Sunday, October 16, 2011

To Self-Publish or Not to Self-Publish?

That is the question many aspiring writers ask themselves. Should they spend potentially years seeking a publisher, a traditional publisher, or should they self-publish.

Let's be clear about what I mean by self-publishing. I urge anyone who seeks out the assistance of a subsidy press, or a vanity press, to proceed with caution and to be prepared to weep and gnash your teeth. If, however, by self-publishing one actually means SELF-PUBLISHING, doing everything by onself and for oneself, then I'd say it may be worth your time and effort to do so.

Too many vanity and subsidy publishers do not do right by the author. Pure and simple. Once these publishing businesses have their money, most don't give a hoot whether the book sells or not. Many do not care one whit for the quality of the book as far as editing, layout, cover, etc. go. Good luck, also, proving that they are not paying you fairly for books they may (most likely won't, however) sell.

It used to be that self-publishing was deemed too "difficult," "intricate," "overwhelming" for a person. Not so anymore if one gets one's ducks in order.

Now, it may seem odd that I, who run a traditional publishing house (Moonlight Mesa Associates), would encourage anyone to self-publish. The fact is, and I'm not telling you anything you may not already know, getting a bona fide publisher can be painstakingly difficult, and often one must wait months and months to see one's work in print, only to see it withdrawn from the hallowed bookstore shelves in a few months, or weeks, if it doesn't sell well right off.

The key to being a successful self-publisher, however, is TO DO THINGS RIGHT. That takes some money, but probably not your entire savings account or your 401k! I am continuously befuddled by how many years an author will dedicate to his/her project, and then not be willing to invest money in it, or certainly not enough money.

1. Get an editor. Get an editor. Get an editor. Do NOT think a thorough proofreading will suffice. Pay a professional. It need not cost thousands of dollars, either. Shop around. Get referrals.

2. Get a professionally designed cover. Your photo will most likely not work for a cover shot. Cover design need not be expensive!

3. Study other books in print (professionally done ones) and see how they are layed out and formatted. Laying out a book can be exasperating, but it can be done. I do it all the time. Sometimes it goes like clockwork; the next book is a hair-pulling nightmare. You don't need an expensive program like InDesign to do it, but you do probably need the professional versions of Windows XP (or a similar program) and Adobe Acrobat. This is not a waste of money. You'll most likely want to write another book, anyway!

Worst, the very worst case scenario is to pay someone else to do the layout and formatting. There are services who do this. Most people charge by the page. Again, shop around. Look at samples of books they have done.

4. As part of this process you'll want to obtain an ISBN for your book and perhaps an LCCN number (not required) also. Pricing the book correctly may take some real study and analyzing.

5. Really look for a good printing house that fits your needs. Sir Speedy may work just fine for you, or you may need a regular book printing company. You'll probably do your book as a POD, anyway, so look at books the company you're interested in has done, and make an informed decision. Ask for book samples. Bona fide printers will gladly provide them.

6. Finally, the most difficult part of all of this is selling your book after it sees the light of day, and finding others who might sell your book. By far, the VAST MAJORITY of books published do not even sell 100 copies. So, have a marketing plan and plan on spending years of your life promoting and selling your work.

You see, the bottom line is this: Writing a book is not that tough. Getting it published POD is pretty easy nowadays (either doing it yourself or using the services of a vanity/subsidy press). Selling the dang things is where the work is. Most authors don't seem to be up to that challenge.

There are plenty of resource books available to help the neophyte publisher. I've used some of them when we were starting up our tiny business. You don't need to follow the advice in all of them, but some of them have some great ideas. Do your homework. Take your time. DO IT RIGHT. You can then reap the rewards of keeping ALL OF THE PROFIT from your book. It'll probably take quite a few sales to break even with your pre-publication costs, but if you stay at it, you'll succeed if your book is any good at all.

I look forward to your comments and/or questions.

Becky Coffield, Publisher

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