The Beauty and Beastliness of Self-publishing

Once upon a time there was a lovely author who wanted to write things she loved. So she worked hard, slaving away night and day, between all her other chores, and against all odds, and produced a fantastic tale!

But when she submitted her work to agents, none of them wanted it. She was devastated, and ate lots of chocolate and drowned her sorrows by reading lots of other people’s published books. But eventually, she decided to try again, so she pulled out her manuscript and revised it and polished it and made it a thing of true beauty!

This time, a few agents complimented her on her work, but still said, “We don’t think there’s a market for this kind of writing.”

But the lovely author had done her homework and had gone to conferences and knew that this was what she wanted to write, and believed there was a market for it—albeit a niche one. So she ignored those self-interested know-nothings and decided to publish independently.

And now she rules the world!

At least, she will someday.

It’s not easy to get traditionally published in today’s market. There are so many people writing books, and a large percentage of them are REALLY good writers, so the odds are stacked against a newbie from the start. This doesn’t mean to chuck your dreams and give up forever, though. You just have to decide whether you really want to be published or not, and whether you want traditional or nothing.

Because traditional publishing ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Publishers won’t take your work unless an agent pitches it to them—there are simply too many authors hawking their wares for the publishing companies to bother vetting them all. So if you want to be traditionally published, you must get an agent first. Which can be super demoralizing. Again, so much competition, they have to set the bar pretty high.

Then, if you do get an agent, and if that agent is worth their salt and gets you a publishing contract (umm, yeah, some agents can’t even sell your book) THEN you get some perks like a free editor and free marketing and free cover design and free interior design and free printing. Great, huh?

Wait—did I say free? Sorry, my mistake. All those costs are basically taken out on the back end, when your book sells, so guess how much money you end up making per book? Generally, the average is about 75 cents.

Yeah. No kidding.

But what if your book is a best seller? What if you’re an overnight success, and everyone is fighting to get a copy of your book? Then, congratulations, you’ve made it, along with the other half a percent of authors out there who are best sellers, and you can pay off your mortgage—after you’ve met the contract advance requirements and paid your agent 15%.

The sad truth is that the vast majority of traditionally published authors don’t quit their day jobs—because they can’t. Publishing is a historically imbalanced business—tipped completely on the side of the company that took a risk on you (and thousands of other newbies) so they can cover their butts if/when you fail to become a best seller. It’s a business based entirely on dollars and sense–if you make them dollars, it makes sense to publish your work.

If you fail to make them dollars, well, they make darn sure the losses they have to cut are as small as possible. Which means that they give you the smallest cut of their profit as possible, from the get-go, so there are no regrets. For them.

Enter independent publishing, which until about five years ago was a byword in the book business. People who published independently only did so because they couldn’t get published anywhere else, not even at one of those pay-for-everything-up-front setups. Self-published authors had no chance in H-E-double-hockey-sticks of getting any kind of notoriety, because there simply wasn’t a market available to them.

But now…

Yes, now indie publishing is a thing—a REAL thing—that can give authors an edge against those big boss companies who’ve held a corner on the market for decades. Now anyone can publish a professional-looking book, electronic or printed, with absolutely no outlay of cash, while retaining full rights to their work. And all with the promise of about a 30% royalty on each book.

That’s right: about $5 per average novel-length and mid-priced book. (Thunderous applause, weeping with joy, and shouts of exultation)

But before you dream up a crusade against one of the Big Five, marching into their high rise and demolishing their flank of agents, sweeping aside their brigade of editors and bringing their execs down to the dust with your sword of InDesign and your shield of KDP, know that independent publishing isn’t all peachy-keen either.

This blog will attempt to shine a little light on the realities of indie publishing, the good, the bad, and the ugly, so you can make an informed decision.