Self-publishing is becoming increasingly more popular. People from all walks of life choose this path to share their stories and novels with readers worldwide. However, newer authors have a hard time figuring out if self-publishing is worth it. So is it worth pursuing this rather than a traditional publisher?
Self-publishing is absolutely worth it as long as you go in with a full understanding of what you are getting into. It can pay off, but you have to be realistic as it is more involved than just writing. The benefit is full control over the process but a downside is less time writing and more business.
What Is the Difference: Self-publishing vs. Traditional Publishing?
Let’s start by defining the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing.
Traditional publishing is when a publisher such as Harpers, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, etc., takes your book and puts it out via their publishing houses. It is also known as “big publishing.”
This process generally requires you to first find an agent who then sells your book to a publisher. The publishing house has the exclusive right to publish your book for a certain period. The publisher now has a say in almost every aspect of the publishing, and that is where the “traditional” part comes in.
The publisher generally has the final say on aspects of your book, such as cover design, editing, and how the book is presented. Of course, you will get input, but the publisher will almost always make the most of the decisions.
Self-publishing is when you publish your book yourself. Self-publishing essentially means you are your own publishing company and will be using platforms such as Amazon Publishing or CreateSpace to release your book.
Also known as “indie publishing”, self-publishing means you have complete control of your book, including editing, marketing, and pricing. All those tasks the big publisher would have done are now under your control.
Benefits That Make It Worth the Effort
There are challenges as we will cover shortly, but the benefits make it worth the effort.
The first benefit of the self-publishing option is the speed of publication. While traditional publishers can take anywhere from 1 year to 3 years, self-publishing can be as quickly as 3 months to 9 months.
Speed is a huge benefit that many value above all else. The fact that you can write a book and have it in your readers’ hands in such a short period is a wonder for many. While it is still fresh and you have good energy, you can use it in your marketing efforts.
It can be more challenging to have the same energy level for marketing a book you may have finished writing a couple of years ago, so speed for this option is a significant benefit.
A Bigger Cut of the Profits
Traditional publishers have a lot of costs and this is reflected in the typical royalty payment to the writer being so low, typically only 5-10% for a paperback.
Self-publishing allows you to retain far more. You can get up to 70% royalty at Amazon, for example. Even adding in costs that you now need to cover instead of a publisher, you are still likely making several times the 5-10% range.
Different platforms will give you a variety of percentages, some quite a bit lower than 70%, but the percentage return is still much higher. You will rarely self-publish and end up anywhere near the 10% mark.
Closely related to the royalty percentage benefit is your ability to set the price. As you are the publisher, you control the price and set it at whatever you want. As a result, some authors have found they can sell many more books than they would have with a traditional publisher by being able to set the price much lower.
While the costs to produce a physical book limit your ability to set the price too low, the benefit is that you can price your ebook version as low or high as you want.
This allows you to set the price of your first book very low or even free if you want to. But would you?
If you are coming out with a new book, setting a previous book, such as the first in a series, as very cheap or free can help attract readers who will be more likely to pay a much higher price for your other books.
Standard prices for self-published ebooks are in the $2.99-$4.99 range and setting the first book at a very low $0.99 or free has become a very effective strategy for expanding your readership.
Self-publishing provides greater control. Because there are no publishers dictating deadlines, you can publish when you want and how you want and, more importantly, what you want.
First, you have control over all creative aspects, including those that traditional publishers typically don’t allow you to decide. This opens the door to more creative control on many other levels.
For example, cover art. You can use your own or hire your own designer to create exactly what you want. You also control every aspect of the design process. This means you have free reign regarding the inside and outside influences.
You decide if you need a professional editor or not. If you are confident in your skills, then you can skip this entirely.
There are many creative steps and you ultimately have complete control over the process.
When it comes to control of what you want to publish, you have the power to decide what works for you. For example, many self-publishers skip a hardcover edition due to the cost and far lower sales potential, so if you don’t want to do this, you can do precisely that.
If you choose to release a hardcover, you could publish it and then put a paperback out in just a few months. Traditional publishers quite often wait a year before releasing the paperback.
You could even decide that you have no interest in physical books at all and just release an ebook version only.
Control over every stage is a massive advantage if you decide to go the self-publish route, but that brings us to the challenges.
New Challenges for Self-Publishers
With all the advantages, there will always be some challenges as well. Let’s discuss a few.
You Are the Process
The last benefit we discussed above was that you have complete control of the whole process, but this can also be a downside that you need to consider. As you no longer have a publishing house and their resources to help with the many steps to publication, you are now responsible for 100% of the tasks.
As you are solely responsible for the entire process from start to finish, you need to be able to make sure you have the time and commitment or the budget and willingness to hire help if you cannot do it all yourself.
There are a lot of different tasks involved in publishing a book, even if you are only doing an ebook release. Adding a physical edition just increases the list. So go in with a realistic expectation of the workload you commit yourself to.
Most writers just want to write, so think carefully about all the new tasks you will take on that require a time commitment. You may find that you will spend only half your time writing and that rest of time on all the other tasks involved in the self-publishing process.
As mentioned, you can hire others to take some of those on, but that means you need the budget to be able to do that. You will still need some time to manage and work with those outside resources, but it help can return some time to your writing efforts if you have the funds to support that.
The time commitment required for this can be substantial, so research all the tasks and make sure you can allocate sufficient time and resources for them. Skipping this will impact your success, so preparing in advance is essential.
Money is always a challenging resource for most writers and this is particularly true for self-publishing. Self-publishing can be expensive and time-consuming and it’s not something that everyone can afford.
Your dream as a writer is to make money but you will first find that you are spending plenty of it before you get your book released as a self-publisher.
Some costs cannot be avoided for any release, but there are plenty of others that you can do yourself until you have sufficient funds to cover them, such as paying a professional to do it all for you.
That just means that you need to balance the time commitment discussed with the costs involved in getting outside help. Then, as you begin to make some money, you can reinvest some of that income into getting help in the future.
Getting help with tasks should allow you to spend more time writing and therefore release future books sooner and generate income from those to hopefully more than offset the costs of outside help to increase your overall revenue.
This does require you to make sure you handle the next challenge successfully.
Marketing Against Huge Competition
You thought traditional publishing was competitive? Try self-publishing!
As self-publishing has become more popular and easier to do, the competition has increased, so creating an effective marketing plan is critical to your success. If you don’t market your book successfully, no one will know it exists. This means you need a strong marketing plan.
You need to target your book at your ideal audience and find a way to get in front of them. This includes developing a fan base that will spread the word about your book.
Traditional publishing companies usually take care of at least some level of marketing your book, so people know about it and buy it, but self-publishers are responsible for all the marketing and choosing if spending any money to promote a book is a good investment.
Over the last few years, major publishers have dramatically reduced the amount they spend on newer authors, which means even writers with a traditional publishing deal are becoming increasingly responsible for much of their own marketing.
Finding your audience is the biggest challenge for a newer writer. As readers use the internet to find and buy their books, you need to be sure that you are employing all the methods available to reach them; otherwise, you may be writing to no one.
Come up with a list of every medium you could use to market your book, and try using all of them as part of your plan. There are many different options, so carefully select which will work best for your genre.
So self-publishing your book can absolutely be worth the effort. The control over all aspects of your book and the speed from draft to published book is difficult to resist. Just be sure to go in with a realistic expectation of the workload required over and above writing the book in the first place and you will be much more likely to be successful in your new venture.