Self-publishing non-fiction has been a valid choice for many years, especially for writers who have a solid platform and a means of distribution, such as a prominent speaking career.
For novelists, it was always the last preserve of the desperate, a chance to see their purple prose in print for one lurid moment before it sank without a trace.
Self-publishing a novel used to = failure.
That is no longer true. Self-publishing a novel can be a viable professional choice today for someone looking to develop a writing career.
Publishing in general is going through a revolution, but these are the two biggest factors behind the huge changes in self-publishing fiction:
- New technologies like ebooks and print-on-demand, which dramatically reduce the entry price for a self-publishing author. Check out my post on the new self-publishing for more on those technologies.
- New distribution channels, so that an indie author publishing books from their spare bedroom can now be distributed worldwide in online bookstores like Amazon. (And yes, if you are in Australia like I am, these global opportunities are open to us too.)
The other day, when I told a friend that Amazon will stock self-published books, she frowned and said, “Why would they do that?”
The short answer is: because they make money doing it.
The slightly longer answer is: because new technologies mean they don’t need to store inventory or return unsold books to the publisher, so there’s very little cost to them of adding extra books to their catalogue. They really just need to allow more space and bandwidth on their computer servers. Some of these books will tank but others will do well, and overall, they win.
GOOD reasons to self-publish a novel
Trying to emulate freakish success stories like 50 Shades of Grey (erotica), Amanda Hocking (paranormal romance) and John Locke (crime/westerns) is not such a good reason to self-publish. Yes, there are people who’ve become millionaires almost overnight because their book/s took off online, but their experience is not repeatable.
So, what are some good reasons for considering self-publishing a novel?
Self-publishing as Apprenticeship
Writing a novel is hard. Even if you’ve written a lot of stuff before, a novel is different. Working through the process of writing, rewriting, getting feedback from beta readers and rewriting again, all helps develop skill.
Going through the motions of preparing ebooks and possibly print books, negotiating cover designs, learning how to market a book, how to tame social media, interacting with other writers on blogs and forums… all these phases help a writer to grow and develop.
And then the feedback of strangers that comes once the book is out in the world helps a writer to learn even more. The feedback might be glowing, or it might be brutal. Many writers are able to look past the flattery AND the hurt, see what’s useful in it all, and figure out what positives they can take away to build and develop their skills even more.
This type of experience is something no one had access to a few short years ago. It can help an author equip themselves for either a traditional or indie publishing career — and empower them to make their own choice if offers come!
Self-publishing as Connection
Some people just want to finish that one glorious book, and get it out into the world instead of going mouldy in the desk drawer or on the computer hard drive. They’re not trying to make an income or carve out a publishing career, they just want to see their own small dream realised and have the chance to connect with readers, even if it’s only a few — to be “heard”. Some people sneer at that type of self-publishing, but I think everyone needs to follow their heart. We all have different goals in this life. Dreams are personal things. (I’d still recommend doing the best job you can of it! 🙂 )
Self-publishing as Audition
An increasing number of writers have received offers from publishing houses after a successful self-publishing experiment. This Huffington Post article lists several crossover authors, including the old chestnuts about John Grisham’s first legal thriller and Beatrix Potter’s entry to children’s publishing early last century, but also quite a few from the modern self-publishing era. It does happen.
Self-publishing as Career
You may be startled to hear that some successful self-published novelists get offers from publishers, sometimes BIG offers, and actually refuse them! The reasons they do so are complex and a topic for another day’s blog post, but the short-and-simple summary is that it’s usually to do with publishing rights that the publisher wants to take from them. For example, successful crime novelist/s Saffina Desforges turned down some big offers (and write/s scathingly about the attitudes of publishers and agents), but finally accepted one for the French language, and continue/s to self-publish in English. (Saffina Desforges is two people writing together, hence my difficulty wording that sentence! 😉 )
So, what’s the right path for YOU? Every writer needs to work that out for themselves. I’ve got more stories and more tips in my free ebook, Should I Self-Publish, which you can download immediately — feel free to check it out!
What is your experience? Do you feel like self-publishing a novel is a sign of failure? Have you tried it? Are you curious or hopeful? Nervous? Let’s chat! I love to read your comments.
Featured image via Bigstock/alexskopje