins of aspiring authordom: giving credence to the enigma that is “self-publishing.” Oops. I’m begging you — don’t tell the online writing community.
Whether you’re a newbie writer or an established wordsmith, I’d wager the last of my diminishing student savings that you’ve heard of the term. Moreover, if you have, I’d extend my bet to “double or nothing” to say that your first impression of the alternative publishing process wasn’t a good one. After all, that’s what social media at large preaches, right?
Unfortunately, yes. Having a digital connection to other writers, while great for networking, comes at the steep price of having the opinions of a hive mind crammed down your throat at every turn. While the popular viewpoint is starting to shift, it’s currently still “in” to hate self-publishing.
However, like all novelists-in-training, you’re totally a creative visionary. Maybe you became a writer because you’re all about carving your own path, or maybe you’re just want to get professional help with dissertation. Alternatively, your endeavors with the traditional process may have fizzled out before yielding success. In either case, you should ignore the flagrant stigma affixed to self-publishing. It might be just what the doctor ordered.
The Great Debate
As the name would suggest, self-publishing transforms your journey from amateur to accomplished into a one-man operation. The horror stories you’ve likely heard about being stonewalled at the querying stage or swimming in a pool of rejection letters are a non-issue. You and your work ethic are the only obstacles keeping you from that coveted “author” status. It sounds awesome, doesn’t it? As a result, I’m sure you’re wondering why everyone else is so eager to slap the taboo label on the self-publishing route. I know I was.
In contrast, “traditional publishing” encompasses a majority of the titles you see while walking past a bookstore and trying (probably failing) to convince yourself that you already have enough unread books at home.
Once a writer has a polished project in hand, they appeal to literary agents to represent their works and interests. Should they manage to beat the odds and secure one, the manuscript ventures out to publishing houses for further scrutiny. If the stars align at this point, congratulations! You, too, can trade that “writer” descriptor in your Twitter bio for an upgraded “author” one.
For some, one of these titles is more reputable than the other. Finding the light at the end of the traditional tunnel means a variety of literary authorities have given your book a stamp of approval. With self-publishing, you don’t have to jump through as many hoops. This leads to the belief that self-published authors aren’t as skilled or credible as those who chose to fit the mold, or so to speak.
Nonetheless, I’ve read plenty of good self-published novels, like “The Martian,” and, in contrast, some really terrible traditionally published ones. So, contrary to what you’ve been told, the vetting process of the latter is far from air-tight. Proficiency will always speak for itself, regardless of format. With that said, there are a number of legitimate reasons to opt for a more independent route to literary greatness.
Holding the (Creative) Reins
The biggest downside of having outside input becomes your greatest asset as a potential self-published author. Much like online writing cliques, the publishing industry is littered with rigidity and impractical expectations. From simpler aspects like titles and cover design to removing an entire subgenre from your beloved brainchild, you’re at the mercy of the publishers. Assuming you’re as much of a Type A personality as I am, this isn’t going to fly — at least not well.
If you have a unique project without a niche in the existing literary world, self-publishing will allow you to create your own and evade all of the politics that come with the traditional method. Even if you were the second coming of J.K. Rowling, no publishing house will take a risk on a book lacking a pre-existing market. I can’t blame them for that. At its heart, publishing is a business and, without a stable audience, your book isn’t going to sell.
On the flip side, that concern is a still a frustrating reality. As the sole proprietor of your work, marketing is your essence. You’ll be responsible for every ounce of promotion instead of having a team behind you to shoulder, admittedly, a small amount of the burden. A successful self-published author is always an equally gifted businessman (or woman).
The positive facet of this, as before, is complete creative control. You can produce a manuscript to fit your ideal vision and advertise it accordingly without someone else wanting to capitalize on a different angle, for example. It turns out that that cheesy superhero mantra is extremely applicable to your role as a do it yourself author. With great power, does indeed, come great responsibility.
Take the Money and Run
While you shouldn’t pursue a career in writing primarily for the money, that’s not to say having a little bit of extra cash isn’t beneficial. When you turn the rights to your story over to a publishing house, you also end up forfeiting a bulk of the book’s revenue. Most authors net less than 10 percent of their work’s lifetime sales. Unless you’re consistently snagging a spot on the New York Times Best Seller list, this process won’t earn you a sustainable living. It’s no secret that writers tend to fall under the “starving artist” archetype.
Again, with self-publishing, you negate the necessity for a professional publisher — and thus more of the earnings find their way into your bank account. That doesn’t mean you get to pocket all of that money, though. Depending on the platform you elect to publish your debut novel on, you’ll still have to sacrifice a bit of your well-deserved cash.
Createspace, one of the most popular independent publishing services, retains 40 percent of an author’s royalties for a single manuscript. This sounds worse than it actually is. It’s simple math, really. You essentially get paid six times more as a self-published author, assuming you sell the same number of copies.
Granted, it’s hardly a perfect estimation. You will have to cover the cost of everything else that goes into the finished product, too. An experienced editor and cover artist won’t be cheap, but splurging on them will yield a better result and, probably, better sales.
A Wealth of Resources
Before the royalties begin to roll in, I guarantee you’ll already be rich in another area. The self-publishing realm used to be a lone wolf’s habitat. Just five years ago, you would’ve had to scrounge around to find any sort of assistance. Luckily for everyone involved, the allure of working from home has caused the previously insignificant pool of freelancers to erupt. Now, a hasty web search will return hundreds of potential allies for your publishing effort.
You’ll have the capability to assemble the perfect team of individuals to evolve your manuscript into the complete package before it hits online shelves. As you’re all likely trying to make a name for yourselves in the industry, working with other independent creatives is an organic way to form long-term business connections.
This comes with the added bonus of dual-promoting on the social media front. You and your editor, artist or other cohort will be starving for user traffic until you stumble into the spotlight. Consequently, you’ll both want to spread the word about every project you embark on.
When your future cover artist finishes their masterpiece for your novel, you better believe they’ll be quick to advertise it. Sure, they’ll get some hard-earned praise for a job well done, but your book will also draw the eyes of an entirely new online audience. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.
The Choice Is Yours
Ultimately, the decision rests on how much influence you want on your debut novel’s voyage to publication. Beyond arranging words in a document, all writers have a vast array of boons and banes to bring to the table. If you’re a devotee to the craft and nothing else, maybe you’d be better off leaving the commercial side to a professional. Conversely, you may have the innate business sense to pilot your manuscript’s fate by your own merits.
Either way, there are two things that can’t be disputed. Obviously, becoming a published author is a monumental task regardless of means. However, there has never been a better time to hop on the self-publishing train. If you have even the slightest inkling of interest, you should consider taking the plunge.