I talk to a lot of writers and editors about self publishing, and I hear a lot of wildly unfounded opinions. This article addresses the top five myths that come up, over and over. I’m writing from experience — as a profitable self-published writer and niche publisher, I can separate the facts from the fiction.
1) Self-publishing is easier than getting published traditionally.
It’s easier for your publisher to accept your writing, since they’re both you. This is the attraction of self publishing to a lot of writers, especially ones who don’t fit comfortably into the mainstream publishing business. But creating the book is only half the job of a self-published writer.
Self publishing requires a lot more work than getting published by someone else. You have all the responsibility of creating a good product *and* you’re responsible for selling it! That’s more than double the workload, and not everyone is cut out for it.
Obviously, though, there are some things that are easier with self publishing than traditional publishing. You can put out a book really fast — the only release schedule you have to worry about is your own. You’re not limited by traditional text lengths, so your 30,000 word stories are commercially viable. You have complete creative control over your writing, format, cover art, and everything else, and you don’t have to wait for revisions to be approved.
2) Every writer can self publish.
If you’re the kind of writer who hates promotion and marketing, if you resent every drop of time that takes you away from writing, or if you just want to be “the talent” and leave the business stuff to other people — self publishing is definitely not for you unless you have no other option. It will be an uphill battle, and you’ll hate every minute spent on business. This isn’t bad or wrong — it just means that you are a dedicated writer and want to give 100% of your energy to writing.
On the other hand, being in complete control has its rewards, especially if you believe that traditional publishers aren’t pulling their weight. If you like the business side of publishing, and you look forward to learning more about selling, marketing, and branding yourself, then self publishing could be a very valuable experience.
For some people, it is satisfying to interact with readers both as a writer and as a business. But you have to think of it as two separate activities: writing, and owning a business. For many self-published writers, working around the clock is the reality. If you don’t have the time to both write well and perform the business tasks, self publishing may yield more frustration than rewards.
3) Success in self publishing is based on luck.
I want to laugh every time I hear this. Luck has very little to do with your success! Before I even wrote my book, I researched, spoke to people in the market, and started promoting myself. I asked, “Would you buy this, and for how much?” I looked online to see how popular my genre and topic were, and if there were any forum discussions about it. If you’re writing in a genre with an established and thriving market, such as romance, you’re than much farther ahead than I was, starting out.
Success in self publishing is no different than success in any other kind of business. It is based on having a product that is desired by enough people, your own disciplined efforts, and good enough application of some basic marketing principles. As your own publisher, you have to make everything happen. People who claim that it’s based on luck are usually either naive about business, or they’re looking for an excuse for why they personally didn’t succeed at self publishing, calling it “sour grapes.”
4) Getting started in self publishing is really cheap.
It is not “really cheap,” but it doesn’t have to be really expensive, either, especially with the current technology available for little or no money. Your startup cost depends on what skills you can leverage, and what you have to hire out for.
For my own company, I was able to start for very little money up front because I had a lot of vocational skills. I knew how to do basic web design, I could write and lay out my own books, and — most importantly — I had decent basic marketing skills, which improved as time went on. My books are in PDF format, so there was no printing cost.
But starting was not free. Even though I didn’t invest a lot of dollars, I still invested a lot of skill, time, and knowledge capital, all of which have cash value. If I didn’t have any of those skills, I may have spent $1000 on design for the books and website alone. And to market the books may have cost a high monthly fee if I hadn’t been aware of some basic good marketing techniques for small businesses. This brings us to the last, and most important myth of all:
5) Marketing your self-published writing takes a ton of money.
If it does, quite honestly, you’re probably doing it wrong. When people think about promoting their writing, they think of publicity, book tours, and mass campaigns. These can be effective, but they are not smart choices for a small startup business. That’s what you are: a small startup business, and you need to look outside the publishing industry for the best ways to leverage your marketing dollars.
My marketing is all done online. Initially, my online promotion budget was around $100 / month in carefully-selected banner opportunities, article distribution services, and AdWords campaigns. That’s tiny, compared to publicist’s monthly fees and tiny space ads in magazines.
I didn’t just sit around and wait for people to either buy or leave — that would waste at least 95% of the traffic, which means 95% of my ad money would also go to waste. No business can afford to do that, especially selling low-cost items like books.
Instead, I captured as many visitors as I could by giving them the opportunity to sign up for my email list. As my list of members grew, I was able to give them more chances to buy the book they were interested in, but not ready to buy the first time.
This method alone is responsible for my earning a profit the very first month. Any writer with their own website can easily do this! It does cost money, but it’s far less than spending $40,000 per year on book tours (not uncommon) and thousands per month in publicist’s fees. The whole idea of self publishing is for you to be in control, and this is the most direct way you can do it — by being able to reach interested potential readers directly with an email list.
I know I keep talking about this, but I really believe that building an email list (and knowing how to use it) is the most powerful technique for controlling the future of your career.