This is the eighth part of a ten part series on the process of producing a novel.
Self-publishing got a bad name from “vanity” publishing, a racket in which a “publisher” charges an author an outrageous fee to “publish” a book. I know all about it. I did it and got burned. The bottom line is that such schemes not only allow a lot of books of execrable quality to be published, they also kill good books because these are simply dumped on the market and left to die. Vanity publishers do no marketing for books whatsoever and often go bankrupt at regular intervals to avoid paying any royalties to authors who have managed to sell their own books.
In today’s world, however, “self-publishing” is also used to describe “print-on-demand” publication services. Here too the author pays for a professional to format, print, register and list his/her book. Often cover design is included in a standard package or as an extra service. The author can select formats from hard to trade paperback and ebooks. Kindle formatting is increasing popular. These pay-for-service publishers differ significantly from the “vanity publishers” because their charges are reasonable, but just like “vanity publishers,” they do no marketing for the books published under their imprint. They list the books with the major wholesalers and online retailers, but they do not market them.
While this may sound like a serious disadvantage, readers of my blog entry about commercial publishers will remember that the majors don’t necessarily do a great deal of marketing for the all their titles either. If you are a new author or you have a book with only a niche market that probably won’t attract the attentions of the majors anyway, self-publishing is a viable, possibly attractive, alternative.
I have become a convert to self-publishing ever since I found Wheatmark, a very reputable and competent publishing partner. (Note: not all pay-for-service publishers are either reputable or competent and you should do careful research on line before selecting one.) The main advantages of self-publishing are: 1) time to market, 2) control of the product, and 3) control of the marketing and publicity.
Time to market is much faster with a self-published book. Commercial publishers generally take a year or more after a manuscript has been accepted for publication. Self-publishing generally takes half that, and can take as little as 4 months if the manuscript is in good shape.
Control of the product is, of course, even more important. No editor at a pay-for-service publisher is going to tell you to “make this a happy ending,” or slap a cover on the front that you abhor. They do reject manuscripts that are offensive, pornographic, slanderous, incite to violence etc. etc. or of too poor quality, but if they accept a manuscript and you are playing by the rules, they are not going to start trying to interfere with your product. Likewise, they will not accept amateurish covers and have excellent graphic designers on hand to help design an attractive cover for you, but if you have a good design, they will let you use it. They are not going to force you to accept something you do not want. Instead, you will have the opportunity to work with them until you have something with which you are both comfortable.
Finally, because they do not pretend to do any marketing for you, you know from the start that marketing and publicity are all up to you. Knowing that, you can design your own marketing and publicity campaigns, or you can hire other professionals to do this for you. You decide how much time and money you want to invest. You decide if you want to do a “hard” or “soft” sell. You decide what aspect of your book you want to stress.
Ultimately the biggest disadvantage of self-publishing is that you really have no one else to blame if things go very wrong, but I have personally found the experience enlightening and educational – if not always satisfying.