Since I started writing in earnest about six months ago, I’ve been trying to decide whether or not to attempt to self-publish an e-book. Apparently, it’s a dilemma that faces a lot of new authors and even a few established ones. Unfortunately, it seems to be one of those “try-and-see-if-it-fits” things. There’s no surefire way to determine whether it’s a good idea or a really bad one, because everyone’s writing, business goal, and attitude are a little different.
Self-publishing used to be a bit of a black mark in the industry, mostly because it usually indicated an author who could make the grade in the traditional publishing arena. Self-publishing an e-book was even worse, for various reasons, including the fact that it requires a lot of formatting that can go wrong very easily. But now, as both e-books and self-publishing are become so much more common, the avenue is opening to new authors.
It seems that having what the industry calls a “fan-base”, what we authors call “readers”, makes it much easier to get published in the traditional arena. The big name book publishers jump at the chance to print and sell books written by an already popular writer. Unfortunately, this requires one of three things: a big social presence, perhaps on Facebook or a blog, a self-published book, or a combination of the two.
The social presence is a no-brainer, at least in the fundamentals. Being seen, heard, and popular in your public appearance is going to make you more attractive to anyone to whom your trying to market your skills, regardless of the career. This is the part that new writers can start up immediately, with little investment other than their time. However, the difficulty is in the unpredictability of the social world. The rules of success are extremely vague and are often entirely non-existent. The only way to be reasonably confident of popularity is consistent hard work, doing your best to “get the word out” about you and your writing.
The social presence can be difficult, even to the point of despair, but to the author has a much better chance if he (or she) just keeps trying. Persistence is a trait that can overcome some very massive obstacles.
The self-published book is a far larger gamble. When a book is self-published, especially an e-book, the author’s freedom is at once expanded and at the same time limited. The writer automatically has more power over the final form of his book, its distribution, and its selling detail. The publisher’s and agent’s cut of the profits are eliminated, so he gets more in return for his work. The book can even be sold at a lower price, making it more attractive to prospective readers.
The downside is the extra work and risk involved. A writer’s career may not necessarily ride entirely on a single novel, but a seriously bad one can damage his reputation considerably. All of the work falls on the writer’s shoulders, work that would normally be the agent’s and publisher’s responsibility. While a traditional publishing effort does require a great deal from the writer, the system provides a buffer against backlash.
If a book is misprinted, it’s not usually the author’s fault. If the publisher accepts a story with a bad plot, it’s their problem. The agent will attempt to find publishers, he’ll set up book-signings, meetings, etc. He will help find editors, if needed, and make sure that the author is informed of everything he needs to know. The publisher runs the final check on grammar, spelling, and other typos. The publisher has legal help, in case something goes wrong.
The self-publishing author has none of that. Each and every one of those problems is his, personally. He can hire an editor, a formatter, and a printing company, but he still over-sees everything. That is likely to leave very little time to write. The author also has to deal with the financial matters, which can prove truly taxing. On top of that, the author who wants to try the traditional publishing route after his first self-published work can find himself in even more trouble.
A bad reception on a self-published book can turn agents and publishers away from the author’s request for representation and publication. That alone could cause doubts for the new writer.
However, the benefits of self-publication, done right, far out-weigh the risks. A properly done self-publication, especially in e-book form, can be a springboard into the industry, or even give the author what he needs to self-publish ALL of his works. Any writer who has attempted, successfully or not, to get an agent to represent them, knows that it is a frustrating, tiring process. Having the ability to say “Hey, I’ve already published a well-received book” can ease this process immeasurably.
Whether I’ll self publish or not? At the moment, it’s a coin-toss, depending on several factors which I’m not in the least sure of yet. Not least of which, the courage to send my first manuscript to an agent, but even that has to wait. The last few edits are still going, so I have some time to make up my mind.
Some people might say that I’ve already self-published, by placing certain of my short stories on this blog, publicly available, but I think they were being kind. Sure, those stories are published, by me, and “in the wind” to be read, but there’s not too much risk or benefit to be gained from them. If they are enjoyed, they’ll give me a much needed boost with any agents, but I need a much larger, more obvious story before I’ll call myself a self-published author.
Who knows, you might be seeing one of my novels on Amazon E-book soon.