Self-publishing is an ever-growing alternative to traditional publishing. With more control over the creative choices and logistics, as well as increased opportunity for revenue, self-publishing is a very attractive path for authorpreneurs. However, it’s important to know going in that it takes a lot more than throwing your manuscript up on Amazon to self-publish.
If you’re considering this option as a legitimate opportunity to become a published author, it’s important to have a clear idea of what exactly it means to self-publish.
It’s all in the name, really…
When you choose to go this route, you are literally becoming your own publisher. Just a reminder: the publisher coordinates all the departments in the entire organization (you and probably a team of freelancers), including distributors (also you) and retailers, as well as sets the tone as far as the types of books the house will publish. This person/entity also assumes all the potential financial and legal risks. This is why it’s so important to have that authorpreneur mindset if you really want to see success.
That’s you now! It’s a lot to take on, but it can return some serious rewards too.
You call all the shots!
Since you’re the publisher (i.e., the head honcho) you get the complete say in what happens to your manuscript. You chose how it’s edited (and by who), how it’s designed, when it’s released, everything! On the other hand, you have to decide all these things for yourself. This is where it can get a bit overwhelming.
If it were up to me, this is what I’d do:
- Start with the end. Choose the pub date first, that way you can determine your timeline for the rest of the process. Remember to think like a publisher when making this decision. Consider things like: the timeliness of your topic, marketing opportunities (is there a holiday you can tie your release to?), is your book a summer beach read or more of a hefty fall piece?, etc.
- Make editorial decisions. What type of editing does your manuscript need? Developmental editing is usually a good place to start, since it affects everything that is going to make a reader want to keep reading (and recommend) your book. Then you’ll need a copy editor and maybe even a proofreader. (For advice on how to find an editor, click here!) Use your chosen pub date to determine how much time you can commit to each editorial stage.
- Hire a designer. While your manuscript is with your editor, you’ll have time to start searching for the perfect designer. You’ll want to nail someone down sooner rather than later—designers are a hot commodity! Book them around the time you expect to be finished with developmental and/or copyediting but BEFORE you work with your proofreader.
- Decide on your self-publishing service. There are a number of companies operating in the self-publishing sphere these days, so you have your pick. My advice: look for one that offers eBook as well as printing options and comes with a diverse distribution platform. Popular options include: Lulu, Amazon (they do eBook, print, and audio!), and Blurb. You might also consider a one-stop shop like BookBaby, which offers formatting and design services in addition to print and distribution.
- Come up with your launch plan. Once all the editorial and production decisions are made, it’s time to start thinking about how you’re going to get the word out about your book! Even if you haven’t been thinking like an authorpreneur the whole time, it’s not too late. Start building your platform and connecting with readers before your release date.
Show me the money!
In traditional publishing, the only money you’re likely to see in exchange for your work is your advance. Authors get paid upfront or in installments throughout the trad process, but publishers keep all profits from sales until the amount is paid back. If a book does earn out (break even), then the author starts to receive a percentage of the royalties, usually from the publisher’s net profit.
In self-publishing, you can expect to receive higher percentages of royalties (80 to 90 percent) if not total profits. For most services (CreateSpace/Amazon, Lulu, etc.), you won’t pay anything up front to publish. If you do pay upfront (like with BookBaby), then you should receive 100 percent of the profits. (If a company is trying to get you to pay to play AND asks for a percentage of the royalties, RUN.)
This is why many authorpreneurs see self-publishing as the best path toward achieving their goals. One thing to keep in mind here: your ROI (return on investment) will depend heavily on your platform/marketing plan. If you’re going this route, it would benefit you to plan ahead or maybe even hire a marketing consultant.
Who should self-publish?
Although anyone can self-publishing, there are a few groups of people who might benefit from it the most. These include:
- First-time authors without a platform. If you don’t have a following already, traditional publishers are less likely to accept your manuscript. Platforms mean higher ROI (return on investment) in their eyes. If this is your first book and you don’t have a large audience yet, self-publishing can help you build one, especially if you put out a high-quality product. (Also, just because you self-publish to start doesn’t mean your book will never be traditionally published. Just ask Mr. Weir.)
- Authors with a large platform looking to capitalize on maximum profits. Even if you have a following of the size that would make a publisher sign immediately, you might consider DIY-ing it. Sure, publishing houses come with a certain level of prestige, but if you have an audience of folks ready and willing to buy your words, why share the profits if you don’t have to?
- Authors with manuscripts that defy traditional categorization. These days there’s a publisher for everyone out there, so chances are good your experimental story will find a home . . . eventually. If you don’t want to risk the wait, you might consider publishing it yourself. This way, you also maintain complete creative control and can really let your freak flag fly.
Self-publishing, when taken seriously, can be a pretty risky venture. However, any good authorpreneur will know the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward! As long as you have a realistic idea of what to expect and come up with a plan to match, self-publishing can be a huge step toward your authorial dreams.
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