Why Self-Publishing a Book May Not Be Worth It For You
It can be a boon for some and a reason for disappointment for others. Take a wise and analysed decision.
It’s like everyone wants to self-publish their book—including me. Not long ago, I was bullish on the self-pub industry. I thought ‘it’s just too good’ but never ‘it looks too good to be true.’
How would I, huh? After watching videos like ‘10 Ways to Earn Big, Fast?’ Sorry Jeff if I modified your vision for Amazon. Or after seeing hundreds of tweets of the authors who’ve self-published? Or after visiting KDP’s website and looking at everything for myself only to find out how easy it was and it costs $0?
So let's delve into the article and find out why I think what I wrote in the title.
But before that let me clear some things. First: I don't want you to say NO to self-publishing like it’s some sort of evil. No, I just want you to make an informed decision so that you don’t regret it in the long run. Don’t ruin Amazon’s business, please!
Who am I to say anything about self-publishing and all? To be clear I've never ‘self-published’ any book. Okay, I’ve never ‘published’ any book. Then who am I to say something about that? We will come to that very soon. Next time I use the word ‘floccinaucinihilipilification’ just understand we're talking about this only.
Okay, jokes aside, let's finally get into it.
What is Traditional Publishing and Self-publishing?
Well, I don’t think that you don’t know about self-publishing. If you really don't then how the hell you landed here? Okay, no problem, you look keen, brother and I won’t mind dedicating a paragraph or two to you. This is for you.
Just remember that you can take one of the two routes to publish your book (until you don’t go to a vanity publisher that is something like a weird combination of the two and definitely worst of all):
1. traditional route aka TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING
2. SELF-PUBLISHING (can we call this novel route?)
What happens when you publish traditionally is that… well why are we even discussing that? It’s like you go to a publishing house and say to their editors: ‘Here is my book, would you mind publishing it?’ Okay, not exactly like that.
You need to submit a synopsis (or sample chapters) and editors at that publishing house will review it. If they like it they can ask for the full manuscript or reject it altogether. If they liked your full manuscript they can select it for publication or reject it in this phase too!
Once you’ve crossed all of these hurdles, you're got to take a little less tension than otherwise. They will take care of the edits, cover, marketing, distribution and a million different pieces of stuff that goes in bringing a book from their tables to laps of the reader. That doesn't mean you will do nothing, just that they will do a lot of things for you.
Self-publishing is the kind of easier way out — or it just seems it is! It is where you have to do it all by yourself. You don’t go to any publishing house; your manuscript need not convince any editors and so on. You either outsource some works — like cover design, editing, formatting for KDP, etc — or do it all on your own. It's totally up to you.
Looks too good and easy? Oh yeah!
Too good to be true? Lemme think.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Self-Publishing
So let me keep it as short as possible since you must have figured out most of them already.
Its biggest advantage is that you have control over everything. Literally every — freaking — thing. From the book cover to the pricing, from the first word in it to the very last… you can change whatever you want pretty much whenever you want to.
Nevertheless, it is also its biggest disadvantage—you have control over everything. In other words, you have to manage everything. Its more down to earth meaning is that if anything goes wrong it’s totally your fault. Unlike in the case of traditional publishing where publishes might take the responsibility and correct it without giving you sleepless nights.
One thing in which self-publishing has a hand over its traditional counterpart is the time taken to get your book out there. On one hand, where traditional publishing can take as long as one year (or even more), self-publishing takes less than a week (it can be done in a couple of days too)!
Remember anything? I hope you do!
Who I am to say anything about self-publishing if I hadn’t self-published anything myself?
Long story short… well let me tell you what happened with me 3 days ago (if you’re reading this article in 2030, thanks, first of all, that day was 19 September 2021)!
I got a DM for a random guy on Twitter asking me to buy his book. Well, I had 9 such unsolicited DMs already lying in my inbox—all from the self-published authors requesting—or trying to convince me, or giving me an order—to buy their book. But this time I tried to take this conversation a bit forward and not leave it seen and unanswered.
The theme, kind of, of our chat and Skype call, was his journey through the self-publishing route. Mistakes he’d committed, what he did wrong, and why he think so. He, at last, shared why he thinks self-publishing may not be the ideal option for many—including him. I bought his book.
Let’s Learn Something from the Startup Industry First
Publishing and startup? Yes, there is something to learn.
There is this concept of MVP in the startup world which I discovered when I was reading The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. MVP stands for ‘Minimum Viable Product.’ It’s nothing but an early version of any product designed to test whether it’s a fit for the market. The objective here is to release a product in the market as early as possible, take feedbacks and make improvements or add/remove features accordingly. In other words, BUILD IT IN PUBLIC.
What was the case with him that he had spent 2 years—yes, 2 freaking years — writing a novel and after 5 months of publishing it he’s only sold 67 copies, as he’d told me. Only 67. That translates roughly to an earning of $200. Two years of hard work and that too only worth 200 bucks. He might actually be at a loss if we consider the fees of an editor and a cover designer because he mentioned that he had hired them.
This brings us to the reason number one why self-publishing may not be a great fit for you—you’ve got to do the market research. You can’t just put 2 years straight into writing and know nothing about what to do next. You could’ve consider doing it had you gone the traditional route but as you’re traversing the self-publishing one, it’s a must for you to know atleast something about everything—from cover design to sales and everything in between.
That’s time-consuming, right? If you think your book will sell all on itself, you’re in big illusion — as was this guy above. So if you’re okay learning a million different things, and that can be fun by the way, and can afford the time then only consider self-publishing. Else the reality might hit hard when you can’t sell any copies.
As we approached the end of our Skype call I asked him a question: “Did you wanted to get self-published from the very start or did you fail in getting traditionally published and then made your mind to do so?”
He promptly answered that Scenario 2 was his case. He also added: “I thought because all the control will be in my hands and I’ll also get more royalties than otherwise, why not self-publish and make it all work on myself?”
Now that may look selfish or stupid but his point is pretty reasonable. I used to think like this too. Everyone makes look like self-publishing is too simple and easy—it is actually, until you get to the most challenging part of it all: SALES—that anyone will be convinced to take this route.
This part of the conversation along suggested me possible reasons as to why self-publishing may not be a good fit for many:
- Because everything is in your hand doesn’t mean you’ll handle everything perfectly. We’re mostly jack of all trades and master of none. And when a million so-so things combine, they make a gruesome giant—here that is the book. So if you can’t afford top-notch editors or if your budget only allows you to hire someone on Fiverr for $50 for your book cover, better save it or use it to build something amazing.
- Yes, Amazon will pay you as high as 70% royalties, i.e. 70% of the price of the book sold will go straight to your bank account, but that doesn’t matter if you only sell 10 copies! MOST OF US WOULD GET TEMPTED WHEN WE SEE ROYALTIES AS HIGH AS THAT—I was also when I heard that first time! But be practical before taking any decisions.
So let us now conclude:
You should not self-publish —
- just for the sake of getting your book out there fast
- if you don’t have the time/want to learn all that it takes to make sales.
- if you don’t have a significant following. You can’t sell enough copies if you can only convince your friends and family to buy your book. So first, have enough following or you’ll feel like you’re shouting into the void about your book.
- because you are rejected by publishers. That’s a blunder. Take time and try to analyse why they rejected your work. Remember, try to improve, not take the seemingly easy way out there.
- just for the sake of getting 2X or 3X royalties. Do your Maths homework because, eventually, it all boils down to the number of copies you sell.
- if you’ve not done the research yourself. Don’t sit down and write for 2 years straight only to find that no one is interested in your book. Write something that you can finish in a couple of weeks or a month at maximum (kind of MVP that we discussed earlier). Try to sell it to the world. Results may disappoint you, but it’s okay because you’ll learn lessons — all the tactics/hacks of making sales. This way you’ll not only get to know the industry better but also build a community/following.
You can definitely consider self-publishing once you’re out of the danger zone, and I actually encourage you to do so. Creator economy is taking over, and you should not hesitate to give it a go. If it works for you, brilliant. But also not enough should be at stake if in case it doesn't work out for you — definitely not 2 years!
I’ll leave you on that note and I hope that you take a wise and analysed decision.
Remember, RATIONAL OPTIMISM>BLIND OPTIMISM.
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