Search This Blog

Monday, April 9, 2012

6 Reasons Authors May Want to Self-Publish

Agent Rachelle Gardner, in a blog post titled, "6 Reasons Authors Still Want Publishers," sent my mind to thinking. I'll note right up front that she is not attempting to say authors shouldn't self-publish, which she clarifies at the end of the article. And she notes some very valid reasons that an author may want to go the traditional publisher route. And this piece is by no means saying such a route is not valid, or out of date, or bad. However, I felt the reasons she gave could be just as easily given as reasons to self-publish, as I outline below, in why an author may want to self-publish as opposed to seeking a traditional publisher.

1. Objective Validation or Does My Story Have Value?

Certainly there is some validation for an author in getting traditionally published. It means some editor and sales staff, a group of people who make their living taking risk, have allocated one of their few publishing slots to your book, and are willing to invest thousands of dollars because they believe your book has potential. No doubt about that at all, and many authors have sought after that validation.

But if that book doesn't do well, all that validation goes to pot. Why? Because it is the reader's validation that really matters most. It is when you see sales rising, people buying and enjoying your labor of love, that you'll find real validation. Why is that?

One, when it all comes down to it, the success of a book is based on how the readers respond to it. It is the reader that will ultimately validate the book, who will pay the editors and staff salaries at the publishing company as well as the author's royalities. And if they don't see that validation from the readers, the publisher is much less likely to validate your next book, no matter how well written.

Two, the questions that an editor and staff ask when they consider a book are different from the ones a reader asks. An editor asks, "Will this sell?" "Will this make my publisher a profit?" And based on that answer, the staff will base their decision to acquire it or not. It can be beautifully written, it can shine like the sun in all its glory, but if the editor doesn't think they can sell it, it will be rejected.

The reader, however, ask the question, "Do I like this?" "Is the book enjoyable?" While often the quality of the story and whether it will sell or not sync, sometimes they do not. Which is why more times than not, the book an editor takes a risk in publishing ends up not earning out the author's advance.

By by-passing the publisher, the self-publisher gets right to those who wield the ultimate validation for a book, the reader. Authors can get feedback sooner rather than later. So one reason an author may want to self-publish is to get validation for their work from those who it really matters rather than seeing the publisher's validation is that important in the grand scheme of things.

2. Editing and Design or Control Over the Final Product

One of the often touted benefits of going through a traditional publisher is they will have a team of editors who will go over your manuscript and make suggested or necessary changes for both an improved story and a hopefully typo, spelling, and grammar error free reading experience. And while there are examples where books come out not in very good shape at times from traditional publishers, those are generally a small minority. And even the worst of those don't rival some of the typo-laden self-published books put out there.

But someone who self-publishes will have more control over the quality of their final product. They can hire an editor as easily as a publishing house. They can hire a good cover artist and designer. They can often get input from their fans on a cover if they are unsure themselves which is the best route. A self-published author has the ability to produce just as high a quality book as a traditional publisher these days. Yes, some self-published authors don't take full advantage of that, and throw out books with little to no editing beyond a quick pass-through. They will not sell many that way and only hurt themselves. But a self-published author can get the same input a traditional publisher can provide to produce a high-quality book.

But the big advantage for the self-published author is control. A traditionally published author often has little to no say in what cover gets put on their book. I've seen more than one traditionally published author complain about the horrible cover they were stuck with from their publisher.  And when they got the rights back for the book and could publish it themselves with a better cover, the book sold well. A book swims or sinks based on how much effort you put into it. You have control. Many people like that aspect of it, and not have to pray they have a good editor and cover artist/design team at the publisher, and will put out a book with care instead of just another cover to churn out.

3. Expanding Your Readership or Finding New Readers

One area that traditional publishing does have over self-publishing is getting a print book onto a physical bookstore's shelves. Not impossible to do as a self-publisher, but a lot of work and hard to obtain the reach that a traditional publisher has in that regard. Consequently, there is a big market, despite the rise of ebooks, that a self-published author will never reach without the help of a traditional publisher.

But when it comes to self-publishing, this is also true. There are readers the traditional publisher isn't likely to reach short of an author self-publishing. Why? Because there is no way a traditional publisher, with all its overhead, can hope to compete price-wise with an indie publisher. And there are a group of readers, growing by leaps and bounds, that may only purchase two or three physical books a year, if that, but will purchase several low-cost ebooks through the year. The chance you'll reach those readers by self-publishing and selling your book in the $2.99-$4.99 range is much greater than through a traditional publisher where your ebook will be selling for $12.00 and up. So for that reason, an author may want to self-publish because it does reach a different audience than the traditional route in many cases.

4. Mainstream Media or Social Networking

One area a traditional publisher can often succeed where a self-published author would have trouble breaking in, is in mainstream media. Not impossible, but unlikely that a self-published author will get a slot on a nationally syndicated talk show. And truth be told, there are only a limited number of traditionally published authors who will get that kind of media attention as well. Only the hot sellers for the most part. Likewise, a self-published author would have to really be burning the barn doors down to attract media attention.

That said, most traditional publishers are going to require the author to do the bulk of social networking. Publishers may offer leads and links to aid the author, but it is the author that has to develop the branding. And this will be true of either type. So the self-published author thinks, "If I'm going to have to do this marketing myself for the most part anyway, why not get the monetary rewards for it myself?"

If an author believes they are unlikely to get that hot media interview for their book through traditional publishing, they may opt to keep more of the profit for themselves for the marketing work they will have to do anyway.

5 Partnership and Expertise or Crowdsourcing

Generally, if someone does something for a living, like edit books, publish books, etc., they could be expected to know what they are doing. They have some experience behind them that an author can rely upon their judgments. Generally. There are those times when such doesn't end up being true. When an editor ends up making the story worse, not better. But generally, they will improve a story and help get an attractive product out. And they can offer support and advice when needed.

A self-published author will tend to rely more upon fellow writers and fans. Sometimes a critique group with knowledgeable people in it will help get a manuscript into sellable shape. Fellow writers can line edit each others work as a trade off, as opposed to hiring someone. An author may get the opinions of fans on a cover design, or seek out a mentor's opinion on what will work best. And often one advantage of this over the traditional publisher's editor is you'll get a wider overview of opinions and thoughts on an issue or edit whereas you may only get one or two from a publishing house.

6. Emotional Payoff or "They Like It!"

This really relates to #1, objective validation. And the same reasons apply here. What I've found is common among authors is to see getting published as the goal. At least, it is often treated as the goal to be a successful author. Once you are published, you've arrived.

But this is not true for the self-published author. It is a milestone, no doubt. But the self-published author hasn't gone through years of rejections by agents and/or publishers, hasn't rewritten to agent and editor demands multiple times only to have them give up on it. And then, finally, find an editor who 1) likes your book, 2) has a publishing slot available for it, 3) they think is a good risk over similar manuscripts they have looked at, and finally decide after marketing and the boss have signed off on it, to offer you a contract. That can be a grueling process, and it would be very natural and earned to feel you had accomplished something very few do, get a traditional publishing contract.

Because a self-published author hasn't gone through that, getting published doesn't hold as high of a meaning in the grand scheme of publishing a book. And it is not seen as the goal to being a writer. It is an important one, but the self-published writer doesn't have as much emotional energy invested in getting a book published. Rather, the self-published author's primary goal is to sell books and have the emotional validation from the readers that they, overall, like the book.

And truth be told, that is the traditionally published author's ultimate goal as well. For who cares if you've invested years of work to finally get published, only to have your book sell a few thousand, not earn out your advance, sit on shelves for three months and then the party is over. Readers didn't scoop it up in droves and make it a hot seller that you always dreamed it would be. Getting a book published is only one step and in no way guarantees big sales whether you self-publish or traditionally publish. But the reader, not the publishing house, will be the final emotional pay off, when they like it and buy it. When you get that review about how the book touched their lives, that is the emotional payoff.

Indeed, it could be said, because how hard it is to get that traditional publisher contract, it can make the event of being published appear like the main goal and the success of being an author, when really it is not. In some ways, having that as the goal is similar to someone saying, "You'll enjoy a much richer emotional payoff when you get your medicine to heal from that disease, if you first let it fester for a year or two, allow the pain to rise to unbearable levels. Then you'll feel much better about taking that medicine." Getting published is a necessary goal to getting the validation and emotional payoff of people liking your story. There seems little point in unnecessarily making that step harder than it  has to be just so you'll feel even better about accomplishing it.

What are the reasons you are seeking to be traditionally published or self-published?

No comments:

Post a Comment