For this month, I want to open up a topic that has been a very popular discussion among writers I know and/or work with: Should I consider self-publishing my work?
Most people think that, as an agent, I hate self-publishing. But that’s not the case at all. And in fact, we’ve assisted and advised a number of clients in self-publishing over the past few years. We have seen some success from this. We have seen some books have less success. And sometimes you can do all of the right things to ensure success, and success still doesn’t follow. Such is the way of life, right?
One thing we do know though, is that rushing into self-publishing without considering a number of factors first, is the best way to NOT to do well. So when a client calls up to say they’re interested in self-publishing, we have a long list of questions to ask them. But the top 3 questions are:
1. WHAT IS YOUR BUDGET?
Books don’t get published for free! Whether it’s you or a publisher paying for it, there is going to be a cost for wide distribution. Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) program offers the unique opportunity with their KDP Select program. It’s just one option, but if you decide to go this route, it can help to make self-publishing very inexpensive. They’ll cover most of the costs, however, your book can only be sold exclusively on Amazon for a period of time. This means that Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google Books, and any other platform will not be able to carry your book until Amazon’s allotted period of time is over. Which means that readers that do not have Kindles or the Kindle app cannot buy your book. (I am one of those readers!) KDP will also coordinate to design your cover for you, free of charge. But the other drawback is that, legally, that cover does not belong to you and after the allotted exclusive period on Amazon, it is not clear whether or not you are allowed to use that cover on other platforms. So there are pros and cons to going this route:
Pro: publish quickly and inexpensively on one of the most popular platforms on the market
Con: only partial distribution and possible future cover woes (which is a branding issue)
If you decided to publish on all platforms, there are a number of costs involved: cover design, formatting to each platform, obtaining an ISBN, etc. But the pro to these costs is that you have 100% control over where your book is sold, as well as control over your book package and brand as an author. This is a big deal in today’s world where branding is becoming more and more important.
And no matter which way you decide to self-publish, there are costs, such as:
- Editing: you should have your work professionally edited in some way if you are interested in a long-term career as an author.
- Marketing & Promotion: YOU are the publisher now. No one else is going to market this book for you. So set aside at least a few thousand dollars as your marketing budget. You may need to hire an outside publicist, too. Which leads me to…
2. ARE YOU PREPARED TO BE YOUR OWN PUBLICIST?
If you’re unable to hire a freelance publicist, who can cost thousands of dollars alone for their expertise, then you need to be ready to do this yourself. To clarify, publicity is NOT marketing and promotion. Publicity is “the act, process, or occupation of disseminating information to gain public interest.” (FreeDictionary.com) This includes: blog tours, articles, video interviews, events, etc. You can’t be shy about outreach, and you can’t be talking AT people about your books—you’re talking WITH people about a lot of things. Networking!
And if it helps to clarify this, marketing and promotion, which is also important, includes: ads, swag, giving away free copies/downloads of the book, etc.
All of these things require many hours of research and execution. Most writers I know just want to write, but there are some that are interested in this aspect of the business and do it very, very well.
3. DO YOU HAVE MORE THAN ONE BOOK WRITTEN ALREADY?
This last question may sound like an odd one. Because why should this matter, right? Well. Most writers I work with can’t write a book in a couple weeks. I should clarify: can’t write a good book in a couple weeks. And even if they could write a decent draft in a couple weeks, that draft still needs to be edited and copyedited. So writing the book takes time.
But in the self-publishing world, there is a direct correlation between success and the amount of books you have available to the public/how consistently new, well-done material goes up for sale. So before we consider going down the self-publish route with a client, we usually suggest that they have two manuscripts done before we start the process. And they better get started on that third book while the process is under way!
These are certainly not the only questions and factors we take into account when advising/assisting a client on self-publishing, but they’re 3 of the most important items to consider.
So should you self-publish your work?
Well, that’s up to you. Whatever you do, be strategic. Do your research. Set aside a budget. And plan wisely.