You’ve written your first book. Congratulations! You’ve poured your heart and soul into it for years and it’s finally complete. You’re excited about it, proud of it, and you eagerly submit it to publisher after publisher hoping to pin down the right one for your manuscript. But with every rejection email you start to feel your dreams of being a published author slip away, and perhaps you start considering taking the publishing process into your own hands by self-publishing your book. But what is this “self-publishing” everyone keeps whispering about, and are you crazy to even consider it?
First and foremost it’s important to distinguish between vanity publishing and hybrid publishing. Vanity presses are less like a publisher and more like a glorified printer; they require a “contribution” from the author in order to print several copies of the book, but they do nothing to distribute or promote the finished product, let alone invest in the quality of the book itself. Proper self-publishers, on the other hand, offer a range of services from editing to design to promotion, and the best ones often have connections with bookstores to get your book into the marketplace. Sometimes these viable publishers label themselves as hybrid publishers because they combine the best aspects of self-publishing and traditional publishing. In some cases this is true, but for some it’s just clever marketing, so beware and do your research.
What are the risks of self-publishing your book? In simple terms, the risk is purely financial. The plainest distinction between self-publishing and traditional publishing is in who takes on the financial risk: in traditional publishing, the publisher takes the risk, choosing to publish titles that they are confident will make a return on investment, but in self-publishing, the author takes on the financial risk, contributing funds towards the costs of producing the book. Choosing the wrong self-publisher could put you out thousands of dollars with nothing to show for it but stacks of low-quality, unmarketable, unsellable books with no means of distribution. Choose the right self-publisher, though, and you could successfully realize your dreams of publication.
One of the major advantages of self-publishing is that it can turn into a viable back door into the industry. Because traditional publishing is so saturated with submissions, and is therefore tricky to break into as an emerging author, many new authors decide to self-publish their first book as a sort of stepping stone into mainstream publishing. As publishing expert Jo Herbert explains in Bloomsbury’s periodical, Writers and Artists, “A high-quality self-published book shows the author is ambitious, organised and serious. Even better, if the book has decent enough sales figures to prove a market exists, traditional publishers are quite likely to sit up and take notice.”
Self-publishing is not a new trend. In fact, notable authors such as Virginia Woolf, Mark Twain, and James Joyce all forged their own early paths via self-publishing. So when is it beneficial for an author to self-publish their manuscript? Ultimately, if the publisher is committed to quality, has some distribution connections, lets you remain strongly involved throughout the production process, and you are committed to putting in the work to market and distribute your finished book, you’re not crazy at all to consider self-publishing.