Did you go to Catholic Writers Conference Live? Or perhaps you’ve been lucky enough to attend another writers’ conference in the past few months. You’ve come home with a mind spinning with possibilities. Suddenly you have options, and choices to make. You’ve pitched a book (or two, or three), and hurriedly polished your work in order to send it to interested editors or agents.
Maybe you sense a sale in the offing. (Cue cheering crowds and confetti!)
Or…maybe not. Maybe your work straddles two genres, or maybe publishers are saying your story is unmarketable. Or worse, your genre is dead. Whatever the case, you’ve found no takers.
No need for discouragement – not in this day and age. Now you can publish your work by yourself. Five years ago, self-publishing was still new, and still carried a fair amount of risk. Print on demand (in its current form) didn’t exist, and an author basically had to commission a small print run out of their own pocket. Without the ability to market or access traditional booksellers, more than a few self-published authors ended up with a garage filled with thousands of unsold books – and a big hole in their coffers. Thanks to the explosion of e-books, authors of well-written fiction can now publish their own work.
Rather than go into the nuts and bolts of how to self-publish, let’s examine the pros and cons of taking on the venture.
At first blush, there is no con. After all, you just format and upload your work and wait for the money to roll in. Well, not so fast.
It boils down to: How much work are you willing to do, in order to succeed? And how do you define success? The answers to those two questions will drive your decision.
As a self-pubber, you are responsible for obtaining quality editing (yes, you must do this, and no, critique partners don’t count), formatting, cover design, obtaining ISBN numbers, finding out how to upload to the different platforms (Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, etc.) and then doing it, and promotion.
Some people relish the control they have over the process; others would rather poke their eye out than deal with all the details. As a self-pubber, you will create business relationships with cover designers, free-lance editors, and formatters. You will build an online presence and platform. This includes at least a website (complete with “buy” buttons) and an author Facebook page.
Marketing and promotion are essential. Getting your book noticed now that “everybody” is self-pubbing is not an easy task. Depending on your comfort level and ability to create and manipulate social media, you may face a steep learning curve – or pay experts to build and maintain your website, etc. Either way, it takes time and effort to market. *Note: Marketing and promotion are required of all authors nowadays, whether their route is via traditional publishers or self-publishing.
Sound like something you’d like to tackle? Then here are a couple of important things to keep in mind.
The most critical item in self-publishing is having a quality product. That means your book has to be the best it can possibly be. No ‘throwing it out there’ to see how it does. If the quality is mediocre, or worse, poor, you’ll generate bad reviews on Goodreads or Amazon. It is very difficult to entice people to try a subsequent work if the initial one was of poor quality.
The best way to ensure quality? Surround yourself with a superb team.
Before you jump into the self-pubbed fray, pay for a free-lance editor. At three to five hundred dollars, it’s a chunk of change, but every successful self-pubbed author I know views this step as vital. Read other people’s self-pubbed books, and when you find one that’s well-edited, contact the author to find out who they use. The best ones are booked a year or so out.
Find a great cover designer. Even in e-books, a sloppy or amateurish cover can kill sales. Same for formatting. Most readers will let an occasional error slide, but repeated errors are annoying.
Build a strong online network. Word of mouth still sells more than anything – but when your ‘word of mouth’ is a small group of authors with a similar readership and ten to twenty thousand Twitter followers each, ‘word of mouth’ takes on a whole new meaning. Too, there are Twitter accounts that exist solely to promote self-published works.
Other options are available if you choose to not take on the responsibility of self-publishing. Many smaller e-publishers are springing up to serve specific niches. You give up some of the profit in return for not having to go it alone. A ready-made team might be the perfect solution.
Or consider the hybrid route. Self-publish some work and seek traditional publication for others. Mix and match between larger and smaller houses.
Having a clear plan is essential. And since this is the Catholic Writers Guild, it is imperative to begin the discernment process with prayer. It’s crucial to align ourselves with God’s plan for us and our work. Sometimes an examination of conscience reveals that our ego or pride is driving our insistence on a particular path. Neither avoidance of rejection nor arrogance will serve us (or God) well.
What are your thoughts regarding self-publishing? Can you add some wisdom gleaned from your experience? What led you to take that path? And what have you found to be the most important elements for success?