25 Things You Need to Know About Self-Publishing
If you're an author considering the self-publishing route, CNET editor David Carnoy has done you a huge favor with this recent article. It's all about the lessons he learned when self-publishing his novel, Knife Music. Despite the possibility of publishing with a smaller traditional house, and against the wishes of his agent, David opted for Amazon's BookSurge program. It's not just about BookSurge though; Carnoy did a fantastic job writing this article or every author considering any self-publishing solution.
In item #5 on his list, "the odds are against you," Carnoy estimates that the typical self-published book only sells about 100-150 copies...in its life. At first that sounds pretty low but you have to factor in all those books that sell less than 10 copies, and I'm sure that number is enormous. As he notes, he has no data to back this up but I wouldn't be surprised to find his range is close to reality.
Item #6 helps answer the age-old question, "why does it take so long for a traditional publisher to produce my book?!" The self-publishers have great models to enable fast publishing but it does take time to craft and develop a book that feels more professional. There are exceptions of course, but Carnoy does a fine job explaining the pros and cons here (as well as in point #12).
He goes on to talk about pricing, packaging and promotional opportunities, specifically Amazon's "Buy x Get y" program; I'm looking forward to reading the follow-up post he's promised on the results of the latter, btw.
Overall, I'd say this is by far the best summary I've ever read about the state of self-publishing, what to watch out for and how to succeed. My only gripe is that he didn't spend enough time talking about the importance of author platform, which is critical in the self-publishing world. He touches on it in item #18 but I think it warrants an entry all to itself. Otherwise though, this is a fantastic resource for all authors interested in self-publishing.
Mr. Carnoy sounds disappointed in the results he has achieved with his novel, but it's his own fault. As he admits, "You have to be a relentless self-promoter. Unfortunately, a lot people just don't have the stomach or time for it--which is part of the reason I anted up for BookSurge's Buy X, Get Y program, which is essentially a form of advertising."
Like too many authors----and too many publishers, to be honest-----Mr. Carnoy seems oblivious to the importance of marketing in publishing. The physical production of a book is now trivial; the writing is only slightly more difficult. But it is the marketing of a book that makes or breaks any book. That is where authors and publishers should put the bulk of their effort and time.
I know who people publish through Lulu and CreateSpace and are selling 300+ copies of their titles on a monthly basis. But these are people who put time and effort into their marketing. They understand the notion that "reviews sell books" is no longer true; marketing is what sells books. Reviews today are just one part of the total marketing mix.
If there is one thing I wish I could get every author to understand, self-published or not, it would be that one's willingness to aggressively promote and market a book has far more impact on a book's financial success (or failure) than the book's "quality" (however that might be defined), its publisher, etc. An author unwilling to do the necessary marketing and promotional effort is an author that will be unread.
Posted by: Harry Helms | December 23, 2008 at 05:11 PM
One of the great things about self-publishing is the amount of author control. I was just asked via Twitter the other day "how many times can I back-and-forth with my designer about my cover?" It took me a moment to answer! We allow constant feedback from our authors. I've often changed an author name font up to 20 times trying to find the one they like best.
One of the drawbacks to self-publishing is also author control. It is very difficult to get someone to understand the importance of professional copy editing and cover design when they have a high school English teacher and an "artist buddy" working on their book for free. And getting authors to market their books online, the most available channel for self-published authors, is so difficult. Without marketing a book will not sell. And if you are willing to market your book and support your effort, why not make it the best book possible?!
We have several very successful authors we've worked with. Some selling thousands of books. The key to their sales numbers has been having a professionally done book with author marketing strong behind it. Without the two key ingredients, you've already failed.
Posted by: Kat Gautreaux | December 29, 2008 at 01:01 PM