Self-Publishing Paths: Week 1, Research

Treat your writing like a passion, but treat your novel like a business.

Like many of you, though I have written my entire life, it’s only been in the last two years that I picked up my grown-up author pen and forayed into the world of independent publishing. With great motivation—and stubbornness—comes great responsibility, and I embraced the responsibility of taking this writing business as seriously as possible. Along the way, I’ve achieved both (in my mind) soaring successes and (in reality) abysmal failures. So I’ve decided to share as much as I know about how to achieve those soaring successes and avoid those abysmal failures so others who are on the way to becoming or are already in the midst of being an independent author can perhaps enjoy a smoother road for it.

Isaac Asimov said, “Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.” And that is the first thing you must do in order to fly your indie flag at its grandest height. Researching and learning the business from both the traditional and the independent or self-publishing perspective is the essential ingredient to making the best choices for your own writing career. Each person must decide for themself what fork in the path they want to take in regard to going trad or indie, but to make a good decision, you must be as informed as possible about what you’re gaining and/or losing in either choice.

While the topic of whether to self-publish or go the traditional route is HUGE, with compelling arguments for and against on both sides, the golden answer is still elusive. A few authors even embrace a hybrid route with much success in both venues. Authors John Scalzi, Amanda Hocking, JA Konrath, Hugh Howey, Chuck Wendig, Bob Mayer, and Barry Eisler may be useful sources for you to look into, almost all who have taken the hybrid route. As for me, I chose to self-publish for these main reasons. 

1. Wanting to retain my rights. Due to my type of fiction being niche and midlist at best, the likeliest life-cycle scenario for my novels with a traditional publisher would be limited short-term promotion and eventually going out of print (though not the ebook), thus severely limiting potential to earn profits down the line (since the publisher owns the rights). As this is common, it made me unwilling to give up my works’ long-term earning potential. Additionally, publishers are paying smaller and smaller advances, and I personally think legacy royalty rates are criminally low, especially given the disparity between the price of ebooks, where royalties for authors are only around 25 percent, and the near-zero cost to the publisher to create and distribute them. To give you a sense of comparison, distributing your own ebook through sites like Amazon nets you a royalty rate anywhere from 35 to 70 percent. Additionally, you’re able to track your own sales data and don’t have to rely on the publisher to manage that for you. (Conversely, see next week’s post about the different costs of self-publishing, which are almost entirely absorbed by the publisher in the traditional model.)

2. I am realistic about what’s required to be successful as an independent author and am willing to be in the game for the long haul. A key variable in the publishing game is that self-published authors have more long-term success if they have many published works than if they choose to go the traditional route and wait and hope that their first novel will sell to a publisher and then to the public.

3. Perhaps the least supportable, but no less true, reason I’ve chosen indie is because of an unwillingness to try to woo an agent and then have an agent try to woo a publisher. This typical route puts novels on the waiting list, sometimes for years, which is not necessary with the self-publishing option. Likewise, the traditional model of publishing isn’t robust enough to publish every good book (which many indie books are), and turns away these good novels simply because they are not currently “marketable.” Self-publishing to some degree allows authors to define and create their own market, not wait for the market that is defined by traditional publishing to be ready for their novel.

4. Being able to publish now will only gain me an audience. If, down the road, I decide to attempt a traditional route, I’ll already have the “cred” to woo publishers.

So, in a nutshell, I think self-publishing, if managed right, gives authors several advantages, particularly with both short-term satisfaction and long-term success. I believe traditional publishing offers these as well, but for me, the waiting game and lowered negotiating power new authors have in traditional publishing does not outweigh those advantages. With authors like Hocking, Konrath, and Howey, self-publishing first has been a highly successful strategy for acquiring traditional publishing and silver-screen deals that potentially benefit them more than if they’d tried as new, unknown authors.

Full Series
Create your business plan and publishing calendar.
Learn how to create an ebook or hire someone to do it (including pros and cons of each option).
Research the different distribution sites, their requirements, and how long they take to set up and use.
Learn how and where to find an editor, proofreader, and cover designer.
And finally, learn how to market, including using social networking sights, blog hops, and review requests.