Honestly, I don’t know the answer to that. You may want to self publish simply to call yourself published. Or maybe you just want to put out a collection of family recipes so that they’re preserved for future generations. (And those are both okay!) But if you’re talking about self publishing as a career move, I can give you a few things to consider as you’re making that decision – some questions I asked myself before I decided that traditional publishing was no longer meeting my career needs.
1. Do I know the basics of grammar, storytelling, craft and revision?
With two books pubbed with a digital first press and nine books pubbed with a traditional publisher, I had no problem answering this with a big ole yes. In fact, I’d say my grasp of these things is beyond basic. I’ve been in the trenches a while now and that has a way of pounding the basics into you. Plus, my background as an English major and teacher helped me, but so did my years of writing book after book toward publication and my years of being edited by four different editors. (Working with editors is the best way I know of learning how to revise.)
If you’re not sure about the answer to this question, then there’s a chance the answer could be no. What kinds of reactions do people give you to your work? Enthusiastic? Or do they smile kindly and say it was nice? Be honest with yourself here because you can be sure reviewers will call out any perceived deficits in these areas.
2. Do I have the funds to put out a professional product?
I’ve seen some posts about how self publishing costs thousands and thousands of dollars. To those people I want to say “You’re doing it wrong!” Yes, indie publishing costs money, but it’s not the kind of thing you need to mortgage your house for.
My Nocturne Falls books cost me around $1500 a piece to produce. It varies somewhat depending on the length of the book, but that’s the average. That price includes a print and digital cover, content editing, copy editing, proofreading (sometimes two rounds) and formatting for print and digital.
If you’re not sure what your book will cost, start talking to editors, proofers, cover designers and formatters and get estimates! (You need to line those folks up anyway, so make appointments with them as soon as you can.)
3. Do I have the patience to learn new things?
My answer is…not always. I’m not a patient person as my husband will gladly tell you. But I’ve been indie publishing for about five years, so I already knew the basics. (In those early years, I did my own formatting too!) But if you’re new to this, there is a learning curve.
But I approached the process of learning indie publishing with the mindset of it being a business – MY business. That really enabled me to find some patience and dig in. Truthfully, I like learning new things and the more I understand and master in this business, the more empowered I feel. Indie publishing can be very empowering.
4. Is control important to me?
A thousand times yes. Traditional publishing is in many ways for the author about giving up control. I don’t consider my books my babies or anything like that, but they represent enormous amounts of my time and talents and handing them over to be presented to the world by someone else got old.
I’ve been blessed to have some amazing covers (see my House of Comarre and Crescent City series) so covers weren’t my issue. But there were many times were the edits felt like they were just about change for the sake of change – different but not better – and that wore on me. I don’t like a lot of cooks in the kitchen.
The traditional publishing time line can be frustrating too. When I signed my first trad contract, my publisher decided they wanted to put the first three books out back to back to back. I was good with that – it was a chance to launch in a big way. But only the first book was written. That meant the first book in a contract signed in 2009 didn’t see publication until 2011.
Now when I finish a book, it’s available for sale within a month or two. It’s infinitely more satisfying.
5. Am I willing to take risks?
As I’ve talked about before, there are no financial guarantees in self publishing. You might make a million dollars. You might make ten. You have to be willing to fail.
I was. But I was also so disillusioned with traditional publishing that failing was okay. What I found out pretty quickly was that self publishing gave me the joy of writing back. Once that happiness returned, the prospect of failing mattered less and less.
In fact, I was so willing to fail that I walked away from a traditional offer for the first three Nocturne Falls books. (The offer would have cost me all my rights – world & audio – for a sum I ended up making back in about forty days.)
6. Do I have a support system?
I’m not saying you can’t self publish if you have no friends, no mentors, or no writing community. I’m saying having a support system makes it infinitely easier. Being able to talk to other indie authors about recommendations for editors and cover designers is huge. They can help you find the quality team necessary to put out a great book and have a great experience doing it.
They can also give you feedback when questions arise. Help you make decisions. Help you avoid mistakes. But best of all, they give you someone to share your victories and your failures with. This is a solitary business and having a support system helps immensely. (If you don’t have a support system, seek out online groups or forums. RomanceDivas.com is a great place for those of you writing romance.)
7. Do I have clear goals?
Saying you want to be successful is great, but what does that mean? Goals help us measure success so without them, you may not feel like you’re achieving anything. Make it specific. Determine what success will mean for you on a measurable basis. Whether it’s two hundred dollars a month in sales or two thousand dollars a month, figure it out. Use that as your benchmark.
It may not happen the first month or the second or even the third, but once it does, set a new goal. Keep striving. Stay hungry. Indie publishing is exciting and difficult and at times, labor intensive, but it is also incredibly rewarding.
It’s also not for everyone, but for me, it means I can write what I love and make a living. (I exceeded my monthly financial goal in about 10 days.) Self publishing is definitely for me. Is it for you? Only you know for sure.
Comments, questions or suggestions? Have at it. And happy writing!