When I started my authoring journey, 18 months ago, it was always my intention to self-publish. It seemed like a ‘no-brainer’ to me as my background is in publishing. Why would I wait around trying to get an agent/publisher when I could go straight to market using my own skills and knowledge?
However, I’m now much further down the road and perilously close to launching the first novel in my Young Adult series Fire Lines. So it occurred to me that now would be an interesting time to reassess whether I’m still happy with my decision to take the self-publishing route rather than go traditional.
In large, the answer is ‘yes’ – I’m still confident this is the best path for me. When really tried to think about why, I narrowed it down to these five reasons:
I am a bit of a control freak! I get the final word on everything, from cover design to editorial choices. I decide format, pricing, marketing strategy – the whole shebang.
I am an impatient person. When I’ve set my mind to something, I want it now. I don’t want to wait until next week, or next month, or next year. I’m a doer. I get on with things. So, for me, the idea of sending my manuscript off and having to sit, utterly powerless, waiting for responses and then – if lucky enough to secure an agent – do a whole lot more waiting while it’s prepared for publication is just inconceivable.
I value readers’ opinions more than seeing my book on a shelf in Waterstones. Don’t get me wrong, the bibliophile in me would die a small, quiet, very happy death if this happened. BUT, and it’s a big but, what I want more than that is to simply get my words out into the world. If people download my eBook for £3.99 and enjoy it, that’s incredible.
I don’t want to be confined to one particular genre. I will always write YA, I can’t imagine ever penning an ‘adult’ novel, but while Fire Lines is very much in the fantasy genre, I’m also planning a crime/mystery series and several coming-of-age dramas. Being self-published, this isn’t an issue. I can write what I want, when I want.
Money (!) I am completely aware that it is not easy to make a living as an author, no matter whether you’re indie or trad. However, by sheer logic, if I’m getting 70% of my royalties, I need to sell a heck-of-a-lot fewer copies than I do if I’m getting 10% in order to call authoring my job. I want writing books to be my profession, not a hobby. So, when I say ‘money’ I don’t mean ‘I want to be rich and famous’, I mean ‘I want to make enough money doing what I love to be able to pay my bills and support my family.’ I am treating self-publishing like a business. I don’t expect results over-night but I’m confident that if I persevere I can have the best of both – the joy of knowing people are reading, and hopefully enjoying, my work and the job I’ve always dreamed of.
Having said all of that, there are downsides to self-publishing and the first three are pretty much the polar opposite of the reasons I’ve listed above:
You have to do everything yourself. You have to organise editing, cover design, marketing, formatting, distribution. And this is far from easy. I love being busy and I thrive on multi-tasking, so this isn’t a big enough factor to persuade me to go traditional. But many writers simply don’t want to do all of this, and that’s completely understandable. For them, self-publishing is probably not the best option.
You have to be your own gatekeeper. Your friends, your mum, your cat… they’ll all tell you your book is great. But in self-publishing, there is no qualified professional – an editor, a marketing person, a PR guru - telling you that your book is amazing. You have to judge for yourself whether what you’ve written is good enough to be consumed by the public. And that is SCARY. Even now, two months before publication day, I’m terrified that I’m behaving like one of those terrible auditionees on the X-Factor and making a complete fool of myself. And, no matter how many times my nearest-and-dearest tell me that it’s awesome, I won’t be able to believe it until a completely unbiased person I’ve never met says something nice.
Distribution, beyond online retailers, is hard when you’re self-published. This bothers me, not because I want to be able to say to people ‘ooh my book is in such-and-such a bookshop’ but because it limits exposure. It’s also incredibly difficult to be taken seriously by influential bloggers and reviewers. I completely understand why many of these people have ‘no self-published’ review policies – because there is a LOT of tat out there – but I do sincerely wish that, for people like me who are treating it very seriously and doing their best to produce something professional - there was a way to break through that barrier and be given a chance.
Peoples’ reactions. When I tell people I’m self-publishing, many of them assume it’s because I couldn’t get a traditional deal and that what I’m producing will be inferior in some way. There is still a lot of stigma surrounding self-publishing and, while that is slowly changing, it’s another thing that frustrates me. If a book is self-published professionally, there is no reason why it would be any different from a book produced by a traditional publishing house. For example, every-step-of-the-way I have employed freelancers who work in the trad industry – from my cover designer to my editor and proofreader. I suppose the caveat is that while they can do a fantastic job, if the book itself is very poorly written they won’t be able to work miracles. But my point stands, indies should be at least given a chance to shine.
Money (!) Yep, the upside of self-publishing is that if you’re successful you’ll make a lot more money. However, the downside is that you have to have faith in yourself and put your money where your mouth is. In order to compete with traditional offerings, you have to pay for professional services. I’ve got a post lined up detailing exactly how much I’ve spent on my journey so far and while this will turn out to be utterly insignificant if my book does well, it’s still a big risk to take.