By Deborah Smith
Before my business partners club me in the head for suggesting that authors should self-publish rather than seek traditional publishing contracts, let me elaborate: Traditional publishing remains the best choice for most authors, hands down. Publishing is a complex business that requires skills as varied as contract management, editorial expertise, art design, and accounting—skills that few authors have, want to have, or can afford to farm out to professionals.
Publishers build long-term relationships with a large network of industry vendors: wholesalers, distributors, foreign agents, film agents, artists, literary agents, indie booksellers and major chain booksellers. Every title published by Bell Bridge Books requires careful processing, supervision and ongoing management at more than a dozen major publishing platforms in both ebook and print editions.
In addition, a good publisher will guide authors through the mine field of career choices, work with the author on list development, and help with brand creation. It’s a lonely world out there for an author trying to build a career without professional help.
But . . . there’s only so much traditional publishing goodness to go around.
I reject good books every week. Books that would, no doubt, earn back the company’s investment and make a profit. Books that I personally like. Books that deserve to be read by a wide audience.
So, why not buy them? Because there are only so many hours in a day, so many publishing slots we can manage effectively, and so many times we can promise our hardworking staff that *this* week they won’t have to work overtime.
Too many great books! Not a bad problem for a publisher to have, but I hate watching authors sit on unsold projects waiting for magic to happen. I’ve started encouraging them to try self-publishing. Their reaction? High octane fear and loathing.
If I self-publish my book, no “real” publisher will ever want to buy it.
Not true. Traditional pubs buy self-published books all the time. Bell Bridge is happy to consider books that have already been launched by the author or by other small presses.
I probably won’t make much money by self-publishing, so what are the benefits?
Exposure. Publicity. Building name recognition for the future. Getting reader feedback. Learning more about the business of publishing—always a good thing, because you can’t manage your career very well if you don’t understand how the industry works.
I can’t afford to invest the kind of money it takes to self-publish.
Create Space, a subsidiary of Amazon, is one of many FREE self-publishing services available to authors. Create Space takes its profit only from sales. There are no upfront fees. The process of interior design, cover design, uploading and pricing is spelled out in simple terms, and the program walks an author through each step. Granted, if you’ve never set up a pdf file before or designed even the simplest cover, there will be a learning curve. But it’s NOT BRAIN SURGERY. I use Create Space to make Bell Bridge Books’ advance reading copies; I’ve also used it to publish projects for friends and family. I’m about as technology-savvy as a monkey; in fact, the average monkey could probably understand the Internet better than I do.
Smashwords is another prominent self-publishing site, though ebook-only. I advise authors to concentrate on ebooks, not print, because that’s where the best chance of publicity and sales will be. Kindle Direct, the Amazon system, offers some good ebook opportunities despite limitations that don’t allow self-pubs to manage discounts and freebies as effectively as they might like.
My friends, family and fellow authors won’t take me seriously if I’m “only” self-published.
My blunt answer is: Who cares? My more polite answer is: They don’t understand the business of publishing, the long-term potential for using self-publishing as a career strategy, and the growing respectability of self-pubbing. Happily, you can now point them to a growing list of new and also established authors who are making a big splash by self-pubbing (and earning good money.)
Is there some way I can stick my toe in the water without diving in?
Yep. Self-publish short stories and novellas. The beauty of the ebook world is: size no longer matters. There’s a lot of experimentation going on in the marketing of short reads; stories that can quickly be downloaded on a smartphone or other mobile device, and just as quickly be enjoyed during a lunch break, while sitting in a waiting room, etc.
I have absolutely no idea how to promote my work once it’s published.
Settle in for a long slog filled with baby steps. No one should expect overnight success, to say the least. But if you’re serious about being a writer for the rest of your life then view your goals with patience, and just keep plugging away. Set up a Facebook page. Join chat forums for authors at Goodreads, Library Thing, Shelfari, and elsewhere. Build an email list of book reviewers, bloggers, librarians, and booksellers. Search the Internet for lots of marketing ideas being tried by self-published authors.
Most of all, write more books/stories, and publish them. Quality-plus-quantity is your best promotion. The more content you place in front of readers, the better the chance of catching their attention.
I know several established authors with traditional publishers who self-publish on the side. They’re doing well. This is not about an either-or choice. It’s about diversifying your creative thrust. (I love any chance to include the word “thrust” in a blog post.)
You CAN take charge of your career path. You CAN add value to your work, your name, your potential. It’s never been easier to stop waiting for the magic to come to you; you CAN go looking for it on your own.
Deborah Smith is the New York Times bestselling author of A Place to Call Home, Sweet Hush, The Crossroads Cafe, A Gentle Rain and other acclaimed romantic novels portraying life and love in the modern Appalachian South. With more than 35 romance, women’s fiction and fantasy novels to her credit, Deborah’s books have sold over 3 million copies worldwide. Among her honors is a Lifetime Achievement Award from Romantic Times Magazine and a nomination for the prestigious Townsend Literary Award. Read More…