In the last post, I gave a brief overview of the difference between self-publishing and traditional and some of the pros and cons of each. You may still be unsure though of which route to take for your own project. So let’s dive deep into some of the questions you’ll need to answer in order to make the decision:
What are your goals for the book?
There are lots of different reasons to publish. All are valid, and you’ll have to answer for yourself what they are and which route will serve those best. Here are just a few common answers:
I want to have a career as an author
In today’s publishing landscape there are opportunities for both self and traditionally published authors to build their careers. If you are serious about having a career as a writer, then it’s worth looking into traditional publishing. As things stand, the majority of books are still published by big publishers, and they still have the biggest distribution network and of course clout. If you can break into the traditional market, you have a big platform at your disposal to get you towards your career goals faster than you could probably do on your own. However, if you are reading this in the first place, it’s because you are a scrappy self-starter who is not afraid to dig out your own niche. Self-publishing continues to gain ground, and advances in technology and more services has made it possible for more people to publish books that rival the quality of their traditionally published cousins. You may already have a large platform of people hungry for your work. You know how to build an audience, to market your work, and have a plan in place on how to sell, distribute, and be successful. Let’s not be naive though, publishing is one thing, but making a living off your work is different. Whichever way you publish, don’t expect to make a lot of money. At least, not right away. Of course there are exceptions, but even traditionally published authors make on average:
Most authors also have day jobs. This is not to discourage you, just to be realistic. If you are in it for the long haul, then keep on following that dream, whichever way it leads you! Just also make sure you can pay your bills at the end of the month.
I want to publish for friends and family or for myself
This is an easy one. If your goal is to make a keepsake for yourself or your family, self-publishing is a no-brainer. Even better, if you are not planning on selling or marketing the book widely, you don’t have to worry about all those pesky marketing plans and more business related concerns. A well made book can be a work of art for its own sake.
I want to create a book for a niche market/topic
I’ve seen this advice given to self-publisher’s a lot, and it’s something worth considering. If you are writing a book for a particular audience, then it’s worth looking into self-publishing. The big publishers often look for books that they can market on a large scale. The way you make money with traditional publishing is to sell a large quantity of books. If your book targets a niche audience, publishers may be less inclined to take it on, fearing that it won’t generate enough sales in the wider marketplace. There are some niche and independent publishers, which might be something to look into, but those are limited too. Self-publishing can be a great option for those niche topics, especially if you are already connected to the audience that wants those books. If you know there is a need and your book can fill it, that can be a great way to build a following.
What kind of effort are you willing to put in?
Both options take a lot of work. It depends on what kind of work you are willing to do. If you self-publish, you are going to be taking on the responsibilities not just of an author, but as a publisher. You are effectively your own business. You will need to do the work that traditional publishers have a whole team for. Some self-publishers are skilled and capable of doing all of the aspects including layout and design, while others will need to hire some or all of these tasks. For this reason, many choose to use places like create space, that provide these extra services all in one place. The only problem is that the options may be limited. Create space for instance does not currently offer hardcover printing for picture books.
In traditional publishing, you don’t have to worry as much about the business or manufacturing concerns, but that is only if you are able to get published. The work here, is getting your work accepted by an agent or editor. The market is extremely competitive, and it can take years just to get your foot in the door. Rather than putting your energy into designing your cover, you’ll be sending out maybe hundreds of submissions, doing research on editors and agents, and honing your craft. Much of the work is perseverance. Once you get a publishing deal, you will still be working to promote and market your work, and of course, do it all over again with your next one!
Can you afford to self-publish?
Have a business plan. You need to know the reality of the costs involved in self-publishing. It could take a long time to break even, let alone make a profit.
Here are just a few of the costs associated with self-publishing that you often don’t have to think about with traditional publishing:
- Cost of ISBN’s and Barcodes
- Copyright registration and library of congress number
- Distribution- shipping supplies, postage, fees for using a distribution center or storage in a warehouse.
- Marketing- creating and running ads, hosting a website, fees for book tables at conferences or festivals, etc.
- Illustration and Design- A good illustrator and designer is worth their weight in gold! Don’t be stingy here, it’s the difference between a professional product and an amature one. (I spent almost half of my budget on this area)
- Editing- if you hire someone to edit your work.
- Printing- Definitely the largest or second largest cost in self-publishing is the cost of printing physical copies. E-books are a great option for older children or adult readers, but with picture books, most kids and parents still prefer physical copies.
Depending on your goals, self-publishing can cost in the thousands just with printing alone. Fortunately, there are some ways that you can mitigate these costs. You might consider doing a crowdfunding campaign to raise the money (I'll do a post on this later on), or you might choose a print on demand option. You'll may for per book for this option, but you don't have to make a large investment up-front. It's good to have an idea of these things before you start so that you can set a realistic budget and timeline. Remember to also think about cost not just in terms of money, but time. You are either spending money or time, and in both cases- effort (see above!) So which one are you willing to spend? Would you rather spend your time writing, or are you eager to take on all aspects of the business?
There are very real pros and cons to both traditional and self-publishing, but only you can decide which is best for you and your book. Even if you’ve already decided to self-publish, I encourage you to take a look at the current landscape of traditional publishing. Go to the bookstore and see what kinds of books are out there. Research books that might be similar to yours. Find out what agents and editors are looking for, you may think there isn’t a large market for your book, but you never know! There's nothing wrong with trying out traditional publishing. If nothing else, in the process of doing research and submitting, you are gathering valuable information about your book, the market, and your audience. You may even make some valuable connections or find opportunities you wouldn’t have otherwise.
I hope this helps you make a decision on whether or not to self-publish. If you're ready to jump in, I'll next week about some of the first steps you'll need to take.