Self-Publishing: Everything you need to know – part 1 6 Comments

When we started Author Buzz UK one of the topics that we knew we would have to address eventually was that of self-publishing. After trawling through hundreds of articles and adverts aimed at the would-be self-published author, we knew that this was more topic than we could cram into a single article.

What is Self-Publishing?

Self-publishing is the publication of a book (or other media) without the involvement of a dedicated publisher. With the advent of digital printing and print-on-demand services, the number of self-published titles has increased considerably. Then, when e-readers, started to proliferate, ebook publishing has only made self-publication more common still.

With self-publishing. the author is in control of the entire process. Self-publishing allows much greater creative freedom. That includes the design of the cover and interior as well as the format, price, distribution, marketing, and public relations. The downside is that the author must master all of these areas for themselves unless they outsource some or all the work to companies which offer these services.

Is Self-Publishing the same as vanity publishing?

When most authors were published by publishing houses or not at all, an industry sprung up that catered to the ego of those who would be willing to pay in order to see publication. This was known as vanity publishing.

The lines between self-publishing and vanity publishing have blurred considerably as technology has advanced. Now that the barrier to entry for self-publishing has been lowered (to the point that little or no upfront cost is required), it is possible to publish for personal vanity rather than any appreciable chance at turning a profit.

While predatory companies do exist, they are on the decline. On the whole, it is up to you to consider if there is a business case to be made for releasing your work.

Generally, then, the main difference between vanity publishing and self-publishing, these days, is one of intent and motive.

Does Self-Publishing Work?

When we ask if self-publishing “works” what most of us want to know is can an author make a comparable success on their own as they might with the support of a publisher.

The answer to that question is that it depends.

Andy Weir and Self-Publishing

Andy Weir’s science fiction novel The Martian is a great example of self-publishing working out well. Weir originally released the story as chapters on his personal blog, then self-published as an eBook in 2011. This led to the book getting both print and movie deals within a week of each other.

Andy Weir’s approach to blogging his work for free is exactly what inspired me to start releasing my own work on my Author Buzz blog – You can read chapters from two stories on that blog at present. “Legend” (with chapters designed to be read during a coffee break) and “That story with the cat in it” (with longer more variable sized chapters).

I have yet to see the same level of success as Andy Wier. Then again Andy Weir had ten years to build up a following and I’ve yet to reach ten weeks.

Ros Barber on Self-Publishing

Ros Barber, of The Guardian, makes the case that self-publishing is a poor choice for most authors. “If you self-publish your book,” says Barber, “you are not going to be writing for a living. You are going to be marketing for a living. Self-published authors should expect to spend only 10% of their time writing and 90% of their time marketing.”

He has a point. Self-publishing is a bigger commitment to a lot more than just writing.

Jackie Collins

Jackie Collins, who has an entire library of traditionally published books to her name, made waves when she said she was going to self-publish. You can read why she chose this route here.

So, does self-publishing really work?

The short answer is that it can work if you are prepared to make it work. The longer answer is that it is complicated with many pros and cons.

The longer answer is that it is complicated with many pros and cons. The remainder of this first article on the subject will be focused on some of the things you might need to consider when it comes to self-publishing.

The limits of Self-Publishing

Many of the limits of self-publishing are the limits of what one person can do alone as opposed to a team of dedicated experts. Additionally, Self-published books are not eligible for certain major prizes like the Baileys, the Costa and the Man Booker. If winning awards is why you write (not a great motive, it has to be said) then self-publishing is not for you.

As a counterpoint to all this negativity, Alison Feeney-Hart of the BBC lists Author Nick Spalding’s top 10 self-publishing tips. Nick Spalding is a self-published author getting good coverage on the BBC, so the limits of self-publishing are not always going to be all that limiting.

What you don’t get from self-publishing

When you work with a publisher, you get to work closely with an editor. Your work will probably be given to a proofreader. The cover will be designed by an expert at designing covers. The type setting and formatting will be taken care of by professionals. Marketing and distribution will (on the whole) be taken care of for you.

When you self-publish you have to hope that you are going to be good at all of that yourself. While it might be fair to say that many publishers are quite poor at marketing, they do at least know how to sell books. As a company, publishers have a lot of experience selling books and they have the contacts required to set up distribution. You, on the other hand, will be starting without that.

That said, if you are confident that your book will sell, you can invest in these services. Paying for proofreading, editors, and other experts as needed will, no doubt, improve your chances of turning a profit. Assuming the writing itself is any good. While this is a gamble, it can pay off. Investing up front in proofreading can catch mistakes that could cost you sales further down the line.

Some self-publishing companies will allow you to pick and choose what you are willing to pay for. They often make their money not from managing the print-on-demand process but on selling you value added services such as proofreading.

Who do I use for Self-Publishing?

The Wikipedia has a substantive list of self-publishing companies. Which tells us, if nothing else, that self-publishing is an industry able to support a lot of companies.  I cannot give you an exhaustive review of even half of these. I cannot even give you a cursory review of most because I have never used them, myself.

My advice, if you are thinking of self-publishing, is to do your homework first. At the very least, try and find out what the company you are considering offers. Then you can work out if that is right for you. You may find that the Alliance of Independent Authors is a good place to start.

If you are thinking that you might just like to publish only for Kindle, which is a popular option, have a guide to doing just that.

Novelist Hattie Holden Edmonds made some recommendations on the Huffington Post a few years ago. I cannot speak to the quality of the recommendation but they might be a good place to start.

Likewise, the authors of “The Very Best of British: An American’s guide to speaking British” have put together a guide to self-publishing based on their own experiences.

A.D. Starrling found as we have, that a lot of the advice and support for self-publishing is US based rather than UK based. Her advice is particularly relevant to us in the UK.

Up next: the many disciplines of self-publishing

In part two we will look at the many disciplines needed to make a success of self-publishing. Particularly the art of marketing, design, and the benefits and drawbacks of using friends and family for proofreading and feedback.

Have you self-published?

I am keen to talk to anyone who has self-published. I’d like to know if you felt it was a success and what you wished you had known before you started.

  • Have you self-published your own work?
  • What sort of returns did you get on your investment?
  • Was it worth it?
  • What were some of the pitfalls you encountered along the way?
  • How time-consuming were the non-writing parts of self-publishing?

Leave a comment or come to the forums and tell us all about it.

About Matthew Brown

Matthew is a writer and Geek from Kent (UK). He is the founder and current chair of Thanet Creative as well as head geek for Author Buzz. His ambitions include appearing on TableTop with Wil Wheaton and seeing a film or TV series based on something he wrote.