Since I announced I was publishing a book last month (June 2016), I have had a lot of people ask me why I decided to self-publish instead of going the traditional route. As someone with a background in libraries, I know there is a lot of stigma associated with self-published books. Librarians do not usually order self-published books to put in their library's collections unless they are enormous best-sellers that patrons are actively requesting (e.g. Hugh Howey's Wool). We also have a tendency to grimace when someone walks up to the Reference Desk to announce they wrote a book and was wondering if we would like to organize a publicity event for them. Patrons aren't interested in going to events for unknown authors. It's really hard to hear and we always tried to say it nicely, but that's just not the way to generate buzz about your book. We have also had many self-published books eagerly handed to us filled with errors, no real plot, and hideously amateurish covers.
For a long time, I thought this was the case with just about every self-published book. Then I saw my husband's high school friend, Steven Konkoly, become so successful as an indie thriller author that he was able to quit his day job and write full-time. I began to look more into the self-publishing phenomena and saw how many benefits it had for authors over going the traditional route:
- You get significantly higher royalties. You can get up to 70% of every book you sell on Amazon, compared to the 8-12% you get from a traditional publisher after everyone else gets their cut: the publishing house, your agent, the book distributor, etc.
- You can get your book to market significantly faster. For most people, once you've snagged an agent, gotten a publishing deal, and actually had your book produced, it can take a year and a half! I am way too impatient for that kind of thing. I wanted to get my book out and get it front of readers right away.
- Most traditionally published authors have to do the bulk of their own publicity anyways, so what's the point of getting your book traditionally published when you have to do the work to promote it anyways?
- You can still outsource the things you need to make your book polished and professional. You don't need a publishing house in order to get your book edited, formatted, and have an appealing cover designed.
- Most readers don't care (or even notice) if your book is self-published. Once you start getting good reviews and you have run some promotions to improve your book's visibility, the only thing that matters at the end of the day, is if readers like your story.
Shortly after I finished the first draft of The Departed, I had my second child and became distracted for awhile attending to a newborn. Once, I broke through the baby fog though, I sat down to edit it and figure out how I wanted to publish it. I already knew I was interested in self-publishing, but I felt this weird sort of obligation (maybe librarian shame?) to at least try to find a transitional publisher, so I drafted a query letter and sent it out to fifteen top agents that represented YA authors. After not even hearing back from most of them (which was sort of what I expected anyways), I felt like that made it easier for me to take charge of my books and selling them. Knowing more about the traditional publishing process now, I realize that the likelihood of landing a top agent as a complete unknown is staggeringly low. Newer agents are more likely to be willing to represent new authors, but they also don't have as much pull in publishing world. At the end of the day it just made more sense for me to do it all myself.
Learning about self-publishing and doing it the right way did end up being more of a learning curve than I expected, but I consider all of the time I invested in getting to know how it all works well worth it, because the groundwork is now already laid out before me as I work on completing my second book (The Sainted) and preparing it for publication. As a newbie, here are the two books I found most useful for someone just getting started:
- Write, Publish, Repeat by Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant, and David Wright
- Reader Magnets: Build Your Author Platform and Sell more Books on Kindle by Nick Stephenson
I plan to make future posts about other resources I've tried and how effective I think they are. I'll update with more soon!