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The Pros and Cons (and Stigma) of Self-Publishing

By Jennifer-Crystal Johnson

Misha Jordan Guest Blog Post, February 6, 2017

If you’re an author, you’ve probably researched all sorts of different publishing options, some of which are iffier than others. Vanity publishing, for example, is when an author agrees to pay out thousands of dollars for services, but still has to sign a contract giving up 75% to 90% of their own royalties. Double payment to the publisher? Ouch! Then what are you supposed to get for all of your hard work writing, researching, fighting writer’s block, revising a million times, and submitting a polished manuscript? (You can probably tell I don’t like this option very much… let’s just say I’ve had a number of authors come to me after they’ve been burned by one of these places to try to salvage what they could without getting screwed over further. Unfortunately, once you sign a contract, things can get pretty sticky for 5-7 years or longer.)

So… if vanity publishers are so bad, why do self-publishers get stuck with the bad rap? I’m certain I haven’t been the only author to struggle financially, and originally that was the whole reason I decided to teach myself how to self-publish. Not only could I spend less money up front (at the time CreateSpace was still charging $25 per title for expanded distribution), but by the time I customized my manuscript for every publisher I wanted to submit to (with a likely promise of rejection), I figured it would be easier on my nerves and sanity if I just did it myself. I’m also a stubborn, OCD person obsessed with learning new things, so the DIY method is turned to very often ;).

With that said, no publishing option is right for every author all the time. The flexibility, technology, innovation, and resources readily available now are absolutely incredible, but the self-publishing industry has also garnered interest from people who are not authors and use books essentially to sell other products, coaching, and so on.

Because so many people are using self-publishing to market other things, and because a lot of self-publishing authors either can’t financially afford or refuse to (for whatever reason) work with an editor, a lot of the self-published books out there now have a reputation of being half-assed, unprofessional, or thrown together haphazardly. It’s no wonder that so many people think of self-published books and authors with an automatic grimace on their faces!

Everything else aside, if you can afford an editor, hire one. If you can only afford a basic proofread, make sure you catch all of the mistakes you humanly can before you hire someone so you get the most from your purchase. When you’re working with an editor, learn from them to hone your skills as a writer. The better you get at the basic stuff like spelling and grammar rules (which, just in case anyone forgot, were supposed to be taught from the first grade onward… have you been paying attention your whole life, or do you think of “writing a book” as something to scratch off your bucket list and move on from?), the less you will need an editor, and the less frustrating you will be as a client for an editor. (As an editor, I speak from experience!)

Five Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing

Now that I’ve given you a little bit of background information, it’s time to take a hard look at the actual pros and cons of self-publishing from an author’s perspective. This is assuming you’ve done the due diligence involved in your job of being a writer to ensure that your work is as good as it possibly can be so you avoid getting negative reviews because of a “thrown together” feel or embarrassing grammar and spelling errors. If you’ve got that covered, let’s get down to it.

  1. You don’t have to sign a contract with a publisher, but you’re on your own. Not being bound by a legal contract allows you to promote your own work using whatever parts, excerpts, quotes, readings, images, etc. that you want to (within copyright restrictions of other creators, of course). However, you are absolutely on your own throughout the publishing process unless you hire help independently.
  2. You maintain control over your copyright, but you lose the benefit of having a professional editor handed to you. Unless you’re going through a vanity publisher, your book should be edited by someone on staff at no additional up-front cost to you (although you usually end up promising to pay the publisher for their work with your first several thousand book sales in a contract; sales numbers vary from one publisher to the next).
  3. You get the final say on everything: design, editing, formatting, back cover copy, book content and placement, etc. When you work with a publisher, they reserve the right to overrule your input, creative or otherwise.
  4. You get to set your own price, use price promos on your terms, and keep all of your royalties after cost (binding, printing, and distribution). With self-publishing platforms like CreateSpace and KDP, you should be making an average of $2-$5 per copy even if it’s priced somewhat low. (My first publisher priced my novella at $16.95 about 14 years ago… and I made $0.90 per copy sold. For a 111-page book, that is way too much, especially for a new author with no marketing knowledge at all at the time; I was about 19.)
  5. You can go back and revise, make changes, and add preview chapters of another book (like a sequel) anytime you want; just re-upload your adjusted files and you’re all set. When you work with a publisher, they essentially take over ownership of your copyright for the duration of your contract and you have to get permission for anything you want to do, including making changes to your book. In some cases, they may charge you; in other cases, they may flat out refuse and tell you to wait until the contract is up.

You can probably tell that I am an absolute supporter of self-publishing… if it’s done well. No one expects perfection, but excellence is preferred. And how do you get to a point of excellence? By failing, overcoming obstacles, keeping your eyes and ears open for opportunities, and knowing that no matter how much you know, you never know it all. Continuous learning is everyone’s best bet in today’s constantly changing world, so strive for that… and excellence ;).

Want to learn more about self-publishing? Visit www.NoBullSelfPublishing.com. Want to learn more about authorpreneur Jennifer-Crystal Johnson? Visit www.JenniferCrystalJohnson.com or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Amazon.

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