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)
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.
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.
—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.
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.
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?