I am often asked why I chose to self-publish, and the answer is that it wasn’t really a conscious decision. I had written my first book – Only the Innocent – because the idea for the story had been buzzing around in my head for about ten years, and so one very cold winter I decided I was going to spend my days writing a novel. It’s the best decision I think I have ever made!
I had no intention of trying to get published – at least to start with. Pressure from family was ultimately the driving force for sending the book to a few agents, but the agents told me it wasn’t what publishers were looking for so I stuck it on a virtual shelf for about six months and ignored it. Maybe I should have sent it out to a few more, but I had recently taken early retirement and wasn’t sure I would handle the inevitable rejections that well.
It wasn’t until the start of the next cold winter that I decided to investigate Kindle Direct Publishing. I decided to pull my manuscript off that shelf and give it a go. Why not?
The rest is history. I’ve spoken often about how I wrote a marketing plan and worked my socks off to get Only the Innocent to the top of the charts. Of course, once I’d done that, it would have seemed the obvious solution to try to get myself a publisher.
I didn’t do that, but I did get myself an agent.
Writers will tell you that their job is a lonely one. For a writer without a publisher it’s a solitary existence and it’s a definite ‘con’ to being self-published. There is nobody to bounce ideas off, share your insecurities or celebrate your successes with. However closely involved your family and friends might be, they cannot bring the analytical impartiality that a business partner can offer, and that’s what an agent can do. They tell it like it is – in the nicest possible way.
Other self-published authors may say you don’t need an agent. Technically, they’re right. But a good agent – and that’s the crucial part – can make such a huge difference. My agent guides me through each step of this tricky journey. She does everything from helping me to figure out the plot of my book when I’m stuck, to editing the first draft. She is, in effect, my publishing partner and worth her weight in gold. So when I’m asked why on earth I have an agent if I’m self-published, I just smile – because I know without a doubt that I wouldn’t have achieved what I have without my agent. For me, she overcomes one of the disadvantages of being self-published.
Of course, that’s not the only role the agency fulfils. They sell translation rights of my books, negotiate special terms with Kindle Direct Publishing on my behalf, and maybe one day might even sell film or TV rights. Who knows? I can live in hope!
Another ‘con’ to self-publishing is the fairly wide skill set that an author has to have. I am one of the lucky ones because I ran my own business for over twenty years, so I am reasonably competent at all those little aspects of self-publishing that people might not think about – like, for example, understanding accounts! I know how to work a spreadsheet and I can even handle VAT if I have to. I also know quite a bit about marketing, so I can make a reasonable attempt at promoting my own books.
But then comes the tricky part. To support the marketing, a writer often needs graphics. Not just a cover for the book – which in itself is a task that a self-published author has to take on – but the other stuff: creating image headings for Facebook and Twitter; designing (and maybe building) a website; producing marketing materials for blog tours… I could go on. These are essential, but unless you are successful enough as a self-published author to pay for all this work, you have to develop some skills that might surprise you.
So the potential for loneliness, lack of appropriate support and the number of skills that you – as an individual – have to master to be effective at selling your books are all potential disadvantages of being self-published.
And, of course, I am ignoring the elephant in the corner. A publisher will very possibly pay an advance – something to keep you going while you write your next book. As a self-published author, each novel is a risk. Will anybody buy it? Will anybody like it? Will I make enough money to support myself while I write the next book? The truth is, I never know.
So why do it? Why risk making no money, or give up every hour of the day for months to do my own promotion?
I am not in any way against traditional publishing. I would have loved a deal for my first book, but that never happened. So I have to consider the positives of self-publishing, and the most significant of those is that I feel in control. I can choose the cover I want, set the price I think the book will sell at and decide on a publication date that suits me.
I don’t have the same constraints that a publisher might have. I’m not answerable to any shareholders for the allocation of my marketing budget, and so if one of my books fails to sell I wouldn’t withdraw marketing effort, I would increase it. I would maybe change the cover, the blurb, or even the whole marketing strategy. I might play with the price or create some special offers, but I wouldn’t stop trying.
So there you have it. The pros of a traditional deal – the support, the number of tasks taken off your hands, the might of a publisher’s marketing strength – versus the control over your own destiny.
Who’s to say which is best?
This article was originally posted on It Takes a Woman on 13 April 2015
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net