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Though the choice to self-publish has become increasingly common, it still poses a huge leap for many authors.

In this article, you’ll discover what is involved in self-publishing your book, you’ll find out the pros and cons of self-publishing and you’ll see if self-publishing is right for you.

What Does Self-Publishing Involve?

Before you can make an informed choice as to whether self-publishing is the best option for your book, you first need to understand what is involved in the process. Unlike traditional publishing, be it via a big or independent publisher, you will be required to spend money, invest time and undergo a steep learning curve. Self-publishing is also not a one off investment, once you have your book out in the world, you will need to continually invest time (and perhaps money) into marketing your book.

In its most simple form self-publishing is the process of publishing your book, without the help of a traditional publisher. It consists of the following elements:

  • Writing.
  • Editing.
  • Cover design.
  • eBook design.
  • Publication.
  • Marketing.

The writing element is self-explanatory. The editing will cover both structural editing, line editing, copy editing and proofreading. Cover design will involve a cover for the digital version of your book, as well as the paper version. Conversion to an eBook will involve converting the Word document into one or more digital formats. Publication will involve uploading to Kindle Digital Publishing (KDP), but might also involve other services such as Apple Books. The marketing element is on-going but will include short term promotions and a long term marketing strategy.

Each of these elements is worthy of far deeper examination, but for the purpose of this article, all that is required is that you are aware of the investment of time and resources that will be required.

Broadly speaking, self-publishing can be split into two types:

  1. DIY.
  2. Assisted.

DIY Self-Publishing

This is the process of self-publishing in which you, the author, completes each of the elements. This may involve you physically doing what is required or paying a third party service company or freelancer to carry out a particular task.

DIY publishing will see you keeping full control of the process. You will be responsible for the completion of each step. Though this brings with it an insane level of control, it does mean that you will probably have to learn a number of new skills (or pay someone with those skills). For example, converting a Word document to a digital format CAN be a pretty simple process. However, if your manuscript has any level of complexity you will need to understand the finer elements of the ePub format, as well as CSS coding, to do a good job.

Assisted Self-Publishing

This is still the process of self-publishing, but one in which you pay one company to take on all elements of the process (note this is not the same as paying a freelancer to complete one element of the process).

There are a number of companies that will provide a full service, but they all tend to operate around the same model. This will involve them providing you with an upfront cost to turn your Word document into a digital and paper book. This price will likely be in access of $1500. In addition, they will probably also ask you to pay an ongoing fee to cover storage of your paper books. It is also common for them to charge you a price per book after the initial print run has been sold.

The main advantage of this approach is that you, the author, will not need to do anything beyond editorial input and saying yes or no to such elements as cover design. The main down side is the cost. It is more expensive to self-publish in this way.

Please note; it is my experience that these types of full service companies make money on creating paper books. They will, therefore, be looking to encourage you to print about 300+ copies of your book. Be aware that the chances of you getting your book into bookshops is very slim. Also be aware that advancement in Print On Demand technology means that companies such as CreateSpace can fulfill paper book orders with no up-front cost to the author. Think carefully before you print hundreds of your book.

What Are the Advantages of Self-Publishing?

Self-publishing is a choice that many authors come to after much contemplation. It may be that an author is excited about publishing their own book, or it might be that they don’t have the time or inclination to seek out a publisher/agent, or it might simply be that they have been unable to secure a traditional publishing deal.

Whatever the reason, I feel there are a number of clear advantages to self-publishing:

Control

For many authors, retaining creative control is a critical element of the publishing process. If you wish to remain in full control of every element of your book, then self-publishing is your only option. It is not uncommon for authors following the traditional publishing path to have little or no creative control. If you decide to self-publish you will be making every decision about your book.

Money

As with all industries, it is all too easy to find the stories of multi-million selling self-published authors. Yes, they do exist but they are the rarity. The reality is that you should be looking to sell between 500 and 1000 books in your first year. This is very doable for a more mainstream title with good marketing. This means that you will probably recoup your upfront investment in the first year of sales and break into profit thereafter.

This might seem a little disheartening but this is the model that most independent publishers operate under. They look for a book to break even as quickly as possible and then go on to make profit over time.

If you have a good book, a good marketing strategy and are prepared to play the long game, you will make a profit.

Taking Advantage of a Small Market

Many books get rejected by agents and publishers simply because that they feel they are not ‘commercial’ enough. This is an industry term to describe a book they feel lacks the potential to sell a few thousand copies. Publishers tend to have an initial print run of between 1000 and 3000 books. They want these books to sell, if they fail to sell out the print run, they lose money. This means that books with smaller, niche, readerships never stand a chance.

If you’ve written a book with niche appeal (I’d class that as selling less than about 500 books per year), then self-publishing is just about your only option. This is not to say the process will not be profitable and exciting. It just means the book will never be attractive to a mainstream publisher. Their loss!

Speed

The traditional publishing industry is slooooow, really slow. It is not uncommon for a book to take two years from completion to being in a bookshop. You will find that publishers often talk in years, rather than months and weeks.

If you simply want your book published or you have a time sensitive topic, then self-publishing will be the best option. There is no real need for the process to be as slow as some publishers would lead you to believe. There are some elements that take time. It will probably take you two or three months to go through the editorial process. You can also add in a number of weeks for the cover design and eBook conversion. However, with a bit of crafty project management, you can probably cut down the time for publication to about six months, if not less.

Experience

The final advantage of self-publishing is the sheer joy of the process. Publishing your own book should be an exciting experience. You’ll get to work with publishing professionals, learn new skills and get the joy of selling your own work. On top of this, you get to interact with readers and really feel like a writer.

What Are the Disadvantages of Self-Publishing?

Though self-publishing possesses many clear advantages, it would be unwise to not point out some of the clear disadvantages.

Before you decide to take the plunge and self-publish your book, here are a few points to consider:

Resources

If you opt for a DIY Self-publishing approach you will find that it is a time consuming process, which will test your resources. From a money viewpoint you will need a budget of around $1000 to successfully publish a book. The main outlays will come in the form of editing and proofreading, though eBook conversion and cover design may also be costly. It is possible to reduce some of these costs by ‘doing it yourself’ but this becomes a pay off against your time. You might decide to save $200 by doing your own eBook conversion. However, to do a good job you will need to be on a pretty steep learning curve. In the end, it will come down to a choice between money or time.

Please note; the figures above assume you are starting with a ‘digital first’ approach. This involves the initial creation and sale of an eBook. Once the book is selling you can then consider adding a Print on Demand option, which requires no upfront cost. If you intend to print real paper books, then costs will start to spiral.

The assisted self-publishing approach is a slightly simpler choice. Here, the company you engaging will have all the knowledge and this will save on your time. However, you will be paying more than you would have if you took the DIY approach.

Marketing

Whether you opt to take the DIY or assisted approach, you will, at some point, need to take an active role in promoting and marketing your book. This is a time consuming process, which has a set of skills you will need to master.

A good marketing strategy will be a mixture of short term promotion and long term marketing. You will need an effective strategy that will get your book in front of potential readers. The reality is that this will take time and knowledge. If you wish your book to be a success your marketing strategy will become a fundamental part of your daily life.

Outside the Publishing Model

The final point to consider when self-publishing is that your book will fall outside the traditional publishing model. This may sound obvious but it brings with it unseen considerations.

There is a system set up to sell, promote and market books published via the traditional publishing path. You will not have access to this system. In reality, that means that you will not be getting additional income for the sale of rights (film, foreign language, audio etc.), you will not get your book submitted for prestigious prizes, you will not be able to get your book reviewed in national newspapers and you will not be getting your book stocked in nationwide bookshops.

Is Self-Publishing Right for Me?

Self-publishing can be an exciting and profitable option for many authors. However, before you opt to take the plunge, here’s a few things to consider.

The legitimacy of being published by a ‘traditional’ publisher still holds sway with both authors and readers. If you opt to be self-published, you will receive some negative feedback. I recently received the following email from a successfully self-published author:

I self-published my last book. It was a success, (4000+ sold) but it’s still seen as ‘something less’ by everyone I know in publishing. Infuriating.

The second point to consider is that self-publishing is far from an easy option. It will require an investment of time, money and emotional energy. In my experience, many self-published books underperform simply because the author lacks either the resources or knowledge to make the book a success.

The final thing to consider is that self-publishing is an exciting thing to do. It sees you in full control of your book and the publishing process. You get to be involved in every step of the process, which brings with it all of the highs and lows. You get to see your book in ‘print’ but also experience the excitement of ‘making sales’ and ‘connecting with readers’. I would urge that of all the factors that you need to take into consideration, you never lose sight of this important point.

In summary, this is a golden age for authors. Never before have authors had so many options and so much power. It is now possible for a book to be written, published and read without a publisher ever being part of the process. It is a true democratisation of the writing and publishing world. These are exciting times for authors.