Self-publishing is a popular term these days, so what exactly is it? Can anyone publish a book? Maybe you’re writing a novel, but you’re unsure what all is involved to publish. Here are some insights into the process. Hopefully knowing what lies ahead won’t deter your efforts, but will enlighten you. This will be a four part blog, simply because we have so much to talk about!
Part one will cover the differences between traditional publishing and self-publishing.
In part two we’ll discuss preparing your manuscript to self-publish.
Part three will go over many of the processes involved to put your novel on the market.
In part four we’ll talk about marketing and sales.
What does the term Self-Publish mean?
The difference between Traditional Publishing and Self-Publishing
Before the internet changed the world (and Amazon became a leader in book sales), there was only one way to publish a book, the traditional way. You had to get an agent and beg and plead with a publisher for your writing to be considered, sometimes for years. For most authors this process ended in failure. Publishers considered themselves the gatekeepers of good literature, making sure that only quality works were published. (But of course, the value of literature is subjective) Only a select few authors were ever chosen to be published, partly on the merit of their work, but also by spending years struggling and finding connections in the industry. With the advent of digital files and accessibility to readers online (as well as Amazon’s broad reach and power in the market) anyone can now publish writing themselves, for better or worse. As a reader you now have the option to purchase (or even get free) work written by anyone and everyone. As a matter of fact, you probably have no idea which of your favorite authors are self-published, and which are traditionally published. For example, authors such as Terry Goodkind, who have been traditionally published for years, have switched to self publishing their books. The author of Twilight, Stephanie Meyer, was self-published before she was selected to be traditionally published. And of course we all know that J.K. Rowling was turned down for years by traditional publishers before someone took a chance on people being interested in books about teenage sorcerers.
To begin, lets talk about the basic differences between traditional publishing and self-publishing.
A traditional publisher buys your novel from you and then they own it. It’s theirs. You maintain only the right to put your name on it once they’ve worked it over. The publishing company will change the content of your work, design the cover, sit on it for years, anything they want really, because they own it. Typically the traditional publisher will pay you a tidy sum upfront, then you get a percentage of the royalties per sale. The traditional publisher pays for all the editing (editors on staff) as well as the preparation and printing cost for thousands of books. They then pay for distribution of eBooks as well as shipping the printed books to bookstores across the country or even the world. They also pay for your airfare and hotel expenses to travel to talk shows and book signings to promote your book, including all the posters and banners and blah, blah, blah… You get my point. The tradition publisher is making a huge investment in your book, and you are along for the ride. (Thus their fierce pickiness) Sadly, unknown authors don’t get much promotion, and if your book doesn’t sell well within 30 days, you’re pretty much dropped like a hot poker and you have to buy back thousands of books. Funny how that part isn’t usually mentioned.
But now we can self-publish! What does this mean? Basically, self-publishing means you pay for (or do yourself) all the services the traditional publisher would do. This includes paying to have an editor edit the manuscript, formatting the printable files and eBook files, book cover design and creation, printing costs, distribution (both paperback and eBooks), and the big thing most all authors hate, marketing. One of the biggest differences between self-publishing and traditional pushing is that when you self-publish, you continue to own your novel through the whole process, because no one is buying the rights from you.
As the option to self-publish gained popularity, firms offering publishing services popped up overnight. For a fee, these firms will do the work of a traditional publisher for you. It will cost you several thousand dollars per book though, and those fees have to be paid in full before you get the finished product to sell. Not a happy thought. However, at least one self-publishing firm, Book Fuel in Denver Colorado, (the one I use) allows me to make payments over time, so I can get my books out there and continue paying for their services from my royalties.
Bear in mind that as a self-published author, no one is paying you for your novel up front. The only money you will receive are royalties from your book sales at the very end of the publishing process. The good news is you get higher royalties than you would through a traditional publisher, depending on your book prices. Having said that, be sure you understand any conditions set by your self-publishing firm. Most firms who handle distribution of your novel will control your work once it’s published and take a portion of your royalties. You will have to go through them to change anything about your book, including the price and sales or coupons. With some firms, changes are impossible or very expensive. (You can handle the work of distribution on your own if you want to, and we’ll talk about that in part four) The whole point of self-publishing is that you can do as much or as little of the process as you choose, (or are able) but if you have someone else do it, it’s gonna cost you.
It’s important note that most self-published authors sell the majority of their books online. No matter if you chose to sell printed books, eBooks, or both, much of the work to prepare your book for self-publishing has to do with creating files in specific formats for online sales. Only traditional publishers (through their closed traditional system) can get books into stores such as Barnes and Noble (sometimes referred to as brick and mortar stores because they are actual stores not virtual stores). Brick and mortar stores are still tied into traditional markets to purchase books to sell, and they tend to ignore the pleas of thousands of self-published authors. If your book is selling exceptionally well online and people begin requesting it in stores, the corporate office of a store may buy multiple copies to sell in the store. (Great news!) But as a new self-published author, you are pretty much looking at selling your book online. Some bookstores will allow self-published authors to do book signings, but you will be responsible for contacting the store and convincing them that you and your book are worthy and professional.
In all honesty, a few self-publishing firms have always existed, but they were called vanity press or vanity publishing. Due to the huge price of editing, design, printing, etc, only wealthy or crazy people spent thousands to print a book knowing they had no way to get the books into stores. It was referred to as vanity because authors had the audacity to believe their writing was good enough to publish outside the system. This all changed with the advent of the internet and eBooks, giving self-published authors a sales outlet beyond brick and mortar stores.
Admittedly, with the option for anyone to publish anything, comes the opportunity for tons of crap to be published. The decision of whether writing is good or bad now falls to the reader rather than an unseen person in a publishing office. Many changes have rolled through the publishing world as a result of this. Since the traditional system can be circumvented, people working in that industry have suffer significant income losses and have spent the last ten years shouting out about the danger and evils of self-publishing. Prices have also been affected. In 2009 Amazon wanted the right to sell all eBooks for $9.99 and to release them on the release date of the hardbound book. Court cases ensued and new rules had to be established pertaining to pricing and when eBooks are released, similar to the regulations on video vs movie releases back in the early 90s.
In a nutshell, self-publishing means you can get your book on the market without the help of a traditional publisher. You won’t have the support either, task wise or financially, but you can do it yourself. In the past it was nearly impossible to get a publisher to invest in you or your writing. You had to get an agent with connections in the industry to even have a chance at getting your foot in the door. Now, with the power of the internet, and a lot of hard work, you can publish your book on your own.
Read parts Two, Three and Four to see how!