Posted on June 26, 2020
There are a lot of opinions regarding the pros and cons of traditional or self-publishing route when wanting to get your work out there. The worst part? Most people form these opinions with little to no–to inaccurate research–they find on Twitter. Hopefully this post will debunk some false information floating around there. Have you self-published? Did your book flop? Check out my post here about the ugly truth about KU and how to succeed in self-publishing.
You’ve decided to not traditionally publish (trade pub) your book, and I want you to ask yourself a serious question. And that’s: Why? Is it any of these reasons?
Or are any of these your concern:
Let’s shoot straight. If your concerns for wanting to self-publish fall into the bulleted point reasons, these are not good enough reasons. You need to r e s e a r c h. And I don’t mean read other people’s opinions about self-publishing or form your own opinions based off what you’ve heard, particularly in regards to rumors floating around on Twitter.
Twitter facts are not facts!
Trying to find legitimate information on Twitter without contacting actual publishing professionals (agents or editors/sales/marketing staff who work for actual publishing houses), authors who have trade published, authors who have trade published and self-published and making a comprehensive list of questions of comparing and contrasting information, you will not have an accurate view of trade vs. self-publishing.
So what makes me qualified to give you my opinion? Well, for one, I have Master’s degrees in both publishing and creative writing. I’ve worked as an editor for a literary magazine. I’ve worked in marketing & social media in an established, international publishing house, and I did an entire MA Publishing thesis dedicated to NA in specific regards to self-publishing vs. trade publishing. I have interviewed and collected data from all of these people–plus more!
Still, my research isn’t fact, and I’m not saying this is the end-all-be-all for everyone. But, it’s a hell of a lot more accurate and thought out than many people who post on Twitter about self-publishing being the only route for a myriad of reasons that center around myths in traditional publishing. The things is, most of these authors have only heard, from word of mouth, about these trade issues. What happens when you play the game Telephone? You start with a phrase, such as, “I really like to eat pie on Wednesday.” And by the time it reaches the last person in line, it’s somehow becomes, “I like Fritos in the eyes, but only at weddings.” The entire original point gets twisted and becomes something new. This too happens when we share what we “heard” without fact-checking it.
If any of your reasons for not wanting to self-publish fall into the bullet points, I reiterate, they are not good reasons, and I’d love to tell you why. Let’s start with:
You think trade pub is “all luck.“ This particular opinion I see floating around constantly on Twitter irritates me because it is so untrue. Is it perhaps easier if you know the right person? Yes. But guess what? That’s anything in life. This in no way is special or contained to just trade publishing. And just because you know the right people doesn’t mean you’re an automatic shoo-in. This reason is ridiculous, and I’m not afraid to have a very harsh and decided opinion on that.
You think your writing is okay, but not good enough to hook an agent/house. Okay, well, if you’ve seen the first, second, third drafts, etc. from professional, famous writers you’ll realize one truth. They’re not all clean, pristine drafts that go right to the press. Some of these professionals still get confused by tenses and switch from present to past constantly in their works! This is what an editor is for. They mark-up grammar; fix syntax, style, tone; help with pacing; do so much more. Going through rounds of edits with a professional editor when I did my MFA thesis (where I wrote a novel & went through 3 rounds of edits like I would with a publishing house) is where I developed the most in regards to a more mature writing style. They helped me with things like voice, pacing, character development, setting, etc. But where I learned to really craft creative, engaging, and fun sentences was studying what my editor had changed. I taught myself how to correct the repetitive grammar mistakes I was making and what my editor was doing to help make my sentences glide and intertwine into one another to read like a flowing river instead of a stagnant marsh. If you’re writing is “okay” then that’s fine! An editor helps even the most common of writers shine, if they’re good at their job.
You think you’ll make more money with self-publishing. This one… I do giggle a bit. And here’s why. Even if you self-publish (KU or otherwise), someone else is still always going to get the majority of your royalties. Do people typically tend to get a bigger percent of royalties on KU? They do. But do they end up making more money? Nope. Here’s why. A good self-published novel (not even great, phenomenal, or fantastic) will have had someone take on the cost of editing (developmental, line, and copy), a decent and enticing cover, typesetting costs, marketing costs (such as running ads). The reason it’s harder to trade publish? Trade houses spend about $3,000-5,000 per author, per book to cover all these costs. This is the real reason trade publishing is so “hard” to break into. The dirty little secret, is that most of these books (in trade) don’t make back the costs the publishers took on to make it. They make the bulk of their money from their “evergreen” books. Things like “Twilight” or the “Percy Jackson” series or college text books from one of their imprints that sell every year without fail. Houses are looking for books that will not only make that money back, but become their next evergreen.
You think self-publishing is easier. This has got to be one of the biggest lies I’ve ever witnessed on Twitter. Self-publishing a Goliath amount of work. To have a legitimate book when self-publishing, you need to take on not only the costs of the publisher would, but also the work of marketing and sales which each house would have a dedicated team to. When you self-publish, you become all of these roles. You need to outsource to a trusted editor. Acquire an alluring cover. Pay someone to typeset your book for consistency (both the eBook and paper/hardbacks!). Plan your own marketing strategy, social media promos, and run useful ads. And a multitude of other things. Self-publishing is more work.
I want to point out that even if you have graphic design experience and/or a degree in it and can do all of the stylistic tasks yourself, one should never edit themselves. I don’t care if you have a degree in it. I have one, and I know because of that the worst person to edit someone’s work is the person who wrote it. You will always miss mistakes and make your work look lower-quality. And you know what? To get really good the 1%—who are well-known and make millions in self-publishing, like famous trade authors—pay the these costs and take more time than you’d believe to build their brand, as touched on in the blog post mentioned up top about KU and self-publishing.
Check it as many times as you want. If you edit yourself, there will always be heaps of mistakes.
You think your book isn’t what’s “hot” or trending in publishing right now. This might seem like a good reason, but here’s why I’m going to tell you it’s not. What’s trending right now is not what’s going to be popular in a year or 2 or whenever when your book actually hits the market. Everyone who wrote vampire books after the Twilight craze are just dusting them off now and querying because they’ve made a comeback. When they wrote them while the creatures were all the craze, many were told that they wouldn’t be trending by the time the book went to market. I’m not saying don’t querying your fae books right now, but even as they’re losing steam, keep them on the back burner, because everything comes back. But that zombie book you’ve written that went out of style 8 yeas ago? Take the chance. Query it. What if the trend a year from now is zombies, and wow, you’ve got an agent and a finished zombie book perfect for the market! Just because you think people won’t want to read your “niche” book or popular tropes or what have you, doesn’t mean others think the same. Not to mention, if an agent reads your book and falls in love with your writing and style, just because the book you queried isn’t “right” at this point in no way means they’ll reject you. They can and have still signed people and then read other works by the authors and gone on to query those before whipping out that OG manuscript and finally letting it see the paper press.
If any of these are the reasons you’re self-publishing, I believe they aren’t the right ones. Especially if you’re not willing or in the position to take on every role of the publishers and hire out for jobs you can’t do yourself–which at the very least needs to be willing to take on the costs of an editor (who developmentally, line, and copyedits the entire novel)! Yes it’s expensive. But if you want a book to sell like a trade book, it needs to be the quality of a trade book.
Addressing the the reasons you want to self-publish that fall under the numbered list. These are legitimate reasons to self-publish! These are reasons that I would say, “Yes, you should consider self-publishing, and you have the potential to do it well!” I do feel like I need to point out that if you fall under this category in everything except “You have the money to pay for various editing, cover design, typesetters costs & have a solid marketing plan/team then you still should not be self-publishing your work.
You don’t want to wait 1-3 years to hook an agent, editor, publisher & finally see your book published. This is legit. Books come out about every year if you’re doing some type of duology, series, or saga, but getting initially published takes a bit longer. When you’re established, have a contract and can write your books it goes a bit faster, but it still usually takes a year in between book birthdays to drop the next in a series when you go trade. If you write fast, edit fast, are paying to have your work top quality, and can write and edit several books within a year and want to get them out as fas as possible, self-publishing will have a bigger appeal to you. This coincides with the point You want to rapidly release books (either in a series, spin-offs, or multiple standalones). This is a serious reason to consider self-publishing. Again, I feel the need to point out something fairly obvious, which is even if you’re writing and editing fast, if you aren’t retaining, listening to, or changing issues that betas and/or editors are constantly point out to you, this isn’t going to help your books sell. You can have a top-tier edited book and still have it be incredibly unappealing to readers, which is discussed in the (Un)popular Opinion of KU post.
You think you’ll have more control in self-publishing. This is absolutely true. You have final say over everything. Edits and advice you do and don’t take. Final say on what the cover looks like to the T. What the blurb says. What the synopsis says. What the final title will be. You get to choose all of this. I’m not going to lie and say you can never have control over any of these in trade publishing, but I will admit the smaller the house, the more “freedom” the author typically gets. Self-publishing is the smallest house of all, therefore you get the most creative freedom.
The last point about being able to cover the costs is self-explanatory and I feel like I’ve talked about it enough. You need to have this. If you’re going to successfully self-publish yourself, build an author brand people want to associate with, and put out quality work without going through a trade publisher, you need to spend the money.
My goal here is to help you realize that trade isn’t the intimidating, gated, exclusive community only the “chosen” ones are invited into. Is it harder? Yes! Of course, but there are reasons! It’s not because agents and publishers just don’t like you! They’re looking at every book with the potential to become evergreen, or at the very least breakeven on the amount they spent editing, setting, designing, and marketing authors’ books. You shouldn’t jump straight into self-publishing because it’s going to be “easier” or “faster.” It could be, if you take short cuts. But you aren’t going to see the revenue, engagements, and growth you want.
There are some absolute genuine and appropriate reasons to self-publish. But a lot of what I see doesn’t cut it. What I tend to see are people cutting corner to just get their books out there and then getting angry when they aren’t selling as well as other authors or as well as they thought they would, particularly when the eBook rights are all with KU.
Not sure why your self-published book isn’t selling well? Even if you’ve done all of the work and covered all of the costs aforementioned? Again, maybe this KU/self-publishing analysis post will clear up the reasons!