Friday, July 13, 2012

Costs & Benefits of Self-Publishing

At one point or another, most of us will face the question that could determine the path of our writing career: “Should I try to publish traditionally or self-publish?” Right now, I’m debating about that question myself, so in today’s blog post I’ll consider the costs and benefits of self-publishing. Of course, every writer’s journey is different, and what works for some may not work for others. With that in mind, here we go.

Costs of Self-Publishing
  • Lack of credibility. This is the single greatest drawback to self-publishing: when someone asks you, “So I hear you’re a published author?” you’ll have to reply, “Yes, I self-published.” And then you’ll hear the inevitable, “Oh. Then your book must not be that great.”
  • Marketing yourself. While this is a drawback in that it takes more effort, energy, and boldness on your part, it also leaves room for a lot of freedom for you. You can market yourself however you want to. Additionally, keep in mind that most traditionally published authors are expected to market themselves to a great extent.
  • Need for a certain amount of technical knowledge and connections to graphic designers, ebook formatters, etc. To be perfectly honest, self-publishing takes a bit of expertise—not that much, but a bit. I’d recommend finding a mentor who’s done it before to guide you through the process.
  • Bearing the expenses yourself. It shouldn’t be that expensive—depending on whether you advertise at all and how much you pay for the graphic designer and other features—but you’ll still be paying out-of-pocket. And, sad to say, it might take a very long time before the profit accumulates enough to cover even a portion of your costs.
  • Not as much editorial guidance. In traditional publishing, you’ll work with a professional editor to make sure your manuscript is truly the best it can be. With self-publishing, though, you need to find your own test-readers and line-editors and any other feedback that you need.
  • No advance. I know most of us are not in it for the profit, but still…the thought of a nice tidy sum to reward all that hard work seems pretty beguiling. However, just to warn you, most advances for new authors are not that substantial anyway – especially when combined with positively feeble royalty rates (amounting to just a few percent per copy sold).

Benefits of Self-Publishing
  • Control of elements like the cover, the title, the plot, the characters, the publication date, and so on. In fact, when you self-publish, you get to control absolutely everything. No more boring (or worse, completely mistaken) cover disasters here!
  • A large percentage of the profit. Compared with miniscule royalty rates in traditional publishing, when you self-publish, you get most of the profit (even 80% or more).
  • No waiting on others—the responsibility for progress is in your hands. This is both a scary thought and a motivating one. It's up to you.
  • No need to wait for months or years of anxious querying to secure an agent and then have to face another round of months or years to secure a publisher.
  • You can market your book however you want to, whenever you want to.
  • Self-publishing is very flexible for length and genre of the book. If you have an out-of-the-box story that might not sell in traditional publishing, try self-publishing.
  • All the rights. Forever. This includes the rights to sequels, to individual characters, and, yes, to movies.

Of course, there are many more considerations in self-publishing; this list is just the tip of the iceburg (to use a cliche). If you're interested in reading more on the subject, I found Aubrey Hanson's article about self-publishing very helpful.

What about you--what do you think are the greatest drawbacks and/or blessings of self-publishing?

All pictures courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.


  1. My husband and I weighed these decisions carefully before choosing the self-publishing option. I think for us, the deciding factor was the control over the rights to the story.
    A friend of ours who we met through the process also chose to self-publish her fantasy novel and I'd like to take a moment to brag on her and her great moves in the self-publishing realm.
    First, she took her time and utilized her already developed internet groups. For instance, she had already been on deviantart and had an account and a number of watchers. She also had a Facebook page for her book and had paid for FB advertising which could be specifically marketed to people in her genre. Through that avenue, she actually gained over 1000 likes on her page. Not too shabby. Then, before actually launching, she went to Kickstarter (another good avenue for introducing a book to a wider audience, and there is a good Christian audience on Kickstarter also). She had a successful Kickstarter campaign and used it to pay for printing her first round of hardback books. She had already spent her own money to have an amazing artist (somewhat well-known, which also garnered her more fans) create the cover for her book. Through Kickstarter she gained another 1000 fans. So, by the time she was ready to launch her ebook, she had a waiting audience.
    She continues to inspire with additional creative marketing ideas and the way she consistently pulls her fans back in for more through contests and events. I look forward to learning more about great marketing from just keeping an eye on her.

    1. Wow, that does sound like an incredible way to gain recognition even before publishing the book! Out of curiosity, what is your friend's name & what was the book?

      Also, how did she make a Facebook fan page for a book that wasn't even out yet? Did she structure it as a "pre-order-now" and general information about the book?

      Using Kickstarter for publishing a book? Wow, that's a smart idea!

      That really does sound like some excellent strategies; thanks for sharing!

    2. My friend's name is Jess Owen Kara and her book is an all age appropriate fantasy called "The Song of the Summer King". I'm waiting for my hard copy but I have read the first four chapters and they are VERY compelling. ;)

      As far as Facebook goes, I believe she set it up as a place to involve her fans in the creation of the book. And, since she has a genre specific book, she marketed it through Facebook advertising to other folks who were chatting or interested in gryphons (which is what her book is mainly about) and Tolkien and other fantasy keywords. So she was gaining interest in her story from folks who were interested in what she was interested in. A lot of them followed her over to Kickstarter to support her there because they had already been introduced to her characters and were very excited about finally getting their hands on a product.

    3. Ooh, that sounds like a good book!

      Thanks for the info about the Facebook group! That certainly seems like a fantastic way to attract interest. Do you know how long it took her to set all of that preparation up?

      Thanks for sharing all this wisdom with the rest of us :)

  2. I'd say the greatest drawback to self-publishing is the sheer volume of self-published books. Self-publishing has moved the slush pile from the publisher to the consumer, and with the number of books that are out there, your chances of being discovered by a large number of people, even if you're really good, are very slim.

    I think that self-publishing is part of a very good trend in media. The trend of having low-risk, almost infinite sources of information and entertainment, mainly online.

    I recommend The Long Tail by Chris Anderson for a look at the trend as a whole (It won't help you make your decision, though).

    1. Ah, now that is a very good point. The volume is indeed quite overwhelming. Hm... more things to consider.

      Thanks for the recommendation! I'll look that up :)


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