You’ve finished your masterpiece. After revising, editing, and polishing your work, you’re ready to publish. You consider querying an agent, but your writer friends, who not long ago turned up their noses at the thought of self-publishing, are encouraging you to “go indie.”
Their reasons are compelling: more money, greater control, faster publication, a direct relationship with your readers. Still, you’re not sure if self-publishing is right for you.
This is an exciting time in publishing! Never before have readers been so accepting of indie writers. Your friends are right: the rewards are immense. But all rewards come at a price. Publishing a book is like a starting a small business. It’s hard, time-consuming work—and it’s not for everyone. Here are seven questions to help you think through your decision.
Are you creative?
As publisher, you’re responsible for your book’s content, cover and interior design. Successful indie books stand up to those published by major publishing houses. Many indie writers hire professionals to design their interior and cover. Perhaps you will, too. Still, you’ve worked hard to write your book. You’ll want to be sure the cover represents it well.
In order for your book to stand out, to rise above the noise, you’ll also need to come up with unique ways to promote it. While there are many wonderful professionals to help with marketing and promotion, it helps to put your own stamp on your promotions. At the very least, you’ll want to offer your blog hosts interesting interviews and creative guest posts.
Are you detail-oriented?
Editing, particularly proofreading, and formatting are tedious, detail-oriented activities. Editing requires us right-brain thinkers to switch gears. We must read closely, checking for errors. Compared to creative writing, editing and proofreading can feel like drudge work.
Formatting can be equally tedious. Poor formatting results in punctuation and paragraph errors that appear to be sloppy editing mistakes. Yes, you can hire professionals to edit and format; ultimately, you’re responsible. I learned this the hard way, by being burned. I’d read my novel so many times that the mere site of the manuscript made me anxious. Trusting the formatter, I loaded my eBook, only to discover that the file was corrupt.
Are you independent?
Sure, being the boss is liberating, but it’s lonely at the top. Unlike traditionally published writers, most indie writers don’t have a support staff to assist with publishing chores and minutiae—a publicist to organize a marketing campaign or an agent or editor to be sure the process runs smoothly. As President Truman said, “The buck stops here.” It’s up to you to meet deadlines, be sure the work gets done, and deal with any problems that crop up.
As in any business, it’s important to establish a network. With writer friends, you can share ideas and experiences, helping one another make wise decisions and enhance your success.
Can you deal with disappointment?
In every business, things inevitably go wrong. Editing or formatting takes longer than you expected, setting your launch back a week; Amazon introduces a groundbreaking program like KDP Select the day you launch a long-awaited promotion. You receive a lousy review. After a setback, it’s important to pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and move forward.
Are you willing to invest?
If you hope to succeed, you must nurture your business. Since last year, I’ve put in more 12 and 16-hour days than I care to count. It’s not necessary to put in ridiculously long days. You must, however, keep your eye on the ball. This requires you to invest your time wisely.
There is also the financial investment to consider. Designing, formatting and marketing your book yourself substantially minimizes costs. But you may have to lower your sites a tad. We all have only twenty-four hours in a day. Doing everything alone limits your scope. And time is precious. Only you know what you can afford—and how much you’re willing—to invest.
Do you enjoy marketing?
As I learned from the Indie Book Collective, bestsellers are not born; they’re marketed. No amount of marketing can turn a truly bad book into a bestseller. For most books, though, effective marketing makes all the difference. Marketing lets readers know your book exists.
Marketing doesn’t mean shameless self-promotion. Grandstanding turns most people off. Cross-promotion, working with other authors to promote one another, sponsoring contests, hosting games—such activities build your platform and help to spread news of your work.
Are you patient?
For indie publishers, patience may be the most important characteristic of all. Like blockbuster movies, major books hit bestseller lists quickly, often before publication. This gives a false impression of book marketing. To create such a splash, large houses spend a fortune. One ad can cost tens of thousands of dollars—only a tiny part of a big campaign.
Small publishers on a limited budget can’t begin to compete. So we shouldn’t hold ourselves to that standard. The marketing cycle for indie books—particularly debuts—is much longer. It can take several months for a book to pick up steam. Once it does, it often stays rolling.
If you answered no to a few questions, don’t worry. You may discover a well of strength and determination you never realized you had. You won’t know until you put yourself to the test.