Why Self-Publish?

Did you know that A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens was self-published? Or that The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron was also self-published? Or 50 Shades of Gray?

These days I’m often advising, sometimes even encouraging students to consider self-publishing as a viable option. I’m not suggesting that self-publishing is for everyone, or that you could achieve this level of success through self-publishing, I’m just saying that self-publishing is a realistic option for some writers. Self-publishing is a lot more accessible than it once was with the emergence of digital publishing. In fact, for those who can manage it, it’s actually highly desirable, and it’s a lot more accepted in the industry than it once was, particularly considering that numerous mainstream authors have started joining the bandwagon.

After the 2008 economy crash hit mainstream publishers, many publishing professionals lost their jobs. Publishers began to look to authors to carry the burden of jobs once done by publishing professionals. Publishers became less and less interested in nurturing and promoting the careers of new authors and more interested in marketing the works of authors they believed were a guaranteed sale. You’ll find more and more these days, publishers require the author to come up with a marketing plan, and they’re interested in your social media following. Authors are also getting less editorial attention. With mainstream publishers expecting authors to do the kind of work once expected of the publishers, it’s little wonder authors are becoming more frustrated with the process and turning to self-publishing. Even mainstream authors are turning to self-publishing considering they already have a platform and they can get a higher percentage of sales if they self-publish.

The pros of self-publishing are you have a lot of control over the editing, design, layout, and marketing of your book. Often, published authors have complained that they didn’t agree with editorial decisions, or that they hated the design of their book, or that the marketing department did very little to promote their book once it was published. As a self-published author, you get to take control of all these issues.

You also get to keep a much higher percentage of the sales. Whether you publish with a mainstream publisher or an independent publisher, you only keep 10% of the sales and, if you have an agent, they also keep 10 – 15% of that 10%. If you self-publish, you get to keep 70 – 80% of your sales.

And of course, if you self-publish, there is guarantee of your publication. You don’t have to deal with all those rejection slips that are inevitable for every writer. If you’re looking for a mainstream publisher, it can take a year or two just to find an agent and even then you have to wait a year or two for the agent to make a sale to a publisher, if they make a sale at all. A former student of mine once landed a plum agent after a year of searching but within a year that agent burned out and decided to leave the profession. Even once your book is published, you have very little control over how well the publisher edits, designs, and markets your book. As a self-published author, you won’t have to deal with these frustrations.

The cons of self-publishing is you don’t have the validation of a publisher behind your book, and you also don’t have the connections a mainstream publisher might be able to bring you. You also have to do everything and/or pay for everything. Expenses can include hiring an editor, copy-editor, book and layout designer, and marketing professional. You can of course opt to do all those things yourselves. Please bear in mind if you choose to print the book, you have to be willing to work on the distribution and shipping of your book.

For some authors, the pros of self-publishing are starting to outweigh the cons. If you’re looking for further good reading on this subject, please check out this article on NPR and The Guardian . Steve Almond has also published some excellent articles on self-publishing in Poets & Writers if you’re a subscriber.

One of the editors I work with once told me a great anecdote about the late and great poet, Jayne Cortez who insisted on mostly self-publishing her poetry, and she sold her work very well. She was at a party, and a man at the party sneeringly said to her (knowing she self-published) “Alan Ginsberg told me never ever self-publish” and Jayne retorted with, “Well, Duke Ellington once told me, ‘honey, do your own shit.’”

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If you’d like to hire me as a self-publishing consultant (I charge hourly and can meet you in person if you’re in New York or do Skype/Facetime/phone consultations), please email me at mariecarter@ymail.com. I’m also available for editorial services, writing coaching, and book cover and interior layout and design. Please email for an estimate on any of these services.

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