Self-publishing: Success or stigma?

“I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.” ~ Groucho Marx

Self-publishingThe publishing industry is having problems. Some say the publishing model is broken. Others say the industry is in flux. Writers are questioning the role of the traditional publishing house in a digital world.  Now, more writers are opting out of traditional publishing and exploring self-publishing.

E-book devices like the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook have made it easier than ever to get self-published works into the hands of readers. For some, it’s a potential revenue stream for long out-of-print books. For others, it’s an opportunity to sell directly to consumers without an agent or publisher taking a cut of the profits.

It’s all so confusing now. Traditional publishers require agented submissions. Digital publishers are more accessible, and many don’t require agents to submit a work for you.

In self-publishing, an author writes, formats, and publishes a manuscript in a digital format (Kindle, ePub, or even PDF) and makes the work available on the Internet. Digital self-publishing requires no agent, no publisher, and no bookstore.

Even so, self-publishing still has a stigma that comes from the days when it was synonymous with vanity press.*

Self-publishing gives you the freedom to publish your work quickly. It also allows you to keep a larger percentage of the profits. But it’s a lot more work. If you’re thinking of self-publishing, you’ll have to do more than write. You’ll also need to think about:

  • Editing — No matter how good of a writer you are, your manuscript can benefit from having a trained set of eyes on it. A good editor will catch your punctuation and grammatical mistakes, but don’t expect them to “fix” your novel.
  • Formatting — Do you know how to layout your manuscript for different e-publishing formats? Some software, like Scrivener, will do it for you. But you’ll still need to make sure it looks good once it’s converted.
  • Designing — A book is still judged by its cover. In these days of stock photography and Photoshop, you might think you can slap together a decent one on your own. Odds are, you’re wrong. A good cover takes an artist’s eye and skill. You have to understand your genre, your audience, and a good deal of marketing strategy to design a cover that will catch the eyes of your readers.
  • Promotion — Even with a publisher, much of the promotion for your book is going to fall to the writer. Are you ready to create a website, handle social media, talk about your book on other blogs, set up book signings, speak at conferences, attend conventions, print up promotional materials, sponsor giveaways, and more?

Despite the technological advances that have allowed self-publishing to thrive, it’s still seen as a marketplace filled with sub-standard work. Being a self-published author means being lumped in with a lot of writers who didn’t take the time to proofread and edit their manuscripts. As such, self-published writers must fight hard to set themselves apart from the masses.

Getting published is difficult, but promoting self-published work so readers will see it is just as challenging. It requires skills most writers don’t have. Can you take on the task of being a salesman and doing the research to know how to reach your market?

In non-fiction, promotion almost always means selling yourself as well. What makes you different? Are you an expert? Do you have a particular skill that adds value to your writing?

Publishing is a dream that most writers aspire to, but not all will reach. The traditional and digital publishers are an elite world where luck is nearly as important as having a good manuscript. But the stigma of self-publishing is hard to overcome. It means a lot more work on the part of the writer, and those who go down that road may not find it as rewarding as they had hoped.

Here’s the bottom line. If a publisher picks up your novel, you can still choose later in your career to self-publish some of your work. But if you start by self-publishing, it may be difficult to make the transition to traditional or digital publishing.

In the end, it comes down to one simple question: Which club would you rather belong to, one that’s difficult to get into or one that’s impossible to get out of?

* While most writers know better, let me just say this: If someone wants you to pay to publish your work, you’re not getting published; you’re getting played.

Kevin Wohler is a copywriter and novelist living in Lawrence, Kansas. During the day, he works at a digital marketing agency in the Kansas City area. When time remains, he likes to tell stories of the weird and bizarre. And sometimes, he writes them down for others to read.

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