4 Questions To Consider When Deciding Whether To Traditionally Publish Or Self-Publish
I have no illusions as to my current publishing readiness: I’m nowhere near ready to publish. I acknowledge the fact that I have no practical experience on this subject. I have, however, spent countless hours thinking about it and reading articles on it. With all that research, these are the things that I think authors should ask themselves to decide whether they should be self-publishing or going traditional.
Remember, though, that it’s not all or nothing; it is possible to have a hybrid career path, but that’s a little too complicated for a single post.
1. Do you want to be a full-time author?
This may seem like a strange question to many authors; you write, ergo you must want to do it full-time, right? Wrong. The reasons why someone might prefer to write part-time are endless. For me, it’s because there is another potential career that obsesses me and I will always choose it over being an author as a job (as a way to relax and have fun, that’s a different story). I very much doubt that I’m the only person in the whole of the internet who is in this situation.
When answering this question, you need to keep in mind that it is very, very hard to earn a living wage from writing (particularly writing just fiction) for traditional publishers/media. You know the starving author stereotype? It didn’t occur in a vacuum. In Britain in 2008, the median author income was £4000, which is unliveable, and this is typical. While there are a small number of bestselling authors who will earn millions each year, the number of those authors is a single digit or a low-double digit. You know the advice ‘don’t quit your day job’.
However, I’m not convinced by the myth that self-pubs are more likely to earn a living wage, simply because its so simple nowadays that (in my humble opinion) there are people releasing their book who have no business doing so. These people are releasing first drafts, thinly veiled copies or badly formatted ebooks and then complain that their not earning enough to retire on. I do believe, however, that it is easier to earn more if you’re prepared to put in the work for it, because there is not limitation on the promotion or the amount of work you can put in. On the other hand, it’ll all be on you.
2. Why are you publishing your novel?
Theoretically, there are an infinity of answers to this, but they usually boil down to recognition, money or a combination of both. And, here’s the thing: neither path guarantees either of these, nor does either path offer only one of the two.
Traditional publishing will increase your distribution channels and give you a legitimacy in the eyes of some readers and critics. On the other hand, there are much fewer barriers to publishing, meaning that you can publish as much as you write, without ever being told that there is no market, and the burden and control over how much money you make belongs too you more than for traditionally published authors.
Are these the only reasons to publish a novel? No, and outside of these two you’ll have to do your own analysis as to which option is better for you. Don’t forget to do a bit of research rather than just theorising; you never know what information can be found in the dusty corners of the internet.
3. Do you only want to write or do you want to have more say in the production of the novel?
A big part of the job of a self-published author is, in fact, not writing. It’s the branding, the marketing, the formatting and the miscellaneous chores that need to be done before a novel is publishable. It’s the level of organisation required to keep everything sorted not just for the book of the moment but also the preparations for the next one, and the one after that. It means being an expert in all aspects of the business, or at least knowing when its worth delegating.
There is a huge amount of work in self-publishing, and even more in making it seem effortless to put out a good quality product. The trade-off is that you need to do all that work if you want true control over your novel.
4. Are you self-motivated or do you need other people to force you to finished projects?
Here’s the thing: unless you can make yourself finish, not just the novel but all the associated tasks, you’re not going to succeed as a self-publisher. It’s just simply too easy to not do something, and that’s a very slippery slope. Ultimately, self-publishing means not being accountable to anyone else, which means that you don’t have the same motivation to be accountable to other people.
Basically, a career in self-publishing without self-motivation is going to be really, really hard because finishing (never mind going above and beyond in order to truly excel) is going to be extremely hard.
What else do you think author’s should consider before making their choice?