Should You Self-Publish Your Novel: 6 Key Questions to Ask Yourself

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You’ve been writing for years. You’ve submitted your novel to agents, multiple agents, and you’ve received nothing but rejection letters. You could wallpaper your bedroom with the letters you’ve earned. You’ve worked on your craft, attended conferences, read books on constructing a novel, and still you have no contract.

Or maybe you have an agent, but after a year or two you still don’t have a contract with a publisher. What do you do?

The good thing is that you have choices. A lot of them. Self-publishing your book is one option. But how do you know if it’s the right way to go? Aren’t you settling if you don’t wait? After all, self-published authors aren’t real authors, are they?

I had these same questions and doubts last year at this time, before I self-published, and while I waited for a publisher to buy my book.

FACT:

Most readers don’t know an “Indie” author from a traditionally published author. Readers read what they like. They don’t care who printed it as long as it’s error-free, formatted properly, and tells a good story. And if you really want your novel to look like it’s been traditionally published you can form an LLC or incorporate your OWN publishing company and include it on the first page of your book. Choose a name that compliments your brand. Design a logo you can include at the bottom of the spine of your book.

My Publishing name is RANDOM PUBLISHING, LLC. I’m a random writer here at random rants and have random stories that I publish. Check out a slice shot of the front/back cover of my book. Notice the logo on the back and bottom of the spine.

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Ask yourself:

Is fear stopping you from self-publishing? Fear that you’re not ready, fear that if a publisher doesn’t like your story then maybe your book isn’t good enough, or maybe God is trying to tell you that you need to be patient because the right publisher will come along? Maybe you think that’s why a publisher hasn’t offered you a contract.

Perhaps the real reason you’re holding back is that you’re afraid of failure. If you fail then you’ll have to admit it. How will you face your author friends who are publishing with traditional publishers? What will you say when they ask how many books you’ve sold? What if no one buys your book?

How do you know if you’ll succeed?

First of all, no one knows if they’ll succeed in any business venture. (And publishing is a business so it has to be treated like one. Businesses fail when they don’t have a plan, but that’s a whole different post for a different day.) Self-publishing is a risk just like it is a risk for a publisher to accept your book.

When you wait for a traditional house to buy your book you’re asking them to take all the risk. Why aren’t you willing to assume the risk? If you believe a publisher should offer you an advance because your book rocks, then why aren’t you willing to take the risk? Who better to invest in YOU than you?

Publishing your book has been a dream. You’re not getting any younger.  You don’t want to wait any longer. You want to see your book in print. You know it’s the best book you can write and you’ve had readers say it rocks. But is now the time to take the plunge?

How do you know if self-publishing is for you?

Before you choose to go down the Indie Street ask yourself a few questions. Research the bottom line. How much money will you make one way, how much the other way? If earning money isn’t why you’re publishing your book, then all the more reason to self-publish. But if money isn’t your incentive then what is your goal? (Make this a part of your business plan.)

Here are SIX key questions to ask yourself to know if you’re ready to self-publish.

1. Is your book error-free, fully edited by a developmental and a line-editor? (To know the difference between these check out my previous post HERE.)

2. Do you have a strong business-sense and are you willing to wear many different hats? What do some of those hats look like? Here are a few descriptions:

  • Manager – You’ll have to juggle the different ingredients that go into a business. You’ll have to manage your time and know how to find a balance for every aspect of the business.
  • Social media king or queen – It’s easy to fall into the trap of spending too much time with social media. It can be a total time sucker. It’s important, but not for hours a day. You need to know when to turn it off and how to limit yourself. But first, you need to learn how it works.
  • Marketing expert – You’ll need to take time to study the different social media options. Which one works for you and why? How can you reach readers? What’s your platform? How can you find YOUR readers?
  • Promoter – Are you comfortable talking about your book and knowing how to share it without friends and family cringing when they see you?
  • Ad creator – Do you know how to make ad banners and create Goodreads giveaways and Rafflecopter giveaways?
  • Artist – some authors choose to make their own book covers and book trailers.
  • Formatter – before you can load your novel to Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble or any other book distributor you choose, you need to format your novel for readers. Some authors hire this service. Others learn how to do it themselves. ( I use Allen at http://www.ebformat.com.)

3. Are you willing to keep writing, keep publishing new books, or is this a one-time event? To make it as an author writers need to make writing a career, not a once-in-a-lifetime venture. The odds of making it big with one novel are slim. You have a greater chance of getting noticed the more quality books you publish. Books are your product. If you don’t continually have a new “shiny” then there’s no reason to do any of the above. This is the most important ingredient in this entire self-publishing scenario.

4. Are you familiar with what it takes to market your novel, and are you afraid of self-promotion? You will be expected to do this even if a traditional publisher buys your book.

5. Do you like to help others? It’s tempting to hire someone to do all the social marketing stuff so you can write, but I caution against this. Your readers want to connect with you, not your assistant. A huge part of being a successful author is interacting with your readers, it’s listening to their life stories and genuinely caring, it’s also helping other authors who are learning the biz. When they’re successful you will be too.

6. Do you have a budget to help you get started? Just like any other business, you need capital (money) to launch your books too. These are a few of the expenses:

  • Editing fees
  • Cover
  • Book formatting
  • Advertising
  • ISBN
  • Writer’s conferences
  • Giveaways

These six questions will help you decide if the self-publishing quest is right for you.

But keep in mind, even if you publish with a traditional press (and more so with a small press) you will still be responsible for marketing and promoting your book, you’ll still have to do numbers 4, 5, and 6 above.

However, you won’t be allowed to dictate sales prices, price promos, types of cover art, book trailers, AND you will only keep a small portion of the profit.

Many times, publishing houses have to charge higher ebook and book rates so you can make a decent percentage of profit. The bad thing is that many buyers (ie. readers) can buy great books for a lot less, so will you sell as many books with a small press as you would with self-publishing?

Will you sell more with one of the BIG seven publishers? Absolutely, but you might have to wait a while. It’s up to you.

What’s holding you back? 

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Comments

  1. Great pointers. And I’ve noticed some of the big name writers are now self-publishing their books. 🙂

  2. Fantastic post! Currently I’m standing on the edge of the self-pubbing diving board, wondering if I’ve got the guts to jump in, so thanks for your take on the water temperature.

    • Hi MIchelle – Really? The water temp here is warm. If you decide to plunge, or have more questions about the climate underneath the surface, ask away. I will empower you and cheer you on. You have talent and a great work ethic. You would rock.

      M

  3. Wow. Thanks for this. I’ve added it to my home screen so that, even though I’ve got a different kind of book to weigh, most of this still applies. Excellent post!

  4. I forgot half my sentence, above – so that I can research this option as most of your guidance still applies.

  5. You have no idea how timely and encouraging this is, Michelle! Thanks for the affirmation. I’d already decided to launch a self-pubbed line under one of my pen names, but it’s soooo scary–(and also exhilarating and wonderful :D). Reading your post solidified how ready I am to go for it! 🙂

    • Hi Ev-
      I know exactly what you mean and how you feel! It IS scary. I hung in the lurch for months with an agent, talking myself out of this often. But I’m having a blast. I’m an entrepreneur girl anyway so I’ve found it fun. Please don’t hesitate to send me questions any time. If I can help I will. I’m sincere about that.
      What do you write? Let me know when you launch, okay?
      Here’s my email addy: mweidenbenner(at)comcast(dot)net
      Michelle

      • Wow, Michelle. That is an _incredibly kind_ offer. 🙂 🙂 I will take you up on it.

        What do I write? Hmmmmm. 🙂 As Ev Bishop I have a monthly column with a local paper, write other non-fiction, and have (my love!) a growing collection of published speculative fiction short stories–and a suspense series with paranormal elements that I’d love to sell. As Toni Sheridan, I write inspirational romance (Pelican Book Group/White Rose imprint). I haven’t settled on my pen name for the new romance series I want to self-pub. I’m trying to decide if I should use a variation of my real name, or go with something totally different. I also have a mainstream women’s fiction that a lot of agents say they “loved,” but always declined to represent because they didn’t know where it would fit in the market.

        I’m hoping to launch Book 1 of my new series on May 1, 2014–will totally let you know, thanks.

        If you really don’t mind, I would love to pick your brains about the process as I move from planning to actually doing. I’m an “entrepreneur girl” too. Fun!

        I love your blog, by the way. Am so glad I came across it via Twitter!

        • Hi Ev –

          You sound like me–a passion for varied genres, and wow, you have a lot of books waiting to be read. Cool!

          I’m curious as to why you want to use pen names. I thought about using two different ones–one for my adult thrillers/mysteries and one for my YA and Kidlit, but I decided I needed to keep the same name because it’s my brand. Once I launched my debut novel I didn’t want to start all over again as a “new” author. It would take more time and money.

          May 1 launch sounds great and pick my brain any time. Also, since you love to write speculative, check out SPLICKETY MAGAZINE. THey sent me an email y’day looking for short stories in the steampunk and cyberpunk genres. Check out the rules here: http://splicketymagazine.com/contests/
          You might have something ready to go.

          • Hey, Michelle,

            Yep–love genres in all their multifaceted glory! 🙂

            I do have a lot of books waiting to be read. It’s exciting–and nerve wracking, lol. I haven’t actively sought publication for my novels the way I should have, but now it’s time. I need to get the lead out and stop being a chicken! 🙂

            Re: pen names. It’s something I’ve thought long and hard about, and done a bit of research about. I’m not trying to hide anything or keep any one “identity” a big secret; all my books and stories list me, Ev Bishop, as the copyright holder. I’m actually doing it purely for marketing–to attract readers looking for a specific type of story, and to avoid alienating potential readers who might love one of my books, the cozy, inspirational THE PRESENT, for example, only to pick up another and be horrified, lol. And vice-versa . . . people who like my weird, speculative offerings might cringe at sweet, mushy tales. 🙂 Folks who read and like Toni Sheridan will hopefully enjoy every Toni Sheridan title—and they’ll know what to expect every time. They may, out of curiosity, pick up a title by Ev Bishop when/if they make the connection . . . but they will understand going in it’s a different type of story. At least that’s my rationale. What do you think?

            Thanks for the heads up about the contest. It looks great.

            Cheers,
            Ev

          • Hi Ev – It’ll be interesting to see how you market all your different pen names/books. Will you have a Twitter account for each one? A separate FB page for each one? It’s just a lot more work. So many Indie authors are multi-genred nowadays, but their brand is their name. I can’t imagine having several different ones and the work that would involve. But trust, me, I thought about keeping my kid-lit with my maiden name–until i tried to manage two separate author pages. I changed my mind quickly. But keep me in the loop as to what you decide. I’d love to follow you and your success!

            Keep in mind that when you file your books at Amazon you decide which categories they go in, so your books will appear in the categories that they are targeted for. But your readers are those who love your stories. When you have a book in a different category they might still read it because they like your writing. And you.

            Check out Melissa Foster…now a NY Times bestseller. She has many different genres but when you look at her books and her name–they’re all the same. It’s her brand.

            Just more to think about. Hugs and have a great week! Stay in touch.
            M

          • Dear Michelle,

            Argh! Just when I thought I’d decided *for sure,* lol, I think I’m changing my mind about pen names–will keep my Toni Sheridan, but most likely will do as you suggest and work on promoting my many-genred splendors (ha ha) under Ev Bishop.

            Thank you so much for more food for thought. Writing/publishing mixed genres under my own, already established, name had appealed to me–but I wondered if it would “work,” or just irritate/lose readers. Apparently not–your points are really good, and affirm similar advice I received this weekend in a writing forum I frequent.

            >>> It’s just a lot more work. So many Indie authors are multi-genred nowadays, but their brand is their name. I can’t imagine having several different ones and the work that would involve. But trust, me, I thought about keeping my kid-lit with my maiden name–until i tried to manage two separate author pages. I changed my mind quickly. But keep me in the loop as to what you decide. I’d love to follow you and your success!<<<

            I will definitely keep you posted. Thanks for assuming success.

            >>>>Keep in mind that when you file your books at Amazon you decide which categories they go in, so your books will appear in the categories that they are targeted for. But your readers are those who love your stories. When you have a book in a different category they might still read it because they like your writing. And you.<<>>Check out Melissa Foster…now a NY Times bestseller. She has many different genres but when you look at her books and her name–they’re all the same. It’s her brand. <<>>Just more to think about.<<>> Hugs and have a great week! Stay in touch<<<

            Back at you. And thanks (so much) again.

            Cheers,
            Ev

  6. Michelle, this seems to be the topic of the day on so many blogs. Of course, self-publication offers an entree to getting a book out that some authors would never have without it. It also seems that many publishers, previously under contract with traditional publishers, are choosing to self-publish, 1) having established a fan base, and sometimes 2) no longer being offered contracts by publishers who wish to hedge their bets by going primarily with very well-established authors. True, some self-published books aren’t good and wouldn’t have gotten past an editor’s desk, but others are quite good and will thrive in self-publication. Which is which? Ah, that’s the question, isn’t it?
    Thanks for an excellent post.

    • Hi Doc –
      Yes, that’s the question–which books are good and which are not? So far what I’ve found is that there are readers for every genre, and even if you don’t think a book is good someone else might. (However, there’s no excuse for typos, grammar nits, tense issues, and head-hopping. Every author needs a professional editor.) This publishing world is changing. No doubt. But I’m have a blast writing and marketing my books. I hope others will find the success I have had and find the courage to tell their stories.
      Thanks for your encouragement and for stopping by.
      M

  7. Great post, Michelle, and I totally agree. I think authors should go into it, not thinking it’s a shortcut to publication, but that it’s an option that will take a lot of hard work. But the dividends are amazing–especially keeping your rights to everything, from audio to foreign rights. But YES, you have to be willing to market and get your name out there–which means you have to believe your book is WORTH pushing. Then you find creative ways to do it. Thanks for opening eyes as to what becoming an indie author entails!

    • Hi Heather!
      I noticed you have a post at the CARNIVALS too. I’ll have to check it out. Thanks for stopping by. Yes, the Indie way is one option but sheesh, it’s a lot of work and sometimes expensive! But we do what we think it takes. I hope your writing life is going well!
      M

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