"After reading your posts on why self/vanity publishing can be a bad idea, I would love to read your thoughts about when s-p can be the right thing to do. Back in 2009 you blogged very briefly about suitable styles of book for s-p (and also what the s-p author should pay for) but it would be interesting to hear a little more detail, particularly if the situation has changed in recent years. And does self-publishing an ebook only (no paper book) make a difference?"OK, let me say two things before I answer any of that:
- I am not against self-publishing.
- I am not against self-publishing.
- I am going to be self-publishing some things myself very soon. Like, tomorrow.
- I am not against self-publishing.
Yes, the situation has changed in recent years. And is changing all the time. I've moved my position on it, too, because anyone who doesn't move position when the world changes will fall over. Self-publishing is becoming easier; there have been some notable successes; many successful published writers are turning to it, sometimes because they are fed up to the back teeth of being treated by publishers as if expendable and as if they can live on air, sometimes because they can see a way to earn more by doing it themselves, and sometimes just for the sheer freedom of it.
Anyway, to Magnus's questions.
However, I recommend Catherine Ryan Howard's seminal book, Self-Printed, for how to do both.
Here are the things you should pay for but in each case I recommend that you hire each expert yourself:
- Editing and proofreading. Never ever ever rely on software, or on an ordinary reader. There is so much more to it. But it's not always necessary to pay a lot of money, although I believe experts should be paid properly for their work. It can sometimes be done collaboratively if you know the right people - get yourself on Twitter and meet the right people!
- Cover design. See Catherine's book for advice and warnings. (I am using and fully recommend Andrew Brown of Designforwriters.)
- Marketing help - OK, you might be able to manage without this. In fact, if you're active on Twitter/blogging etc, you can almost certainly manage without for an ebook. In fact, forget that this is on the list. (But only if you know what you're doing and have the right connections. And are prepared to spend time doing it.)
NOTE: As a post script to that, let me tell you what I did. I had intended to format and convert the documents to ebooks myself. I established (by means of a sneaky secret trial during which I published part of Tweet Right and didn't tell anyone!) that I could do the Kindle version perfectly. However, at short notice I decided to call in an expert because a) I didn't want to take the risk of it not being perfect when I did the whole book and I knew she/he could do it better, quicker, more reliably b) I wanted my book to be available on all devices, not just Kindle, and I knew that this was harder and more time-consuming c) I want to publish quite a lot of ebooks, very professionally, and no way did I want to format them all and d) I'm a wuss. I will be blogging about this later and I will then tell you who my ace formatter was.
If you are printing your book, you will have some extra costs, I'm afraid. I can't even face going into them. Put it this way: I will be publishing as ebooks only.
C. When can s-p be the right thing to do? What questions should you ask yourself?
- When the author has a following and a platform. Ideally, you need an established blog, Twitter and Facebook presence by the time your book comes out. Do you know how to go about this? (By "FB presence" I mean more than the usual FB personal page; I mean an author or product page, with followers.)
- When the book has been rejected or is likely to be rejected not on the basis of its not being good enough but on the basis of: length (usually, as in too short); mixed genre; too small a market for a publisher to profit from; poetry, short story collections. But be very careful how you interpret rejections - you need objectivity. Can you be realistic about its quality? Will you take the necessary steps towards expert editing?
- When the author has a memoir that would be interesting to a selected group of people but not more widely. People far too often think their lives are fascinating to everyone. They are usually less fascinating than you'd think. S-p, though, can work well enough for this, as can any niche non-fiction. Are you realistic about your goals for this book?
- If the book is sci-fi or fantasy - because these genres have enormous fanbases who spend a lot of time online and a lot of time reading. Still need an editor, though.
- If the type of book lends itself to the e-reading experience. Do your intended readers use Kindle, for example? If not, then you'll reduce your market. Also, books with lots of pictures will be very difficult to produce as ebooks - Kindle is at present in black and white, for example. Pictures and diagrams are tricky to format for ebooks.
- When the author has huge energy, understanding of using social media, and readiness to work very very hard at promotion. Increasingly, this is the case for ordinary publishing, too, but in s-p you're on your own.
- When the author has a good understanding of publishing, knows what it is that publishers do well and badly, and believes that he can do as well or, preferably, better.
- When the previously unpublished author has managed to get over the feeling that being taken on by a publisher has kudos. Personally, I believe it has. I believe that one of the affirming things about being published by a publisher is that they believed in your book enough to put money behind it. But, if you don't feel that strongly, that's fine. Success in s-p will bring its own kudos, but you do have some mental barriers to cross, in your readers' minds, too. This will change only when good s-pubbers focus on quality and stop getting so ansgty, working together with all good, open-minded writers.
- When a previously published author decides to do it himself. We already have readers, profile, and objective (as far as possible) evidence that we can write and therefore that our book is likely to be good enough. It just means we have a headstart, often a very substantial one.
- Only when your book has been properly edited. And copy-edited. And proofread. By people who know what they are doing.
Here are some questions for you. There are many more questions to ask but these are core. And please adapt them to your particular book and circumstances.
If trade publishing is not a choice for you (as per the criteria above), ask yourself:
- Have I the time, energy and expertise to run this as a business, on my own?
- What are my goals and definitions of success? How realistic are they and how much will I mind if they fail?
- Can I be patient and do this properly? In other words, how much do I care about my book and its readers?
- What will buying in expertise cost me? Can I afford it or can I learn the skills myself? Am I prepared to set myself high standards of production, to make the reading experience good for the reader?
- Does the likely extra income from self-publishing outweigh the prospect of seeing my physical book in actual shops and any feeling of kudos from publishing? (Bearing in mind that there is also kudos in successful self-publishing now.)
- Can I acquire or buy the skills I'll need to do this well?
- Again, have I the time, energy and expertise to run this as a business, on my own?
I do think that knowledge is power in this game. So, get all the knowledge you can. Don't just believe what you want to believe. Be critical, too.
Everyone - please do add your comments. There's so much more I could have said and maybe some things you disagree with. I know there are lots of s-pubbers out there and you are most welcome to come and add your experiences.