Why I am choosing to self-publish

28th June 2013

open book - self publish book

My debut novel is now essentially finished, and ready for publication after several polishes. I am choosing to self-publish. This is a highly unorthodox option for a young, unpublished novelist. When I tell people who about publishing my novel that this is what I intend to do, it is met with mixed reactions. Many people are impressed and wish me luck in my endeavour, while some others are bewildered as to why I would choose such an option.

In the past, self-publishing was seen as a means for people to become published authors who possessed an abundance of funds but a lack of talent. However, this attitude has sharply changed in recent years. It is becoming more commonly known that publishers are primarily interested in books with commercial appeal. Incidentally, books with commercial appeal do not necessarily show examples of great writing. As a matter of fact, many books that are published through a traditional publishing house show a poor quality of writing, characterisation, plot, research and/or storytelling. However these books may still be picked up from a publishing house as they possess commercial appeal by fitting in with current trends or fads (for example erotic romance novels, celebrity biographies etc). Furthermore it is also likely for writers who possess great talent to find difficulty in having their work published through a traditional publishing house. This is particularly true if they’re work is in a form or genre of writing that is out-of-fashion or appeals to a very niche group of customers. Many literary agents and publishers are very picky about the authors they accept for this very reason. It should not be assumed that I am claiming that all agents and publishers are motivated only by the commercial appeal of an author. Indeed many great works are still released by publishing houses. However, it is cynical of me, but even the great contemporary works that are released by publishing houses will have great potential for a large readership based on current trends and fads.

I strongly believe that a bad book can be published by a traditional publisher just as much as one could be self-published by an author. However, I also believe that a great book that is self-published can be a huge success. Self-publishing can give great authors the chance to sell their work to the public, where mainstream publishers have refused their work for being too niche or from an unpopular genre etc.

The old stigma of self-publishing is no longer so great, particularly in regards to e-publishing. However, even in regards to printed books, self-publishing is being seen as a viable and equally respectable alternative to traditional publishing. A successful self-published book will often grab the attention of mainstream publishers and retailers. This could mean that a self-published author can find that they are met with an offer from a publisher to take over the duties of publication for the book. This has happened many times in the past.

Self-publishing is much more affordable than it used to be, and through services such as Blurb and Lulu authors are given the tools they need to quickly produce and print any books they wish. Kindle Direct Publishing offers a similar service for self-publishing of Kindle e-books. Through these online services writers can control virtually every aspect of the production and distribution of their book (with some exceptions). Additionally, royalty rates are much higher for self-published authors who use these services and there is no need to pay agent fees for any royalties earned through publishing with these providers.

However, one major drawback of self-publishing is funding. A publisher would have much more money than a first-time author. More money to print books, provide cover art, pay for publicity events and promotional materials etc. A printer can produce thousands upon thousands of copies of a single book. A self-published author will be very likely to be financially limited with how many they can print in one round, even through such services as Blurb or Lulu. One possible way around this is to publish the work as an ebook in the hope that sales from that can make enough to help support the cost of printing books. I plan to have short print runs of 20-50 copies at a time for two reasons. Firstly, I do not wish to print too many as it may take time to sell them initially. Secondly, I do not have the funds to print a large quantity of copies of my novel. I hope to initially print my books in this way to ensure that I do not spend more money than I have, and that I do not have to store too many copies of my book. Another cost that authors should consider is the cost of professional services that they may have to employ to assist them with the production of their book, such as web design, book cover design, advertising and proofreading services. I myself am opting to design my book cover myself, design my own website and will self-advertise through social networking and possibly through low-level local advertisements. I may employ the services of a proofreader to check that I have not overlooked anything in my own proofreading. However, I believe this is a great service to employ no matter how confident you are with your quality of writing. It can provide peace of mind that you have not overlooked any minor errors that can be easily made and missed.

Another issue that I realise I will need to overcome is the issue of credibility. It can be difficult to distribute a self-published book without the help of a mainstream publisher. However, again this can be overcome. Amazon distribute books published through Lulu, and Kindle Direct Publishing enables writers to self-publish e-books that will show up in Amazon listings. In terms of distributing to bookstores, although it can be a challenge to have them shelved, self-published books are found in bookstores. I plan to approach local bookstores with very small quantities of my book and offering to allow them the option to return any books to me that they did not sell within a specified time frame, and giving them a refund of course. This will be a win-win situation for myself and any retailers who may choose to stock my book. They will benefit as they can have an opportunity to make money with a new book, and have the option of returning the books for a refund if they fail to sell. I will benefit as I have the chance to have my book distributed, even if in small volumes, and possibly have some readership exploring my work.

I strongly believe in a DIY-attitude to creative work. Consequently, I feel very fortunate to be a young writer in a time where technology and communications makes it easier for me to get my work out in the open and available to a wide range of people at a reasonably low cost. Although I do also recognise the challenges that I will face in opting to self-publish. But I do not see them as a hinderance to my perseverance. I see the challenges that my choice entails as a stimulant that will encourage me to pursue my dreams and make any success I may achieve, no matter how small, all the more valuable to me.

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