Tuesday, June 26, 2012

To Self-Publish or Not To Self-Publish

I welcome my good buddy and writing peer JC Phelps. Welcome, JC.
I’ve been asked to do guest posts for people in the past, Mac included, and I always struggle with what to write about. I have this terrible feeling that if I talk too much about myself I’m being vain and egotistical. That being said, I’d like to talk about the decision to publish my books and why I chose to go the self-published route. It pertains to the blog and it is something I can relate to. Self-publishing is what I’ve been doing for years now.
Disclaimer:  I am a self-published author and my opinions lean toward self-publishing as the best option available to new authors. This piece is not intended to sway any writer away from the prospect of traditional publishing. If you feel traditional is the best route for you, take that road. 
Self-publishing is the lazy man’s way out.
At least that was what I thought. 
To possibly become traditionally published someday I would have to write numerous query letters, pitches and figure out whom to send those pitches and query letters to. Plus, I would actually have to go to the post office. Well, okay… I could just walk to the mailbox, but still.
I really didn’t want to take the extra time to pitch my books to someone who would just tell me no. My odds for a traditional contract were not good. Maybe after several hundred rejections of the hundreds of query letters I sent out – maybe someone would bite – maybe. Of course, there are exceptions, but my books are written strictly for entertaining the reader (and the author). There is nothing to be gained from the books other than a good time. They are not literary masterpieces and there is no moral.
The chance of The Alexis Stanton Chronicles being picked up by a publisher were very slim and I’d probably still be in query mode today. It’s not quite been ten years, yet. I think a statistic out there says authors spend an average of ten years querying publishers and agents before they become noticed.
Self-publishing allows me to remain in total control of my books.
One thing that bothered me about possibly landing a traditional deal was that I’d have to sign away all rights to my beloved books. All authors out there will know this feeling. My books are mine. They are a piece of me and I love them dearly. I didn’t want some arbitrary person telling me that I needed to change my story. The story is the story and that’s that. I didn’t write it with thoughts of salability but with thoughts of the characters and what was happening to them.
Self-publishing gave me the option to leave the story as is. But, it also gives me enough control to change the story ten years later, if I so choose.
Self-publishing has a higher return rate for the product.
In other words, my royalty percentages are higher per book sold.
Yes, I understand that they (the publishers) have overhead, but for the author, the creator of this brand new world, to only get 8% wasn’t something I was willing to do even more work for. I did not want to spend countless hours telling publishers and agents how great my books were for 8%. 
After doing plenty of research, I decided that the possibility of an advance was too slim for a first time author. And, even if I were offered an advance I’d have to decide if that offer was a large enough number to sell the story outright. Traditional publishing of new authors and actual copies sold doesn’t have that high of a statistics rate either. So, no advance or a very small one and 8% of sales just didn’t seem right to me. I love my characters and they seem worth a heck of a lot more than *80¢ a copy. (*based on a price of $9.99)  
Those points are the main reasons I chose to self-publish. Now I will explain exactly how those points figure into the reality of self-publishing.
Self-publishing is the lazy man’s way out.
Self-publishing is not the lazy man’s way out. It is a lot of work. The jobs your traditional publisher takes on for you (even if they aren’t many) are all up to you. 
You have to find a good editor that you can trust. You still have to edit your work, and more than likely you’ll have to edit it numerous times. Hopefully, you’ll find a great editor the first time around or you’ll be lucky enough to have friends, family and readers who are willing to let you know where they’ve seen mistakes.
You have to figure out the business side. The ISBNs, distribution, marketing and advertising are all a huge part of self-publishing.
Self-publishing allows me to remain in total control of my books.
I’m in total control of the content of my books, but I’m also completely responsible for that content. If you don’t edit them very well, that’s on your head. You have no publisher you can blame for missing that one it’s that should have been its.
Not only the editing responsibility, I have the responsibility of creating or finding and paying someone to create the best cover ever. The cover is one of the most important parts of your book. It’s the first thing a reader sees and if it doesn’t look professional, not many will take the bait.
Self-publishing has a higher return rate for the product. 
The 8% per book sold that I spoke of is an estimate for paperback copies and does not pertain to e-books or hardcovers. Each form the book takes commands a different percentage and it varies by each individual contract.
I will admit that after I had written my books I did want to try to make money from them. Why not?  But, I will also admit that I give my first book away at all outlets (e-book format). That nets me… nothing. I sell the other two books for $2.99 and $3.99 and I do get a 70% royalty from each sale of those two. That is approximately $2.09 and $2.79 per sale. 
The problem with this is making the sales. Traditional publishers are almost guaranteed a certain amount of sales per book because of their connections and experience in this field. Self-published authors have to find their audience all by themselves.
So, traditional publishing might still be for you. You get help with editing, a cover is created for you and they (the publisher) will help you distribute and sell. Also, you have that proof that your book is good enough to be published. Professionals in your line of work have said that they are willing to invest time and money in your product. That is a pretty good endorsement. 
If I, by some odd happenstance, were offered a contract from an outside publisher, I’d definitely look it over. There are things a publisher can do for you that you can’t do for yourself without a whole lot of research and other work and money.
There are loads of statistics out there. One that I’ve heard many different times is that the average self-published author is lucky to sell 500 copies of their book in their lifetime. This may still be the case, though I’m not convinced.
There has been a lot of talk about whether or not there is any money in writing. I’m not sure if there is for everyone but I’ve done fairly well. My philosophy, if you can write and you love to write – write. And, to expand that philosophy a little, if you can create a publishable piece – publish.
Self-publishing is no longer the kiss of death for a book/series. It is just one more avenue for us to consider.
Since I released my first novel I have written two more books in the series and have published them all in the various e-book formats. I’ve done my own marketing and have done okay with my sales. Then I had a wonderful stroke of luck that somehow put my books on the map. They still live out in the sticks, but they are on the map.
It isn’t easy to make a living as an author. Yet, there are people out there doing just that. I have been lucky this year. I’ve sold enough books to count my writing as a real job. I wasn’t able to do it last year and I might not be able to do it next year, but it is worth a shot. After all my research of both traditional and self-publishing this is more than I ever expected to get from my frivolous little world I created and I’m very happy.
So – to self-publish or not to self-publish…  Good luck! 
JC…thanks for visiting!!
-R. Mac Wheeler
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  1. Thank you for putting up my post, Mac.

  2. What a pleasure to read your post here! Thanks for doing this! You have given so much to think about too! It's good that you've been making money, (I know it's not an easy road to begin with) everything worth doing takes time. It just goes to show if you don't give something a good go at it, you can expect nothing will happen for you, right!

  3. That's the exact question I'm considering at the moment, and my pro and con list is growing equally, so I'm no closer to an answer. But thanks for this post - lots to mull over!

  4. I'm enjoying the freedom of self-publishing my previously published short stories via Amazon's KDP, but I have yet to take the plunge into self-publishing work that has never been published elsewhere. And as far as my novels go, I'm still on the hunt for an agent or small press -- but who knows, I may change my mind someday.

  5. Excellent post and persuasive. The bottom line for me is that self publishing depends more on temperament than talent. Yes, talent is important, perhaps essential but the author in this world is also entrepeneur

  6. on knees, head to floor

    "THANK YOU" for posting this....thank you, thank you, thank you

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. Karen - Thank you for your comment. Yes, you have to put in the time and work with self publishing as much as any other if you hope to have any kind of good return. It most definitely is not a "get rich quick" scheme.

    Annalisa - I wish you all the luck you'll need for whatever option you choose. I believe in creating your own luck, and if you work hard at it, you'll catch your break.

    Milo - I'm perfectly happy that I self published my series instead of shopping them around. I did worry that I'd never be traditionally published after I did it, though. And, at that time, that was a very strong possibility. But now, it seems that the agents and publishers won't bypass your books strictly because you self published. Yet, there is nothing wrong with being cautious.

    Mike - What a wonderful way to put it. Yes, the author can't just write the piece and let someone else do the work. It just doesn't happen that way (as far as I know).

    mhmoore - :-) I hope it has helped you get closer to making a decision.