There is a lot of information out there regarding self publishing that illustrates the pros and cons. I won’t focus too much on all of that, since it’s readily available. Instead, I will focus on the reasons why I personally chose to self-publish. I’m not here to bash traditional publishers or those who have gone the traditional route. I chose to be an indie author, and I’d like to explain why I came to that decision.
Let me start by saying that I never submitted a manuscript to an agent or a publishing house. I was never rejected or discouraged in my writing. The simplest reason is that I’m impatient, and after eight years of working on my first set of novels, I simply did not wish to wait years for a publisher to decide whether I was worth it or not.
Publishers, agents, and distributors can take up to a whopping eighty-five percent of your sales royalties. If you’re lucky enough to get a good signing bonus, then those royalties might not matter to you. A first time fantasy author, however, can’t typically expect to receive a signing bonus that will fund his or her writing for an entire year. Fantasy is a small audience, so if that’s what you want to write, then you shouldn’t expect to become a millionaire. In my case, I simply have some stories I’d like to tell. If you like my stories, then that’s great. I’ve spent many years building my fantasy world, and I hope that others will enjoy it as much as I do.
Editors might insist on changes you are unwilling to make. If you go the traditional route, you will probably have a requirement to the word count, content, styling, cover art, etc. If the editor doesn’t like a scene or thinks you need to add something, then you will be required to change your story. This will hopefully be a change for the better, but not always. They may insist on a change they feel will make your book sell better, even if it means a drastic change to your characters or plot. If it changes the context of the message you’re trying to convey, you might not want do it. Arguing will get you nowhere, and in the end, you will have to submit to your publisher’s wishes if you want to continue to use them.
Don’t consider the paragraph above as me advising you against editing. I’m just saying that some edits are necessary, while others are not. Of course you need to edit your spelling and grammar and have someone make sure your book flows nicely and isn’t a huge mess. I’m only referring to the possibility that an editor can force you to make significant changes in order to cater to a specific audience. They know what sells to certain customers, but new ideas might get squashed in the process.
Traditional publishers may insist on a book tour. That means time away from home, family, and writing. It can be fun to go out and meet your fans, but it can also be tedious. Personally, I like to travel with my husband and my dog if at all possible. Being shuffled around by an agent or publisher just isn’t my cup of tea.
Traditional publishers are probably going to have deadlines for their newer authors. When you’re famous, you can probably take as much time as you want. With self publishing, you can write as much or as little as you want each day, and there is no rush to finish by a specific date. Have you ever read a story that sounded rushed? Ever wished the author had expanded more on a certain topic, character, event, etc.? They probably had a deadline to meet and had to rush to meet it. For me, I enjoy writing when the inspiration hits. If it’s 600 words a day or 3,000, I’m happy with the amount I write. No one tells me to write more each day, and no one is rushing me to completion. It’s wonderful if it comes from fans, but coming for a “boss” is not so nice.
When submitting a manuscript, publishers and agents will ask you for your word count. Some of them will have a minimum that is rather high. With indie publishing, you don’t have to worry about it. Have a story to tell? Use however many words are necessary to tell it. Words are an author’s medium. We paint with them the same as any other artist. Why should I add 20,000 words to my novel if it’s already completed? Do people really look at your work and say, “I’m not reading it unless it’s 800 pages long?” I doubt it. Readers like a good story, and if you can tell that story in 300 pages, I think they still appreciate it. If you leave them wanting more, then you’ve done a good job. Publishers have their minimums to categorize you as a novel, novella, short story, etc. You may not like how they classify your work, but they aren’t going to give you much say in the matter. They may also tell you to add something to it, even if you truly feel your story is complete.
When I last looked at my calendar, the year said 2013. Some traditions are becoming archaic. I realize that everyone with a computer has the ability to self publish something. However, very few people will go so far as to publish a novel. Very few of us ever sit down to write that first draft. Getting that far is a serious accomplishment. Even those few who manage to complete their first draft, edit it, and then prepare it for publishing will ever bother to self publish. Some will submit it to an agent, get rejected, and give up. The rest of us will do some research and find out about the wonderful world of self publishing. We retain complete control of our material, and we try to look out for each other.
You will encounter prejudice if you self publish. There are still people out there who will assume your story wasn’t good enough to be published traditionally, but that is very rarely the case nowadays. Many authors are turning to self publishing without ever submitting to a traditional publisher. I have read many self-published fantasy novels without realizing they were self-published. I own a Nook and usually select books from their recommendations. I ignore all reviews and download a sample of anything that is interesting. If I like the sample, I buy the book. I find that many fantasy readers make similar decisions. If your book is good, it will sell regardless of how you published it. Without the backing of a publisher, you may have to wait a little bit longer for sales to pick up. The hard work of advertising your novel is up to you, but that can be fun as well. Consider it just another challenge in your quest to share your tale with the world.
Some people are discouraged easily, and one bad comment can destroy their self-esteem. This is not an easy industry, and not everyone is going to like your story or the way you write. You have to learn to brush off the negative comments and try to learn from them. Listen to why someone didn’t like it and consider whether you need to change something. Try to look beyond a bad review and see exactly what the problem was. If it’s something you can fix, consider it for your next novel. Remember, some reviews will always be bad no matter how good your story is. Take a look at the reviews for your favorite author’s books and you will see this is true for them as well. No artist is immune from the art critic.
Sharing these stories with the world and having someone else enjoy it is the best I could ask for. I enjoy writing immensely, and I plan to continue. As Mark Twain said, “Write without pay until someone offers to pay.” If you love to do something, then you should pursue it with all your heart. Anyone who holds you back from your dreams isn’t a true friend. Never give up if you want to succeed. Keep doing what you love simply because you love it.