Is Self-Publishing for You?

Recently, I blogged about quick tips for readers and writers looking to support their local indy booksellers. Expanding on that theme, today I’d like to share a few ideas about self-publishing. I was motivated to tidy my thoughts on this topic following the amazing Writer’s Coffeehouse at Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville, NC last year. So, let’s get down to it: Why would someone want to self-publish? Is it good? Is it bad? Is it for you? Here’s the tip of the iceberg to a larger conversation:

“Good” and “bad” are relative terms and not useful out of context. I get this question a lot and I always ask writers these key questions in an effort to help them decide if self-publishing is for them:

  • Do you want to earn a living as an author, teacher of writing, writing coach, or public speaker in your field? If you answered YES, 99.99% of the the time, self-publishing IS NOT for you.
  • Do you want to publish something you feel proud of, that friends and family can easily access, that you’ll break even on or maybe even earn a few bucks from? If you answered YES, then self-publishing IS for you.

That’s it. That’s really the quick and dirty litmus test that will help 90% of people decide if they should self-publish or not. There are exceptions, of course. For instance, self-published authors who hit it big (like the bestselling mystery writer Aaron Stander), but even he will tell you that you have to WORK to get your book into stores, onto websites, professionally designed, proofed, copyedited, and more (oh, not to mention, written).

And there are even smaller scale exceptions: For example, if you’d like to self-publish your book and make a small profit, have a respectable manuscript you can call your own and sell to others, AND are willing to put in at least 100 hours of work above and beyond writing, layout, design, printing, and basic math…you can definitely have a book in regional bookstores that is respected, sold, enjoyed, read, gifted, read again, and even leads to some public events.

What if you want to self-publish, money is no object, you don’t need a career as a writer/teacher/public speaker, and you’re willing to work? Well, GO FOR IT! You can cut out the middle (wo)man, write and publish what you want, not worry about the bottom line, hire a publicist to help lend your work authenticity and professionalism, perhaps get into more stores and fund more events, and sell as little or as much as possible, depending on demand. There are actually people in this kind of situation, and if you’re one of them: First, hire an editor or mentor for professional critique. Be prepared to do this several times. If you don’t like revision and aren’t attached to your identity as a writer, hire a ghost writer or team writer and work together. But no matter how you spend your dough, don’t click “print” via that self-publishing printer until you have had several paid professionals vouch for, critique, and prepare your work for printing.

The elephant in the room here goes way back to that first bullet point: Why CAN’T you self-publish even if you want a career as a writer? You may even have examples of famous, rich, successful, respected writers who have done this. (There are a handful of them, and guess what? I can’t remember their names, nor have I read or purchased their books. That might tell you something.)

With so many writers publishing today, and with self-publishing akin to Polaroirds in the 1940’s, booksellers and readers have to filter what they decide to sell and purchase. One logical filter to apply is to only sell or purchase books that are traditionally published. These books have been vetted. They have passed rounds of editing, they’ve gone through scores of revisions and proofings. They’ve often had the benefit of a team of layout and designers attending to their pages and covers. Or, in the case of some university or small indy presses: one editor, one intern proofreader, and a volunteer cover designer (I wish I was kidding about that, but I’m not).

Is self-publishing for you? I’ve written extensively about this topic in my Literary Stewardship Complete E-Course.

Consider your goals. Consider your budget. Consider your intended audience. In the past I’ve also organized a day-long conference around this exact topic, covering self-published authors who DID make it big, big time authors who STILL WORK HARD to pay the bills. Now you can dive into the self-publishing topic as well as social media and working with booksellers when you purchase the e-course version. It even comes with personal instructor assistance at the $87.00 level. Click here to read more about topics covered in the course.

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