Self-Publishing: The Ugly Step Sister No More

Self-publishing used to be the ugly stepsister of the publishing industry -- just for people who couldn’t get a manuscript accepted by a traditional publishing house. Those in the publishing industry turned their nose at those who self-published, and the unspoken (and, honestly, sometimes spoken) thought was that the author wasn’t good enough to get a book deal and that their book, therefore, was somehow less a “real” book. Legitimate authors are self-publishing rather than using a literary agent to get a deal with a traditional publishing house. Perhaps you’ve you heard of Still Alice? Lisa Genova wrote and self-published Still Alice, which was later picked up by simon & Schuster and then made into a film (for which Julianne Moore won an Academy Award). And that’s just one example.

Those days are over. MANY people choose to self-publish today, particularly entrepreneurs. Why? Many reasons, the primary two being control and money. Self-published authors control the schedule, whereas publishing traditionally generally takes, on average, 18 months. That’s a long time, particularly for timely topics! Self-published authors keep more money, too — a lot more. You can keep up to 70% of profits when self-publishing, and there’s no advance to pay back since there’s no publisher. With traditional publishing, you’re looking at, on average, earning 8-10% (and again, that’s AFTER your advance is earned out). The term “advance” is often thrown around in book publishing, but the real phrase is “advance against royalties,” which means that if you receive a $5,000 advance, you won’t get another penny from the publisher in royalties until your book sells enough copies for your royalties to be $5,000.01. That often never happens.

Let’s talk a bit more about why you’d choose to self-publish as an entrepreneur or small business owner. It has to do with your WHY. Your primary goal is likely not to be a New York Times best-selling author, as might be the case if you were writing a novel. Your goal is to use your book as a tool with which you grow your business and spread your message, with a bonus of earning some passive income along the way. The quicker you can spread your message, the quicker your business can scale. So the “18 months on average” figure sounds like an eternity, doesn’t it? You can self-publish much, much quicker than that, sometimes in as little as three months, depending on how fast you write, how much editing your book needs, and how quickly you can get onto a designer’s calendar.

Some people think having a book publisher means they won’t have to do any marketing or publicity work. Simply not true. The days of multi-city book tours (arranged and paid for by the publishing house) are long, long gone — unless you’re a proven author who’s sold thousands of books (thus earning the publisher lots of money). So let’s dispel that myth right now: No matter your route to publication, there will be marketing and publicity work to do if you want your book to be a success.

No matter your route to publication, there will be marketing and publicity work to do if you want your book to be a success. (Tweet)

Another reason some snubbed their noses at self-published books is that it was easy to see which books were self-published. Why? Because they looked unprofessional. Certainly there are still people who skip editing or design the cover themselves (this is particularly true with fiction), but most people have gotten the memo: The more professional a product you produce, the better your sales will be. Of course, your content has to be on the money, too, but your book won’t be overlooked based on visual appeal alone if you take the time and invest in editing and design (interior and cover). We’ll talk more about that next week, so if you have any questions you’d like me to answer, let me know in the comments.

The more professional a product you produce, the better your sales will be. (Tweet)

Don't let the myths and old ways of self-publishing keep you from writing your book and getting it out there. Although there will still be hard work involved, it is not as scary as it seems and the impact it will have on your business will be too great to pass up.