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Getting Published – The Final Installment – The Pros of Self Publishing


Writing a book is hard. Finding an agent is hard. Finding a publisher is hard. Traditional publishing is hard. And so is self publishing.

Actually the act of self publishing is easy. But the decision to self publish is big. It should be as hard fought as any traditional publishing contract. And self published WELL, that’s hard.

Give me any manuscript and within 30 minutes I can have it set up. Within 24 hours it will be available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Google, Chapters, and iTunes. I might spend $5 and pay someone on Fiverr to create a decent cover for it. You can set the price. Let the money roll in ... right? Nope.

This is not how it works.

This week we’ll talk self publishing.

Although there are many different ways to publish there should be one thing that they all have in common—your manuscript should be awesome.

Traditional publishers follow a distinct process in the preparation of a manuscript. Use it. Polish your manuscript as best you can. Use friends and family, a writers critique group, workshop the chapters. Then hire or find someone willing to do a developmental edit for you. Then have someone do a line edit. Then a copy edit. Then a proofing. Have the manuscript professionally typeset or learn to do it yourself (it’s actually not that hard but it does take time).

Don’t skimp on the cover. There are professional cover artists that cost thousands. And there are others that cost hundreds. You can find cheap ones on Fiverr, or maybe someone who offers templates (but this may mean that many authors will have the same cover art as you do). This is before we talk about marketing. Distribution for ebooks is easy. You can upload them directly in most cases, in others you can use Smashwords which is a platform that will push your book out to various vendors (for a % royalty).

Marketing is a whole other post, but it is the hardest part. There are almost a million English language books published every year. A MILLION! There are only 30 million people in all of Canada! And the reading population is roughly 20% of that. The real challenge is having your novel discovered.

The decision to go the traditional route is a lot like the decision to take investment in a company. I used to work in Venture Capital and private companies would come to me looking for money. The decision to take that money came with a lot of negatives. Venture Capitalists like publishers demand a lot of rights for decision making. But they also come with money, and know how, and partners.

As a self publisher you are, for the most part, limiting yourself to ebook sales. These are roughly a quarter of your potential market (audio books, hardcover, paperback, screen rights). But with traditional publishing you are giving up 80% of your potential royalties on every sale, perhaps a little more or less depending on the publisher and the format. But you’re buying into the theory that they can give you a smaller piece of a much bigger pie.

Let’s assume your book is just as good as anything a major publisher would produce. You’ve taken it through a whole series of pro level editing. Your book cover was designed by the same artist doing book covers for the Big 6 publishers. There are reasons why this book wasn’t picked up: Market saturation, concerns over shelf life, lack of a clear genre fit, all good business decisions. Or maybe you just want to do it yourself for another reason.

So what are the advantages to Self Publishing?

Velocity—You can publish as many books as you want as fast as you want. Remember how long it took from start to finish to publish traditionally? Five years. Many authors are not willing to wait that long. Many more fear that someone will publish a competitive book or trends will change before their book comes out. The most successful self publishers publish three or more books a year. There are marketing benefits to velocity as well.

Control—You may still own the copyright when you publish traditionally, but the book is now part of a team’s and you don’t have say over everything, from a changeable publication date, to edits you may disagree with, to the cover, and pricing. You have to be prepared to work well with others.

Motivation—This isn’t one many people think of, but consider this. Let’s assume you have an ebook that sells for $8.00. Under a traditional model you get $0.94 of that (Amazon takes 45% of list price from publishers, factoring in a 25% ebook royalty less 15% for your agent you’re left with $0.94). If you self publish you would receive 70% of Amazon’s list price or $5.60. And you can sell that same book for $2.99 and receive $2.08. At the lower price point it gives you a marketing advantage over traditionally published works. Why is this all important to motivation? Well if you’re spending equal amounts of time online you’re likely to have more incentive to sell a book where you make two dollars rather than one, right? And if you’re employing other strategies like social media and mailing list advertising then you have a greater likelihood of earning enough on sales to pay for the cost of advertising if you self publish. It’s just math and human nature.

We’ve already considered the advantages of traditional publishing but there are good reasons to self publish too, particularly if you write genre romance, which has a thriving ebook market. Books for children and middle grade (9-12 year olds) are very difficult to self publish successfully because the ebook market for these niches is much smaller and tough to reach no matter how motivated you are!

I hope this series provided something of a balanced view. If you have any questions, fire away!

Michael Stewart is OPL’s  first official writer in residence for teens and tweens. Michael likes to experiment by combining social media with storytelling. He's both traditionally published and indie published. He writes middle grade through to adult novels, graphic novels and new media projects across many genres.

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