You wrote a book. You’re amazing.
Now, what are you going to do with it? Query agents? Submit to a small press? Publish it yourself?
Of course, I cannot answer those questions for you.
But! I might be able to help you decide.
Here are 3 questions to ask yourself:
1. Do I want control?
Do I want to make decisions about my book’s cover, price, format, release date, retail platforms, and marketing? If the thought of doing all that terrifies you or turns you off, then don’t self publish. Secure an agent, who will submit your finished manuscript to publishers, and hopefully get you a deal. The publisher will make all those decisions and a lot more. You will still have to do promotional work for your book even if it’s traditionally published, but all of that other stuff will be out of your hands.
If you’re a control freak, or impatient, then self-publishing might make more sense for you. Traditional publishing also moves at a much slower pace than indie, and that could be frustrating for you (it would be for me…I like control). And I know your book is amazeballs, but it might not be what trad publishers are looking for at the moment. How are you with rejection? Are you content to wait around until someone recognizes your brilliance?
In addition, there is no guarantee the publisher’s vision for your book will match yours. They might ask for edits you don’t necessarily agree with or want to shelve it in a way that you never imagined. Now, they’ve got a lot of experience and might know best, but if all that makes you twitchy, self-publishing might be better for you.
2. Do I want to be a businessperson?
No one mentioned this part to me, but you MUST think like a businessperson to be successful in self-publishing. You cannot simply write the book, put it out there, and go back in your writer cave of safe and cozy introversion, as much as you’d like to. If you self-publish, congratulations, you’re now the CEO of your very own little company.
Here are just a few of the things involved in that:
- Market research and analysis… For example, what kinds of covers are selling in my category? What do the blurbs sound like? What are the popular price points? Who is my target audience? Where do they buy books? Where do they hear about new books? Who are my comp authors?
- Investment strategy/Budgeting…How much of my budget should I allocate for cover photo? For blog tours? for advertising? Holy crap, is Bookbub worth that kind of money? What should I pay for editing? Can I afford a PA?
- Branding…What the hell is branding and how do you do it? What is MY brand? How can I convey that? Do I need a logo? What should my graphics look like?
- Marketing and publicity…Where should I advertise? How do Facebook ads work? What is a good click-through rate? Is this ad working? What kinds of giveaways should I do and where? Should I hire a PR firm? Which one? Does Twitter sell books? Do takeovers sell books? How many ARCs should I give out? How do I build buzz for the next book?
- Visibility… How can I get it? Where should I be? How much time do I need to spend being “visible” when I really need to be writing the next book?
- Pricing strategy… Where’s the sweet spot for my readers? Is .99 right for me? Is $4.99 too high?Should I release cheaper and then change? Does FREE really work? Why should I give a book away? When should I do a sale?
- Trouble Shooting…Why isn’t this book selling? Should I change the price? The cover? Do more ads? Give away more books and try to get more reviews?
- Production schedule…How many books will I release this year and when?
The above list is not comprehensive–I’m probably forgetting 50 other things that will need your time, attention, and mental effort when you really just want to write the damn books. Some of my author friends LOVE this business stuff but hate the visibility stuff. Some love hanging out in their fan groups and posting about their lives. Some hate it all and just want to type away in the cave. But they can’t…because their business depends on them.
3. Ultimately, what are my goals as an author?
To see my book at Barnes and Noble? To make a lot of money? To be able to quit my day job? To put good stories out in the world? To hit the NYT bestseller list? Different goals align with different publishing strategies.
For example, if being published by a Big Five publisher (Penguin Random House, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Hachette and Simon & Schuster) means a lot to you, then by all means, go for trad. If you MUST see your book on the shelf at Barnes and Noble, go for trad (NOTE: some brick and mortar bookstores are starting to carry a few indie published books, which is awesome, but it’s the exception not the rule at this point).
If money is your goal, and it’s totally fine to say it is, then do some research. What kinds of traditional deals are new authors in your category getting? Does your target audience buy self-published books? Now, there is no guarantee you’ll make a lot of money self-publishing, but when I looked at the numbers, I realized that even if I only sold 25 books a month, that would be an extra $50 and yay for me. At least it was something, and I’d been trying (and failing) to get an agent for a YA book I’d written for two years. I was done waiting.
Also, back when I did this the first time (in 2013), there were a lot of formerly traditionally published authors talking very publicly about how much more money they were making self-publishing versus what they’d made in traditional.(Here’s a great example of an author like that.) I read up on it, and decided I might as well try it.
For me, self-publishing was the right decision. I like the control, and I’m learning the business side slowly but surely. I like the money–I would not be able to write full time if I didn’t self-publish. I’m also at the point where I can hire people who know the business, and I see that as a good investment. That said, I would like to be traditionally published someday and think being hybrid (both indie and traditionally published) is a smart way to go.
Hope that helps!