Self-publishing is a micro-business. It’s easy to get into, but it’s easier to fail at it than succeed. I’ve succeeded at it, by my standards.
Way back, when my long-suffering, fabulous agent, Agent Susan, told me we were getting zero publisher bites on my third novel manuscript, I was devastated. The reasons for the rejections felt awfully complicated to me. Sometimes books just don’t sell. But I loved and was committed to the story of DEVIL’S OVEN. It’s a creepy folk tale of a book, and it’s all Kentucky, where my ancestors were born, and my heart is happy.
In 2011, self-publishing was still often referred to as vanity publishing. Ick! But industry ebook sales numbers were slowly climbing. As I’m stubborn, impulsive, and had absolutely nothing to lose, I researched how to put an ebook together, and had DEVIL’S OVEN up on Amazon, BN.com, and Apple within a few months. (Jen Talty tirelessly helped me prepare the manuscript files, and taught me all about Amazon’s early publishing quirks. John Horner Jacobs designed the interior, and created the gorgeous cover that I have had the intelligence not to change over the years. More recently, J.T. Ellison patiently guided me through the turbulence that is Amazon advertising, for my story collection, WHEN I MAKE LOVE TO THE BUG MAN. I literally could not have done it without their incredible generosity.)
Are you ready to self-publish? There are too many sites to count that will tell you how to do it. I want to be straight with you about the risks–emotional and practical–of getting into self-publishing.
Here’s a handy checklist to make sure you’re asking yourself the right questions:
- Is your manuscript in excellent shape? Has it been edited and proofread, preferably by professionals, to meet industry grammar, spelling, punctuation, and formatting standards?
- Is your cover appealing, attention-grabbing, and nominally similar to others in your genre?
- Are you open to constructive criticism? Have you shared the book with beta readers?
- Have you researched the market and looked at comps (similar books)? Is there a demand for your subject? Why should the reader buy your book, and not a competitor’s?
- Are you ready to handle every aspect of publishing, from writing to distribution, promotion, sales, and customer satisfaction? Are you willing to pay to outsource any of the steps if necessary?
- Have you researched total costs and created a budget for editing, design, printing, distribution, and promotion/advertising? Do you have the cash? Will it be coming out of your personal budget or savings? Is your family on board, if applicable?
- What’s your marketing plan and promotion budget? Do you have the money and the time to promote your book? Will you use online and/or paper or radio/tv ads? Amazon or Facebook ads? Have you looked into how those ads work? Ever heard of #booktok or #bookstagram?
- Can you handle the potential setbacks, challenges, and difficulties of breaking into the market? Are you emotionally ready for online criticism from the same customers who also put considerable energy into their reviews of energy drinks and electric toothbrushes?
- Are you comfortable with the title “self-published author?”
- Are you committed to the long-term success of your work, with an eye to building a career, book by book? Are you willing to put in the hours and money required to build a following and establish yourself as a self-published author, with an understanding that you may never cover your costs?
Okay, that’s actually 25 questions—but they are all critical questions. You don’t want to get even a quarter of the way through the process and find yourself saddled with debt, loaded down with software you’ll never use, and with a manuscript that hasn’t been edited. If you can answer these questions before you spend a penny, you will be miles ahead of 99% (let’s call that an educated guess) of other self published authors.
And yet. Remember, not all rewards are financial. It’s an incredible rush to have one’s work out there. We are born to tell stories. Just be sure to approach self-publishing like the micro business that it is, with a clear and objective mindset. Good luck!