Self-publishing still gets a bad rap, and the reason is that the vast majority of self-published books are pretty shoddy efforts. Some have been published with some investment and consideration but are often still not fully developed or of high quality. Fact is, most self-published authors were nowhere near ready to self-publish, and it shows.
There are, however, an increasing number of self-published authors who were ready to self-publish. As a result, their books are nearly indistinguishable from traditionally published books: they are well written, edited, and professionally produced. The audience for the books has been identified, the author has built a platform for their writing, and they have spent time and money making and executing a marketing and publicity plan. The books are selling lots of copies, they have plenty of reviews, and the authors have fans who spread the word.
There are several examples of these authors to learn from, especially in fiction. Heide Goody and Iain Grant (who write comic fantasy), Nicola May (romantic comedy), and LJ Ross (crime) were ready to self-publish and made a success of their books. These authors are the ones to emulate – they took on the challenge (and it is challenging!) and rose to it.
A great example of crime self-publishing done well
Some successful self-publishers straddle traditional and self-publishing, others are not tempted by traditional publishing because self-publishing works so well for them. Some felt ready to self-publish because they believed in their work and knew they could find their audience but couldn’t quite convince a literary agent or publisher to take the risk. Others went straight to self-publishing as their own business, without trying to get traditionally published first.
The thing they all have in common is the hard work they put in to producing and selling their books. Self-publishing a book is not something you can knock off on a wet Wednesday afternoon. Nor is it the easy alternative for a frustrated writer who isn’t getting much interest from the gatekeepers of traditional publishing – ‘settling’ for self-publishing out of frustration is the very definition of not being ready to self-publish.
A writer who is interested in self-publishing needs to deeply understand this about it: when you self-publish you take on the role of Publisher and Writer, and publishing is first and foremost a business.
Nicola May self-publishes her romantic comedy with great success
Not everyone is suited to performing both roles. You need to evaluate whether you have the temperament to succeed in this business. If you have most of the following necessary elements in place, you probably are ready to self-publish.
Do you love the idea of being creatively in charge of your work?
You’re confident you can make great choices about the cover, you can write or at least commission effective cover copy, and you can create and sustain relationships with other writers that will provide you with feedback, support and endorsements for your books.
Do you have the motivation and time to devote to building a business around your books?
Writing and publishing are two different jobs and publishing well takes a lot of effort and time. If you can’t devote the time to it yourself, can you hire someone to manage the project for you?
Have you considered your goals for self-publishing?
It’s easy to become discouraged if you haven’t defined success for yourself. Maybe it will be enough for you to impress your friends and family with a glossy, beautifully produced paperback with that authentic new book smell. Do you want reviews or publicity? You could work with a publicist who can arrange a blog tour or get you on some podcasts. Money? Some self-publishers make serious money from their books, but others would be happy if the book earned back its investment. What would make you feel you’d been successful?
Another self-publishing success. Could yours be added to the list?
Are you serious about your writing?
Being serious about your writing means continuing to learn your craft. It means your books are well-developed, with a powerful concept. You are realistic about their selling potential. Your writing should have been subjected to professional evaluation and come out with genuine praise. You can revise your work in response to feedback. You would not dream of publishing a book yourself without having it thoroughly edited and proofread. Your book will be finished before you publish it – so it’s been through a publication process, and you are no longer working on it because it’s thoroughly polished.
Are you able to run a business?
That is, you are temperamentally suited to publishing your books as a business: you’re a self-motivated, self-starting, go-getting sort of person. You can organise and budget for pre-publication (a workflow which will take the book from manuscript to finished product), and then for publication and post-publication (one for distributing, getting pre-orders and selling it once it’s on the market).
You have enrolled in a course on marketing books, or any other aspect of the business which you don’t already know well from your other professional experience. You are willing and able to pay an experienced professional to do what you cannot do, and what’s more, you know where you can find them.
You can take responsibility for your mistakes (you will definitely make some) and figure out what to do differently in the future. You are able and willing to invest time and effort and money into your business – remember, it’s only self-publishing badly that is free. Self-publishing well can require the investment of a few to several thousands of pounds, just as it would if a traditional publisher were the one making the investment in the book.
Have you got a platform?
Your books need an audience, so you need at least to have a plan for building one up. You will need a website to showcase your books and a way of collecting the contact details of people who express an interest in your work. You might need to build your audience over the course of several books, especially if you are writing fiction, but many successful self-publishers have been quietly building up the audience for their creative endeavours long before they publish a book.
They do this in several ways: by writing short stories, winning a competition or two, running a blog or a newsletter or a successful YouTube channel or Instagram, so that when they’re ready to release a book, they have a group of warm leads: potential readers they can email or otherwise encourage to support them in their publishing venture.
So, are you ready to self-publish?
If you read through all the questions above and got incredibly excited about the possibilities, and if reading them filled you with confidence that you are ready to self-publish, then plunge in and start making your master plan!
Equally, you may have read the above and said to yourself that no, traditional publishing is still your goal, because you’re not suited to publishing independently or it won’t define success for you.
But, if you feel unsure or perhaps that you just aren’t ready, then remember you can get ready to self-publish. You can work on your writing and get closer to writing a book readers will love. You can learn the aspects of publishing you don’t know, and you can save the money you need to invest in publishing your book.
There are also many publishing professionals available to help: I am one of those who offer various services that will help an author build their team and get ready to self-publish, including manuscript assessment to make sure your book is ready to go out into the world, and a mini consultation service in which we can put together an actionable plan to get it there. When you self-publish, you are the Publisher, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it all alone.
Finally, remember that life is long and impatience gets you nowhere fast. Whatever your plan ends up being, consider and execute it carefully: there’s no big hurry.
Janey Burton is a Publishing Consultant, Editor and Contracts Negotiator. She worked for literary agencies and publishers big and small before setting up her own business at janeyburton.com in 2011. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook. You can keep up with her advice for authors by signing up for her monthly newsletter, The Inbox Edition.
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