I encounter a whole swirl of opinions about self-publishing in my work and my travels on the internet, from naivete to quiet confidence to militant opposition to strident support.
And I run into a lot of myths. Oh. My. Gosh. So many myths.
It’s much easier to decide whether or not to self-publish if you have a clearer picture of the facts.
So let’s see if we can debunk a few of those myths, shall we? 😉
I’ve been working in the publishing industry since the mid-90s, firstly as editor for a specialist publisher in Sydney, Australia and later, freelancing for traditional publishers and startup niche publishers. In 2001, I began adding project management for self-publishers to the mix.
I attend writer’s festivals, seminars and conferences, and I read a lot to TRY to keep up with an industry that’s currently going through a revolution as big as the invention of the printing press. (Note that I said “try”! Keeping up with a meteor would be easier. 😉 )
Am I the World’s Biggest Expert on publishing? Of course not. (Is anyone?) But I pay attention. And I love publishing — both traditional and self-publishing.
As recently as 2009, I would have given three pieces of advice to my friends:
- DO self-publish a non-fiction book (eg self-help, how-to, significant memoir) IF you have the resources to do it to a professional standard, and the platform to sell it from.
- DON’T self-publish fiction (novels).
- There’s no money in books, whichever way you publish. Write for other reasons.
If you’re wondering if I’ve changed my mind since 2009, you might like to check out my article on 4 good reasons for self-publishing a novel, and when it comes to the “money” question, pp14-16 of my free ebook Should I Self-Publish?
For a quick tour of the new technologies that have changed everything, check out this article on the new world of self-publishing.
But let’s get back to our main topic, and challenge 3 common myths that I’m hearing all the time.
Myth 1 busted: Indie books are NOT automatically lower quality
To say that self-published books are all lower quality than traditionally-published books is naive, ignorant or just plain mischievous.
There was a rush of low quality self-pubbed works a few years ago when ebooks burst onto the scene and people were experimenting. That seems to have slowed and a different picture is emerging.
- Some indie books are indeed low quality. There’ll probably always be some of those.
- Some traditionally-published books are low quality. There’ll probably always be some of those.
But there is a growing body of self-publishers who are determined to be professional in every phase of their work.
- They use editors every bit as good as the ones hired by the Big 5 publishing conglomerates (sometimes actually the SAME editors, who are now freelancing due to budget cuts). Their books are tightly-written, the content indistinguishable from trade-published books.
- They are savvy about book covers, hire great designers, and adapt if it isn’t working. (Interesting articles on this theme from HM Ward, Joanna Penn and Russell Blake.)
- They are intelligent and adaptive in their marketing.
- They keep up with technology and new opportunities.
- Often, their ebooks are actually better formatted than the big publishers, who have been curiously slow to get their heads around this technology.
Conversely, I’ve noticed a drop in the quality of some traditionally-published works, with issues ranging from numerous typos to bigger problems like poor structure and plot holes. The industry is under pressure and cutting costs, and editing seems to be one of the areas suffering.
Myth 2 busted: Indie authors DON’T have to do more marketing
People tell me they don’t want to self-publish because they don’t want to do marketing. They want a publisher to do it for them.
There are a number of good reasons for people to choose to publish traditionally, but unfortunately, this isn’t one of them.
Today, many publishers are reluctant to take on a new author who can’t demonstrate an ability to pull their weight with the marketing. The industry is under too much pressure and the risk is too high.
Many won’t even sign you, though they love your book, unless you can demonstrate that you already have a promotional platform or reader community established.
And once you are underway, you will be expected to do a lot of work to help sell your book.
So you will have to do marketing, whichever way you go.
Myth 3 busted: Indie authors DON’T make less money
Remember how my 2009 advice was “there’s no money in books”? Well, that opinion was formed in the TRADITIONAL publishing space.
In case I’m not being clear enough about the importance of that, let me say it another way.
Most authors who go with a traditional publisher will never make much money from their books. (If anything, this seems to have become even more true since 2009.)
- Yes, there are the outliers who make lots of money. However, the stories about huge advances being paid to authors are in the paper because they are News. They don’t happen often.
- Lots of new authors today don’t get ANY advance.
- If they do get an advance it may only be a few thousand dollars, or even less. And they may never earn another cent from that book — a book they may have spent years writing. And a lot of their own money researching and marketing. (If you do the maths, it’s not a good hourly rate.)
So now that we’ve cleared up that misunderstanding about traditional author earnings… what about self-publishers?
- Many self-publishers will never make much money from their books.
- Some outliers will make extraordinary amounts.
- And the mid-listers? This is where it gets interesting. My instinct these days is that a mid-lister stands to actually make MORE money as a self-pubber, if they go about it the right way.
There have been reports stating that traditionally-published authors earn much better than indies, which caused a bit of a kerfuffle in the blogosphere.
This article from Hugh Howey goes into great detail to identify flawed assumptions behind the way those reporters gathered their stats, and to present some alternative stats that surprised even him. He contends that indies are doing much better than anybody thought. (Hugh Howey is a self-publishing outlier, author of the colossally successful Wool sci-fi trilogy, but he also seems to be an all-round nice guy who takes an interest in the fortunes of average indies.)
His article is complex, and I’m not enough of a statistician to tell you how solid his conclusions are, but it gels with some of my observations.
There’s a novelist living near me who self-pubbed as an experiment, a “what the heck” adventure, and has surprised herself by building a nice little side income for her family. Her experience is apparently not that unusual.
And at the more deliberate end of the scale, I know two non-fiction authors who’ve sold around 10,000 copies of their respective books.
Author 1 went the traditional route. He is still trying to break even, because the small royalty he receives will take a long time to make up for all he had to spend to make the book happen, now that publishers expect so much more from the author.
Author 2 self-pubbed. He has paid all his expenses of publishing and is now making money, because he pockets a much larger slice of the selling price of his book.
Yes, that’s what we call “anecdotal evidence”, and it doesn’t prove anything statistically. But combined with a lot of the other reports I’m hearing and reading, it’s enough to challenge the old assumptions for me.
*check out Russell Blake’s comment below, as he has some interesting thoughts to add to the money question*
What do you think? Are you intrigued / challenged / inspired / disillusioned?? Tell us your thoughts and experiences.
Featured image via Bigstock/Ivelin Radkov