Monday, October 24, 2011

Disadvantages of Self-Publishing

Note: I recently wrote this article in the spirit of offering interested writers the challenges that face them in this digital age. By no means would I discourage an author from going the DIY route, but I feel one should hear both pros and cons. Today I saw an editor on Twitter mention that authors who had self-pubbed to low sales now queried her to take on their stories. Knowing that, I feel this article is timely.

In the last year not only have sales of eBook readers like the Kindle and Nook exploded, but the number of book titles available to download into these devices has more than doubled. With major online retailers offering writers a means to self-publish works for sale, one can expect to see thousands more novels and works of non-fiction and poetry on virtual shelves. For the author frustrated by the traditional, agency publishing model, self-publishing offers the freedom of creative control and the opportunity to keep more revenue. Despite the recent successes of some authors, though, it's important to note the challenges that self-publishing brings.

Self-publishing may not carry the stigma it did in years past, where one assumed that an author putting out his own work could not interest a "real" publisher. These days, writers choose to self-publish rather than submit a work at all. In fact, some authors who have published traditionally now take the liberty of producing and distributing their own work. That said, one must realize there are disadvantages. This article is not intended to discourage anybody from independently publishing a novel, but rather to keep people aware of possible obstacles. Let's take a look at some of them.

1) As a self-publisher, you are responsible for every step of the process, from writing the work to making sure it is edited and proofed. You will need to find suitable cover art and distribution channels, and handle marketing. Now, you're probably wondering how this is a disadvantage - well, it really depends on how you look at it. When you sign a contract with a publisher, many of these items are handled for you. You will not cover the cost of an editor and artist, and depending on the publisher's budget you probably won't have to spend too much for promotion. When you take the DIY route, everything comes out of your pocket, and you are investing time in finding the right people to assist you. One could view this as time that could be spent writing your next book.

2) You may run into complications with distribution. Whether you publish exclusively in digital format or make your work available in print, you need to work with distribution channels to get your work to the public. While Amazon and Barnes and Noble welcome self-published authors to join their platforms, other distributors may require you to build an extensive catalog before you can distribute through them. Brick and mortar stores may require you to place your books with a service like Ingram or Baker and Taylor before they will order your books. It's important to research whether or not you can work with such companies.

3) As a self-publisher, you are held accountable. If you produce a book of poor quality, you risk alienating readers or inspiring word of mouth that discourages new readers from checking out your books. This is not to say that all books published with agency houses are perfect - opinions on quality will always vary - but acting as publisher and writer means taking extra care to ensure a good book. Of course, you should do this with a traditionally published book, but here you will need to commit to every step of the process.

If you choose to self-publish, do not feel rushed to get a book in the stores for the sake of having something to sell. This is your work, and you want to present the best written story possible to readers. Take caution to know the pros and cons before you make any sudden leaps.

Kathryn Lively

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