5-STAR Fantasy / Sci-Fi

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Should You Self-Publish Your First Book ?

Seen on Scott Berkun's Website:

Scott Berkun, author of four popular books on creativity, leadership, philosophy and speaking, answers the question from one of his readers "Should you Self-Publish your first book?"


I don’t have a single answer. It depends on the author and the book.

Publishing a book no matter how you do it is best thought of as a entrepreneurial experience. You have an idea for a product, in this case a book – how much of the work of making and selling the product are you comfortable doing on your own?

From this view a publisher is a business partner. They provide funding, expertise, co-ordination and guidance. They have in-house editors, designers and proofreaders who will help you. For those things you will pay them a fair share of the possible income the book generates. This is a good deal if you don’t want to find those experts on your own, or have no interest in co-ordinating the entire project yourself.


Common mistakes authors make when working with publishers:

  • Assuming you are a rock star. It’s exciting to have a publisher make you an offer, but remember, to them you book will never be as important to them as it is to you. To them your book is #56 of 120 they will put out this year, wheras to you it might be the only book you will ever write. Publishers rightfully prioritize among all of their books each month to decide which will get more of their marketing and PR attention.

  • Believing the publisher will do all the marketing for you. Many authors assume the burden of marketing is on the publisher but that has never been true (unless you are Stephen King or J.K. Rowlings). The author is always at the center of marketing and PR for books. It will be up to you to find speaking engagements, to be available for interviews, and to use your networks and connections to promote the book. Good publishers assist you, but the burden is always on the author. If your book is deemed more important than others you will get more support, but the burden is still on you.


Common mistakes with self-publishing:

  • Authors are naturally arrogant and assume they know everything. When self-publishing it’s easy to assume you are right about everything since there is no one arguing with you, even when you’re dead wrong. There is deep expertise in the tasks of choosing the theme, title, outline, cover, and style of a book. At a publisher there would be a specialist in each of these roles working with you. If you fail to avail yourself of experts the quality of the book will suffer.
  • It’s easy to be cheap and it will show. From the cover design, to the interior, to the index, many authors don’t understand the impact of making the cheapest choices. It shows. Books are extremely competitive. It’s a hostile and unforgiving landscape. The details matter.
  • You must be your own marketer. At minimum publishers announce your book to the world through their mailing lists, websites and catalogs. If you self-publish you are entirely on your own. If you are serious about sales you need a marketing plan and a commitment to invest even more time marketing the book than you would if working with a publisher. Marketing is hard: it’s an entirely different kind of challenge than writing a book. And marketing a book starts long before the book releases.


There are too many variables to give a single answer. If you can find an editor and publisher you’re happy with, and they believe in the specific book you want to write and how you want to write it, all other things equal I’d say go with a publisher for your first book. It will let you focus on writing a great book, and if the first book does well you’ll have more flexibility in what you do the second time.

More than anything, my advice is this: write the book and publish it. [...]

Read the full article at ScottBerkun.com


Patrick said...

What's the average cost to self publish? Say for example if I wanted to try Kickstarter to help.

Stephen Shute said...

Great post, just a side note for the "control-freaks" out there self publishing definitely has a pull, but be aware. Are you good at knocking on doors?
Are you a good writer?
Are you able to let things go?

Knocking on doors, as in door-to-door sales, is one thing but e-marketing can be more time consuming, especially if you want results, than writing.

Figure out where your strengths are and STAY there, leave the rest for the professionals.

just a though, or two :-)

Scott Hunter said...

'Authors are naturally arrogant and assume they know everything.' ????? Really?

Generalising a bit, d'you think?

Anonymous said...

Well said, the article is full of ad hominem comments dressed up as information... sigh.

Rob Barba said...

Patrick, I'm actually in the process of doing all of that (and listing it down at
goo.gl/fpbkFf for those interested). From what I can tell, the cost spread goes from $6500 to $19000, with about $10000 being the average asking price for a KS. Hope this helps.

Max D said...

It's worth going back to Scott's original post. http://scottberkun.com/2013/self-publish-or-not/ The sampling above doesn't capture several points Scott made.

His detailed discussion on self publishing "Mindfire" is much more illuminating though. http://scottberkun.com/2011/confessions-of-a-self-published-author/

If I was writing this then I would point out the following:

1) If you have a computer, an internet connection, and software for writing and creating images the real "cost" of self publishing is time. You will need income to cover your expenses, but there is actually no cost to self publishing other than time.

2) You might think most of your time spent self publishing is writing your book(s). In reality most of your time is spent marketing. Before, during, and after writing the book. Before, during, and after publishing. Marketing will become your biggest investment of time.

3) You will need to learn how to edit, format, and prepare your text. You will need to learn how to create book covers and format them for specific self publishers. You will need to learn how to create promotional materials. You will need to learn how to manage social media. You will need to learn how to run marketing campaigns. You will need to learn how to set pricing. Learning will all take time as well.

4) You should set your goals clearly. Are you self publishing for recognition so you can sign up with a publisher? Are you self publishing for independent revenue to compliment other income? Are you self publishing to get a story you love out into the world? Are you self publishing because you want a legacy? Knowing your motivations will do a lot to define how much time you will invest.

5) Understand the self publishing markets. That means reading up on SmashWords, Amazon KDP, B&N, Kobo, Apple, and Sony. You want to pick your market for maximum potential customers but that may be impacted by your target price point and intended audience.

Common mistakes tend to come from not looking at how other authors are doing it (descriptions, bios, marketing) and not spending quality time on basics (editing, proofing, marketing, promotions). In a world where specialization is usually rewarded, being a jack of all trades is a real challenge. There is always going to be someone better than you, but you only need to be good enough to move forward. And wise enough to learn along the way.

Christine Osborne said...

Max says "there is no cost to self publishing other than time."

Come again, Max?

Time = money. And if one is to self publish, it is about no more, no less than the cost.

Of course this is if you wish to be serious when you employ a professional editor, designer and, if you can afford it, a marketing company.

I have been published by several well known UK houses, but I am self publishing, following all the above steps, because I see no sense if one is a professional writer, in not using other professionals where I lack the knowledge and expertise. And yes, yes, I saved up till I had a reasonable budget.

And while in my own case,I know that it will not be as difficult as it was to write (check BOOK PREVIEW on the website) I am acutely aware that for it to have a chance of success, I must spend the next 3 months before printing, in conducting very thorough marketing campaign in print, web and audio media. I have been blogging and tweeting about it, as instructed, for almost two years.

Thank you.

Unknown said...

Patrick -

I paid zero, although I had some prior writing and editing experience. Kindle Direct Publishing is awesome!

Hermann S,
Author Sarah's Kine Justice, A Story of Modern Hawaii

Bridget McKenna said...

You can get professional copy-editing in the $1k-1.5k range, hire a good cover done for a few hundred, formatting--even fancy formatting--shouldn't cost more than $150-200. I know because I do all those things for my editing and design clients, and many, many others out there do also. Shop around.

Unknown said...

I agree with Scott Hunter. I know many authors who are generous and, like myself, are not ashamed to ask advice from other more established authors. I only know one who is naturally arrogant and assumes he knows everything. But that is his personality. It has nothing to do with being an author.

Unknown said...

I'm lucky: My "real" job is working in marketing to hostile audiences, and my background had let me dabble in graphic design. I also have to self-edit a great deal of my work there, so I'm a stickler (obviously, I've sent out for other sets of eyes as well.) I consider myself more prepared to self-publish and self-promote my book than if I didn't have this background. However, I don't think I know everything, and a lot of it, for me, is trial and error.

Still, sometimes marketing can seem like screaming into a vacuum. I have spent about ~$100 on marketing and proofs of my book (about $14 so far for two proofs). I don't plan on spending too much more until I see which marketing avenues pay off, or until I've recouped some of the initial investments.

I think you definitely have to approach it as a small business. You have a wide swath of tools available to you: Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads. Each one of these comes with some kind of audience engagement analytic tool. Use it - if you spend $25 on Goodreads and get 0 engagement, why spend $50 there later? If you spend the same on Facebook, and you see a 100% increase in engagement, well.... (For example)

You also have to look at profit margins. Yeah, it's easier on your customers to buy the printed book through Amazon, but it's a 50% reduction in profit than to order copies and sell them yourself. The more profit you make, the more you can reinvest in more marketing, etc.


Unknown said...

most authors are - 9 outta 10, i wud say.
@vikingthakkar on twitter.

Unknown said...

Hi. This is a good platform fr new authors to interact n exchane views, ideas n helpful suggestions. Thanks Indie Authors News.

Anonymous said...

Christine, time is not a cost-type resource, it is a human resource-type resource. This was Max's point, and I think he (she?) wrote up a nice summary of what works for him.
Good luck with both the writing and the marketing :)
Krisz Nadasi

Anonymous said...

I think there is an answer to that question: NO. A lot of writing (and reading) is to be done until one gets really good at what he/she's doing. The marvel of a first-book-wonder is rare. Maybe when 3 books are written gets the author the hang of it - then it's time to revisit the first book and do a complete revamp!
Krisz Nadasi

Anonymous said...

The prices bandied about for self-publishing are way too high. For instance, must you pay over $2,000 for a content edit, or would a $200 professional critique point out your story's flaws sufficiently? Do you need either? What about six free beta reads instead? (You'll give each reader an autographed copy of your book when it comes out, and thank them on your acknowledgments page.) Or entering your manuscript into a few writing contests at $25 or $40 a pop? Many copy editors are charging $1-4 a 250-word page. Do you need the $1 copy edit, or the $4 one? Or should you pay a lot more, for a copyedit that includes substantial rewriting? Proofreading can cost under $200, which means you can pay for two different professional proofreads if you want to. Pre-made book covers can be bought for under $50, and many of them look much better than anything you can do yourself. Formatting you can do your self or hire out for about $200. At the low end, this adds up to less than $1,000. You can throw in an extra pass to check for formatting issues, and then start looking around for where paid ads make sense. For the average novelist, very few do, and even fewer cost significant cash. The biggest question is at what stage is your writing? That will determine how much professional expertise you should hire to produce a competently written book. Even paying for a very thorough content edit, you should be able to self-publish for around $3,000. Don't pay anyone a dime for marketing unless they can prove they can sell your books in mass quantities better than you can if you do discount offers. And there are dozens of free places to advertise your book. So ask yourself, how good is my writing today? Then ask others, and believe their replies.

LJ Designs said...

Very helpful info "Anonymous." Thank you! :)

Unknown said...

It costs me about $500 total. I'm lucky to know a few great editors who work for the couple-hundred dollar range. But that's part of the deal. Make friends. Reduce costs. Eat ramen. Work at McDonalds.

If you're a writer, you'll make it happen.

But treat your art as it deserves to be treated.


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