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Should I Self-Publish My Book?

Should I Self-Publish My Book?

Should I Self-Publish My Book?

Whether you should self-publish your book or pursue traditional publishing depends on your goals, the nature of your book, your resources, and your willingness to take on various responsibilities. But first and foremost, you have to pass the money test. Here’s a decision flowchart…

Whether you should self-publish your book or pursue traditional publishing depends on your goals, the nature of your book, your resources, and your willingness to take on various responsibilities. But first and foremost, you have to pass the money test. Here’s a decision flowchart…

Whether you should self-publish your book or pursue traditional publishing depends on your goals, the nature of your book, your resources, and your willingness to take on various responsibilities. But first and foremost, you have to pass the money test. Here’s a decision flowchart…

The Money Test

How much money do you have to spend? Because self-publishing requires an upfront financial investment. Period. 

You have to be able to fund your project which includes editing, design, illustrations if you have them, and printing. All of these are considered production costs. Depending on your book and your skill sets, you may or may not be able to DIY some of these production tasks, saving yourself considerable investment. But as the flowchart states above, you need to make sure those skills are professional-grade. If you want to dig deeper into what is possible with DIY, check out these articles on DIY editing, design and illustration.

Meanwhile, traditional publishing takes on all production costs in addition to paying you an up-front advance. Both you and a traditional publisher will earn money off the sale of your books.

When you lay out the investment in production costs, you will need to calculate the minimum number of books you’ll need to sell to make that money back. Now ask yourself: what’s my plan to sell those books? If you don’t have a plan, then there’s a good chance you’ll never make back your investment. It’s a harsh reality, I know. But I’m being honest here.

How Long it Takes to Publish a Book

One of the most common reasons you’ll hear folks cite as to why they chose to self-publish is time. Getting traditionally published takes an enormous amount of time, and you are in no way guaranteed that it’ll actually result in your book getting published. It’s typical to have to first find a literary agent, who then uses their industry contacts to shop your book around to publishers. The act of finding a literary agent is called querying. Querying agents is an art unto itself and can take a year to eighteen months, and many many rejections before you find an agent to represent your manuscript. Again, there is no guarantee you will find one at all. But you won’t know that until you put in the time and energy to try.

Most traditional publishers will only accept manuscripts that are submitted by agents (which is why you’d need one). A few will accept direct submissions, in which case you can query the publisher directly rather than go through a literary agent. Again, the timelines on these submissions are long and there are no guarantees.

In self-publishing, there is no querying. No one will stop you or get in the way. Your timeline is dependent on your ability to produce and launch your book.

When the speed of self-publishing is taken to the extreme, it’s call rapid releasing. You can find authors that have learned to write very fast and will release a new book as quickly as once a month! For the record, these are usually eBooks, possibly with a Print on Demand paperback, they do not typically have any illustrations, and they tend to be on the shorter side.

Sidebar: If you'd like help with planning your book launch timeline, download our free calculator here.

You Have To Do The Marketing

To wrap up, let’s address the elephant in the room: marketing. It doesn’t matter which choice you make, traditional or self-publishing, you will always have to put in all the legwork to market your book.

There's a few resources to get you started on book marketing in The 3 Most Common Types of Newbie Author Questions And Their Answers.

It's a myth that a traditional publisher will do all the marketing for you. They may do a little, but the bulk of it is on you. One of the benefits of a traditional publisher is distribution. In other words, they make your book available for bookstores and libraries to purchase. “Make available” is the key phrase here, because those folks won’t actually buy your book unless you put some marketing might behind it.

So if you don’t want to have to market a book, then you shouldn’t publish one. 

Pick Your Poison

This is a fairly short post, but hopefully it drives home just how crucial it is to budget accordingly and be realistic about the upfront investment if you go down the self-publishing path. I’m not trying to dissuade you - hey, I’m a self-published author myself! But I am trying to prepare you so you go into this decision with eyes open.

If you'd like to dive in a little deeper, check out this overview of ten steps to self-publish your book.

About the Author

Tara Kelly left a cushy Silicon Valley job to pursue writing. Since then, she’s published a book on UX design, as well as seven children’s picture books under the pen name Kelly Tills where she tackles topics like neurodiversity, gender, and why you shouldn’t steal bananas from a monkey. Tara is the co-founder and CEO of Frontlist.io where she helps other indie authors launch their books on their own, and without falling prey to the predatory underbelly of the author services industry.

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