At the request of a reader, I’m beginning a new mini-series in the next few weeks on my Writing as a Business blog. My dastardly plan is to give all of you a step-by-step guide on how to self-publish a book. I plan to start with a general overview of the steps I personally take to publish each book. I’ll then discuss each step in the process in more detail during subsequent posts. Depending on your feedback, I can change and add to the blog schedule as needed. Before we begin the main guide, however, I need to make sure that you are in the proper mindset when it comes to self-publishing. This means that this week and next week, we’re going to be busting several self-publishing myths.
Myth #1: The Ease of Self-Publishing
People think that self-publishing is easy and I can’t really blame them. Compared to the seemingly endless cycle of submissions and rejections that a single book manuscript can go through in the traditional publishing world, self-publishing a book looks easy. It isn’t. Self-publishing may be a simplified publishing process, but that doesn’t make it easy. Anyone who tells you differently is likely trying to sell you the literary equivalent of snake oil.
As I have little faith in literary cure-alls and have zero patience for their petty proselytizers, let me tell it like it is instead of wasting all of our time by sugar-coating things. Self-publishing is a slow-growth business. If you want to be an indie author, then you need to understand that you are in this for the long term. You as an indie author are a self-employed entrepreneur. And, like most starting, self-employed businesses, you won’t get rich quick. In fact, you may not get rich at all.
Myth #2: Getting Rich Quick
It’s rare that I meet an author—indie or traditional—who can make a full-time living through his or her writing. Those that do are usually the ones willing to do whatever it takes to put out the best-quality, more-professional products they can as quickly as they can. Full-time professional authors are the ones who have broken their backs writing and revising book after book. As I’ve said in a previous post, it’s usually the most persistent and persevering authors who win this race even over the most talented authors. Of course, those who strike it rich in this business usually do so because they have all of the talent, persistence, and luck on their side. To use a baseball metaphor, full-time authors are the major league players in our field. They are the fortunate few that spectators want to pay to watch even though there are millions of kids and adults who actually play the sport. To make a living as an indie author, I have to play harder, smarter, and better than many of the major league players hitting home runs in my genre.
The reason that getting rich as an author is so difficult is because book authors are the ultimate freelance writers. Unlike regular employees in any regular service industry, authors aren’t paid for the time that we work; we’re paid only for our end product. That means that we need a variety of products (books) to satisfy our customers (readers), and that we’re going to incur production, marketing, and distribution costs before we can ever see our product in the hands of our customers.
Authors get paid from the royalty off of every book we sell. For traditional authors, that royalty is usually 12-30 percent of every book’s sale price (not including any sales or vat tax). For indie authors, that royalty is often 30-70 percent. Indie authors get a larger cut than traditional authors because we do more work. Indies act as both the author and the publisher, which means that we are ultimately in charge of all aspects of the book. We deal with the writing of the book as well as its editing, formatting, legal protection, cover art, back copy/marketing description, retail distribution, pricing, and more. The extra royalty isn’t free cash for indies; every extra cent is well-earned.
Myth #3: The Small Cost of Self-Publishing
One of the biggest misconceptions I find among new authors is the notion that self-publishing costs less than traditional publishing. I never have understood that idea because when you self-publish as an author you are taking on the responsibility of publishing your own book in addition to writing it. This means that you will incur every single cost that an author and publisher will incur just to see your book as a finished product. Consequently, self-publishing costs more time, money, more commitment than traditional publishing.
If you are going to self-publish, you need to understand this high cost of self-publishing. While writing a book can be a hobby, publishing a book is never anything less than a job—complete with overhead costs, distribution deals, sales figures, taxes, and more. You as the publisher of your book will be in charge paying for the costs of editing, proofreading, cover art, marketing, and distributing your books. Note that I said books, not book. As I have previously said, a wise publisher knows that a profitable publishing business is built on a variety of products, not a one-shot wonder.
Such publishing projects can cost anywhere from $500-$10,000 per book. Depending on your individual strengths and skills, you may be able to mitigate publishing costs by taking on one or two of the publishing projects yourself; however, I caution you against doing things yourself or on-the-cheap unless you have a professional background dealing with the project in question. Remember what I said earlier about playing harder, smarter, and better than many of the major leaguers in the same genre? If your book’s writing, editing, cover art, or marketing copy can’t compete with the professional players, then you don’t have a prayer of stepping up to bat with readers.
Of course, my reasons for telling you all of this is not to discourage you, but keep you from walking into the role of an indie author blind. This publishing route is a very rewarding pursuit as long as you remember that it has its drawbacks just as traditional publishing does. I hope this helps dispel some of the misnomers associated with being an indie author. Next week, I’ll bust three more self-publishing myths.
Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better.
The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) blog is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with vivid fiction, deep love, and epic art for all. As always, contact me with any questions or thoughts. Thanks!