Why I Chose to Self Publish
Updated: Dec 20, 2019
The age-old question for many authors can be a tricky one. Should I self publish or should I pursue the traditional publishing route? I'll breakdown how I personally made the choice to self publish and what the pros and cons are for doing so. I'll also break down what I paid to publish Well of Bones so you can get a full picture of what self-publishing means financially as well.
Traditional publishing. Prestigious right? So many people read your book along the line and give it their stamp of approval. It feels good to have your work recognized as quality stuff. It feels great to have a publishing company offer to pay you for your work. You have made it, right? Not always. When an author goes with a traditional publisher, they aren't working for themselves. It's not your book anymore. The success of your novel is in the hands of so many people and none of them are risking what you are. They get a paycheck whether your book does well or bombs. The author must please, appease and adhere to the publisher, using an agent as a liaison to negotiate terms. That's a bunch of extra hands in the royalties jar. Everyone involved needs to make a living. The publisher effectively owns the rights to your book. They choose when to publish, distribute, when to stop distributing and, if it's the first of a series, they set a deadline for the next book. Meanwhile, the author is still responsible, to an extent, for marketing pending the green light from the publisher of course. Sure, a check upfront sounds great, but the success of your novel still rests firmly on your shoulders and you will be making much less per sale in the long run.
To put it in hard numbers: traditionally published authors make ~10-20% of their sale price in royalties and much of the marketing costs are their responsibility, especially for new authors. You haven't proved yourself to be a profitable author yet, so the publisher will try to keep their costs as low as possible to ensure less risk on their part. All this while controlling the distribution of your novel. A first-time author can expect an advance of $5-15k once their novel has been accepted by the publisher. Not too bad, but you have to consider what value your work has to you. Personally, when I think about how much work has gone into my writing, $5,000 doesn't sound like a lot. Also, there is a matter of time to consider. The traditional publishing process can take 2-3 years from the book being accepted to the launch date, just because that's the way things are. But it's worth it to make it big, right? Movie and TV deals galore for traditionally published authors? Those authors that come to mind are Stephen King, J.K. Rowling or George R.R. Martin. They are skillful writers and I don't want to downplay their success, but they are also the lucky ones. Less than 1% of traditionally published authors reach that level of success.
Now that I have bashed traditional publishing, let's look at the pros. The upfront cost to you is and should be nothing other than hard work. Your responsibilities are limited to writing your manuscript, pitching it to an agent, correcting mistakes after an editor has gone over your manuscript, marketing your novel once the publisher has moved forward with it, and meeting any deadlines the publisher throws at you. If a publisher requires any money from you upfront, IT IS A SCAM. Do not pay to have your novel published.
Self-publishing sounds like a lot of work, right? Well, it is, but less than it use to be. Print-on-demand companies like Kindle Direct Publishing and Ingramspark have made self-publishing easy for those willing to put forth the work. The success of your novel rests entirely on the author. You take 100% of the responsibility and reap 60-70% of the rewards after printing and distribution costs. You work for yourself. You set your own deadlines. You control how and when your book is marketed, launched and distributed. You keep 100% of your creative freedom. Yours is the only hand in the royalties jar. Not too shabby.
The work and cost are entirely up to the author, however. Responsibilities include writing, hiring an editor, hiring a cover designer, formatting, copywriting, hiring a proofreader, uploading to a print-on-demand (POD) company, fine-tuning/designing the content, recruiting reviewers, distributing advanced review copies, planning the book launch, advertising, marketing, launching the book and continuing to market it. Also, if you're a first-time author, you are building your author platform at the same time. This means building a strong social media presence, designing/launching a website and creating author accounts with Amazon, Goodreads, and Reedsy. Don't let this list scare you. There are plenty of free tutorials all over the internet for each item. Believe me. If I could figure it out, so can you.
What does self-publishing look like in numbers? I paid $1,529 to my editor for both developmental and copy edits, $270 for my cover design (a bargain because I hired my brother who happens to do that professionally), $55 for the copyright, $200 for a proofreader, and $47.30 for 5 proof copies so far. That's a total of $2,101.30. I set the budget at $2,000 around this time last year. I haven't taken marketing costs into account yet but $101.30 over budget so far is a win in my opinion.
It will cost me $7.61 to print each paperback based on page count and printing quality. Since I'm using a POD company (KDP) this cost will be taken directly from my royalty for each sale. At a royalty rate of 60%, after printing cost, I'll make $1.99 per sale at $15.99. KDP has a nifty calculator to show how much the sale price an author sets effects the royalties they earn. For an e-book, it's a little easier. There is no printing cost and KDP only takes 30% for distribution. At a 70% royalty rate, I'll make $2.72 per sale at $3.99. I would make a little more off of e-book sales but nothing beats a hard copy in my opinion.
True, the upfront cost and all the work might seem daunting, but I think it is worth it to truly own my book. I won't make millions from a single title but if I keep writing and publishing regularly, I could make a decent living in the long run. According to writtenwordmedia.com, 48% of indy authors make ~$100k a year 3-5 years after their first book is published. I'll include a link below. 12% can get to $100k per year in their first 1-3 years and 32% after 5-10 years. I like those odds. Self-publishing is certainly a viable option to make a living. As long as an indie author keeps writing and publishing, their earnings can only improve.
So to summarize, traditionally published authors sell their rights to a publisher and make far less per sale. Self-published authors keep all their creative freedom, keep the rights to their book and make more per sale because they do all the work (or hire it out). I hope you found this information useful. Keep writing and get that novel published.