I recently self-published my first book, and while I’m still a novice (and there’s A LOT more I have yet to discover), there are some things I’ve learned throughout this process that I wish I had known before beginning it. Though my experience is unique to CreateSpace, an Amazon-affiliated self-publishing service, I’m guessing much of what I’ve discovered applies to other notable vanity presses. If you’re considering self-publishing your work (and there are a lot of reasons one might choose this route), take the following into mind as you ponder whether or not self-publication is for you.
The Benefits of Self-Publishing
No querying required. Self-publishing eliminates the time-consuming and sometimes soul-crushing process of pitching one’s book idea to an agent, an editor, or a major publisher. Writers are free from the burden of catering to an editor’s or publisher’s requirements and the disappointment of rejection letters. In many cases, a writer can upload her completed novel or memoir and see it published within 12-24 hours by using a self-publishing service.
No forcible removal or rewriting of content. Self-publishing allows writers to keep and publish their work exactly as they want it. Instead of bending to the visions of an editor, writers can focus on presenting their content in the voice and style they had envisioned from the start.
No upfront costs. CreateSpace, for example, allows writers to publish their work for free. They offer free ISBN assignment, cover design software, file uploads, and distribution to a number of retailers, including writers’ very own eStores.
Reasonable Royalties. Self-publishing affords comparable or higher royalties to the professional publishing industry standard. For example, I earn roughly 55% royalty on print items purchased through my CreateSpace eStore, roughly 25% royalty on print items (and up to 70% on eBooks) purchased through Amazon, and roughly 7% royalty on print items purchased through expanded distribution channels, such as book stores and libraries.
Free distribution. Well, nothing’s free, but self-publishers will often market writers’ books for them, listing books through distributors like Amazon and running sale specials to draw attention to new titles. They also offer promotional opportunities to attract readers, such as limited time discounts and bargains when customers purchase both print and eBook copies of a work.
Cover and interior formatting software. Self-publishing services like CreateSpace offer cover design software as well as interior previewing to help writers ensure their work will print properly and to their liking. Writers do need to wait 12-24 hours to proof their books while their files are under review, but once that process is complete, writers’ books are made available almost immediately upon approving the proof.
Print to eBook integration. CreateSpace offers self-publishers of print text the opportunity to make their titles available via Kindle as well. Those interested in publishing Kindle content only can do so directly through Kindle Direct Publishing, often without even needing an ISBN (not provided through KDP).
Holding tangible evidence of one’s writing. For those who have struggled with pitching their writing to publishing companies or those who don’t have the energy to go through that grueling process, physically holding one’s published work in one’s hands is second only to Christ’s return (OK, maybe not that spectacular, but it sure feels like it at first).
The Disadvantages of Self-Publishing
The “self” part. Every aspect of self-publishing is completed by oneself, right down to adding the page numbers to one’s own text (I’m guilty of thinking it’s just common sense that a publisher would include page numbers in a printed work — they don’t). It may seem obvious (Uh, yeah. I know it’s done by oneself. It’s called self-publishing), but until you’ve embarked upon that journey, you don’t really realize how daunting the task will be. Even after the manuscript is ready, formatting the files, self-editing the work, and proofing for publication can take hours, days, or even weeks.
Editing. To say self-editing one’s work is difficult is an understatement. Because you’re the writer, you know exactly what your content should say and how readers should interpret it. The problem with this, however, is it can cause writers to overlook spelling, diction, syntax, and organizational errors. If at all possible, writers should get a second, third, and even fourth set of eyes willing to comb through the content for mistakes. (If you’re up for spending the dough, some self-publishing companies offer paid editing services.)
Amateur appearance. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes quite easy to tell whether or not a work is self-published, and like it or not, many view self-published work as being inferior to professionally published writing. Self-publishers should take care to research the standard components of their genre (novel vs. technical manual vs. educational publication, and so on), something I failed to do upon first approving my proof. There are some sites out there that offer Microsoft Word templates already formatted with genre-specific attributes (I purchased one from Book Design Templates for my second book submission — after I had learned my lesson about the importance of making one’s publication look professional. Now that I’ve actually seen a template, I’m confident I can create my own in the future.)
There are also programs out there such as PressBooks (using an interface like that of WordPress) and Scrivener. Be advised, though, that it costs money to remove watermarks from PressBooks-generated content and to maintain a user license with Scrivener.
Finally, many self-publishing companies offer packages, sometimes priced in the 3-5 hundred-dollar range, to have professionals put your work together for you before publication.
No advances. With self-publishing, you’re on your own. There are no advances against royalties from an editor or publisher to keep you fed and the lights on while you craft your masterpiece. You only earn when your book sells (which might actually be an advantage, as you will never have to worry about owing back advances for books that don’t sell).
Self-marketing. Although self-publishing companies like CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing market titles by making them available in online stores and promoting them in new release sections, the primary marketing for one’s book rests with the writer. This means if you don’t already have social media connections or your own website, marketing will be difficult. Even with social media and websites, marketing is a task. Self-publishers rely heavily on word of mouth, social sharing, and followers to garner an audience for their work and always risk driving their friends, family, and followers nuts with repeated self-promotion.
So there it is: Self-publishing insight from someone very new to self-publishing herself. If you’re still interested in self-publishing, check out this list of notable vanity presses compiled by Wikipedia to ensure you select the self-publishing service that’s right for your needs. Most importantly, happy writing, no matter how you plan to get to the finish line!