Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Should I self publish?

In recent years self publishing has become a very real option for many writers. Advances in both digital and traditional printing technology have made small print runs a commercially viable option. In addition, desk top publishing means that many pre-production tasks can be completed by ‘non-professionals.’ This leaves the question: Should I self publish?

The current economic climate has seen big publishers react in two ways. The first is that they are focusing more on the writers they already have at their company. It is easier for the publishers to predict sales for these books and therefore the investment risk is reduced. However, publishers are still looking for new talent but the criteria required to win a publishing contract is tighter today than ever before. Publishers need writers that are professional, marketable and above all predictable. New writers must fit very tight market criteria and have almost guaranteed sales (hence the rise of the celebrity biography). This means that many, many good writers are finding it difficult to match their work with the big publishing houses.

One group of publishers who may benefit from this trend are the smaller independents. These companies are suddenly finding that many of the ‘bigger’ name writers are coming to them in search of a deal. This is giving the indies a chance to strengthen their lists and hopefully build sales. Yet this is not good news for new writers. Companies given the choice of a risky new writer or a slightly safer established talent are naturally going to take the safer option.

So does this mean self publishing is the right route for new writers?

Well, no and yes.

A self publishing writer must ask all the same question of their book as every publisher, big or small:

Can I sell enough books to make enough money to cover my costs?

Many factors go into answering this questions, here are just a few:
  • Can I find suitable companies to complete the pre-production (editing, design etc) at a reasonable cost and quality?
  • Can I market the book to enough people and who is going to part with their hard earned cash for the book?
  • Where will I sell the book?
  • Do I need third-party distribution?
  • Should I offer a digital/audio version?
And so on…

The long and short is that self publishing is a business venture. If a writer is going to sell their own books then they need a viable business plan, as well as cash up front. The good news is that many writers have self published and gone on to make a profit. For some the self publishing route is the perfect match. However, for each success story there are many failures.

So my advice is do not rule out self publishing but think carefully before you take the plunge.