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Should You Self-Publish Your Book? by Paul Volponi

Rooftop by New York City novelist Paul Volponi

I’m probably asked over 50 times a year by writers who have met with nothing but frustration when it comes to getting published through traditional avenues, “Should I self-publish?” Well, I don’t really have the answer. Just an opinion. That opinion is, “It all depends.”

Perhaps you are a cook who does many cooking demonstrations over the course of a year in front of a live audience and you have a passion to write a cook book. Maybe your audience has already asked you for one, saying how they’d love to own something like that as a resource. However, no publisher wants to back you in such a project. In that case, not only do I think that self-publishing (actually printing the book yourself without a vanity publishing company) is the way to go, I’d highly recommend it. Why? You already have the audience. Why shouldn’t you make all the profit after printing costs, which can be surprisingly small per book? Also, I presume the book would have a long shelf-life, allowing you to sell that first print-run for years to come.

Now, let’s look at the question from a very different angle. Let’s say you write teen novels or poetry and are wondering about going the self-publishing route. I would be very much against it. For one, you probably don’t have an audience yet. No matter what an unsavory vanity publishing company promises you about promotion (usually sending out postcards for an upcoming release), they won’t find you an audience. Also, librarians and teachers around the country won’t consider buying your book because they won’t know about it. Yes, there are stories about authors who self-published, arranged their own book signings and sold copies out of the trunks of their cars to cultivate an audience. Then, those grassroots sales (along with some very good writing, I presume) got a publisher’s attention, brining them a deal for their next book. I also understand that some lottery tickets bought do win, but trying to become a success story can be a heavy load for a writer to be burdened with.

I think this is the real question for novelists and poets to ask themselves before considering self-publishing: “Why do I want to be published?” If the answer is that you want a personal record of what you have created to be bound for your friends and family, I would never argue against it. If your ultimate goal is to cultivate an audience and draw attention to your good work, then self-publishing is almost certainly not the way to go.


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3 Comments Post a comment
  1. moonduster #

    Interesting perspective. I happen to know quite a lot of authors who have self-published their fiction writing quite successfully. They usually have more than one novel that they have self-published. They haven’t made $millions off of their writing, but they have been able to leave their day jobs and devote full-time effort to their writing off of the proceeds from the books they have already self-published. I really don’t think you could have spoken with very many Indie authors before forming your opinion. This isn’t as rare of an occurrence as you make it out to be. Also, when you consider the amount of money that MOST traditionally published authors make from their contracts with the publishers, I would hazard to say that many self-published authors have been able to surpass those earnings through their self-published books. (And I am not talking about vanity publishing. No one needs vanity publishing any more.)

    August 27, 2013
    • Hi moonduster. Thanks for your comment. There are success instances of self-published writers and there are many, many not so successful instances of self-published writers. Success will depend on the goals and motivations of each writer doing the self-publishing.

      As a general principle, I tend to agree with the idea that writers who have little commitment, interest or practical ability in relation to marketing and publicity (which is no reflection on their writing ability) should have second thoughts before self-publishing, as it will be up to them to attract readers to their writing, diverting from their writing time.

      Of course, someone who is great at marketing and publicity – and who has a well-written story that readers will recommend to other readers – can receive more of the proceeds from each book sale.

      However, $3 to the author per book for 2000 books sold is $6000, but $1 to the author per book for 20,000 books sold with the help of an established publisher is $20,000 (while freeing up a lot of the author’s time to write more books, and the publisher might help secure sales to publishers in various territories around the world – perhaps with advances of tens of thousands of dollars for each of numerous countries, as well as helping to sell translation rights and audiobook rights for various languages, film adaptation rights, etc). If an agent or publisher can secure sales to publishers in 5 countries, each doing it’s own marketing and publicity campaign and each providing an advance of $20-40,000, you might have $150,000 in advances for the print book rights and 5 publishers marketing and publicising you and your book while you write you next one. Many readers are more likely to purchase a book published by an established publisher because they have a basis for judging the likely standards applied to a book by that publisher. Many writers starting out don’t realise how much goes into getting readers to discover, purchase, read and recommend books, and how many ways a publishing company that has been established for several decades or for over 100 years has of helping this along without bothering people and without taking up a lot of the author’s time.

      It’s a matter of examining what a particular publisher provides for a particular book versus what they take. Both ways can work.

      August 27, 2013

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