I started my writing career self-publishing after getting enough rejection slips from agents and publishers to paste together into a full-length novel. After seven self-published books, I changed from nonfiction to fiction and then published six books through a publisher (the 7th is out soon). So I’m in a fair position to give some guidance on the pros and cons of self-publishing. I offer the following advice, however, with the proviso that writers are a diverse bunch, so you might see a negative as a positive, or the other way around.
**Just a word about my publisher. They are absolutely fantastic and conform to none of the negative stereotypes mentioned below. And they never send me caustic reminders, even when I obviously deserve them.
1. You’re the Boss
Positive: You don’t have to answer to anyone. That’s right. You’re the Head Honcho, the Big Cheese. You don’t answer to an agent or publisher. And if you’ve worked for years in a normal employed job under the thumb of your stupider-than-you boss, then this is the answer to your dreams.
Negative: Because you don’t have that stupider-than-you boss anymore (or agent or publisher), there’s no one to take the blame when you fail to meet your deadline – or when your book bombs.
2. You’re responsible for what you write
Positive: You can let your creativity have free reign. Whatever you dream of, you can write. There’s no irritating publisher telling you it’s just not marketable. Always wanted to be the first to pen a Sci-fi Space Opera set in an alternative Wild West 2000 years from now? Or an upbeat YA Dystopian RomCom? Go for it. The only limit is your imagination.
Negative: You’re free to let your creativity come up with stuff no one wants to read. That may, or may not, include my examples above. The reality is, there’s always an audience for what you write. Whether it’s big enough to sustain you financially, or artistically, is another matter.
3. You’re responsible for when you write.
Positive: Okay, even with a publisher you may seem to be responsible for when you write, but often their schedules mean that you have to at least compromise when, and how often, you do. When you self-publish, there’s no restraint. Write for 7 hours a day, 7 days a week if you want. Or only during the hours of midnight and 2 AM on a waxing moon.
Negative: If you just write when the muse takes you, you might find that book never gets finished. Of course, writers with a publisher have the same problem, it’s just that you’ll probably get a friendly caustic reminder that you’re behind with the schedule they kindly worked out for you.
4. You’re responsible for the editing of your own work
Positive: You can toss the rule book out of the window. You can write your whole book without punctuation, or change the POV to a new character for every one of the 31 chapters. Why conform to irritating grammar or genre conventions? Forge your own path!
Negative: You can publish a manuscript that will infuriate and confuse readers in equal measures. However, as I stated at the beginning of this article, writers have different aims and maybe irritating and confusing your readers is one of them.
5. You’re responsible for when you publish
Positive: If you want to take a year to write your novel, you can. Again, there’s no Big Brother (read publisher) drumming their fingers impatiently on their enormous, highly-polished mahogany desk wondering how they’re going to pay for their new Mercedes if they can’t bludgeon the maximum amount of books possible out of their authors in the minimum possible time.
Negative: You can write forever, and publish never. At the end of the day, no one gets paid if books don’t get published. And there’s nothing more likely to lose you loyal readers than publishing once in a blue moon.*
*Please note, none of this applies to bona fide literary geniuses. It would be facile of me to offer them advice.
6. You’re responsible for your own marketing
Positive: You can choose exactly how, when and where you advertise. If you exclusively want to use Facebook ads or full-page spreads in the Times, go ahead as you also get to choose exactly how much you are going to spend and on what. Always believed your book would be a bestseller if only you could release 10,000 inflatable balloons over Hyde Park with the book’s title emblazoned on them? Why not? Project the front cover onto Big Ben at the same time and it’s definitely hitting the charts.
Negative: You can waste more money than you have and more time than you can afford for pretty much zero results. Marketing is a skill as much as writing is. And it takes just as much time to master. In fact, if two people approached me -one who’d spent their life in marketing but never written a word, and one who’d never marketed anything but wrote regularly – and asked me which one of them I’d back to be the most successful, I’d back the first one every time (in terms of income generated from sales, anyway).
7. You’re responsible for your royalties.
Positive: You get to keep all your royalties. This is often the number one reason self-published authors tell me they’d never go with a publisher. After all, it’s your book and you deserve all the rewards. Also, if you’re writing for money, not just fame, you want to keep as much of that hard-earned cash as you can. Too right!
Negative. The amount of royalties you keep may be 100%, but it might be 100% of a much smaller figure. Whether self-published authors make more on average than published authors, I’ve no idea. It depends on so many factors and varies across genres. However, I do know that most truly successful self-published authors spend a lot of those royalties hiring editors, cover artists etc and also on marketing their books. And all usually in advance. So whether successful self-published authors actually get to keep a greater percentage of their royalty cheques than published ones is a moot point.
So there you have it. Self-publishing can be a writer’s nirvana. Or a writer’s nightmare. For the moment, I’m happy to continue with a publisher, although I may self-publish a series in the future. There’s nothing to say you can’t have the best (or worst) of both worlds.
(c) Verity Bright
Verity on Twitter
About A Lesson in Murder:
When Lady Swift is invited to her old school, she walks through familiar classrooms, finds her favourite books in the library… and surely that’s not a body? Time for a lesson in murder!
Autumn, 1921. Lady Eleanor Swift is invited to her old school, St Mary’s, as a guest speaker. Her favourite teacher, Mrs Wadsworth, has asked that Eleanor talk about her intrepid travels around the globe – travelling the Silk Road by bicycle, crossing the Himalayas and even befriending the Maharaja of India. But in the circumstances, perhaps it would have been a good idea to talk about her career as a daring detective…
Because no sooner has Eleanor brushed up on her times tables then she is greeted by terrible news: Mrs Wadsworth has been murdered. Eleanor is utterly devastated but she owes it to her dearest teacher to find out who killed her and why. So, alongside Gladstone the bulldog, it’s best paw forward to track down a villain.
But when the art teacher is also found dead, Eleanor is sure someone is trying to do away with the people who taught her everything. As Eleanor delves into possible motives, she discovers a clue in the most unlikely place: her mother’s old school diary. Does the route to the murderer lie within a secret passageway her mother uncovered? Can Eleanor nail the culprit in time or is the killer coming for her next?
A totally gripping and glamorous 1920s cozy! Fans of Agatha Christie, T.E. Kinsey and Rhys Bowen are in for a treat.
Order your copy online here.