Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing

Are you tired of constant form-letter rejections? Do you like having greater control over your creative process? Would you prefer to keep more of your royalties?
If your answer to any of the above is yes, then self-publishing might just be the route for you. In this first of several posts on self-publishing, I will attempt to detail the reasons why taking the independent route to publication may or may not be the right route for you.

There are lots of reasons why authors may want to consider publishing their books on their own, rather than waiting around for an agent or big publishing house to pick up their work. Here are some of the big ones:

Pros

1) Skip the Submission Process

There is no question that submitting to various agents and publishing houses takes time–and that’s not counting the additional task of keeping track of where you submitted to and when. So, to save a lot of time (as well as numerous disappointing rejection notices), some people prefer to self-publish. You still have to put some time and work into it, but it’s time you are spending actually moving forward, rather than waiting for someone else to give you the green light to go ahead.

2) Speed

This is particularly of interest to those (like me) with multiple books backed up that have been sitting around complete for a while. With traditional publishing, it can take up to a year or more to go from acceptance to book release. With self-publishing, it is possible to put books out pretty much as rapidly as you churn them out. It may not be wise to actually publish this fast, but you could theoretically do it if you so desired.

3) Creative Control

This is a big one. Especially for those of a more artistic mindset, having more control over the aesthetic of your finished product can be very important. With traditional publishing, the author has very little say in cover design, interior formatting, and sometimes even edits that are made by the publishing staff. If you’ve got the drive and desire to do all these things yourself, then self-publishing is definitely a viable option for you.

4) Royalties

This can also be a big one, depending on just how important the proceeds from your book sales are to you. Traditional publishers generally pay out all royalties to their authors at a set time every year or sometimes biannually, and only then once they’ve made back their initial investment in sales. The cut is usually smaller, due to all the people involved, and if you have an agent, your final cut will be even smaller. In contrast, self-publishing platforms will often shell out payments on a monthly basis once you get going. Sometimes there is a minimum threshold of sales to make before they’ll actually issue the payment, but if you really hit your stride with readers, there should be no trouble meeting this usually modest quota. And of course, with fewer middle men, you’ll receive a bigger cut of the earnings too.

Cons

1) Time

While self-publishing can be much faster than traditional publishing, it can also take a lot more of your time to make this happen. When your book is taken up by a major publisher, their staff does all the work necessary to get it shipshape for sending out to the public. The only time they’ll bother you is when they ask for some edits or need your signature for something.

2) Resources

This is undoubtedly the biggest hurdle to self-publishing. While traditional publishers will supply you with all you need to make your book a finished product, and even a minimal amount of marketing. But the “self” part of publishing really becomes apparent when you’re left to your own devices to come up with everything: cover art, formatting, ISBNs, barcodes (in some cases), etc. Depending on how much of this you do on your own (you could do most of it by yourself, but this is probably not advisable), it can get really expensive. Couple thousand for professional edits, maybe another thousand for cover art and ISBNs, plus a few hundred for marketing and advertising after the book is released can add up pretty fast. You have to be prepared to spend money as well as time to make this thing happen.

3) Full-Time Job

I was once told that if you want to be a professional author, you’ve got to treat authoring like your profession. And this is very true! Whether you actually intend to be a big-time writer with lots of sales or not is up to you. However, even to make a book pay for itself in the expense category, it can take a lot of effort and time on your part. So, don’t be surprised if you find the task eating up every spare hour of your day, especially in the beginning when you’re first learning the ropes. If you’re not dedicated to your writing, don’t get mixed up with self-publishing.

4) Marketing

As hinted at above, traditional publishers will provide a modicum of sales and marketing support when your book comes out, but unless you’re a surefire bet on making back the initial expenses and then some, they probably won’t blow the budget to make you a success. But it’s something, at least. More than you’ll get on your own. If you have experience in sales and marketing, this will definitely come in handy.

5) Stigma

Self-published books definitely carry a stigma with them. After all, when anyone can put out pretty much anything for the right price, there’s going to be a lot of junk out there! So, in order to become even moderately successful with a self-published book, you definitely have to be able to overcome this barrier. (There are some professionally published books–big successes, even–that are pretty junky as well, of course, but they have the advantage of having that big house name behind them.)

Those are the big ones, so far as I can think of them. There may well be others, and if you can think of any additional incentives (or disincentives) to self-publishing, feel free to share them. In the meantime, for those of you who’ve decided that self-publishing is the route to go, next week I will detail the actual process of getting your book out there.

Published by J. S. Allen

J. S. Allen is a writer, linguist, historian, and nature-lover from Kansas City, Missouri. He is the author of the young adult series 'Sauragia' and the 'Woodland Tales' anthology for children, as well as several shorter works in various online and local venues. In between writing and publishing, he likes to draw, spend long hours outdoors, and read. His favourite authors include M. I. McAllister, Brian Jacques, and Alexandre Dumas.

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