After quite a long gap, I’ve decided to self-publish a few books. I thought it might be interesting to write up my journey, because perhaps the research I undertake will be beneficial to others.
Today I’m looking at why have I chosen self-publishing rather than traditional publishing.
Actually, to some extent I haven’t. I’ve submitted a synopsis of a book proposal to a traditional publisher, and awaiting their decision. In other words, I don’t see this completely as an either/or issue. Each approach has its advantages and disadvantages. Having been published in the standard way, and self-published, here’s what I think are the pros and cons of each.
I think it is still the case, though less so than in the past, that having a book published by a “real” publisher is a mark of quality in many people’s minds.
The reason is twofold. First, publishers act as gatekeepers, and won’t publish any old thing. Second, they have a team of editors and proofreaders who can ensure that the text and formatting are as good as they can be. They also have book cover designers to make the book look good, “blurb” writers, and marketers.
In other words, publishers have the means by which they can make your book look good, tell everyone it is good, and can point to the fact that they publish only a small proportion of the submissions they receive as an indication of their insistence on quality.
In theory, traditional publishers have the people and money to carry out marketing campaigns and generate publicity.
In my opinion, these positives don’t completely stand up to scrutiny.
First, publishers don’t necessarily take on projects based solely on their quality and contribution to the sum of human knowledge. They take on things they think they can sell.
Second, in my experience I have been better at marketing my books than my publishers have. I’m willing to be surprised. I’m even prepared to accept that maybe I have been extremely unlucky (although whenever the subject comes up at Society of Authors events, lots of people make the same observation).
I can understand this. After all, my book is only one of several that the publisher has to promote. I think too that it is a matter of expectations. Over the years I have come to believe that whether an author self-publishes or goes down the traditional route, he or she has to do a lot of marketing.
Third, a big minus point of traditional publishing is the length of time it takes for a book to get from manuscript to something you can see on the shelves of your local bookshop. Never less than a year, unless you happen to be a big name author writing a biography of a celebrity that just died in a car crash. Those books seem to come out in about a month.
I suspect they have already been written. Obituaries, for example, are written long before the subject has died. They are just updated from time to time. This situation led the writer Gay Talese to observe an unsavoury fact about obit writers:
Furthermore, he admits that, after having written a fine advance obituary, his pride of authorship is such that he can barely wait for that person to drop dead so that he may see his masterpiece in print.
(See Mr Bad News)
The long time lag may result in a book to be proud of, but in some fields (my own, for instance), it could sound the death knell of the book. For example, imagine writing the definitive guide to teaching X, only for it to have been published just before the Government declares that X no longer has to be taught.
The pros and cons of self-publishing, by which I mean doing it all yourself (as I explained in A self-publishing journey: what IS self-publishing?), are pretty much the converse of all the above, namely:
- You can publish what you like: there are no gatekeepers.
- You have to do or organise everything yourself: editor, proofreader, book cover designer etc.
- Despite that, you can publish incredibly quickly: within a couple of hours of your book being ready, in fact.
- That means that if you work in a rapidly-changing area, like technology, there is much less danger of your book being out of date even before it sees the light of day.
- You have to be your own marketing department (which I believe you have to be anyway).
Well that’s it for now. In future posts I’ll share what I’ve found out about, and what I think about, digital rights management, and how to make the books available to potential buyers, plus anything else I manage to glean on this self-publishing journey.
I know it’s a bit risky to announce this, in case nothing comes of it (eg I might get run over by a bus), but I'm hoping to write and self-publish a few books. If you'd like to be kept informed of new titles, please sign up to Terry's Books Bulletin by clicking the button below. Thank you.
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