Do you REALLY want to self-publish?

Self-publication: a viable option

spine of rumpled book pages

CC image “publishing” courtesy of Sam Churchill on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

You have a great story. You know it would make an excellent book—or maybe your friends and family are always telling you you should write a book. Perhaps it’s a work of fiction. Perhaps it’s useful, actionable advice and insight. It may be from your own life experience, or could be someone else’s amazing story that has fascinated you.

In the past, there was only one way this story would ever see printing: what we now call the traditional publishing industry.

Today, we have choices. What was once spurned as “vanity press” has become a vibrant industry. Self-published books make it onto best-seller lists, are sometimes picked up by traditional publishers for a second printing, and are broadly recognized as a valuable way to increase your business reach. Professionals in many industries see the value in sharing their idea, process, or expertise in this way, and writers of fiction or poetry are grabbing the opportunity to showcase their work to an audience that rejections from agents and publishers used to put beyond their reach.

The question is, should you take advantage of the option to self-publish? What is the shadow side of this process?

Gut check: Self-publication is work

A number of criteria may play a role in your desire to self-publish. You want to share your insights and your voice; you see a business opportunity; you feel despondent at your interactions with the traditional publishing industry and want to try an alternative.

Beyond the opportunities that self-publishing offers, however, you should be aware of the work that is required if you go this route. Like launching your own business, sometimes we underestimate the amount of effort this entails, until we are up to our eyeballs. Take a gut check to see whether the self-publication route really is for you, before you jump in with both feet.

Below is a list of attributes that mark a successful self-publisher. Note that by success I mean the production of a finished book, whether digital or in print. I am not talking about other measurements of success, such as best-seller status or income.

Self-publishing demands an investment of your time and money. There are pros and cons to doing this yourself versus finding a publisher to do this for you.

Traits You Should Have as a Self-Publishing Author

  • I am self-motivated
  • I believe in my work
  • I am good at project management
  • I am organized
  • I am comfortable working with multiple service providers, from fields with which I may have no direct expertise (editing, design, printing, promotion, web development)
  • I seek professional expertise where I need it
  • I am willing to pay for this expertise (and have the budget to do so)
  • I enjoy having control over the process from start to finish
  • I look forward to marketing my work

Reasons self-publishing may not be for you

Any writer will tell you that writing is hard. But writing is only one part of the publication process, and often not the most time-consuming. When you self-publish, the hard work only begins once your manuscript content is complete.

It helps if you treat self-publishing as a business. In addition to writing, there is editing, design, printing, marketing, and promotion. If you opt to print hard copies, there is shipping and fulfillment. If you have a website (and you should), there is web design and website management.

As a self-publishing author, you will be responsible for providing all of it, either directly or indirectly through others you hire. You are in charge of the process. If you’d rather not having anything to do with these essential, non-writing aspects of publishing your book, self-publishing is probably not for you.

True, you may hire someone to project manage the publication process. You may work with a publishing house whose clients are self-publishers; this type of arrangement can take many forms. Be careful. Not all of these publishers are created equal (more on working with them in a future post).

The key fact is that the more you outsource, the more you are paying for these services. Be careful with self-publishing presses. If you wind up with an arrangement that doesn’t cover what you want or need, you will need to invest more time and/or more money in order to publish your book.

Does all of this sound like a giant wet blanket yet? It should. This is your gut check.

The bottom line

Self-publishing is a viable option for producing your book, and a valuable avenue for generating income, showcasing your expertise, building a business, building an audience, and (possibly) garnering the attention of a traditional publishing house.

At the same time, self-publishing involves a lot of work in addition to writing down your story. You are taking over the role that a traditional publisher plays. The production includes a diverse group of professionals, and the ability to manage timelines and budgets.

There are many qualified, supportive people ready to help you if you decide to self-publish. Before you go all in, take a gut check. How do you feel about publishing your own book, knowing what you are responsible for making sure gets done?

Thoughts, questions, comments, suggestions, and blarney (bonus points for wit):