When I decided to write a book (which eventually turned into 6 books!), I was like most authors faced with a number of options – namely self-publishing, and ‘getting published’. I was only aware of the ‘traditional route’ – but I was also aware that this was tricky and didn’t guarantee success. Filled with horror stories of rejection, low royalties and loss of creative control I looked for an alternative.
This was when a friend and colleague told me about her own publishing journey. Having had her first book accepted by a prominent educational publisher she knew first-hand the perils of signing over your intellectual property to a large publishing firm. Following her experience she decided to self-publish, and shared her knowledge with me. So now I’m going to pay it forward, sharing the basics in this blog along with a few key things I’ve learnt through my own publishing journey to help you to decide whether self-publishing is for you – and explain how you can make money from your books.
Self-publishing – the positives
You earn more
Number one – let’s talk money. When you sign on the dotted line with a publisher, you make a few concessions. One of these involves the revenue you earn from the book that you shed blood, sweat and tears to create. Revenue can be anywhere between 2% of retail price to 10% of retail price. This means that if your book retails at £12.00, you earn anything between £0.24p to £1.20 per book. That’s great if your publisher is guaranteeing you’ll be the next JK Rowling – not so great if you only sell a few copies.
It’s (effectively) free
Self-publishing now eliminates the need to pay thousands for print books when you’re not sure you’ll sell a single copy. Publishers often want costs upfront for print if they’re taking a ‘risk’ on you as a new author – and even then there’s no guarantee that your manuscript will be accepted by a mainstream publisher. These ‘on-demand’ print services enable authors only to pay for the books they order – and cut out the middleman yet again when it comes to selling. This means that sellers like Amazon purchase the book directly from the printers at no cost to you – so you simply receive royalties without the expense of purchasing stock and posting it out. There is of course a cost associated with this – Amazon takes a cut of around 20% – but it’s much lower than the price of postage and the time involved in sending out your books to customers. You are free to do this both through Amazon and through your own website, but it’s a time-consuming and expensive alternative.
Yes, there is also a cost involved if you get someone on board like myself to support or facilitate publication – but it’s a one-off investment – and it’s much lower than buying print books in bulk or spending lots of valuable time making avoidable mistakes in the process.
You retain creative control
If you’re a control freak (like me) you’ll want to know that you can share your book with the world exactly as you want it to be. You’ll also want the freedom to make changes to your publication at any time. When you work with a publisher you’ll need to take their direction on certain elements. They may not be heavily involved in your publication – but at the other end of the spectrum they could considerably change your content and edit your book, as well as making decisions on your cover artwork. With self-publishing you control every single element of the publication – from the font type and size to the artwork. You can also release a second edition whenever you like if you want to make changes to your publication in the future.
Anyone can self-publish
Publishers are notoriously selective and competition is fierce – and rightly so. But this also means that they let literary gems slip through their fingers. When you self-publish you don’t need the acceptance or approval of a publisher – you just need to be confident that there’s an audience for your book, and be prepared to market it well. You might not even have a financial goal in mind – perhaps you just want to see your book up there on Amazon with your name on the cover. With such low costs involved, you have absolutely nothing to lose in doing so.
You retain financial control
When you self-publish you set the price of your book based on the revenue you’ll receive. You’re also free to change the price at any time – lowering it to promote the book, or raising it if you feel it’s priced too cheaply. Your revenue is paid directly into a PayPal account or business account, and detailed reports are available which allow you to track sales and see which marketing methods work best.
In fact, the availability, freedom and relative ease of self-publishing is what has enabled me to publish so many books in a relatively short space of time. Although they are admittedly a labour of love I simply wouldn’t have wanted to go through the process again had it not been so promising commercially and creatively.
What are the cons?
As with anything there are a few drawbacks to self-publishing, so in the interest of fairness and transparency here are few of the issues I’ve found frustrating:
It’s a long process for beginners
When you’re just starting out and you have no idea how self-publishing (or submitting to Amazon) works, you can find yourself formatting endlessly, ordering plenty of draft editions and generally feeling confused. The Amazon forums are fairly helpful, but Lulu’s forums are filled with authors complaining – often with few helpful answers to their questions. That said I eventually managed to figure out how to do most things I initially struggled with – it simply takes time and perseverance.
There are a few technical glitches
Self-publishing is relatively new. This means that it’s not entirely slick and easy-to-use yet, with interfaces slightly clunky and several beta programs to rely on whilst you publish your book. This makes self-publishing possible, but at times frustrating and difficult. That said, Amazon in particular is continually improving its offering, and the introduction of Apple iBooks makes creating colour publications much simpler.
You have to know what you’re doing
Each of my books was actually better than the last. That’s because I was learning at every step of the way, and I gradually gained the ability to beautifully format my books, skirting round initial issues I found with graphics, fonts and page orientation. My first books also took much, much longer than the later ones, because I was still finding my feet and made lots of mistakes along the way.
You literally have to do everything yourself
The main advantage in opting to work with a publisher (and primary reason for the huge cut in revenue they take) is their expert team of marketers, PR executives, professional editors and designers. But (as a good friend and colleague explained to me) the marketing clout of publishing outfits shouldn’t be overestimated. The above professionals are all available externally – so you can pick and choose which services you need, or opt to do it all yourself. My self-publishing packages include editing and a free guide to marketing your book effectively to get you started.
Despite the negative points above, for me as an author the positives clearly outweigh the negatives. I set up my Book Publishing Service to offer guidance and support to fellow authors who want to realise their dream of publishing a book and financially benefitting from their concept. As a copywriter and proofreader I found myself asked to ghost-write corporate handbooks and edit biographies – and as an author I realised I had plenty of experience in self-publishing. Together they convinced me that self-publishing support packages would be beneficial, and my Book Publishing Service was born. If you’re ready to get started take a look at the packages I offer here.