Are You a Real Author if You Self-Publish?
Are you a real author if you self publish your first book? That question is asked far more frequently than it deserves and it is one of the biggest red herrings an author faces. Traditional publishing and self-publishing have two things in common: first, they can both put your book on the shelves of Barnes and Noble, and second, both paths are tough, and either way you better be willing to work.
The biggest advantage of self-publishing is that your book can get published tomorrow. The only person you have to convince to bet on the book is yourself.
Landing a traditional publisher is not so simple. Large publishing houses are incredibly difficult to reach for a first time author. And blindly sending them your manuscript will likely be as productive as tossing it into a black hole, as you will be lucky to receive the basic courtesy of a rejection letter.
To have any chance of running the defense gauntlet of a large publisher, you will need an agent. But landing a reputable agent is an equally daunting task as they receive thousands of queries a year, and on average, only accept around 4% of what they receive. Without an agent, your chances of being signed by a large publisher on your first book are in the neighborhood of 1000 to 1.
So what’s a publisher going to do for you anyway? Typically the publisher assists with important tasks like the final editing of your book, internal layout, and the design of the cover, they handle the cost of printing, place your book into distribution channels, and assist with some promotion.
Oftentimes you can find a smaller niche publisher willing to provide some or all of these same services to an unagented first time author. But be careful of the contract you sign. As an unproven commodity, you have very little bargaining power and the terms of even a best-case scenario contract will make it difficult for you to make money on your first title. Even worse, the publisher may try to tie you up under the same terms for your second book, which is where emerging authors typically see their value jump the most.
The good news is that many of the basic services provided by the publisher can be handled at relatively low costs by any number of talented freelancers. There are also plenty of high quality print houses that will be more than happy to assist you with the physical production of your book, resulting in a product identical to what the publisher would have produced.
With regards to distribution, bookstores, even big box stores, are happy to deal directly with local authors. This means you can place your book in many of the exact same stores a publisher would have initially targeted for you.
And if you think having a publisher excuses you from promoting your own book, think again. Publishers only put real heat behind their biggest releases of the year, and right now that’s not you. So even if you have a publisher, they will expect you to push your book in your local market, at local retail outlets, and to family and friends. Which is exactly the same position you are in when you self publish!
At the end of the analysis, your biggest risk in self-publishing your first book is the cost of printing, which you can anticipate to be around $5 for a well produced hardback book.
If you seek knowledgeable council at the start of this entire process, you can minimize your risks, enjoy the satisfaction of seeing your book on the shelves of retailers, retain 100% of your ownership rights, and position your second book where agents and publishers are looking for you.