Should I Self-Publish?

This is almost always one of the first things my clients ask about. They want to know if I think self-publishing is better, or they might ask if their book is “good enough” to be traditionally published.

Let’s start by addressing the second part. There is a stigma associated with self-published books, and while I don’t agree that it’s accurate, it is something writers looking to publish need to be aware of. If your book looks self-published, there will be readers that won’t give it a try. Luckily, the average reader is not checking the “published by” section of the book information, so you can avoid being lumped into the “assumed poor quality” section by making sure your book doesn’t look self-published.

Let me explain.

Scroll through Amazon for a moment. Look at the covers, the descriptions, the author photos. Not all books have author photos, or Author Central pages available. The more polished your covers and blurbs look, the more likely readers won’t spend time wondering if the book inside is poor quality. Additionally, Amazon offers a “look inside’ option that interested readers can use to look at your hook and general writing style.

To be clear, I do not think self-published books are of poor quality in general. All of my personal books are self-published. Unfortunately, all it takes is a few experiences with a manuscript laden with typos, or with flat characters and confusing plots, for a reader to form that opinion. That’s basic psychology. It’s our nature to overlook all of the good things much more easily than we forgive the few bad things. There are thousands of high-quality, well-written, devourable books out there by self-published authors.

Self-published doesn’t mean low quality. But work from the assumption that a lot of readers might have that association. Then prove them wrong.

Now, on to the good stuff. What do I recommend?

I don’t. I rarely make specific recommendations unless I see somebody with a voice that reads well from the start and a book idea that is timely, unique, and has a strong perspective. If such a book is non-fiction, I urge the author to consider querying. Why? Because a lot of my non-fiction authors are not aiming to be full-time writers. Many of them want to complete their stories because they feel it will help others, or because they have had such an interesting life. It’s rare for me immediately see huge commercial success in these books (but frequent to see huge personal growth and the ability to connect with a specific set of readers) but when I do, I think it’s worth querying to find out if an agent and larger publishing house will see the same potential.

When an author asks me which way they should go with publishing their book, I ask them some questions back. I’ll ask you to consider the same, and explain why I ask them:

· How long are you willing to wait to be published?

I ask this because self-publishing is a real treat for those of us without good waiting skills. Querying takes time. Agent responses take time. Sometimes just finding an agent takes over a year. Then, the agent has to pitch your book to publishers. If your manuscript gets picked up, there’s the entire process of getting it ready to publish, which also can take over a year.

· How organized are you are as a person?

A lot of people that come to me for Book Coaching do so because I’m ace at helping them stay focused and organized. When you self-publish there are literally ten to thirty different things to keep track of each month if you dive into marketing hard. And if you want to be successful, you have to market, and market like your book depends on it. Because it does.

On the flip side, when querying, you should also keep a spreadsheet of agents, what they are looking for, when you sent your query if they respond or don’t respond to all queries, and when that lack of response (or direct response) means a “no.” This is because you should query in small batches, and you need to know when it’s time to send the next set, and which agents to send to.

· Do you have more time now or more time in a few months?

I ask this because querying is time-consuming. You write and re-write your pitch. You track sends and responses. It’s a “now” sort of time consumption.

Self-publishing is more of an always sort of responsibility and requires a real ramp-up once you’ve published or as you get close to publishing.

· Are you aware of the tax requirements in your state for freelance and self-published authors?

This I ask because I was not originally aware. I actually had to pay a small fine for registering myself late. I assumed if I wasn’t selling paperbacks in person at book fairs, that people were paying taxes on my books through amazon so it didn’t matter. In some states, it does. You need to know this going into self-publishing.

· Are you willing to spend some money upfront without the promise of a return on investment?

I’m not saying you need to spend hundreds on a book cover and thousands on an editor. But you might want to. Different authors have different strengths and putting a quality product out there is important when you’re looking at building a name for yourself. Unfortunately, no form of publishing comes with any guarantees of making a serious income. If you self-publish, all expenses are yours to pay. Traditional publishing means the publishing company handles cover costs, editing, etc. If they’re trying to make you pay to publish your book…well, that’s when I would recommend self-publishing, or returning to querying.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the considerations. This is a taste of the conversations I have with my clients about the process and what to expect. If you have any other thoughts and advice you like to offer that I didn’t touch on – share on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook with your advice!