Is Self-Publishing Right for You?

Rachel Sandell Book Publishing

Few things in life compare to getting published. Holding your words in your hands—on real paper, with a front and back cover—makes all the hard work that came before worth it.  If you are a writer ready to take the next step with your work, then you’re probably wondering how to catch the attention of a publishing house—or, if you’re like so many rising indie authors, how to go about publishing your own work.

Let’s break down what self-publishing is, why some writers choose it, and what you need to know to become a self-published author.

Traditional Publishing and Self-Publishing: What’s the Difference?

Traditional publishing and self-publishing have many subtle differences, but the main difference lies in the involvement of a publishing house. Traditionally, a publishing house will support a writer’s project by providing their services to distribute their books to a wide audience. Self-publishing, as the name implies, is a way for the writer to publish his or her work without the involvement of publishing houses.

Self-publishing, while only recently increasing in popularity and acceptance, has been a valid option for writers for years. Political figures, writers specializing in obscure genres, and writers of experimental pieces have found their place in self-publishing with great success.

Virginia Woolf, for example, wrote poetry that publishers considered too experimental. In other words, they didn’t want to take the risk of the public rejecting Woolf’s unconventional style. She self-published her experimental poetry and even founded her own publishing house, Hogarth Press, with her husband.

Over the years, self-publishing has gained increasing acceptance among readers and writers of all kinds. So you may be asking yourself, Is self-publishing right for me?

Why Self-Publish?

Creative Control

One of the largest advantages to self-publishing is the ability to maintain creative control over your own work. Traditional publishing houses have specific requirements for manuscripts, some of which may compromise the author’s original vision of the work. Self-publishing ensures that you, as the author, have the final say on how your work is presented.

Because a self-publishing author takes charge of all aspects of publication, he or she is in full control of everything relating to the manuscript—which also means the author is responsible for a lot of work. The writer is in charge of developmental editing, cover art, marketing, and much more. How the work is written, how it is formatted, how it is presented in terms of cover art and design, and how it is marketed to a wide audience will all also be part of the publication process the writer must navigate.

In self-publishing, the writer has full control to craft the project according to his or her original vision. The author can choose whom to hire as beta readers, editors, formatters, and the like. Those individuals may suggest changes, but the writer always makes the final decision.

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Quick Publishing

When compared to traditional publishing houses, self-publishing also presents a quick path to getting your book into the hands of readers. Querying, obtaining an agent, and attempting to become noticed by a publishing house can take months to years. Self-publishing, on the other hand, is a much quicker process limited mainly by the amount of time the writer dedicates to the project. Once the final work is done, all that’s left is to click Publish.

Being your own boss also means you choose the date of publication—and it can be as soon or as far away as you want, depending on how ready your manuscript is.

Higher Royalty Percentage

Royalty percentages tend to be higher for self-published works, which is one of the most desirable benefits of taking this route. On average, a traditionally published author will make 10–15 percent of each copy’s earnings. In contrast, self-published authors have been known to make up to 70 percent of each copy’s earnings.

Bear in mind, however, that publishing houses employ teams devoted to marketing. Without that assistance, you’ll need to do much more self-marketing to match the levels of readership you’d gain from the traditional method. If you don’t market your book well, the higher royalty percentage will be offset by the lower sales numbers.

Success

While self-publishing differs from traditional publishing norms, taking the self-publishing route does not necessarily close your options for future traditional publishing deals. Take the following three examples:

  • Irma Rombauer self-published her cookbook before it became well-known, taking advantage of her niche genre. Later, the book was picked up by the Bobbs-Merrill Company and became The Joy of Cooking. Rombauer’s self-published project is now one of the most published cookbooks to date.
  • Bapsi Sidhwa’s novel The Crow Eaters began as a self-published book. Eventually, Sidhwa became an award-winning author. 
  • Amanda Hocking‘s paranormal YA series, the Trylle trilogy, made over a million dollars in sales before it was picked up by St. Martin’s Press. Hocking is highly regarded as an inspirational example of success in the self-publishing market.

While big-time success is rare, it is not impossible. And, of course, it can be said that high levels of success in any writing platform is uncommon. 

How Do I Self-Publish?

Pick a Platform

A few tried-and-true self-publishing platforms include CreateSpace, Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), Barnes & Noble Press, and IngramSpark. Choosing the right platform depends on you, the aspiring author, and which type of self-publishing best fits your manuscript, as each platform has its own strengths and weaknesses.

If you find that none of these platforms are a good fit for you and your work, you can always start a new publishing house of your own, following in Virginia Woolf’s footsteps. Regardless, knowing more about each of your prospects will help you make an informed decision.

Take Responsibility for the Quality of Your Work

While it can be tempting to simply hop onto Amazon KDP and click Publish, it is crucial that you make sure your work is ready to publish. Without agents or editors, only you are responsible for the quality of your work.

Because it is so easy to push that Publish button, some people have the unfortunate assumption that self-published or indie authors produce lower-quality work. Without sufficient editing, revising, and recruiting of beta readers, mistakes can tarnish your final product. That’s why it is essential to learn how to self-edit and seek outside help before publishing. With enough polishing, you’ll overcome negative assumptions and emerge as an author of quality material.

While it can be tempting to simply hop onto Amazon KDP and click Publish, it is crucial that you make sure your work is ready to publish. Without agents or editors, only you are responsible for the quality of your work. Click To Tweet

Hire Outside Help

You are the boss, but publishing is not a solitary gig. Catching errors requires a new set of eyes, as you’re too familiar with your own work to find every typo. While hiring editors for your work is an investment of time and money, the result is worth it. An experienced editor can help you take your draft from the development stage to a full-length, publish-ready book, and many editors will work with you on a payment plan that will fit your needs and budget. 

You must also complete the important tasks of design, layout, and formatting. In order to create a quality final product, quality preparation is a necessity.

Do Your Research and Make a Budget

Because all of these services cost time and money, it’s important to do research and make a realistic budget. Hiring outside help, such as experts in editing, formatting, design, marketing, and more, must be considered when making your budget. For example, an original, quality cover design from a company such as Eight Little Pages can cost a few hundred dollars. Plan for these expenses ahead of time so you won’t be surprised.

You’ll find offers to do these jobs for cheap, but it is best to double- and triple-check the contractor’s products before purchasing a service. In the publishing business, you get what you pay for. It is worth the time to check references and reviews before you sign a contract.

Be aware of contracting pitfalls, such as scammers. A common red flag is a company asking for direct payment from the author before the book even sells. Typically, a legitimate platform will only require a percentage of the income and sometimes a title start-up fee, an example of which can be found on IngramSpark’s website. Also make sure you’ve purchased commercial rights to the images when you hire a cover designer. And, of course, you must ensure you choose a reliable editing service with experience in developmental editing, copy editing, and proofreading—three separate but necessary services.

If you’re ever unsure about the legitimacy of a publishing platform or any other service, do your research and make sure you know who you are dealing with. This will save you time and headaches in the long run.

What Do You Think?

No matter which publishing option you choose, your main focus should be on the content and quality of the book itself. Traditional publishing and self-publishing both have their merits, but what truly matters is the writing and the reader who enjoys it.

With so many things to think about when it comes to self-publishing, make sure you stop to ask yourself if this is the direction you want to take with your writing. Everyone’s work requires different methods to bring out its strengths, so the best course of action is to choose what’s best for you and your manuscript.

Which direction best fits your vision?

Do you need an experienced editor to assist with developmental editing, copy editing, or proofreading for your self-publishing adventure? We’d love to hear about your project and discuss how we can help! Drop us a note

About the Author

Rachel is an avid editor and self-published author. When she isn’t knee-deep in her own stories of the mythical and magical, she can be found blogging about her favorite books, beta reading for other writers, or composing her own music. She joined the Scribe Source team in 2018.