In 2015, Joanna Penn hosted a talk at Nottingham Writers’ Studio on how to make a living from your writing. Her talk dispelled many of the myths around self-publishing and inspired me to pursue it too.
Sadly, many of these myths still remain. They often—but not always—stem from outdated information and literary snobs who don’t like it when the status quo is challenged.
And to them, I say tough.
Things change. Move with the times or fall behind, it’s up to you.
I know which path I prefer.
Here’s some of the big self-publishing myths that need to die because they’re a load of 💩
(If you agree and want to help change this, please share this post with your network. The more people we can get talking about the truth behind self-publishing, the sooner we can remove the stigma!)
Self-publishing is easier than traditional publishing
No. No it’s bloody well not. I spent EIGHT HOURS one Sunday just formatting books. And I didn’t even finish.
The more elements of the self-publishing process you do yourself—and, because I’m broke, I do them all—the longer it will take you, and the harder you’ll have to work.
It’s all these processes around writing that are the problem. They’re the reasons why it takes me so long to publish my books. I can write pretty damn fast. But the publishing process? Bleh.
Self-publishing is most definitely not the easy path.
With traditional publishing, pitching your work to an agent, then a publisher, is the hard part. All the design, copywriting, and even some of the marketing, are done for you. For the most part, once the edits are in, you can move on to your next book.
With self-publishing, once you’ve finished writing your book, you need to double—possibly even triple—that length of time before you can share your work with your readers. You may also have to spend even more time on top of that to market your book.
It’s possible to publish faster, but to do so, you need a nice chunk of change to spend on a graphic designer, editor, proofreader, book formatter, and whatever else you can delegate to someone else. Your average person just doesn’t have that amount of money.
Self-published books are of a lesser quality
Really? You think a book going through a gatekeeper is a sign of quality?
Ha ha ha ha ha.
It’s a sign that it will (probably) make money.
Literary books are generally of a high quality, but they don’t sell that well. It’s also highly unlikely that the book’s readers will be as loyal as those that read genres such as crime, fantasy, or romance.
Pulp fiction is where the money is. Some pulp fiction is good, some of it is bad. It’s as much of a personal preference as anything else in life. Gatekeepers are not immune to the effects of personal preference.
And they most certainly don’t always get it right. Look at Rebecca Black and Friday. (Or don’t, just use it as an example of how gatekeepers don’t know everything.)
There are also books out there written (or ghost-written) by celebrities such as Katie Price. And while I can’t deny she knows how to market herself, she’s hardly J.K.Rowling (she may have her books ghost written, but I once saw her say in an interview that all the plots were her idea. I’ve honestly no idea how true this is. And while we’re on the topic, whatever happened to Katie Price? She seems to have faded into obscurity).
Self-published authors need to do more marketing
(Traditional publishers will do it all for you)
The assumption that traditional publishers will do all of your marketing for you is one of the biggest myths when it comes to traditional publishing.
The more a publisher pays for a book, the bigger the marketing budget.
Unfortunately, unless you already have a big platform, it’s pretty unlikely you’ll get a fat cheque or a decent marketing budget.
Publishers pay more for celebrity books—and market them heavily—because they already have an audience. They know the books will sell if they reach the right people. The lower the risk, the happier they are to invest.
There’s a rule in marketing, and it’s that you promote your most successful content. If something does well on its own, it’s worth you investing money into it to make it go even further.
You do not waste money on a sinking ship. If your book sales are already paltry, it’s highly unlikely that publishers will reach into their pockets and promote it for you to try and fix this. The margins in publishing are small. They’re therefore going to promote the books already doing pretty well.
When you self-publish, all the successes and failures are your own. That’s part of what I like about it. I’ve learnt far more by pursuing this path than I would have by pursuing traditional publishing. And if I had gone down that route, I may still be waiting for my first book to be published.
The traditional publishing world moves at a snail’s pace once it has your book in its hands.
But its trends move fast.
If you’re pitching something to agents and publishers that’s popular now, you’re already two years behind.
Self-publishing is easy money
Books do not sell themselves. There is no magical fairy that will find your readers for you.
If you don’t give readers a reason to read your book, they’ll just go and read someone else’s. There are millions of books published globally every year. You have to do something to stand out.
Doing all of this is not cheap. In fact, I’ve made a loss every year since I started self-publishing. Self-publishing is the reason I’m broke. Had I not pursued this path, I could’ve gone on a whole lot more holidays in the last couple of years.
So, if you want to self-publish but don’t want to a) market your book and b) miss out on holidays, think again.
One book will change everything
Publishing your first book is the biggest anti-climax you’ll ever experience. (There’s a crude joke in there somewhere.)
You put your book out into the world, you get all excited, you even host a launch. But once the book goes live…well, what did you expect to happen?
You won’t get your payments from Amazon for a couple of months, and if you publish on Kobo or Draft2Digital, you have to reach certain thresholds before they’ll pay you. For Kobo this is $100. I’ll be Nan’s age before I make that much on Kobo.
It could be months—maybe even years—yes, I said YEARS—before you get payments from these publishing channels. The less books you publish, the longer it will be between these payments. If you give up on self-publishing before you’ve really got started, you may never get the money that you’re owed from certain publishing platforms, because you gave up too soon 😱
Negative reviews won’t affect book sales
When you have a small platform, anything below a 5* review won’t just damage your sales, it will kill them.
Think about it—you have a few hundred, maybe a few thousand followers on social media. You get a few hundred hits to your blog each day. No one really knows who you are. So the easiest place for people to find you is on Amazon.
You can include all the keywords you like in your book description, but it won’t make any difference if one person decides your book isn’t for them and leaves a negative review.
Yes yes, I get the part about it balancing out all the smushy stuff. But when presenting results to people, Amazon only cares about a book’s popularity, and when you don’t have money to throw at advertising, reviews are a free way to increase your exposure.
Say you’ve got a book with one 5* and one 3* review. The average for that book is 4*.
Someone has written a book in the same genre and it has one 5* review.
That book with just one review will rank higher in search results than your book with two reviews.
If you write in a competitive genre, reviews are even more important.
Even if you have a great 5* review, if the next one that comes along is a 1* review, Amazon will give your book a 3* rating and it will practically disappear off the face of its search results.
So, next time you go to rate a book on Amazon—particularly a self-published one—take a moment and think about how that review will affect the author. Because, while you may feel a 4* review is positive, if that book doesn’t have any other reviews, you’re one click away from killing its sales, and with it, a little piece of its author.
You have to choose between self-publishing and traditional publishing
Many writers take the hybrid approach. Some of their books are published traditionally, while others are self-published. This gives them the best of both worlds.
There’s no reason you can’t adopt this method, too.
Moral of the story
Self-publishing is WORK.
If you’re not willing to work on your book marketing, you may be better of pursuing traditional publishing. However, there’s no guarantee that this will mean that you don’t still have to do at least some marketing. The bigger your author brand, the bigger your advance, and the more books you’ll sell.
Whatever publication path you pursue, you need to WORK.
You need to work as hard as you can, and then some.
You need to be like a cheetah chasing its prey.
The only difference between you and the cheetah is that you’ll never catch your prey.
You’ll never reach your end goal.
You’ll always have to keep learning, always staying ahead of the curve, because, right now, the literary world is changing faster than ever. And that’s great. So long as you’re willing to work at it.
And if you’re not, well, there are plenty of jobs out there for you if you don’t want a career.