Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Should You Self Publish-The Definitive Answer

Should you self publish? It's a pretty hot question, and among writers can get the sorts of vitriolic responses usually reserved for devout Christians seeing the Piss Christ.  If you read my blog regularly, you know I said yes.  But and as much as I think it was the right answer, I know it was the right answer for me.  Is it the right answer for you?  Well, let's take a few minutes and find out.

Are you capable of being honest with yourself?   None of the rest of these questions are going to help if you don't answer them honestly.  And by honest I mean not hyper-critical and not too easy on yourself.  For women there's an easy test for how honest you are, look at your butt, how big is it compared to everyone else?  Small, average, or big?  Now look at your pants size.  Average in the US is 12-14.  You can do the rest of the math yourself.   If you're the kind of person who can look at your body and see what's really there, you're probably the kind of person who can look at your life and determine if self-publishing is a good fit for you.

How easily can you learn new skills?  Being a self-publisher means you've got to run a business, deal with tax information, market and promote your work, format it, edit it, get art for it, set up an online presence, and really I'm just scratching the tip of the iceberg here.  You can either hire out for these things or you can do them yourself.  The more skills you can learn, the faster you can learn them, the more of your book budget can be moved from low priorities to high priorities. 

Do you have money?  Your book needs editing, cover art, a website, and distribution.  This takes cash.  How much is up to you, but at the least it requires some.  I'd say a good rule of thumb is about $2,500 per book.  For most books that's enough to get decent editing, a good cover, a website, plus whatever incidentals.  Long books might take more, short books less, and if you've got mad skills or friends out the ears with useful skills, it might cost even less.  But, if you want to make a go of this as a professional you will need at least some start up capital.

Can you read critically?  What are the best selling works in your genre?  Why?  You need to be able to locate those books, read them, and understand why they sell.  And by this I do not mean look at Twilight and say, "It sells because teens are idiots and vampires and werewolves are hot."  It's because Bella has been so carefully crafted that basically any teen girl can immediately relate to her, and within the blink of an eye she has two ultra-alpha men hanging on her every word.  She lets anyone who reads the series get to experience being immeasurably desirable.   Who finds being desired above everything else irresistible?  Teen girls.   You need to be able to understand what need a book fulfills and make your books fulfill that need.

Can you accept criticism?  The single smartest thing the self-publisher can do is realize he doesn't know everything.  If at all possible you want as many talented people you can find looking at your products and giving you their input.  You certainly don't have to take the advice, but you need to know how to hear it and analyze it.  To put it very bluntly, even Ayn Rand had an editor she listened to.

Are you shy?  Do you consider talking up your own works unsavory?  If either of these are true, run to traditional publishing.  Most of the game of getting people to buy your book is about making connections with other people and making them want to get to know you or it better.  If talking to strangers is your idea of hell, self-publishing it likely to be an exercise in torture.

Are you comfortable being the ultimate authority on your book?  If you publish traditionally, you can blame someone else if your book has a bad cover, the formatting is off, the electronic version is riddled with OCRs, it still has typos when it went to press, and so on and so forth.  Heck, depending on what sorts of edits they demanded you can even blame them if the book isn't as good as you wanted it to be.  When you self publish it's all on you.  The upside of absolute control is that everything ends up how you set it up, but that's also the downside.

Can you market?  There are book, websites, seminars, and all sorts of information on how to market your book, so it's not a matter of can you learn it, it's a matter of can you do it.  This takes time.  Do you have the time to invest in this sort of work?  It takes chutzpah.  You've got to tell strangers you've got something they want.  Can you keep at it, year after year, when the bad reviews come and the sales go flat?  Many writers have said this is a marathon, not a sprint.  With that in mind, can you run the marathon?  It might take five or ten years to catch on.  Can you keep plugging yourself as an author to get to the point where it finally takes off?

Are you a writer or an author?  A writer writes.  An author writes, edits, re-edits, makes a name for him or herself, writes more, edits more, and keeps at it.  Writing is a hobby, being an author is a career.  (Actually, this is a question you need to ask yourself if you want to self or trad publish.)

Lastly, did you write a good book?  Why is this the last question?  Honestly because this matters less than the above.  If you can't do/won't do the above it doesn't matter if you wrote a brilliant book.   You may be the finest writer in the history of the written word, but if you don't have the discipline to do the work above, it won't matter.

So, hopefully that was a helpful checklist.   Good luck to all of you out there debating your options.

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