To Self-Publish or Not To Self-Publish - That Is the Question

To Self-Publish or Not To Self-Publish - That Is the Question

“The indispensable first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: decide what you want.”
Ben Stein

Over the past few months, I have had several people ask me about the book publishing process, so my wise friend, Yoshi, suggested - why not write an FAQ or blog and direct everyone there? (That, ladies and gentlemen, is why two minds are always better than one).

So, here we are! A blog post about self-publishing and the glorious pros and the not so glorious cons, of embarking on this Everestian (is that a word?) journey.

Self-Publishing  - The Pros

The best part about self-publishing is that you have full end-to-end control of the process. What does that mean? Well, you get to make the executive decisions from the editing through to the design process. It’s up to you what fonts you use, if you'll include colour and how the cover will be designed. You also choose how many copies you want to print and how you will market and distribute them. In a nutshell, you are in charge of everything and what you say goes. You decide how you want everything executed and you have to execute it because you are self-publishing.

In a nutshell, you control:

  • Writing, editing and producing the manuscript
  • Researching printers and comparing printing costs
  • Designing the cover and layout 
  • Launching the book to the public
  • Planning the book launch event (organising the guests, representatives from organisations, finding a venue, organising catering/drinks/filming/photography)
  • Buying ISBNs and/or barcodes
  • Creating a Business Name or ABN (Australian Business Number)
  • Co-ordinating all the postage and handling of orders
  • Submitting legal deposits to the appropriate libraries/institutions
  • Marketing the book (email newsletters, posting blogs, updating websites and maintaining social media platforms)
  • Co-ordinating all the press and publicity
  • Presenting author talks
  • Stocking the book in stores and establishing distribution networks

Self-Publishing - The Cons

What is the biggest pro with self-publishing is also the biggest con: that being, you have full end-to-end control of the process. Why is this the case? Because if there is any part of the process listed above that you do not enjoy or don't feel confident in, or simply don't want to control or manage, it will be challenging getting your book out to the target audience and readership market. Of course there are ways around everything - if you need your book designed, you can hire a designer and contract them to assist with the design (and there are plenty of amazing resources you can use to do this, and are a great place to start). If you need to market the book, you can employ a marketing agency to assist you with the process. However, when push comes to shove, you are still in control and however much effort you put into pushing your book out to people, is what you will get in return.

What About Publishing Companies?

The more traditional route to publishing your book is considering sending your manuscript to a publishing house.  Give this option 100% of your consideration. There are many publishing companies out there, each specialising in particular genres and styles. Before you send them your manuscript, check the criteria online as some require that you complete a synopsis about your book, some ask that you only send e-copies or that you only send hard-copies, so make sure you know exactly what is required first. It's important to do your research because you don't want to spend time and money sending a fantasy book to a publisher who specialises in memories or a cooking book to a publisher who specialises in children's fiction narratives.

Publishing Companies - The Pros

Remember how we explored all the pros of self-publishing? Well, guess what - if you choose to go through a publisher, they take on the responsibility for pretty much 90% of that work. However, you do share a responsibility in marketing your book and participating in all the arranged publicity arranged for you by your publisher or agent. Remember, a publishing house is still a business so their objective is to sell books and reach a certain target in sales, so be prepared to assist with this process, especially long after you are published and the buzz of a new publication has subsided.

A big pro that a girlfriend of mine advised when I was considering whether or not to start the journey myself or submit the manuscript to publishers is this: once your creative work is accepted, a contract is drafted and the book is printed, you have the credentials of being published by an established institution. This would be a terrible blog if I didn't mention that in this world, yes, this still carries weight so it's an important point to consider when you embark your own publishing journey. There is a lot more weight and credibility in saying that you were published by Allen & Unwin, or Penguin, or Bloomsbury, than if you are self-published. However, in saying that, there have been many authors (take J.K.Rowling for instance) who were rejected for their work countless of times (in her case - 13), before their work was published. So while this is a pro, it's not always so simple to attain.

Publishing Companies - The Cons

If the biggest pro of self-publishing was having the entire end-to-end control, the biggest con of working with a publisher is the lack of control. Of course this depends on your personality and as I previously mentioned, confidence in the publishing process. Maybe you don't want to control any part of the process and simply want to write a manuscript, send it to a few publishers and have everything else taken care of and just show up at press conferences, author talks and go home. If that's you, you probably wouldn't even bat an eyelid at the lack of control, but if you are the type of person who knows exactly how you want your book to look, feel, be packaged, cost and marketed, going through a publishing house may cause some frustrations for you.

Another con is that the royalties paid to you can be very slim compared to the work you've put into producing the work. When you self-publish, you get to keep the entire margin of profit. I remember my mum and brother coming home from a conference/talk where a notable Australian was giving a keynote about his work. After the speech they spoke with him about his book and he said that he only received something as little as under $3 per book that the publisher sold at an RRP of $25.

If you think about it logically, this makes sense because the publisher is doing all the other work for you. They organise your design, printing, publicity and so forth (something that you will have to pay for yourself should you choose to self-publish). Even though your manuscript is an essential part of the book (because let's face it, without it there would be no book), it is still a part of the publishing process. And this is reflected in the royalty.

However, royalties largely vary depending on the publisher and your agreement, or your agent's agreement, with them. So take the example above with a grain of salt.

Another con with publishing houses is that it takes time to have your work read, reviewed and considered. So if you want to get your book, story or idea out into the world, maybe you don't want to sit around for 6 months waiting to hear (or not to hear) from a publisher saying if they will, or won't, publish it. At the end of the day, this was the decisive factor for me. For reasons I cannot quantify in physical or logical explanations as they were largely intuitive, timing was essential for me. I had to publish my book in May 2015. I have no idea why, but I simply had to: the story had to be in the world and I had no time to sit around, waiting to hear acceptance offers or rejections from publishers. Again, this may be different for you.

Decisions, Decisions

That is a lot to digest isn't it? It took me just over a year to mull over all those pros and cons while I edited and finalised my manuscript. At the end of the day, I followed my heart and chose to the self-publishing path. Many have since asked me why and while the main reason is timing, I have other reasons like the desire to have end-to-end control of the publishing process and customer experience. There is another reason, but I'll save that for another time and place.

As for you, well, that's the magic of this journey: you are the captain and the choice is yours. I recommend weighing up the pros and cons, talking to friends and family, researching and emailing publishers, talking to writers who have been published or those who chose to self-publish and at the end of the day, following your heart.

Also, give yourself plenty of time to think and sleep on your decisions. Sometimes the answer will come in a flash and you'll know exactly what to do.

Another point of reference I would like to mention before finishing is that various publishers focus on particular genres/stories. For example, I know that the Allen & Unwin, being an independent Australian publisher, are huge on Australian stories, especially memoirs. My family friend, Joe Wakim, had his memoir What My Daughters Taught Me published by them. So when a friend asked me about advice for publishing her book, which would be memoir/autobiography, I suggested checking out their website. And lo-and-behold, they have The Friday Pitch program, so my friend started submitted her pitch for them to read.

Penguin Group also have a Monthly Catch Program where authors can submit their work. There are specific guidelines, but again, I want to show you that the possibilities are far and wide and it really depends on what you want to do and which approach is best for you.

I hope you learnt something interesting and received some clarity in reading this blog.

I would wish you luck on your publishing journey, but I know first-hand that it's not luck you need: it's decisiveness, perseverance and courage.

So here it is, my wish to you: may you make decisions that feel right for you, may you then have the perseverance to see those decisions through and the courage to face whatever you encounter.

And like a friend of mine wrote in a birthday card: may your pen never run dry.

Anna Krjatian
is the founder and director of The Butterfly and the author of Unmasking Depression. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.
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1 comment

Thanks for this amazing post! It’s great to have someone who’s been there, done that, share their wealth of knowledge of experience in a way that’s easy to understand and sounds like it’s coming from a trusted friend or colleague.
I completely understand your thinking when it comes to self-publishing. I decided ages ago that it would most definitely be my avenue when the time comes. I don’t think my book would truly be my story if I didn’t do absolutely every single part to bring it to the lives of others. Plus I don’t want to sit around waiting for someone else to decided whether I’m good enough or what they’re looking for. I think I can decide that for myself. :-)
I didn’t know how much there was to cover during the publishing process! Having said that, I work in admin and love organizing stuff, so ticking boxes and knowing that everything is being done exactly as I want it to be is practically second nature for me.
Can’t wait to see what you bring into the world next :-)


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