For as long as I can remember there has been a stigma associated with 'self-publishing', or independent publishing. It is assumed that a 'published' book, meaning published by a mainstream commercial – or trade – publisher (Penguin, Random House, etc.) will be a better book, will be easier to promote and will sell more copies.
These don't necessarily follow. In today's digital world there is no reason why a self-published book shouldn't 'look' published. With the right emphasis placed on writing, rewriting and editing, there is no reason why a self-published book shouldn't be of a very high standard. And of course the marketing potential for a book or anything else – if done well – is limitless in the social media age.
Yes, there are undoubtedly benefits to having your book 'properly' published – most notably the fact that a genuine publisher* will take on most or all of the financial risk – but there can be advantages to self-publishing too, especially in non-fiction.
1. Greater chance of getting your book out
While everyone dreams of having their book published by a commercial publisher, the reality is that these publishers are becoming increasingly selective as they negotiate the vagaries of the 21st century market. With far fewer bookstores and global competition, they are understandably hesitant about taking on any book that is not a guaranteed winner. In the business book genre, there are very few books published in Australia at all these days. In many cases the only way to get your book published will be to do it yourself in one way or another.
2. Much quicker than mainstream publishing
Even if you were lucky enough to find your way past the 'slush pile' (what publishers call their pile of 'review' books), actually getting your book on the shelves could take months or years. So if, as is the case with most people who've written a book, you're keen to get the thing out there, the quickest way to do so is to self-publish. Doing it yourself, it’s possible to turn a finished manuscript into a printed book in only a few weeks – even less if you push hard.
3. Total control
By self-publishing, you retain total control over the way your book looks and what goes into it. Better still, you retain full ownership of your material and you retain the unfettered ability to reproduce and distribute your work in other formats (audio, ebooks, etc.).
4. Easy updates
Digital printing has made printing short runs (200 or less) and 'print on demand' much more viable than it was in the past. This reduces the risk of having out-of-date books piled up in your garage. Better still, it makes updating your book and giving it a refreshed marketing push much cheaper and easier. With ebooks, updates are even more simple.
5. Better returns
Get your book published with a mainstream publisher and the best return you can hope for is 10% of the retail price on the sale of each book. On the other hand, you can keep anywhere from 30% to 80% of the cover price of your books if you self-publish. (The flip side of this point is that as a self-publisher you need to spend more upfront, so you do need a distribution and promotion plan to make sure you can sell your book and get a return on that investment.)
Self-publishing is much quicker, cheaper and easier than it has ever been. What's more – and this is my core philosophy – in the digital age there is no need for a self-published book to look self-published. In coming weeks I will update my own guide to self-publishing and make it freely available – keep an eye out.
(*) More on that next time