Self Publishing

Enough people have had the unfortunate experience of paying top dollar for low-quality work from vanity presses that it’s a wonder everyone isn’t put off on the notion of independent publishing. In fact, even when faced with a legitimate company to help with production and distribution, the idea of paying thousands, possibly tens of thousands, of dollars for the possibility of not selling one book, or even getting your book in a bookstore, sounds nonsensical. Does independent publishing have a happy ending for anyone?

First, let’s get a clear picture of how independent publishing works and assuage some misconceptions. If an author wants to independently publish his or her book, the author becomes the publisher. There are distributors who can be hired to handle negotiating deals with book buyers, some who also will handle the production services, marketing, and printing of the book, but all these services are being paid for by the author/publisher, and the distributor is in no way acquiring any risk. What then does the distributor do? The short answer is that bookstores won’t deal with publishers directly. Barnes and Noble would prefer to order their inventory of books from a handful of distributors and wholesalers, rather than millions of large, small, and independent publishers and presses. The distributor pitches the book, perhaps out of a catalog with many others in the same genre, to the store’s book buyer. Based on the buyer’s interest, he or she places a buy or not, but the distributor basically has one shot. If the book doesn’t get buy in, it will never see the light of day on that store’s shelf. Some distributors will suggest marketing to the supply chains to pique their interest, as well as getting a publicist to market the book to consumers, but all of this costs the author money with no guarantee that it will work. Print on demand is therefore the least risky of the independent publishing options, but bookstores will not order one copy of a book at a time, unless someone comes into the store and requests it specifically. A publisher must have an inventory, stored in a warehouse somewhere at a per book charge. Add in shipping cost when the book does sell and the fact that bookstores can return books, no matter how damaged, for up to two years, and most independent publishers would feel lucky just to get the investment back.
This is only to illustrate that the independent publishing model is not for everyone. The people that independent publishing could work for are people with:
1. Money to lose— As with any risky investment, it needs to be done with surplus money (not with a second mortgage on the house or someone’s college tuition fund). Anyone writing a book as a get rich quick scheme needs to go back to the drawing board. Book buyers can be slow to pay and distributors pay out to publishers only after they have been paid, so factor in several months before seeing a dime. However, in this period, the author/publisher is still paying for shipping and warehousing each month. A lot of money goes out before any starts to come back.
2. A large platform—If an author is already established as a leader in the field, a successful writer who has sold well in the past, or a celebrity choosing to write a book, then more than likely, there is already a willing audience who will want to buy it. Let’s say (to use an Austin, TX example) that Harry Knowles, the blogger for Ain’t It Cool News, wanted to write a book. Millions of people frequent that site and behind Harry is the buying power of millions of faithful followers who hang on his every word for what to buy, read, and watch. There's a good chance Harry could sell 100,000 books with little effort, just by marketing to his base. He would be a good independent-publishing candidate.
3. Direct selling potential—People who speak to large audiences on a regular basis can sell books after the speech, or some consulting firms can sell book to their clients. People who teach workshops or seminars with a related book might do well as an  independent publisher, especially since control over the content and branding would need to be controlled by the author.
4. Time-sensitive subject matters—Going through a traditional publisher can be very time consuming. First, finding an agent can take years, and then there is usually a rewriting process before the book is ready for publication. After the book is designed and printed, then it is finally ready to sell years later. If an author writes a political science book about an upcoming election cycle, the book would be irrelevant in less than a few years. Independent publishing allows the author to control the time line. However, an author might also want to consider whether the book will continue to sell after the event.
5. Benefits beyond monetary—Being the author of a book is still a great way to increase credibility. If making money, or perhaps losing some, isn’t a primary concern, then independent publishing might be a good avenue to try.
These five types of people are hardly an exhaustive list of all the people who can become successful independent publishers. However, there are definitely two groups of people for whom independent publishing is not a good fit:
1. Those who can’t afford it—If an author can’t afford it, he or she shouldn’t do it. Simple.
2. Those who have been rejected repeatedly by traditional publishers—If an author is pursuing independent publishing because every traditional publisher has passed on the book, the author might want to consider revising the book with the help of a professional editor.
As with any business venture, the author needs to examine the risks versus the reward. Every author has to decide the best publishing model for their book.
The EditorMuse

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