has anyone self-published their book? i’d love to know about your experience because i’m considering it but don’t know if it’s worth it or if i should just hold out for traditional publishing.
Hi there. I moved your thread to the Industry Insiders club as it’s best suited there. Thank you for understanding.
I have. Today is actually my third year anniversary of self publishing a book that I first wrote on Wattpad. What do you want to know?
Oh nice!! Basically just if it’s difficult to market/get people to actually read/buy your book
It’s difficult. You’re competing with hundreds of thousands of other books, along with every other form of entertainment out there. If you write something of sublime quality then word of mouth will spread, but for most of us mere mortals it’s a struggle. I wouldn’t get into self publishing unless:
You’ve had the book thoroughly picked apart and reviewed by impartial readers. Not friends or family or Wattpad readers. Perhaps a critique group, or a writing retreat, or a more advanced and thorough writing group on the web.
You have an excellent cover. Not only visually arresting, but something that resembles the popular books on Amazon whose readers you are angling for.
You have a bit of cash saved or can otherwise afford to run some advertising. Facebook ads, AMS ads . . . in order to sell books, you’ll need to show them to readers.
The Look Inside, the blurb, everything else is on point for your genre. Please also note that certain genres do much better than others in self publishing. You have a werewolf romance? Self publish it. A witch cozy mystery? Self publish. Military sci fi? Self publish. A post-modern literary attempt at deconstructing fantasy tropes? Traditional.
In that vein, do your research. There’s a good bit of knowledge right here in the Insider Club, but range widely and get opinions from everywhere.
Okay, that sounds daunting, but all good things in life require some effort. I love being a self published author. I love the freedom and the fact that I receive the bulk of the fruits of my labors. I’ve done well enough that this is now my full-time job, and it’s about the best career I could imagine.
Anyway, welcome to the club. Feel free to ask for details about anything I’ve said.
I’ve self-pubbed 3 novels and 1 novella under one pen name and 1 novel under another pen name (different pen names for different genres).
I believe genre has an important role in deciding if you traditional- or self-publish. Some genres sell well as self-pubbed (e.g., Romance) while other genres only do well when they’re on bookstore shelves (e.g. Young Adult) which requires traditional.
I also believe marketing is the hardest part of self-pubbing. Without it, your novel disappears within the millions of others out there. Even the greatest cover and blurb won’t mean anything if no one sees it.
thank you guys for the information! it helped a lot :))
I haven’t self-published, but I have been learning about the industries (both traditional and self-publishing). There’s honestly a lot of pros and cons to both, so it varies upon your own reasoning and what suits you best.
For self-publishing specifically?
- It costs money.
When you self-publish, you’re not only the writer, but you’re also the publisher. This means that you have to pay money out of your own pocket to publish your book. Editors, cover designers, specific platforms… the whole nine yards. And this isn’t cheap. Depending on what your story needs, you can spend as little as 600 dollars or over 30,000 dollars. Most writers, however, tend to spend an average of 2,000–4,000 dollars.
This is a huge con because when you traditionally publish, it’s completely free. The only downside is that the publishers and agents get a cut from your percentage, so you’re only making very little with each sale.
- You need to understand the business side.
When you end up publishing your work (whether it’s traditional publishing or you self-publish), you’re labeled as a business person. This is because the industry is a business. And therefore, you will need some basic understanding of how to handle the money, budgeting, and more to publish, especially if you go the indie route because you’re your own boss.
- Marketing is vital.
With either route you take, you’re gonna have to market because how can anyone read your book when they don’t even know what your book is? So using social media and spending money on other marketing techniques is a way to go. However, you should market it correctly so you can have a great debut. Otherwise, there’s no use in publishing the story and then marketing it. You have to market it while you’re writing and before its publication as well as after its publication. Basically, you just have to market it (and yourself as a writer) throughout the entire time. When you become published and want to make money off your books, you have to balance out the fun stuff (writing) and the boring stuff (marketing, etc.) which can be hard for many, especially when you have a full-time job and a life outside of this creative field. But you have to make it into a part-time job and focus as much as you can on the marketing side because the way you market the book can definitely make your story flop.
Now, you mentioned if it’s difficult…? Well, it depends on what you do. On an overall scale, marketing can be very hard at times, but I feel like it’s rather draining (energy wise) in many cases. It’s a lot better and easier to build yourself a platform of some kind (blogging, YouTubing, being on social media, etc.) before you start announcing a book coming out. In many ways, this is exactly what Wattpad does because the more you get out there, the more you can find readers for your Wattpad story. Same difference in the industry: the more you socialize with other readers and writers, the more of a chance you have at getting people to buy your book.
However, what we do on Wattpad for marketing is different than what you’d do for marketing in the real industry and that’s because you have a lot more marketing techniques at your fingertips. It isn’t always about social media, but also about trying to figure out how to get it out there. One way to go around it is through a street team where you “hire” a group of people to market your book alongside you. Another way is through giving a free book to BookTubers or bloggers that may like it in exchange for an honest review on their channel or blog. You can save some money to do some Facebook ads or other kinds of advertisements around the internet. You can also take a couple of books and donate them to your local library, bookstore, and or thrift store.
Another thing to keep in mind when self-publishing is to make sure that your book is priced reasonably and has different formats. E-books are very popular and would probably be your best bet because many readers choose e-books more than physical copies and one of the reasons why is because e-books are cheaper, especially when they’re no more than two dollars.
- Royalties are better.
When it comes down to which industry is best, it determines mostly on what you’re looking for within the publishing aspect of it all. When you traditionally publish, you won’t see a lot of royalties. In fact, the money side to traditional publishing can be a huge deal breaker for some. For one, your advance is pretty low most of the time. An advance is a chunk of money you get within two to three years (it’s split between that time-frame) and it’s basically an amount that the publishers feel how much your book will make in terms of sales. It’s nothing against your work, though. However, once they decide how much money you might make, they give you a piece of that total once everyone has signed the contract. Most of the time, an advance is lower than 10,000 dollars whereas the average is around 2,000-5,000 dollars. Very few people make advances worth more than that and even fewer people make advances in the six figure lane.
But the second reason why this may become a deal breaker is because when the book officially comes out, you don’t see any other money until you earn out your advance. This means that your royalties (the amount of money you make on each sale) has to match what your advance is. This can be hard for many when you only make about a dollar or so per book (and it’s worse if the book is cheaper like under twenty dollars). This is because the rest of the money that’s being made is going straight to your publishing house and the agent as they have to pay for everything to get your book out on the shelves. In most cases, though, you don’t start earning royalties (that you can physically use) until a year or so after its publication, and sometimes more. Sometimes, you won’t ever get to see any money whatsoever because you don’t break even. It’s also a lot harder when your advance is more; the more money your advance is, the less of a chance you have to earn out your advance.
And the third reason why the money side of it sucks is because a large chunk of your advance and other money is gonna go straight to taxes and marketing (because yes, you have to market it anyway as a traditionally published writer), only leaving you very little to play with. So, in many cases, the average writer on the traditional side tend to make around 6,000 dollars a year. Of course, some make more and others make less, but that’s the reality of it.
Self-publishing, on the other hand, has a better royalty system. While you don’t get an advance and have to pay everything out of your own pocket, you do get higher royalty rates (like about 60-70% of the cash that’s made) which can be really good. Unfortunately, this still doesn’t mean you’ll become wealthy… but it does mean that with the proper marketing, platform, and patience, you may be able to make more money as times goes on.
So when trying to decide which to choose, it’s best to figure out what you’re wanting to gain from the industry: do you want to give money away to get some money back? Or do you want it to be free, but get very little out of it?
- It’s a fast moving industry.
There are slower self-published writers, but in many cases, most self-published writers have to turn books out the more they want to make money off it. This is because self-published writers end up making more money once they have multiple books out because people can buy their previous novels and therefore, it’s a never-ending process. Because of this, many tend to publish about two or more books a year. Of course, not everyone can do this, and therefore, may have slower schedules such as one book a year or one book per two or three years. It just depends on you and your audience.
This is very different to the traditional publishing side where it can take years to get published and see your book on the shelf. Sometimes, it doesn’t always happen badly, but it differs because of the process.
- It’s better in certain genres.
Traditional publishing only goes for specific genres and therefore, may easily reject your story if it isn’t trending or it’s a dead genre (such as a dystopian story or a vampire/werewolf romance). But if you self-publish, there’s quite a few genres that do well and it’s something to look into if your genre may fit in. Of course, any genre can work, but you do want to keep in mind of what is mostly being read to see if your story could make it through the process.
Another thing to think about is if your book is part of a series of some sort. Traditional publishers are very skeptical of releasing a series (whether it’s only a sequel, trilogy, or full-blown series) coming from a debut author. This comes from the fear that the first book in your series will flop and therefore, may not help you with other books that come with the deal. However, series do a lot better in the self-publishing industry, so if your debut is the first book in a series, trilogy, or that has a sequel, then it may be best to self-publish.
- You can always do both.
One of the things that many may not take into account (mostly because they’re unaware of this fact) is how you have the ability to become a hybrid author which means you can be a part of both industries. The way how it works is that you can self-publish specific books (for example, an adult sci-fi romance) and traditionally publish other books (such as YA contemporary). The rule of thumb that you must follow is not querying a book that you’ve self-published because agents and publishers will reject it in a heartbeat. But you can query newer books that have never been published.
And honestly, a lot of published authors (from both sides of the spectrum) among agents and publishers, encourage hybrid authors to start off with self-publishing because as time goes on, you’ll be able to grow your platform and the readers you get may follow you over to the traditional side. So in a way, publishers and agents are more keen to accept your books if you have an established fan-base who are willing to buy your books in stores.
Generally a good post with lots of information, but it’s possible that one or two bits might come across as biased. Maybe it’s just a matter of word choice. For example
It seems unfair to call it a con – it’s quite the opposite! When you self-pub, all the real costs are fully disclosed, and you’re in full control. Sure, people have to be paid for their services (e.g. creating a cover for you), but you have complete control over who provides the service, what they do for you, and how much the service will cost you. The issue is that it’s a lot more work. When you traditionally publish, they take some risk up front (pay for the same services from their own pockets), but they take the money back from any profits you make. Plus their margin. And they typically pay you net of expenses, and don’t disclose what those expenses are, so you’re trusting them.
Here, it may be important to distinguish between first-time and established authors. In general, the more books you have already self-published, the more bang you get for each marketing dollar or minute you spend on it, because the money and effort helps every book. The implication of that is that if you’re just starting out, marketing is not nearly as important as it will be later, and indeed some self-published authors (including the very successful Michal J. Sullivan in this forum) recommend not spending much time at all marketing when you start out. Get three or four written and published before you start devoting a significant amount of time to marketing. Better to spend all the time writing and perfecting craft before that. I’m not making a recommendation here, just pointing out that there are different opinions among self-pubbed authors. That goes for the approaches to marketing, too. For example, some swear by paid advertising; others say, don’t bother - go by word-of-mouth. Different things work for different authors. Each has to find what works best for her or him.
Re.trad published advances: a fourth reason the money can suck is that trad publishers don’t even pay the tiny advance all at once. They space it out over years.
A whole additional category of headaches for trad-pubbed authors that self-pubbed authors don’t have is the publishing contract. Pretty much all trad publishers will try to screw you, the author, every which way they can. According to very many trad published authors, you have to fight them for scraps of your rights every step of the way.
That is very true! I just consider it a con because money tends to be the main problem for nearly everyone (unless you come from a wealthy background already or have the ability to pay for it without the stress of wondering if you can live off what you’re currently making and giving away for self-publishing and having to do some extreme budgeting) because it can be expensive. I mean, if you’re spending an average 4,000+ dollars on self-publishing, that money could’ve gone somewhere else (like in my case, I could buy a car with it or pay a couple of months rent), and if you don’t have it up front and so easily, it can take a very long time to save up. But it’s a positive when you put it into that perspective: when you’re in control, you have the ability to pay for whatever services you like and choose what you like without someone else being in the way of what you see for your story.
When you traditionally publish, everything is free which gives you that relief of “I don’t have to spend money that I don’t necessarily have.” But in this case, it’s a con that you A) don’t have the freedom and control over what the money is spent on and how it looks as well as B) a large portion of the profits go back to the publishers and other people who helped make your book come alive.
I do agree that everyone has a different take on it and it’s great for someone to experiment and see what works best for you.
As far as spending more time in perfecting the craft…? While I agree, I do think it should be best to self-publish when you feel like you’re ready and all the critique partners and beta readers and so on have given you a good thumbs up and your editors believe your story has a chance with the amount you’ve done, you might be ready. This is where I’d definitely agree with traditional published authors and agents (and or publishers) who recommend writing three to four novels before you publish a book because you’re focusing on improving your writing and trying to learn more skills.
However, even when you become published (in either industry), there are still things you need to work on, so maybe the best answer here would be to find a balance?
I think it just depends on the publisher. What many recommend is to find a good agent who will fight for you because a good agent is someone who will be your knight in shining armor: they’re supposed to make sure the publishers don’t screw you over and help you get as much rights as you can. If your agent isn’t doing this, then you need to drop them and look for another one as the whole not fighting for you is a red flag that they aren’t the best fit for you.
Really, truly, it doesn’t depend on the publisher. There is NO SUCH THING as a writer-friendly contract in publishing.
Agents are NOT your knight in shining armor. Will they negotiate a better contract for you? Yes. But be clear: They will negotiate a contract that is best for THEM, and their relationship with the publishers is more important than their relationship with you. They’re only going to fight so hard.
One of the things you should ALWAYS insist on in the contract is that checks to you and your agent are SEPARATED and come from the publisher. Do NOT let the publisher pay the agent everything (which is the default!). That’s how agents embezzle.
I self published and am very happy to share my experience.
I wanted both print and ebook options so I looked at the two main players who did both, IngrimSpark and CreateSpace (Amazon).
I went with IngrimSpark (IS) mainly because I’m an Australian writer and CreateSpace (CS) had some obstacles for non Americans, like postage and taxation.
IS prints and posts locally in Australia and many other countries. They also had local humans answering the phone. They were great to deal with, giving willing and friendly help with details. This was hugely important to me as I understood so little.
I got my book out. It’s a wonderful thing to hold your book in your hand, to have it easily available for friends and others.
I had my problems too and I’ll share those so you’re prepared.
I don’t mean this as discouragement though.
Having my book finished and available outweighed all my disappointments.
The first dissapoinment was the realisation that in spite of IS’ spiel about access to bookshops, my book will never see one. Bookshops decide what they’ll sell, not self publishing (SP) outfits. You need the weight of a traditional publisher behind you to even be considered for shelf space. Or astronomical sales that you can present to them as proof of your worth. Forget bookshops.
You have to sell on line. Realising that sales entirely depended on my ability to promote was the hardest thing I had to deal with.
I had a Facebook page and group for the book, a few hundred followers who loved my work. I just assumed that was a few hundred sales right there, plus they’d tell their friends. I was wrong.
As for others simply stumbling across it, and buying it, I was way wrong there.
Fact is a SP book must compete with millions of others just to be seen, let alone noticed, let alone checked out.
1.68 million SP books in 2018 alone. Another 2.2 million by traditional publishers. Plus the billion or so already out there.
I had to become a publicity agent/book seller and as I can barely use a computer I found this daunting, if not impossible.
Okay, enough of the scary stuff.
Fact is I had my book and was proud as punch.
I never wrote it to sell it, I wrote it 'cause I love writing. If 10 or 100 people read it, well that’s just wonderful.
I pulled my book off the market once I’d sold 100.
It’s complicated, but here’s the simplified version.
I’d self published, sold my 100 or so, and was struggling with marketing when I came across an indie publisher looking for indie writers. I was getting nowhere with marketing, so I hooked him up.
I withdrew my edition of the book and he put out a new one with himself as the publisher.
But all he did was use the same outfit as I’d done, IngrimSpark, to self publish with his name as the publisher. His marketing consisted of putting me on his website. That’s it, for a share of the sales.
In summary - I was so daunted I did no promotion at all (apart from telling my Facebook friends).
I sold 100 books over 6 months, then pulled the book.
The “indie” guy took 3 months before releasing the new one, and for another 3 months never sold one.
He did no publicity either, apart from putting it on his web site, and blamed no sales on me for not doing enough.
We fell out, he withdrew his edition and I never re-issued mine.
The book is no longer for sale.
I’ve gone on a bit. I hope I haven’t put you off, that’s not my intention. I wish you all the best in experiencing your own journey.
What I realised in the end was I just wanted to share my work.
Now I’m sharing it for free on Wattpad and Facebook. (Kala Bear Wars, on my profile if you care to have a look.)
Trying to sell the book was confusing and distressing, whereas sharing it for free is deeply satisfying.
It’s also showcasing my work, building a readership.
I’m not against self publishing and now I’m better prepared, with Book 1 as publicity I may very well self publish Book 2 as a follow up.
Unfortunately, there are people out there calling themselves publishers who do nothing more than you can do yourself and take a cut of any copies that “you” sell.
Looks like Alicia has done her research well!
10 out of 10.
I have 2 books self-published and 2 ready for publication in early 2020. We are in the middle of edits and I’m about to start writing book 5. I’ve been happy with this year results, but…there’s always a but.
There’s still this stigma among writers (those who haven’t dipped their feet in publishing in any way yet. Self-publishing is still being frowned upon. Not as much as few years ago, but still. There are magazine, book blogs, and other industry outlets that still avoid working with self-published authors, which is sad.
As it was said earlier, self-publishing is a business. You need to treat it like one and you need to have a mindset to do this. To succeed, you need to understand how trad publishing process works. Everything from developing to marketing. I took a year off to prepare my debut novel and do research. I saved up money and I imitated trad publishing process - multiple developmental edits so that book is on par with other trad books in the similar genre, copy edits, press, advanced copies, creating meaningful relationship with other authors, secure a BookBub for new release. There was a lot of work put into it and it’s still selling. 8 months after it’s release, I still sell this book. Traditional publishers like a long lead up time and I tried to imitate this process and it worked for me. Other indies do it differently. To each its own.
I think about my books as my brand. I have the same graphics, covers, fonts, and book themes because I want the reader to know right away it’s my brand when the book pops somewhere.
Industry indeed changes very fast and those who don’t adapt and educate themselves will stay behind. In the age of Instagram and Snapchat indie authors need to on all those platforms. A lot of my ARC reviewers come from Instagram. Every release, I do a storing push on Instagram for about a month or two.
Another thing to remember–and this is just because @neilaustin2212 mentioned his disappointment with Ingram Spark–is that most book sales happen online. I haven’t bought a paperback myself in years. E-books is where all the money is. I offer paperbacks and I sell a few here and there, but I don’t care they aren’t in the stores. I wouldn’t sell many there either because in the romance section, it would be tucked on the bottom shelf because that’s where exactly I saw books of a self-published romance author who is a New York Times bestseller in my local Barnes and Noble.
As for publishers, I do want to give a little warning to some. Just because it’s called a publisher and you’re technically being published as a trad author doesn’t mean the publisher knows what the hell he/she is doing. This goes back to staying on top of the changes in the industry. I do a lot of research, mainly for myself, but I see a lot of “trad-published” books with outdated covers that are not up to the industry standards and let’s be honest, newbies, unless they are with big five need to be in KU, even with the publisher. Reader just won’t buy a new author at a price point publisher usually sets, which is higher than an average self-pubbed book.
What I personally like about self-publishing is full control of my content. None of the stuff I write would fly with any of the trad publisher who publish romance. I like the freedom to talk about the topics I feel I need to talk. I like the freedom of being able to control my graphics and my covers. I had covers made by designers that I didn’t like. I took an online course in cover design and re-covered my books, one of which has my own artwork. It saved me $400 bucks.
Another part I enjoy is being able to work collaboratively with my editors. I use two. They are both amazing, but it took me a while to find them. With trad book, you don’t have that luxury. You’re given a list of changes you need to implement or your story is changed and you can’t do anything about it.
Yes, you put up a lot of money upfront, but you don’t need to wait years to get paid. Nothing beats 70% royalty if you ask me.
This is not for everyone. This is hard work, sleepless nights, stress, damaged nerves because of typing, copying, pasting, and other keyboard activities, but in the end it’s yours and you can fine-tune it however you like.
With that being said, I’m not against being traditionally published. If I write a book that I feel like is better off being traditionally published because it’s very different from what I write now, I would do it but only with a major publisher just to get my name out there and capitalize on their marketing campaign, but I wouldn’t do it with a small publisher.
My advice to everyone who is considering self-publisshing is to take time off and do your research well (there’s Google for that and that thing is my best bud). And I mean really really really research, not just scratch the surface, to truly understand if you have what it takes to do this. And you need to be able to be patient. It takes years to build your fanbase, but you can’t give up. You need to have faith in your stories and you need to keep putting in hard work and keep educating yourself.
awesome!! thank you everyone for giving me the info!
I’ve self-published in the past. It didn’t work out too well because I didn’t know what I was doing and at the time I was in a horrible situation where everyone around me was looking at me like a bank account.
But now, I am doing research on this while looking for work within the writing industry to get a better idea of what to do and build a fanbase for the stories that I post here.
Here’s my bit of advice - just like freelancing, look for articles that have the realists. Don’t look for those people that say “if you follow my advice you’ll make 5,000 a month with freelance writing/self-publishing.”
What those types don’t tell you is the blood, sweat, and tears that goes into. 99.9% of the time those types are just selling you their workshop and selling you a dream.
But whatever you do, like others have said, don’t give up and ignore the naysayers.
Welcome to the club!
I’ll be self-publishing my epic series, and I came to this decision after 15+ years of aiming for the Big Five (traditional publishing).
Lots of variables go into the decision, and it really depends on your goals, your audience, etc. In my case, it was a painful decision–but I think the trad industry is a little too risk averse. They want to chase trends and go for things they feel sure will sell. They’re not too willing to go out on a limb for a pitch or query that sounds unlike anything else out there. And they won’t read your manuscript unless they’re sold on the query/pitch.
To call self-publishing a con suggests there is something shady or underhand about it, and that’s not the case at all. It’s simply a business model. How many other businesses have no start-up costs?
In publishing, you have the choice of:
- Trad pub - No up-front costs but you get a lower percentage of royalties.
- Self pub - Costs to pay up front but a higher return on every single unit sold.
For me, it’s a simple equation - how many books do I think I can sell? If I believe that ((self pub royalty per book x no. units) - up-front costs) is greater than (trad pub royalty per book x no. units), then self pub is the way to go.
For me, self pub wins every time.
Bear in mind that even with trad pub you’ll still have to do most of the marketing yourself, and you’ll most likely have to spend a whole bunch of time querying - time that could be spent writing another book if you went the self pub route. Plus you’ll lose control over your own work.
If you’re paying $4,000 to self pub (excluding marketing), I’d suggest you haven’t done your homework. Even $2,000 is at the high end - think a custom cover and an in-demand, big name editor (these aren’t necessarily better than other editors), and a very long book.
The only things I pay out for (apart from marketing) are a cover and editing, and there are even ways to save money here. Shop around and you can find a great pre-made for your genre for under $100. Still too much? Barter your skills or study your genre and learn to use Gimp/Photoshop. You can buy stock photos for under a dollar.
I have two rounds of editing - a light developmental pass and a copy edit. You’ll also need a final proof read. Again, you can save money - join a critique circle or swap beta reads instead of the developmental phase. Swap a proof read with someone else. Use tools like Pro Writing Aid and Grammarly. Personally, I’d never skimp on the copy edit, but you can easily get a great edit on an 80k word novel for under $500.
She’s using ‘con’ to mean a negative, like pros and cons.
For my main series, which sells very well, I splurge on the very high end. I pay 1300 for my cover art, 500 for typography, around 900 for an excellent editor, and 800 for boutique ebook and print formatting. I have Vellum and in the future I’ll probably just do that, but I make back these costs in less than two weeks of having the book on sale anyway, so it’s not a huge deal. Expensive, but I think the finished product compares very favorably to a trad book.
I agree with your post in general, but I want to pick on this one statement.
Querying isn’t time consuming in the sense of “I spend hours every day.” Once you have a query letter and synopsis, you’re ready to email. It’s time consuming in the waiting period. Self publishing and the subsequent marketing are WAY more time consuming from an “hours spent” perspective.
You should be working on the next book, regardless of which approach you take. I would argue, though, that you probably have more time while querying – and if you eventually throw in the towel and self pub, you will probably have more content to self pub quickly, which is better for marketing.