As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve long harboured a desire to make a successful career out of being a writer. It isn’t the only reason I write but it is almost certainly the strongest motivator to keep me going. In the past this would have boiled down to one course of action: write a book, find an agent willing to represent it, hope that agent can get a publisher interested and then trust in the publisher to promote and distribute it accordingly. However, as so many (now successful) authors have discovered in the past, the traditional route to writerly success isn’t always straightforward. That was then and this, as they say, is now.
These days budding authors don’t have to rely on the whims of the legacy publishers and their ilk. These days, getting your novel (or for that matter your short story or your anthology of poetry or whatever) into print is as simple as clicking a few buttons and hey presto, it’s out there, ready for the potentially millions of readers who might want to sample your wares. Whether it’s through a paper-and-ink POD (print-on-demand) outfit or via the route of e-publishing, all you need to make your own mark on the literary world is a finished manuscript and a connection to the internet.
Now, it could be argued that modern self publishing technologies allow anyone with a computer to publish any old crap, and to some degree this is true. Hell, I’ll freely admit that my first attempt was far from polished and as I said in my last post I read it now and cringe. It’s hardly surprising it only sold fifty copies in the last seven years. However, if there’s one thing that I’ve learnt over the last few years it’s that even self published books can be successful as long as they’re professionally produced. And let’s face it, even traditional publishers can produce crap at times.
Self publishing takes the control away from the legacy publishers and puts it into the hands of the authors. It allows the author to write about what they want to write about in the way they want to write it. The self published author doesn’t have to rely on the agent or the publisher telling them their work isn’t mainstream enough and can instead get on with telling their own story. This is especially true for unknown authors who invariably get ignored by the big publishers precisely because they’re unknown. It’s also handy for writers of niche fiction or cross-genre fiction, as few publishers seem willing to take on something new and unusual in case it doesn’t work. Of course, this means the writer now becomes reliant on the whims of the reader but that’s a whole lot better than having to cater to the whims of publishers too afraid to take a chance.
It’s also true that self publishing allows the author to release their books when they want. Legacy publishers tend to release most of their new product at two times of the year to take advantage of the pre-summer and pre-Christmas sales. In addition, the timescales involved in taking a writer’s raw manuscript and turning it into a printed and bound book can, in some cases, run into several years as revisions are made, covers are commissioned and the marketing machine gets stoked up. However, for the self published author a book can be released more or less as soon as it’s finished. This means whether you’re churning out half a dozen manuscripts a year or just one every decade you can make them available when it suits you. In the case of ongoing series this is a major benefit as it means you’re not making your audience wait for three years for the next installment.
Then there’s the financial rewards. Over the years the payment to authors through legacy publishing has varied from as low as seven or eight percent to as high as fifteen (or in some very rare cases) twenty percent of profit on each book sold. Even on ebook sales the royalties rarely top thirty percent, with the booksellers and the publishers taking the rest. If the author has an agent (almost a requirement these days) then a further fifteen percent is lost and suddenly the rewards for being a NYT bestseller suddenly seem quite meagre. With self publishing however, most e-publishers will keep thirty percent and pass the remaining seventy percent on to the author, while POD can generate as much (or as little) as you’re willing to accept. To put it bluntly, by self publishing you’re going to get more money for each book sold (print or digital) than if you trust the legacy publishers.
There are lots of other reasons for self publishing. Legacy publishers will go out of their way to tie your rights up in legal red tape whereas the self published author gets to keep their rights. In addition your book will stay in print for as long as you want it to, while a legacy publisher might decide to drop all of your titles in favour of the ‘next big thing’ a year or two down the line. All in all self publishing seems to offer all the benefits without any losses. Or does it?
The disadvantages to self publishing are almost as numerous as the benefits. For a start the self published author has to worry about editing their work. They can either do this themselves (if they feel they have what it takes) or they can pass it on to others to edit. In some cases this might mean paying a professional copy editor to read through the manuscript and suggest changes, or it might be as simple as getting as many friends as possible to proof read it for you. Then there’s the marketing to deal with, getting the book noticed by as many people as possible. In a later post I may take a look at marketing and offer up my own thoughts on the subject but for now all that matters is that the self published author has to do it themselves, as with every other step on their journey to literary greatness.
Despite the disadvantages, I still feel the pros outweigh the cons and despite my earlier failure and mistakes I still intend to self publish my own works. Somehow it just feels more doable in the long run than trusting to the foibles and whims of Big Publishing.