Self-publishing has been subject to ridicule since its inception. Historically, works produced outside of a traditional publishing house were/are considered less than. Since they’ve been passed on or rejected by agents, editors and the “best in the business,” they’re thought of as not good enough. Similarly, it’s been said that authors who self-publish don’t have what it takes to make it mainstream or be successful in the “real” book industry.
But that isn’t the case anymore.
Paul Carr, a proficient nonfiction author published by several traditional houses, thinks we’re entering a golden age of self-publishing. He likened the practice to blogging: It was once mocked as embarrassing websites run by people who couldn’t make it as real journalists, but now, is a growing, respected segment of media. Self-publishing, Carr says, is for authors who don’t fit in the mainstream industry because their message or style is too bold or experimental, and it’s becoming more and more accepted every year.
After writing his first novel and facing the difficulties of the slow-moving traditional publishing industry, Carr turned to self-publishing himself. And he’s not the only mainstream author to speak in favor of self-publishing.
Max Brooks, celebrated author of World War Z, has also encouraged authors to self-publish or, at the very least, self-promote. He thinks that traditional publishing simply doesn’t work for everyone or every book, and he urges all authors to take control of their own marketing and explore the option of self-publishing before committing to the traditional route. He points out that two of the highest-grossing books of the last decade were self-published: Andy Weir’s The Martian (2011) and E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey (2011). Both writers were picked up by traditional publishing houses, but their initial success came through self-publishing.
So how do you break through the stigma and self-publish well?
1. Be in control.
Don’t be fooled by traditional publishing houses’ promises: big advances are often only for big names; marketing and publicity are not guaranteed; authors are usually far more involved than expected. By taking control and self-publishing, you can eliminate agent, editor and large print run production costs as well as the need to constantly prove yourself in the querying process. Get your story or message out there at your own pace instead of sitting around waiting to be accepted and then waiting for the traditional process.
2. Hire a team.
Just because you’re self-publishing doesn’t mean you’re working alone. Platforms like Reedsy, 99Designs and IngramSpark are a big factor in the evolution of and growing respect for self-publishing. Authors can hire editors, typesetters and designers who work for traditional publishing houses, even the Big Five. Using these resources involves paying upfront for every service, but they allow self-published books’ quality to match, or even rival, traditionally published books.
3. Don’t cut corners.
Everyone needs an editor. You must hire a developmental editor to workshop your writing, raise it to the best level it can be and catch plotholes you’ve overlooked because you’re so close to your own work. Similarly, copy editors catch hundreds of little mistakes that you’ll never see, and a professional cover designer makes all the difference when you want to stand out on shelves, even if they’re digital shelves.
4. Build your platform.
Regardless of which route you choose, everything depends on the platform you come in with and cultivate on your own. Invest time on a personal blog or newsletter. Create social media accounts. Be genuine and authentic, as attitude and message are far more important than follower count. Try not to be overly sales-focused; interact with others, support fellow authors and talk about yourself and your process. Participate in forums that coincide with your topic, and insert yourself in conversations until people learn your name.
To some degree, the stigma against self-publishing still exists. Book trade publications, top reviewers and bestseller lists such as Kirkus and The New York Times won’t consider any self-published works, and bookshops often don’t stock self-published books since they aren’t distributed through larger channels. However, the group that really matters — readers — won’t notice and doesn’t really care.
No one looks at the imprint or publisher when buying books; they look at the cover and author. If you fully invest the necessary time and money, you can produce a book that looks as good as a traditionally published book, and no one will know. Regular reader reviews on Goodreads and Amazon trump names like Kirkus and The New York Times lately anyway. So consider all your options, do your research and find the best method that works for you.
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