E-books and self-publishing have opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for today’s authors. Before the rise of ereaders like Kindles, Nooks, iPads, and a huge, shiny array of tablets and smart phones, authors who wanted people to actually read the stuff they wrote, instead of scribbling stories for personal edification (ain’t nobody got time for that!), had the following choices:
Having one of the Big Six (now Five) publish your book and sell it in bookstores and stuff, and sometimes actually promote it. Time from finished manuscript to publication: 18 months to 50 years, depending on how stubborn you are.
Small press publishing
Having one of the Not Big Six (now Five) publish your book, and maybe sell it in bookstores sometimes. Time from finished manuscript to publication: 2 years to 50 years (they take longer to read manuscripts because they don’t all require agents).
Paying a vanity press a few hundred to a few thousand dollars to format and print your book, and not sell it in bookstores. You have to do all the selling. Usually from the trunk of your car at flea markets and stuff. Time from finished manuscript to publication: 1 month to 6 months or thereabouts.
Self-publishing / print on demand (POD)
Before ebooks, “self-publishing” meant designing your own cover, typesetting your print book, and paying a printer to make books for you. For POD, the books are printed one at a time, as they’re ordered by readers. Hardcore self-publishing at this time was paying to have hundreds or thousands of copies printed at once (hey, bulk discount!) and either paying a distributor thousands of dollars to try and get your book in stores, going around to stores yourself begging them to carry your books, or selling them from the trunk of your car at flea markets and such. Time from finished manuscript to publication: 1 month to 6 months or thereabouts.
Today’s self-publishing: Faster, easier, cheaper
The difference ebooks and e-publishing platforms have made for modern authors is like magic. Now, you can bring a book from finished manuscript to publication in less than a week—and potentially pay nothing. Zero. Zip. If you can format your manuscript the right way and design a cover (which is not necessarily recommended – I’ll expound on formatting and cover design in later posts), your book can be out there and waiting for readers to buy in a couple of days.
The question is: Should you do it?
When it comes to self-publishing, your own motivations and drives behind your decision to go it alone are essential tools, just as important as your clean, readable formatting and your incredibly eye-catching cover design. Before you push that Publish button on Amazon or Smashwords or BookBaby or Lulu, make sure you know exactly WHY you’ve decided to self-publish.
Here are some great reasons to self-publish ebooks:
You’ve already published with a commercial press or small publisher, and the rights have reverted to you. Self-publishing is a fantastic way to revitalize a backlist and bring your books back into circulation.
You have a niche book, or a book that doesn’t fit into a genre category. It’s hard to find a publisher who’s willing to take a chance on an unusual book. With self-publishing, authors can release project that never would’ve found a home otherwise—without paying thousands to a vanity press.
You’re planning to write more than one book and gradually build up an audience. Just like other types of publishing, self-publishing isn’t a good choice for a primary career. Can you make a living at it? Sure – but you have to realize that it’s going to take work, and multiple books, before you’re earning significant income.
The good thing here about self-publishing is that if you do want to work toward getting some decent income, every aspect of the process is under your control, and you can experiment without having to wait for a publisher to take change decisions through a committee (the wheels of trade publishing turn slooooowly). You can make changes to your price point, your cover, your book descriptions, your promotional efforts, and other things with the potential to affect sales, whenever you want to.
However, there are also some not-so-great reasons to self-publish:
Your magnum opus, the single book you’ve written that’s totally brilliant and will definitely change the world forever, has been rejected by hundreds of agents and publishers and YOU’LL SHOW THEM. Anger and revenge are never good reasons to do anything (unless you’re a fictional character), especially self-publishing. This gig is a lot of work, and your chances of making a go at it increase with every new title you can release.
If you’ve only got one book, and it’s been rejected by every single person who works in publishing, do yourself a favor and resist the temptation to rush your masterpiece to the masses. Find out why it’s been rejected. Get some objective opinions from people who aren’t related to you or know you socially, and actually listen and engage in some critical thinking about your book. Also, write another book. The act of writing helps you learn to improve.
You’re going to get rich! Yes, yes. Amanda Hocking. John Locke. E. L. James (though technically, she didn’t self-publish anything). The guy who wrote Wool. There’s a handful of examples of self-publishers who hit the big time in spectacular fashion. There’s also only a handful of commercially published authors who are rich.
If you head into your self-publishing journey expecting money to pour into your bank account, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. But if you keep writing, keep working on both the craft and promotion ends of the deal, and keep planning ahead, you can build yourself a nice stream of extra cash—and more importantly, share your work with people who want to read it all around the world.
So, leave a comment and let everyone know... what's your motivation?