Self-publish – yes or no? #getpublished

Next week we’ll look at what publishers do. First, let’s think about whether trad or self-publishing is the right route for you. It’s my experience that your choice about self-publishing is as much about your temperament as logic. I have known people succeed and do not so well via both routes, so here goes.

Self-publishing – advantages

  • You are in control, of everything.
  • The self-publishing service you use (CreateSpace, Lulu etc.) pay your royalties direct within days to your nominated bank account, at rates much higher than a traditional publisher’s royalties.
  • No miserable rejection years. That haggard look you find among writers who have taken the traditional route isn’t there.
  • If you are happy with your text, you could set it up today and have a book in your hand or on kindle in a matter of days.
  • It’s a great way to publish something of local appeal or about your life or family history where usually traditional publishers are not interested.
  • You get reader feedback fast.
  • Yes, it can lead to fame and fortune if you work really hard at your marketing.
  • Self-publishing has a distinguished history dated from William Blake and Beatrix Potter to Roddy Doyle‘s The Commitments. In fact, the first book published in English was William Caxton‘s own translation of a version of Homer’s Iliad: IMG_2651

Self-publishing – any disadvantages?

It depends what your abilities and ambitions are:

  • You have to do all the set-up yourself: writing, editing, formatting, introduction pages, cover, back of cover and on it goes. Some writers who succeed with self-publishing set up a cottage industry involving their family, friends and neighbours. If someone in your street knows about book cover design, they’re hired!
  • All the marketing is down to you. The most successful self-publishers are honest about spending more hours every day on marketing than on writing the next book. If that sort of work is not your style, it can wear you down.
  • You are unlikely to be reviewed in the usual high profile places though there are many bloggers who are happy to help. You might get a few words in a local paper, magazine or blog if you push for it – and that might be as much coverage as you’ll get with your first traditionally published first book anyway.
  • You are less likely to get film, television, radio deals without the help of a traditional publisher. There are so many millions of self-published works of variable quality, they don’t have time to sift.
  • Bookshop chains will rarely take self-published books, for the same reason. If you’re prepared to pound the streets, you might well persuade a few local independent bookshops and your local branch of a chain to take a few.
  • Most of all, you miss out on the crucial editing that a good publisher offers. Too many self-published books reveal the lack of this pretty quickly. Proof-reading is essential, again and again.

Trad publishing – advantages

  • You have the considerable thrill of being among professionals who value your work.
  • Agents take care of your legal position, translations and general writing welfare (for a percentage of course).
  • Content curation. Good agents and publishers help you shape your book, turn it to its very best advantage so that you don’t waste energy on something that won’t sell (though they’re not always right).
  • The process of content curation and rewriting among those professional story makers will teach you more about your craft than any course, writing group, mentor or book.
  • Traditional publishers are set up to distribute your book to shops around the world, deal with the cost of Amazon and book shops tables, all those things you’ve not thought about before and that cost money. Proper, ‘hard copy’ books still command a considerable share of the market.
  • Your trad publisher should connect you with book festivals and libraries.
  • As a matter of course, all UK publishers ensure that your book is in the British Library. For poetry it’s the Poetry Library on the Southbank in London too.
  • A good traditional publisher will make you eligible for review in the top magazines, newspapers and blogs. Thousands of good books are published every month so while making you no promises, they will do their best for you.
  • The big book prizes most people have heard of are usually open to traditional publishers only. The indie sector has its own prizes too.
  • That kudos thing. Actually most people will not ask you who your publisher or agent are. Kindle doesn’t make a big deal of it either. But people who are temperamentally in favour of traditional publishing know what I mean.
  • Traditional publishers and agents love to do ‘brand building’, which means supporting you through the writing of your next book and, if you’re lucky, through the whole of your writing career. This should have gone first in this list; there’s no beating it.

The traditional route – any disadvantages?

  • Royalties tend not to appear for maybe a year.
  • The rejection years before you find an agent or publisher. One of the main objects of this blog is to help you see the rejection years as your time of learning. There is no denying though that rejections hit us all hard.
  • You will still have to market yourself through events, your website, social media, journalism and so on. It’s a combination of whatever the publisher and agent ask you to do and your own ideas.
  • Not all agents and publishers are as good as they think they are. My first agent was a sole practitioner who sent my first novel script around various publishers in a big sheaf with lots of others. Each time it came back to her, she’d send out the same typescript again, in the same tatty sheaf, not sharing the feedback with me until much later. Whenever publishers give you feedback, it’s worth thinking about. When eventually I got to see the pile of constructive comments about my work, I settled down to more rewriting and sold the book myself, direct to a publisher. If you do not feel comfortable with your agent’s approach, find another way.

The most important element in your success is to make sure your product – that script you’re rewriting until your eyes and fingers bleed – is the very best it can be.

You are hoping to be read by strangers and they deserve no less.

Happy writing!