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).
- 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.