Self-publishing should be the author’s idea. The author should be aware that they are bypassing the traditional publishing route and striking out on their own. The author needs to shop around for the best publisher/printer for their work and be prepared to work very hard to promote their own book. The author should also be aware that self published books rarely hit the bestsellers list and frequently fail to make back the initial investment. Self-publishing should not be entered into lightly. For more information on this, see Foster Dickson’s article, The Tricky Art of Self Publishing.
Self-publishing and subsidized book publishing, also called vanity press, have a poor reputation. There are many negative stories about it, especially from published authors in the mainstream press. Some of their criticisms are legitimate. Many self-published works are works that have failed to attract the attention of a publisher, not because of content but because of quality. Many self-published works simply aren’t very good and frequently are poorly editied.
There are publishers out there who prey on writers. These publishers convince authors that their work has been selected for publication, but for whatever reason will require the author to help pay the costs. Usually, the author’s share of the expenses equals all of the cost or more. The publisher makes very little effort to promote or sell the book because they have already made their money. Sometimes, these publishers even make the authors pay them to promote the book — and at best make a token effort to publicize it by putting out a press release or two.
The scam publisher leaves the real work to the author who has invested their money. If there are no sales, the publisher makes its money from the author. If the author hustles and manages to get their book to sell, the publisher makes even more money from its split of the profits. Either way, the author is taking all the risks and splitting any reward. Many times the author does not even receive fair payment for what profits a book does make. These scams, however, are not true self publishing.
Self-publishing should be an informed decision made by a writer who has carefully weighed their options. Anyone who decides to self-publish needs to be aware of exactly what they are doing. The self-publisher is taking responsibility for all aspects of a book’s publication, promotion and sales. They are either taking care of the details themselves or they are paying someone to do it for them. I strongly support self-publishing when it is done for one or more of the following reasons:
- The subject of the book is one that is important to the author but has limited commercial prospects. Examples of this are books of poetry, experimental fiction, autobiographies, family histories, essay collections, academic writing and books that focus on solving a specific problem.
- The author feels they are prepared to market the book themselves and believes they can make a profit. If you plan to market your own book, take the time to learn about marketing and to develop a marketing plan. You may also want to invest in a marketing firm or publicist.
- The author has already established a market. This is often the case with people who write business or self-help type books and use them in coordination with seminars.
- The author wants to use the book as a tool for publicizing their skills. This is frequently used by authors who want to build their reputation in a chosen field by getting their name out.
Major publishers have little interest in books that aren’t going to make them a substantial profit. If a book makes a major publisher less than $100,000 in net profit, it is generally seen as a failure. For some publishers, the standard is much higher. Smaller publishers are often satisfied with less profit, but publish only a few books a year. It can be hard to find a suitable publisher. The costs of self-publishing are much less than they once were, but publishing a book is still a substantial investment of both money and time. Consider such a move carefully.