To self-publish or not to self-publish
Now that is the question! The answer of course is yours to decide. I have to admit there is tremendous prestige in having a book published by a renowned publishing house, and if you decide to chase after that dream I can fully understand why. Just be sure you are aware of how difficult it is to receive a deal though. First, you need to get an agent, as publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts anymore. Finding an agent is harder than finding a needle in a haystack, and even if you are extremely lucky to find one willing to take you and your book on, then that is still NO guarantee that the agent will be able to persuade a publisher to offer you a contract.
I hope this book will help show you that you are capable of becoming an indie-author - someone who has published themselves. Please note that self-publishing on Amazon is NOT vanity press. Let me explain why.
The most important difference is that when an author self-publishes all money and rights are held and controlled by the author. So you hold the copyright and you get 100% of the royalties. Vanity press is when a publisher offers to produce your book for you, but in return you will have to buy a certain amount of copies to sell and distribute yourself. They rarely get you a deal with shops etc., but if they do then you will receive a very small proportion of the royalties.
Please also note there is a world of difference between mainstream (long established) publishing houses like Penguin, Hachette, Harper, Simon & Schuster and McMillan – to name the top 5, and the smaller, lesser known (and often recently established) publishing companies. Instead of asking you to purchase your books they will offer you an advance on your sales and a 10% royalty on net sales. (Net is the profit after all expenses have been paid) When this happens you can be confident that you are not dealing with disreputable companies or indeed the vanity press.
If offered a ‘contract’ from anyone, before you get excited please read the terms and conditions of your contract in minute detail. Look for the clauses, the things you must do as the author. MOST IMPORTANTLY if you are tempted to sign a contract with any business, make sure you check out the terms of breaking your contract – the most important question you need to ask is… can I buy back my rights? If you can’t buy back your rights, don’t sign. If the period is 10 years, knock them down to 5.
I have met and spoken with renowned authors who make a good living out of their book sales now as indie-authors, but who used to be with publishing houses. They eventually purchased back their rights and struck out as indie-authors for several reasons.
1. They weren’t making any royalties.
2. The publishing houses weren’t actively promoting their books. I am not saying this is the truth. However, there is a certain understanding that publishers put their efforts into promoting what they consider will be bestsellers only. This is just what a number of people I have spoken with said they ‘felt’.
3. They had no control over putting their books on offer etc.
4. They had to pay their agents up to 40% of the low royalties they were earning. Ouch! Sure this is great if you’re like J. K. Rowling and earning millions, but if you’re earning a very small amount in royalties, then giving 40% away can really hurt. Just so you know… publishers pay royalties to agents, who take their cut and then forward the balance to the author.
Here is a great article on the benefits of having an agent: https://blog.reedsy.com/find-literary-agents
5. Things in traditional publishing move really slowly. Everything from picking a cover, getting edited, sending out books to shops etc. all take a massive time. I believe it is can take up to 3 years from accepting your manuscript to getting your book into Waterstones etc.
This article has a great deal of good advice for authors; I recommend you read this Random House page. https://getpublished.penguin.co.uk
So what do authors like about being self-published?
1. You’re 100% in control of your writing, publishing and royalties.
2. You don’t have to have an agent – I need say no more!
3. You can write and produce books as quickly as you like. I used to take a year; I am now taking more like 3-4 months to publish each new book.
4. You earn 100% of your royalties.
5. You can design your own book cover, something that you have no control over once you sign a contract.
There is nothing stopping you from doing both self-publishing and continuing to look for an agent and a publisher. Now I have a number of books published and have expanded my knowledge of all things ‘book-worldly’ I have come to the conclusion that I am happy being an indie-author, but… I have three books in mind for which I will search for an agent and a publisher. I have my reasons, these books are very specifically Christian and I believe they will do best if published through a Christian publishing house, not to say that I will get one, however, my portfolio is growing. I can prove I am a robust writer (publishing houses don’t really like one-off books, as subsequent books from authors sell really well), in other words I am not a one-trick-pony. I have won several awards – which shows that my writing is of a certain caliber, and I have a few times been a #1 Bestselling author around the world, in the US, UK, Canada and Australia. I have over 34,000 followers on Twitter and a healthy number of subscribers on my email list. Comparing my portfolio now to what it was five years ago really gives me a sense of self-accomplishment. I am rather proud of myself!
But let me tell you two things:
1) I have been an indie-author for five years and it has been five hard years of working, researching, working and working, oh and going for broke!
2) If I can do it – so can you!
Whether you decide to search for an agent or take the indie rout you need to make a plan of action. Write out your goals, dreams and ambitions, and then write down how you’re going to go about making them real.
A NOTE ON THE COST OF SELF-PUBLISHING
After years of spending too much money, I now have my costs down to the bare minimum. I am currently paying $75 for a cover, writing the book description myself and have a friend (bless him) who edits for free.
Compare that to my first book where I racked up costs of $12,000!
I think the below list from Reedsy is more the ‘average.’ I don’t agree with how much they allocate for editing, I believe you should learn to do the formatting yourself (Amazon have step-by-step guides), and I don’t think you should start marketing until you have 25 reviews.
Reedsy worked out indie-authors are paying an average of $5,000 to produce their books, depending on length and quality.
There’s a line in the song ‘Happy Talk’ from the film South Pacific that goes… if you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?
Having a dream structure will help you to set goals and chase what you’re after. It’s familiar but it’s also true – those who fail to plan, plan to fail.
A plan is what you need to make your dream come true.
The following was my first dream structure; each box was a dream for me. Please note though, as each dream came true that didn’t mean I was finished dreaming, on the contrary, I celebrated the accomplishment and then stored that bit of happiness received in my heart. Then I raced on to the next dream. I have still to walk down that red carpet one day, but because it’s my ultimate dream I don’t give up, I keep striving. Nothing is impossible with hard work and determination, and the all-important perseverance! Also, I keep adding new dreams to my plan and I really advise you to do the same, be flexible, be ambitious.
So what are your dreams?
How are you going to make them come true?
Hopefully, this book will help you on your way if you choose the indie-author way.
At the end of the chapters are blank pages for you to reflect, make notes but most importantly for you to record your dreams and ambitions.
A NOTE ON BEING A BUSINESS AS WELL AS AN AUTHOR
As soon as you publish a book you are in truth a business.
Whatever your dream and whether you want to be traditionally published or take the indie-author route, it is wise to understand the general ‘rules’ that apply to all businesses.
Here are things about a business that I believe apply to authors.
Most small businesses take at least 2 to 3 years to be profitable and become truly successful only once they’ve hit the 7 to 10 year mark. Most small businesses take years to be successful, despite the overnight success of companies like Facebook. Statistics show that successful small businesses are built over years, not months, according to Forbes.
Common advice offered to anyone starting a business:
A. Write a business plan
B. Develop a powerful message
C. Focus on the customer and understand your market
D. Start small and grow
E. Understand your own strengths, skills and time management
F. Surround yourself with advisors and mentors
G. Know your numbers
H. Maintain your passion
I would add…
Ab. Write a budget – how much can you afford to spend on producing and promoting your book without going into debt?
Bb. Nobody likes to read a book where they feel they are being preached at, or is having the author’s points of view thrust upon them. However, having a message and knowing and understanding it well will enable you to let the message flow subliminally, so it is said without being preached. It is also good to plan and then write a series of books with a message in mind.
Cb. Oh, I agree with this one! You can’t reach your target audience unless you know who they are and what they want. Research, research, research!
Db. Obviously this is the aim - start with book 1 and a small budget, move to book 2 and so on and so forth. Do you have a planned number of books to write? Fail to prepare – prepare to fail. I already have eight books on Amazon. My next eight books are already in the pipeline. I believe that by pushing myself and setting myself deadlines I produce more. (Without a deadline for the next book’s publication date I tend to find myself on the sofa watching box-sets!) My planned books are below.
What are your plans? If you can, write at least one series, they don’t need to follow one character (although most series do). In my Women of Courage series for instance, all are standalone stories but with a common theme of one central woman who finds courage.
Eb. Understanding your own strengths is important. If you know straight away that you will have trouble budgeting for example, get help. Don’t waste time on things you can’t do. Do throw yourself into all the things you can do.
Fb. Point 6 is great advice. Join writers groups, they are important and will become part your backbone. They also help to prevent you from feeling like you are all on your own. If like me you write full time, then your interaction with other people begins to drift away. You can feel isolated. Joining groups, making friends who have the same ideas and goals as you can be vital for the longevity of your new found career as an author.
Gb. Please keep spreadsheets (or use other tools) to record how much you are spending and earning. There is nothing worse than like me looking back and discovering you have made a $9,000 loss in the previous year!
Looking back over the years I can clearly see where I wasted my money. They include things like:
$4,200 for editing my first book (not that it was a bad edit, only I can get it much cheaper now)
$3,444 for publicity for my first book (I got radio interviews and magazine articles but no sales)
$4,000 (average) for over spending on advertising each year
$3,040 - $380 each for eight of my covers (I love them, but I can now get covers for $75!)
$1,500 for book exhibitions (a complete waste of time)
$1,000’s on memberships, most of which resulted in no sales. I haven’t mentioned everything I signed up for here, but later I do mention the ones that I recommend
Hb. If you lose your passion you might as well give up. The reason why I work nearly every day and put hours and hours into my endeavors to be an authorpreneur is because I love it! If it feels like hard work, slogging upwards and never ending, then maybe being an author isn’t for you?
I. Not mentioned in the common points (to my surprise) is perseverance. You have to be prepared to fail and start again in any business. You have to be able to fight yourself through the hard times as well as the good times.
J. Knockbacks are not mentioned above, but this is a vital point especially for authors. We need to have thick skin. I can promise you that you will receive knockbacks and disappointment, especially if you search for an agent, enter competitions or receive bad reviews. The first will hurt (I cried for hours over my first 1 star review) the fifth not so much, the tenth you won’t even notice! Be strong, bear with it, you’ll get over it. Get yourself a Rhino skin!
For encouragement, search out how many times famous authors such as Stephen King and J. K. Rowling were rejected before someone picked up their books.
Do let negative comments roll off your back. Beauty (whether a picture, person or book) is in the eye of the beholder. You can NEVER please all the people all the time. I can quite confidently say that every book will receive at least a few poor comments. It is just the way of the world, and we need to learn to roll with it.