Monday, May 4, 2020

The Ugly Side of Self-Publication

Judging by the emails and Facebook IMs I received regarding my last post about the road to getting published, I scared a lot of people into opting for the self-publication route. The thought of all the work, struggle, and rejection that comes with finding an agent, much less a publisher, definitely gives the do-it-yourself route some appeal. Well, now let me offer the pros and cons of being your own publisher, and we will see if that scares you back in the other direction or convinces you that you're ready to take it on yourself.

Self-publishing obviously has its appeal - no agent taking 15% of your royalties, no fighting with a publisher asking you to consider some changes to make it more marketable, no annoying editors sending you a relentless number of revisions. Just your word going onto the shelves, and you claim the royalties. Nice and tidy - but a little too tidy, as I shall point out.

The important part to remember about self-publishing is the word "self." You do everything yourself, or pay for someone to do it for you. Even before your first copy is available, you do the editing yourself. You do the layout yourself. Cover design - yourself. All the technical requirements for creating the files that make the book - yep, that's done by yourself as well. Sometimes it's easy to outsource these, which is fine, but they need to be done and they cannot be taken lightly.

I'm offering a special paragraph here to emphasize the importance of having your work edited. This is different than editing your work - you need an editor. And before you answer - no, an editor is not your dear Aunt Pearl who is so glad you are writing, or a long-time friend who is good at finding mistakes. An editor is someone who is not emotionally invested in your process and can tell you the things you might not want to hear. If characters are flat, if pacing is uneven, if plot lines wander around, an editor should tell you these things. Self-publishing means there is no gatekeeper to tell you if something needs work, so literally anything can go into print. If you self-publish, you want to make sure that your words and ideas are presented in a way that stands above all the books out there where the author said, "My work be good 'nuff, and ain't nobody telling what need ta be done." They're wrong. Don't join them.

Just as a side-note, the most common route for self-publishing is Amazon's KDP. It is a full-service suite for publishing where you can buy features that are normally outsourced, or if you prefer, you can publish for free without their premium services. More importantly, any book published through KDP is examined by other retailers, who may list the book in their catalog as well.

So, let's say you finally get into print. Excellent. Now what? Well, self-publishing also means that you wear a bunch of other hats, and the weirdest one you will wear is public relations - you are your own PR agent, making sure the world knows about your new book. This is a job in itself, and if you want to sell copies to people other than your Aunt Pearl, you need to promote yourself long before your book is published.

Self-promotion is more than just an Instagram post that you've published a book. Social media is very important, but it's not the only route. You should be on several social media sites talking about your upcoming publication and asking about how to promote your work. You should be looking into ways to get buzz stirring - local libraries are great routes for writer forums, and you will want to make sure you find out about whether you can have a presentation as a local author and sell some autographed books. (Yes, you should have a stock of books you are willing to sell at a moment's notice. Consider them the biggest business cards you can carry.) A publisher would normally help you with these things. Self-publishing means you do all this yourself.

Scared yet? Don't be. Anything worth doing is worth putting forward the effort. If you're a little nervous, great - that means you're taking it seriously. Look into it as an option. It might be a great way to get the ball rolling and stir up some buzz for future publications. And believe me, nothing quite matches the feeling of holding a book and seeing your name on the cover. It is the validation that nothing else can ever match.

Aunt Pearl will be proud.

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