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Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing

The previous article in this series talked in greater detail about the pros and cons of independent book publishing---what it is as well as the pros and cons of the approach.

In this article, we'll dive into the final of three main forms of book publishing: self-publishing.

Self-publishing is the publishing model whereby an author is responsible for each aspect of publishing his or her book, from finding an editor to hiring a cover designer and interior formatter to acquiring and registering ISBNs to uploading to distribution channels (such as Amazon). 


Pros of Self-Publishing

Full Control over Publishing Timeline

There's no doubt that having control over the publishing timeline is one of the greatest benefits of self-publishing.

I didn't think it was a secret--but perhaps it is--that with traditional publishing, the amount of time between finding an agent to represent your book and holding a published copy of your book in your hands ranges from 18 to 36 months (and is usually on the longer end of that spectrum).

When you self-publish--or even vanity publish--you have far more control over the publishing timeline. The main areas where people can get held up are cover design and interior formatting. My own publishing company, Finn-Phyllis Press, has gotten books published in as few as 4 to 6 weeks from the time of receiving the finally edited manuscript.

The bottom line is that the only real timeline that is placed on you when you are self publishing is the timeline that you placed upon yourself.


Full Control Over Errors

Yep, I said it. Listen, there are going to be errors. None of us wants to admit it, but we're all human and after six people have read a manuscript 837 times, they begin to overlook things that should be there--but aren't (or vice versa). 

So, after publishing, you may be reading through Chapter 8 one day only to realize, "Holy hell! I said 'they're' instead of 'their.' Or 'asses' instead of 'assess'." And, understandably, you'd want that fixed pronto.

If you are self-published, you simply have your manuscript updated by your formatter (with whom you've by now developed a wonderful relationship) and you reupload to Amazon and/or Ingram Spark. Voila! Every paperback or eBook distributed from that point forward will reflect the changes. 

If you're with a traditional publisher, you're toast, because they've done a print run of several thousand books and they are not going to put them into a dumpster because  you missed an apostrophe or left out a word. If you're with a vanity publisher, you will have to rely on them (depending on their policies) to upload a revised version. Trust me when I tell you that, even if they agree to do it, you can do it on your own FAR faster. 

And time is of the essence when you've said, "I really want to asses that on Tuesday's." 

I shiver just looking at that sentence.


Full Control over Distribution

Being able to control which retailers are selling which versions of your book (eBook versus paperback versus hardback versus audiobook) as well as having the ability to decide whether to distribute a version exclusively or non-exclusively through any particular channel and change the price of each version whenever you feel like it is an incredible benefit of self-publishing.

If I wanted to (and I don't), I could change the price of each version of my books every single day. The ability to make these decisions based on what is best for YOUR book and YOUR audience of readers without having to go through a middleman at a vanity publishing house is invaluable.


Full Control over Partners

When I published my first book back in 2003 (full transparency here), I worked with a vanity publisher. It seemed like the perfect situation: they had editors, cover designers, formatters, marketers, etc.

But it didn't take long before I realized that some of the "experts" on the team I'd "hired" (to the tune of an $8500 publishing package) weren't the right fit for me. Plus, continuing to jump through all of the corporate hoops after doing some research and determining that I could handle most (if not all) of what they were doing on my own (without making 6 phone calls and sending 4 emails three times a week to get things taken care of) didn't make sense.

It was at that time that I formed Finn-Phyllis Press, and the rest...well, you know what they say. 

I like having the option of being able to choose my own editor, cover designer, formatter, and marketing partner (if I use one). These days, high-quality freelancers--many of whom worked in traditional publishing for many years--who specialize in every aspect of book publishing are easy to find (and far less expensive than you might think!) It's like Whole Foods; once they no longer had the market cornered on organic items, they had to lower their prices. There are enough highly skilled freelancers out there for self-publishers these days that they can't charge exorbitant fees the way they once could. 

Tying yourself to the staff at one particular vanity house for every aspect of your project (because you'll pay for them whether or not you use them, in most cases) is unnecessary and often disappointing. 


Highest Profit Margin

One thing that a lot of people don't know about vanity publishing is that, in addition to charging an upfront fee to publish your book, they will also retain a percentage of the book's earnings long term.

In many--if not most--cases, payments from retailers go through the publisher. So, you as the author have to wait for the retail outlets to pay the publisher, and then for the publisher to cut you a check based on your portion of the earnings.

The rationale for such an arrangement is that the initial fee that a vanity publisher charges an author barely covers the expenses of publishing the book (which may be true when a company has a large staff and overhead to support); they don't profit very much just from the publishing package. So, in order to profit, they need to take a percentage of earnings off the back end (and hope you sell the daylights out of the book!).  

It's my personal belief that if a vanity publisher is going to charge north of $10,000 to publish a book, 100% of the profits should stay with the author, which is how Finn-Phyllis Press is run. But I do understand that different business models exist for a reason.


Full Control over Marketing

One of the reasons people get excited to work with vanity publishers is that those companies often advertise a marketing arm that is eager and ready to promote your book (which makes sense because, again, they need your book to sell so they can earn extra income from it. 

The challenge is that authors therefore think that the publisher is going to go out and do all of their marketing for them when nothing could be further from the truth. In most cases, the marketing done by vanity publishers is one-size-fits-all and has no impact in the marketplace. I wish they'd consistently execute this part a bit better because everyone would benefit, but it's just not the way it works. 

Further, when you need to have books in hand for an in-person event, you must order them from the publisher. While it will be at an "author rate," that rate is often far higher than it would be were you to simply order copies at your author cost off of Amazon.

Being able to control the way you market your book, get cover or other promo images you need from a designer in a reasonable timeframe, and not have to ask anyone else's permission to do whatever it is that you want to do is...well...priceless. 


Cons of Self-Publishing

Of course, as with anything else, there are of course cons when it comes to self-publishing.


More Time-Consuming Up Front

It's nice to be able to work with a publishing house that takes everything off your hands, because you basically send everything off and you're finished--I mean, as long as you like the end result of the processes they are undertaking on your behalf.

If you're going to do it yourself, you will indeed have to figure out steps 1, 2, and 3, which takes time and research. (Although with the right course, say Publish A Profitable Book, someone who's done this quite a few times can lay out those steps for you and provide you with vetted, trusted resources so that you don't make any missteps, spend any unnecessary money, or feel any unnecessary frustration.)

Even with the step-by-step plan, you or someone you designate will have to execute the steps. You'll need to reach out to cover designers and manuscript formatters, and you'll have to purchase ISBN numbers and write back cover copy. 

But...IT'S DOABLE! You've done hard things before. And once you've done it once, you can easily do it again and again (and again) if you so choose. 

There is truly no way to publish a high-quality book without incurring any cost (unless your brother is a top-notch cover designer, your best friend is a top-notch formatter, and your cousin has a few unused ISBNs lying around). In the long-term, self-publishing is the most cost-effective way to publish a quality book that impacts others and provides you with amazing new opportunities. 


You Must Trust and Believe in Yourself and Your Book First 

One of the biggest reasons my clients think they want a traditional publisher is, if a "big name" believes in the book, it must mean that the book is good. Right? 

Yes and no. Publishers take risks on books every single day. They overlook phenomenal works, and they push to the top of the list books that end up selling poorly. 

In the end, the one person who has to believe in your book more than anyone else (even the president of Chronicle Books) is YOU! You will be the one promoting it because people buy books from authors, not from publishers, and the publisher won't do much (if any) of your marketing anyway. If you missed the article on that little tidbit, you can read it here. 

This is listed as a "con" only because, when self-publishing, you have to get strong about your book's value more quickly than you would were you with a traditional or a vanity publisher. They will be your wings for a short time, but ultimately, you're going to have to fly on your own.

So why not just jump and grow those wings right from the beginning? 


Less Likely to be in Bookstores

This is true, and it's only a con because most people don't realize how unprofitable and hugely painful it is to be carried in retail bookstores. (If you haven't seen my information on how retail stores really work, you can learn about that here.)

Airport bookstores (all of my clients want to be in the airport bookstore) are struggling, if not closing altogether, and there obviously aren't that many people in the airport to begin with right now (hence the struggling and closing). 

I personally hate that bookstores are struggling and closing--especially the independents. But I hate it as a consumer. As an author, they simply have never been a profitable portion of my business. We have to drop the ego that says, "If you aren't in a bookstore, you aren't a real author" because that's wildly inaccurate! 

Hopefully this has helped to clear up the pros and cons of self-publishing. As I always say, I'm not opposed to any of the 3 main approaches to book publishing; I'm opposed to people not fully understanding the process and having the proper expectations. Once you know what's what, you can confidently decide what's best for YOU!