Self-Published by Choice – 7 Reasons Why I Did It

My publishing company headquarters (via Pixabay)
A self-publishing company headquarters (via Pixabay)

Nowadays we have the freedom to choose the publishing path we want to go, and which will shape our career.

I chose to self-publish.

I never querried an agent, or submitted my work to a traditional editor or publisher for consideration. I thought about doing it for a long time, while I was writing learning how to write, but when I was nearly finished I reviewed my options again with a critical eye, and decided that traditional publishing is nothing for me. It might still be a great option for some of you, and I will cheer you on regardless.

For me, self-publishing was a business decision.

Choosing what kind of publishing to go with largely determines how your product (your book) is made available on the market (your readers), and how the bridge between the two is built. It determines the resources you will have at your disposal, the goals you can set, and the strategies you can employ to achieve them. Basically, it determines your entire career.

I see self-publishing as a purely entrepreneurial endeavor. The moment I chose to self-publish, I became a business. I am acquisition, production, execution, accounting, financing, marketing, PR, and sales, all rolled up into one person. And it fills me with glee and eagerness.

If you’re wondering why in the world I’d do that to myself, or if you’re on the edge about making your own choice, here’s a list of reasons why I prefer self-publishing and why I believe it’s a great path to take.

(personal opinions ahead)

 

1. Empowerment

There’s nothing more desireable when it comes to your career than being empowered. Empowerment means being in charge of your decision making, your resources and strategies, your results, and most importantly, your time. Time is the mots valuable asset anyone has, and having an empowered author career means you get to determine exactly how and on what you spend your time.

To put it another way, a successful career as a self-published author requires a lot of work and dedication, but it empowers you, allowing you to put that work and dedication into what you love (instead of being managed from outside), and target the results that you want.

Choosing to be a self-published author is choosing to be in charge of your career. Plain and simple.

I love the term authorpreneur, by the way, because it’s the most accurate name for what a dedicated self-published author is, and it embeds that wonderful thing: empowerment.

You can’t be truly empowered in a disempowering system such as traditional publishing—where authors are a resource to be managed and disposed of by corporations—unless you are phenomenally high in the food chain (and transition from resource to asset). Partial empowerment really isn’t empowerment at all, just like a little bit free is not really free.

Apart from being disempowering, the traditional publishing world also functions based on the principle of scarcity. There are only so many good agents out there, only so many advantageous contracts to be offered, only so many places on the front shelf, only so many months of marketing and shelf life. So many is never enough. Countless traditionally published books “die” and their rights are painstakingly (and costly) reclaimed by their authors only to end up self-published after all. And more rejections are being sent out every day than there are books published across the entire publishing spectrum (which is something I can never back up with research, but of which I’m certain is true).

Instead, self-publishing exists in an environment of empowerment and abundance. The number of books that can be self-published is infinite and their “shelf” life is inifinite (or at least as long as the super AI that is brewing between the server banks of Amazon, Google and the NSA doesn’t decide to repurpose all our measly code and assume world domination). And most awesome of all things: there is no competition in the traditional sense.

Yup. That’s right: there’s no competition between self-published authors.

In fact, there is no market competition in the traditional sense between fiction authors, period.

I can hear your thoughts: The fuck’s she talking about? What’s she smoking?

Think about it.

Competition is when a customer will buy either product X, or product Y, where both satisfy the same need (in slightly different ways). That creates competition between the producer of X and the producer of Y, because their market is a zero sum game. When the customer decides to buy X, Y will miss out on that sale. The end.

But the fiction world doesn’t work that way. The entire entertainment industry doesn’t work that way.

There is no real competition because if product X and product Y satisfy the same need in slightly different ways, and the customer buys X and likes it, chances are high he will also buy Y. And Z and Q and T as well, all in the same category and style, because that’s what he enjoys. That’s what the whole “Customers who bought X also bought…” thing is all about, and it works like a charm. It’s what spins Amazon’s gears more than anything else.

Authors who feel competitive (and anxious) about other authors in their genre or niche are failing to see that they can reach out to those authors’ readers too, and that they would both benefit from pooling their markets together.

The self-publishing world is one of empowerment and abundance, and of beneficial collaboration, not one of scarcity and competition (vying for one of the limited places under contract by a publisher, for example, or their limited overall marketing budget).

That’s the number one reason I choose to self-publish.

2. Control

I’m not quite a control freak, but pretty close. I have such high expectations from my work, that I can’t stand the feeling of yielding important bits to forces outside my scrutiny. That doesn’t mean I go about everything on my own, that’d be silly (and a bad business decision). I’m neither an illustrator or professional editor, nor am I an expert in marketing and business. I outsource what makes sense to be outsourced, and I’m an apprentice to proven experts in as many areas as I can. But I prefer to go about all this on my terms—which is only possible as a self-published author.

As an authorpreneur, you have control over your editing, your cover design, your marketing methods, your website, your brand (your overall image), your social media, your fiction formats, their presentation, retailing options, ads, metrics, you name it.

The downside (if you want to call it that) is that you have to be really well organized to have it all pull in the same direction. You’re also responsible for continuously educating yourself on the best strategies to take.

But frankly, I see that as a welcome challenge that helps me keep my edge. One of the things that terrifies me most (after insanity and intolerance) is complacency, being too lazy or too distracted to learn new skills.

3. Freedom

—to write in whatever genre you want, whatever kind of content you want, of whatever length you prefer.

You can even choose the medium—in book form, audio, video, on your blog, on Wattpad, serialized via Amazon, scattershot via email lists. Whatever you can dream of, technology can help you do it.

Marketing is harder when you steer away from well-tread paths, but remember that every single innovation in marketing and publishing has been achieved by people who left those paths. Ultimately, it all depends on your goals. If you want commercial success, stay with traditional genres and formats. If you want to explore the new freedom, then by all means, you can, and you will find plenty of people who enjoy it just as much as you do.

You have to work for it, though — which makes me point back to the two reasons above, reminding you that you can work freely (and smartly) toward whatever goal you set, and that you can team up with others as opposed to try and work against them.

4. Money

The saying goes that the average self-published book earns under $500 in its lifetime. And the saying also goes that a third of all self-published authors don’t even earn out their expenses. Don’t ask me for links to back that up. I’m sure you’ve already read it in a dozen places. After spending an hour combing Google, all I found were contradictions, guestimations, and myths. And posts assembled by “experts” back in 2012. That’s like a hundred years ago in the self-publishing world.

What matters is that I don’t plan to be the average self-published author with average books. (Who does?) So I won’t focus on what doesn’t sell, but on what does. I won’t focus on those authors who don’t make it, but on those who do. That’s where I learn from.

Besides, things are looking way up for serious authorpreneurs. There’s plenty to learn!

To get back to the money: As a self-published author, you will earn way more per sale than if you are traditionally published. The money you invest in marketing will (ideally) also be much better spent if you do your homework, because no one knows your brand and your story (and your audience) better than you, so no one can do a better job at bringing readers and your books together than you.

Yes, yes, you have to work for it, but if you didn’t grasp that by now, you’re in the wrong business. Even as a traditionally published author.

5. Flexibility

Another super important benefit of self-publishing is that you can enjoy a lot more flexibility when it comes to your frequency of delivery.

You can write one book every two years, or one every two months. You can publish as often as you like, opt for pre-order (as I have), unpublish again, make updates to your books whenever you need to, change your cover and your book description!, bundle up books, unbundle them again, create a paperback or not, create a hardcover or not, make special editions (or not)… you catch my drift. Flexibility.

6. No obligations

I know that many writers dream of the classic marks of authorship, such as book signings in libraries, TV interviews, speaking events, crying fans besieging their homes (ugh, not so much).

I for one, don’t.

In fact, I’m hugely relieved that I’m not obligated by contract to go to any events or signings (the expenses of which I’d mostly have to cover myself even with a publishing contract, not to mention I’d have to leave the country each time), go on book tours, or to speaking events—wherever I’m sent to.

I can do all those things—if I want to. But no one’s forcing me. And that’s a huge relief.

7. No limits

No non-compete clauses; no finite shelf-life; no limited rights; no seized rights; no country borders; no pre-set number of books.

No rules you have to follow because you’re bound by contract. Only guidelines you choose to follow because practice has proven they work.

 

And that sums it all up for me.

What do you think is the biggest benefit of self-publishing?

What do you (or would you) love about it?

19 Replies to “Self-Published by Choice – 7 Reasons Why I Did It”

    1. Having too many choices can cause decision fatigue, that’s true.

      I think it’s important to figure out what you want to achieve, what you’re really after. Is it recognition by peers and “experts?” Then go for traditional. Is it commercial success? Then choose depending on the eligibility of your genre in trad pub vs. self-pub (for example, literary fiction does way better in trad pub, than sci-fi romance, which rocks in self-pub). If it’s money or independence, then go for self-publishing.

      Thanks for commenting, Adam! 🙂

      Like

  1. Inspirational and true, with one caveat. But before that, have you thought of moving up the food ladder and becoming a small publisher yourself. Entirely possible but not perhaps at the expense of family and your own creative impulse. The caveat is that though everything you said is true regards the total freedom, I’m not so sure about the lack of competition. I don’t mean by that active rivalry but the competition from the dross. Who will find your book submerged by every man and his dog? Luck and good marketing, I know, but that is where I see the competition.

    Like

    1. Becoming a small publisher is out of the question for me. I want to write more, not organize more publishing efforts, and to determine my own schedule, to avoid formal obligations. 😀

      The competition you’re talking about is a contest for attention, in which winning is entirely determined by one’s own efforts and the quality of one’s product. That’s economic competition, something all enterprises face (except monopolies). It fosters quality. I think that kind of competition is very positive.

      And if a similar book seems to always outsell yours and “steal” your ranking, then how about studying what that writer did better, or even team up with them? Or send free copies of your book to their top reviewers?

      That’s something you can’t do when you compete with another author for a place with a busy publisher or agent. How would you team up to get a contract?

      Like

  2. Benefit? Self-Publishing is an available path to an author’s dream. Twenty years ago, the option didn’t exist. That said, the work, and expense, of doing it right, can seem dauntless. I know authors who wrote wonderful stories, self published, and became disappointed when they sold fewer than fifty books. “I’m not much into the marketing thing, I just like to write,” is the most oft quoted lament. Your reasons to self-publish ring true, because you’ve implied that you like to write, you understand what’s required, and the rest is gravy. A successful author once said to me, “Highly successful authors in self-publishing are notable, because they’re rare.” Just have to know that going in.

    Enjoy reading your blogs. I’ll put Deep Link on my TBR list.

    Like

    1. That’s the thing with self-publishing, DT. There’s the word “publishing” in it, meaning all the tasks and workload of a publisher.

      You can’t expect that the quality of your book alone will generate sales. Economy doesn’t work that way. Unfortunately, many writers approach self-publishing the same way they would traditional publishing: they think their part ends with the writing. It doesn’t. If that writer you mentioned has written such a great series, then good long-term marketing will help her sales tremendously. But if she doesn’t “do marketing,” then she doesn’t “do sales.”

      I’m sure you know this. Many writers know this. It’s (like you said) the main reason why self-publishing is so scary to them. They see marketing as some monstrous activity that requires they sell their soul and debase themselves to engage in salesy spammy tactics to push their book onto unsuspecting victims. Online marketing works the other way around. You don’t push your product, you pull the customers in. And you pull them in by giving, and being natural. 🙂 If they buy your books, it’s awesome, but if not, you will still have earned supporters. And the result of this type of marketing is always a win-win.

      Thanks for commenting, DT. And thanks for adding The Deep Link to your TBR list. I hope you enjoy it, when you get around to it. 🙂

      Like

  3. My understanding from talking to literary agents is that even if you want to get published the traditional way, you’re sort of expected to be self-published first. They (agents and publishers) apparently want to see how well you can do on your own before taking a risk on you.

    Like

  4. I liked the points you made. I have two friends that are traditionally published, Both of them were not prepared for any kind of marketing and have suffered because of it. The self-publishing world has so much more support than traditional publishing. One of them has been waiting a year for his finished first book to be released, In that time I have written three books and the first of the series is coming out in July. It is not a slight on his ability or drive, it is due to his contract obligations.
    One of the biggest things for me was building my own team of professionals to create my books. (Model, Photographer, Cover Designer, Editor, etc.)
    I also write different genre’s, my friend is contractually locked in high fantasy.

    Like

    1. It’s exactly those contractual obligations I’m talking about. You give up a lot of liberty and flexibility when you sign with a publisher, and you still have to do the bulk of marketing. Sure, there are some things that only a publisher can do for you, but the trade off is mostly not worth it because those things are short-term, whereas building a career you lead is long-term.

      Excellent points. Thanks for commenting, CC!

      Like

  5. Most authors I spoken too, at least ones who been around in more recent years, seem to believe a blend of the two works the best long term. Of course, that seems to be a somewhat difficult position, because you have to turn down many contracts because there is often ‘no competition cause’ in them.

    It actually forced a good friend of mine to self published under a completely different name, because her original contract said she couldn’t publish under the same name for up to five years, even if they didn’t publish any of her work.

    Like

    1. You know, I saw a good number of writers say that going hybrid is getting the best of both worlds, but when you look closer, you realize that’s only happening to a tiny number of authors, and the grand majority of those were traditionally published first and have then decided to also self-publish for all the benefits that brings.

      A few have successfully self-published first (and with successfully, I mean earning in the six digit area yearly) and have then been courted by publishers — because their success assured the publishers they can earn money off of that author’s work. These usually sign with big publishers for the added publicity. And they get awesome publicity. But the average hybrid author? Not so much. The average beginner just launching his career? Definitely not.

      So to make a long comment short: being a hybrid author is a good strategy IF it’s a good strategy FOR YOU. Aiming to be hybrid because it worked for someone else (or because you secretly still wish to be under contract by one of the Big 5) is probably going to end in disappointment.

      Your mention of non-compete clauses just raised the hairs on the back of my neck.

      Thanks for commenting, Fatma! 🙂

      Like

  6. I don’t actually have time for a long comment, so I’ll give a tiny snapshot of why I chose to self-publish.

    My first book got an offer from the very first publisher I sent it to. He said it was the best magical realism book he’d seen in the, like, seven years he’d been in publishing. Exciting, right? However, the actual offer… well, I don’t have words for what I thought of the offer. I said, “You have to be kidding me.” He said, “You’ve never been published. This is the best your going to get.” I did the research. He was right. Their offer was even better than usual on the royalty end (which isn’t saying much). That was when I decided to go my own way.

    I’ve had other offers since then, too (unsolicited), but, really, they are mostly insulting at this point.

    Like

    1. Yes, Andrew, I’ve heard of such experiences from several writers, all of which should have been squee-ing across the internet for getting a publishing contract — IF that contract wouldn’t have been preposterous.

      The best of luck for the future!

      Like

  7. Freedom drove my decision. A year ago, after an agent had had the exclusive rights to two of my manuscripts for 7 months, subsequently asking me to make changes and resubmit ONE of them, I arrived at a Writers’ Critique site. I couldn’t bear another 7 months and still not have any guarantee that even the one MS would be published. As soon as I discovered from some of the writers on the critique site how relatively easy it was to self-pub, it was like a weight was lifted from my heart. I said, “I will never spend time and money querying again.”

    I had researched the publishing and agent world before ever contacting an agent. I don’t regret having spent time doing that, but starting over and learning about self publishing has been so much easier because there are so many writers like yourself who are willing to share. They have no axe to grind; they simply tell their experiences.

    I haven’t learned everything I need to know about self publishing yet, because I’ve read that one should have 4 or 5 books to upload at the start. I think that’s a sound strategy so I’ve focused on writing.

    My goal is to have my stuff read and I don’t want it edited and re-edited until it’s a formulaic spewing that no longer resembles my voice or style.

    So, the most important thing is freedom–freedom to publish my MS’s in an order that makes sense, even if I know full well that Pub 2 is a stronger story than Pub 1.

    If I have to self promote in trad. publishing anyway, I may as well self-pub and keep more of the revenue.

    And finally, I couldn’t agree more that writing is NOT a competition among writers. And that’s the whole joy and excitement of it. Without sounding too melodramatic, I think we’ve all been batted around quite enough. We reach out to each other and get inspiration, motivation, help, not our fingers slapped and our prides wounded. It’s a simple matter of logic. It takes perhaps two months to write a book and a reader perhaps two short evenings to read it. What is that reader going to do while she waits two months for the writer to publish another? Answer: She’ll read some similar writing and if our writing is good enough she’ll be back two months.

    And that’s my plan.

    Thank you, Veronica, for your insights.

    My goal is to have my stuff read and I don’t want it edited and re-edited until it’s a formulaic spewing that no longer resembles my voice or style.

    Like

    1. Freedom is very important, and unfortunately when you sign with a traditional publisher as a newbie you have no kind of leverage yet to negotiate more freedom for yourself. You basically sign away your freedom (with your rights) and commit to do almost as much work as a self-published writer — to earn back your advance, so that your book doesn’t get taken off the shelves.

      At least with self-publishing, you for for yourself. 🙂

      I wish you all the best with your publishing journey, Bea.

      Like

  8. I must admit I’m starting to look at self-publishing as a more attractive option the longer I gave into its siren-like eyes… that’s a totally rubbish metaphor, but hey – I allow myself one a day as long as it doesn’t end up in my w-i-p 😉

    My most recent reason for doing so sounds pretty trivial, but it was to do with the cover, of all things. My brother-in-law is a very talented digital artist, and he has designed the most awesome cover image for my w-i-p that fits perfectly with the story. But if (by some gargantuan twist of super-luck) my manuscript was taken on by a traditional publisher, it seems they’d be extremely unlikely to want to use that artwork, and would probably slap on some random image from their in-house cover design department instead. And that made me sad.

    Of course I’ll still have to get over the fear that I might accidentally self-publish something rubbish if I don’t go the trad route first and have them personally tell me it’s not rubbish but just something they don’t want to publish… plus the idea of having to do all the marketing and self-promo myself is a wee bit scary. But for now I’m just concentrating on getting the thing written to a decent standard. THEN the ‘fun’ can begin…

    And you’re right – I’ve never understood the whole ‘competition amongst authors’ thing either. It’s like saying there’s not enough room in the ocean for everyone to swim in it.

    Like

    1. Oh, the cover! I LOVED having a say in my cover, in fact, I designed it myself — in sketch, charcoal-to-paper. The digital artists did the rest. And I couldn’t be happier with their work! I can’t imagine having someone slap a cover on my book that doesn’t fit the actual content of the book, regardless of its execution.

      I understand the fear of accidentally publishing something that’s not perfect. But you know what? NOTHING’s perfect. No book out there is! If you have doubts about your work that go beyond polishing & editing, if you keep seeing faults in it each time you glimpse or even think of it, it might just as well be a case of your Inner Bully running amok. Just look at how many 1* reviews super famous, super revered books have. 🙂

      Marketing on your own is daunting. My weapon against that pit in the stomach? Research, research, then more research, and selecting to do only the things that imply GIVING and feeling good about the whole thing. If I don’t feel comfy with the idea of a tool or strategy or whatever, I won’t do it.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s