In previous articles, I’ve talked a little about publishing through a literary agent and the benefits that it can bring. But this is not the only option available to you and it will be useful to consider all your options before coming to a decision. So this week I’m going to write on self-publishing, which is becoming an ever-more viable route in an industry where eBooks, online shopping and short-run printing provide an affordable option to debut authors.
After singing the praises of publishing via an agency, why would I recommend that authors consider self-publishing? The purpose of an agency and of mainstream publishers is to find work that is easy to market and will sell widely. That’s fine for commercial fiction and in-fashion genres, but there is plenty of high-quality work out there which is aimed at small, niche audiences. But, unfortunately, no matter how stunning such pieces are, a standard publisher is highly unlikely to take it if it doesn’t fit their parameters for shifting units.
This route can be particularly appealing for someone who writes on a specialist topic, particularly in non-fiction or memoir. If you are writing a ground-breaking and deeply insightful autobiography on your research into eukaryotic organisms, then mycologists of the worlds might rejoice. The problem is, a regular publisher doesn’t want to go through the costly process of producing your book for the sake of the few hundred people who will engage with it, no matter how enthusiastic those few hundred will be.
Another reason to consider this route is for the sake of promotional material. Perhaps you’re seeking feedback from more than a few beta readers, or you just want to get your name out there. You could use self-publishing to produce work that can be sold in small quantities, or donated to receptive schools and libraries for publicity. Be aware, though, that self-published work will not always be appealing to an agent if you decide to switch routes later on. It is more useful to seek media praise, reviews, or awards which will be far more persuasive in an agency pitch.
Although self-publishing can be relatively inexpensive, it is rarely free. You will need to produce all of the accompanying materials for your book which a publisher would normally take care of. For example, cover art, proof-reading, editing, copyright and bar-code (ISBN) numbers are things that will likely require professional help or some sort of investment.
When you are confident that your manuscript is in the best possible shape, you can start thinking about how you will produce it. If you decide to produce an eBook, spend some time researching popular companies such as Amazon Kindle, Bookbaby etc. Make notes on the various pros and cons surrounding each one, such as their royalty rates or whether they let you set your own prices and be sure to read some opinions from other authors who have used them in the past. A similar process of research will be required for paper books, but as you will likely be using them to simply produce the physical copies and not to distribute, it will be a less challenging decision and the most important elements will be price and quality.
Whether you go down the route of eBooks or hard copy, you will be responsible for all of the marketing surrounding your work. Be wary of any print company who promises to market your book for you and spend some time verifying their claims or you may end up falling into the trap of a vanity press. Good marketing will usually include a strong online presence through a blog, homepage or other social media and, if you are able, you might try to arrange appearances or readings at local bookshops or libraries.
I hope this gives you a good starting point for your research into self-publishing. It is certainly quite a challenging route so be sure to do as much investigation as you can before you start. Join me again next week when I will be talking about how to boost your publicity through social media – a useful topic regardless of your publication route.