Despite my recent post 8 Reasons You Should NOT Self Publish, I believe self publishing is of tremendous value to our field. It allows us to find readers, and that’s the point, right? Before the internet and e-readers, the barriers standing between writers and their readers were preposterously high. No other art faced such obstruction. Bands didn’t need record deals to play at bars or clubs. Artists sold their work everywhere from craft fairs to coffee shops to street corners. Keeping 99% of all writers from sharing their work is just unnatural. It’s like saying, you can only play basketball if you make it to the NBA.
Plus, if you have financial and social capital, along with entrepreneurial skill, you may be able to do better than a publishing house.
Here are the right reasons to consider the DIY route.
You enjoy (and are good at) being an entrepreneur
To succeed at self-publishing, you will need to spend as much time producing, marketing, and managing your book/business as you spend writing. If that appeals to you and you have the skills to follow through, read on.
You want total control
Control over content. One of the biggest values a traditional publisher brings to the table is a professional editor. A good editor (read: my brilliant editor Margaret Sutherland Brown), will help take your book to a much higher level without ever losing site of your vision. Sometimes, though, they can push for changes you’d rather not make. Self publish and you can write it your way, accepting all glory or criticism yourself.
Control over marketing
Most likely, the big publishers bring more money and connections to the table than you. On the other hand, you will have no input on their tactics. You will not be able to measure the outcomes of campaigns or change them when they’re not working. No trial and error, no do-overs, no tweaking of ads or media buys or distribution channels. You get what you get and cannot react to market demands.
Control over cost
With a traditional publisher, you can’t adjust pricing, ever. No free books to generate initial interest, no sales, no buy one get one, nothing. Their price is the price.
Control over design
I ended up loving my book’s cover and never could have produced something that good on my own. But I had to fight to get there. The first mockups were so horrendous (think airplanes poorly photoshopped to be pink) that I considered taking my name off the book. I’m not kidding.
You’re writing non-fiction and are an expert
If you have or can build a strong platform and brand, DIY might be your most lucrative option, especially if you can offer your readers a guide to something tangible (bonus points if they will make more money by reading it).
You’re writing fiction and your head and heart are in the right place
Maybe you think being in control of the publishing process sounds like a fun experiment. Maybe you’ve tried the traditional publishing route, gotten some traction, but ultimately didn’t get a deal. You still believe in your book, and readers like it too. These days, self publishing probably won’t hurt your chances with a publisher in the future, so the only real downside is the cost of time and money. However, if you’re still bitter and angry about rejection, STOP! Take some time off to get your mojo back. You’ll produce a better book and sell more copies when you’re feeling confident and having fun.
You’re writing on a niche topic and are plugged into the appropriate audience
Traditional publishers are skilled at bringing your book to the mass market, but when it comes to a narrow niche, they probably can’t reach readers as well as you can. Working directly with your audience will allow you to tweak the content and the marketing based on their responses.
You’re writing romance
Romance imprints typically offer lower advances than other publishers, and at the same time, romance readers buy an incredible number of e-books, are on the lookout for new authors, and frequently recommend and review books they like. Combine those factors and you’ve got a good case for self-publishing. I’m not saying I wouldn’t take a romance book to a traditional publisher, but I’d think very carefully before doing so.
So what do I really think you should do?
Write a killer book, edit the hell out of it, get professional input (editor, coach, agent etc.) then make the decision carefully. Don’t make the kneejerk decision to trad pub just for prestige, and don’t self pub because you’re afraid you won’t get a book deal.
Your book is important, so treat it that way.