The Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing Your Fiction
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As with much of anything, there are both advantages and disadvantages to self-publishing your fiction.
A few weeks back, we covered the pros and cons of pursuing a traditional book deal as a means of publishing your fiction and building a career in writing. Today, we’re flipping the tables and discussing the very same for self-publishing! Do you think self-publishing might be the right choice for your fiction?
If you haven’t already, I recommend first checking out the other self-publishing articles in our publishing series before getting started with today's breakdown. You can find these articles here and here. All caught up? Fantastic. Let’s jump straight into the pros & cons of self-publishing today!
The Advantages of Self-Publishing Your Fiction
Self-publishing is certainly the more stigmatized publishing route when compared to its traditional counterpart. However, I’m a firm believer that it's just as valid and fantastic a publishing option for many writers, including for those looking to build writing careers.
With that in mind, let’s break down some of self-publishing’s biggest advantages...
1. Complete creative control.
Traditionally published authors don’t always have a say in the creative process that comes with publishing. Publishing houses often select a book’s final cover design, title, blurb, and even where in the marketplace it will be stocked—-often without the author receiving any say.
For many writers, this is understandably appalling. Writers are artists, and as artists, we like to have full creative control over our work. Luckily, writers don’t have to settle. With self-publishing, authors are always in full control of every aspect of their book’s finished form. Hurray!
2. Higher royalty rates.
Unlike self-published writers, authors with traditional book deals don’t get to keep every cent their book makes. In fact, some take home as little as a 10% royalty after their agent and publishing house have taken their cuts.
Such a small royalty rate is understandably depressing, which is why many writers choose to self-publish and keep nearly 100% of their book’s profits. This is made possible because self-published authors pay their publishing team members upfront, rather than from their royalty checks.
3. A hand-picked publishing team
Speaking of publishing teams, it's a self-published author’s job to hand-pick every person who has a hand in their book’s creation. This can be a major advantage considering that traditionally published authors don’t often get a say in whom works on their book.
Self-published authors can hire (or fire!) whom and when they please, ensuring they always know their book is in the very best of hands.
4. No deadline stress
Publishing houses work on a timeline, which means authors must meet several strict publishing deadlines or risk their current and future contracts. And when life gets tough or an edit just isn't working, such strict deadlines can prove problematic.
On the other hand, the only deadlines a self-published author ever has to meet are those they set for themselves, which means they're always welcome to readjust their publishing timelines to best accommodate all that life throws their way.
5. A quicker publishing process
Despite strict deadlines, the traditional publishing process can actually be quite slow, taking anywhere from 12 to 36 months for a book to finally hit shelves after its author has inked their book deal.
After working so hard to bring their book to life, this wait can prove frustrating for many writers. Fortunately, self-published authors can keep as quick a timeline as they please, publishing the moment their finished book is uploaded and ready to go.
6. More frequent pay days
Did you know that most traditionally published authors only receive royalty payouts twice a year? Such infrequent pay days can obviously complicate financial matters, which is why self-publishing's monthly royalty payouts are such an attractive feature.
7. No rejection
Rejection may be one of a traditionally published author's biggest roadblocks, but this isn't the case for self-published authors, who never have to worry about an agent or acquisitions editor rejecting their project. Self-published authors get to publish what they want, when they want, without any worries.
8. Maintaining your rights
When an author inks a traditional book deal, they hand over the rights to their book—and potentially some aspects of future creative work, as well—for a certain amount of time.
This can spell disaster under a number of circumstances. Publishing houses can fold, team members may quit their jobs or get promoted or fired. A book can perform poorly on the market, resulting in the loss of a contract. And on and on and on...
As a self-published author, you maintain 100% of your rights to your creative work 100% of the time, so you won't ever have to worry about being left in a creative lurch.
9. Greater opportunities for niche publishing
While traditional publishing is slowly breaking out of its shell, it can still be quite difficult to nab a book deal if your book doesn't fall into genre standards or if its sub-genre currently isn't doing well on the market.
With self-publishing, you never have to worry about whether market trends or a quirky story will derail your publishing process. Self-publishing truly does allow you publish what you want, when you want. No questions asked.
The Disadvantages of Self-Publishing Your Fiction
The advantages we talked about above probably made self-publishing sound pretty appealing, but no publishing route's pros are complete without its cons. Let's break down self-publishing's biggest disadvantages next...
1. Upfront costs
As we talked about in our most recent article on self-publishing, the cost of producing a professional quality book on your own can prove to be quite expensive.
As a self-published author, it's your job to pay the editors, formatter, cover designer, proofreader, and any other professionals who will help you produce the very best version of your book. The average cost? Anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 USD.
Traditionally published authors don't have to worry about these upfront costs. Instead, their publishing house takes a cut from their royalty checks to pay their publishing team directly.
2. Finding a reputable publishing team
A self-published author's ability to hand-pick their own publishing team can be both a blessing and a curse. While self-published authors won't have to worry about whether they'll approve of or work well with their publishing team, they do have to worry about finding reputable companies and freelancers whose work they can trust and afford.
This can prove quite difficult, especially without prior research or connections, thanks to the rise of online scams and poorly-trained freelancers looking to make a quick buck off gullible writers.
3. Potential financial loss
Because self-published authors pay upfront costs to prepare their books for publishing, they may face financial loss if their book doesn't sell well enough for them to recoup their expenses.
On the other hand, traditionally published authors don't have to worry about this type of financial loss because their publishing house covers all upfront costs for them.
4. Self-publishing stigma
Many readers still view self-published books as being of inherently lower quality than those produced by big-name publishing houses, despite a number of indie authors finding both financial and critical success. Because of this, self-published authors must work hard to prove their credibility to potential readers, while traditionally published authors typically gain such credibility the moment they ink a book deal.
5. No agent support
Literary agents don't just negotiate book deals. They help authors' forge their writing careers by providing advice and encouragement, fighting for their financial and legal rights, and pushing for valuable subsidiary contracts.
Without agent support, it can prove difficult for a self-published author to stay motivated, formulate a strong game plan for their writing career, and expand their books' reach into foreign language markets and other subsidiary streams.
6. Book marketing
While traditionally published authors don't always receive much marketing help from their publishing houses (especially as debut authors), the task of marketing a self-published book and making sales falls squarely on an indie authors' shoulders.
In addition to proving a difficult and ever-changing task, book marketing can quickly become expensive for some writers and can take away valuable time that could otherwise be spent writing more books.
The complexities of building the author brand, platform, and readership that will aid in marketing endeavors is just another reason why self-published authors must view themselves as entrepreneurs rather than simply writers.
7. Operating as a business
Speaking of which, operating a small business certainly isn't the right choice for every writer. With the responsibility of producing books, coordinating team members, building brand recognition, marketing, and handling financial matters all falling on the author, self-publishing can quickly becoming an overwhelming and exhausting endeavor.
8. Wading through a sea of fiction
While publishing houses can actively work to have an author's book stocked in the most visible place on the market, self-published authors don't have this advantage.
After choosing their book's genre, sub-genre, and age market, the placement of a self-published author's book in online marketplaces is left to algorithms, which largely decide where a book will appear based on its sales and ratings.
But of course, an author often needs visibility in the marketplace to start selling books and gaining reviews in the first place, leaving authors in a double-bind.
Because of this, self-published authors may have a difficult time getting their careers off the ground, especially if they have little or no platform from which to sell their book prior to publishing.
Whew! Just like traditional publishing, self-publishing truly is a give and take.
While higher royalty rates and complete creative control may seem incredibly appealing, the expense and difficulty of operating as a business can lead many authors to choose traditional publishing over its indie counterpart.
How do you know which path to publishing is right for you? If you've read all the articles in our publishing series thus far and still aren't sure, have no fear. I plan to publish a new article specifically on this topic in the next few weeks, so keep an eye out!
I'm also currently working on the self-publishing resource list I mentioned in last week's post. With so many awesome companies and freelancers out there, it's proving to be a lengthier process than I'd originally anticipated, but I'm happy to report that it's coming along nicely and should be available soon.