Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Why Should You Self-Publish?

... even if you "don't have to": Let's face it. Many authors self-publish because they can't find anyone else to publish their book. This is especially true of fiction authors. That's okay. It's reality. However, it does put you in a negative frame of mind. Let's look for positive reasons for self-publishing. In fact, let's say you have a book--or an idea--that you know will interest a traditional publisher. Why should you self-publish?
  • You're in a hurry. One of the problems with traditional publishing is that it takes a long time. Good publishers work from a three-year (or even five-year) plan. If they like your book, they'll plug you into the plan--and you may find yourself scheduled for two or three years down the road. You might get lucky and be published within a year, but it's unlikely. In a good scenario, with a finished manuscript, you can expect to wait eighteen months for your book to be published. When you self-publish, you can set your own timetable. If your ducks are in a row, you might get into print within 90 days.
  • You want control. When you sell your rights to a publisher--this is what you do in a publishing contract--you lose control. Of everything. The cover. The editing. The look. The dimensions and size. When I was an acquisition editor, my job was to tell a prospective author how to write the book we needed. Some authors are fine with that. Some are not. The better fit your book is for your business, the more you have to lose by ceding control. This is not to say that publishers don't care whether their authors are happy or not. They do. They will try to please you--within limits. The limits are usually worked out ahead of time. Just remember: When they crunch comes, it's their project. Not yours. When you self-publish, you can do the book your way.
  • You want the financial benefits. When you self publish, you take all the risks and reap all the gain. In the old days (twenty years ago), self-publishing was all risk and very little gain. You had to sink a considerable amount of money just into printing your book, to the point where there was little chance you'd recoup your investment. Not so today, not because your chances of selling hundreds of copies are any better but because you have to invest almost nothing into inventory. Twenty years ago, you might have to sell out of your initial printing of 2,000 copies in order to break even. Today, my customers break even (that is, cash out of pocket) when they sell between 100 and 200 copies. With those numbers, you don't need the traditional publisher to get you into the game. In fact, the traditional publisher would be taking the money that you would be making as a self-publisher once you pass that 100-200 copy threshhold.
  • You know you're going to have to promote your book anyway. First-time authors almost always think the traditional publisher will market their books. This may be the primary reason why writers seek out publishers. Unfortunately, traditional publishers do not market individual titles. Instead, they use their economy of scale to market their list of books to their coherent customer base. This happens to work, at least for the publisher. The bad news is that the traditional publisher can't do much to market an individual title. Except for the predictable best seller, a book cannot generate enough revenue to justify anything more than its temporary position on the front list (in catalogs and the website) and a press release mailing. That's about it. Publishers expect their authors to make most of the noise about their individual books. So ... if you are going to have to promote your own book, you might as well self-publish--or at least come up with a better reason for finding a publisher than your unwillingness to promote your own book. The Publishing Pro.