Self-Publishing: Is it Difficult? Sometimes. Is it Doable? Definitely.

JorgeRoyanHatsFor over a year now, it seems like I’ve been hearing the same theme running around writing and publishing blogs. So much that I feel the need to write a post about this. So much that I really feel like this needs to be talked about. What am I hearing?

Self-publishing is HARD.

It’s time-consuming and intricate. You have to learn all these different skills and wear so many hats. Hats you’re not prepared for, young and inexperienced writer!!! You need to write and edit and design and format and market and promote and blog and Twitter and Facebook and maybe even PINTEREST! And then you have to load ALL the books in ALL the formats onto ALL the self-publishing sites out there! You don’t even know how many there are, do you? How could you possibly do this!?! Self-publishing is hard! Really REALLY hard!

So hard that maybe…

It’s better to hire someone to do all that stuff. (Because you couldn’t possibly handle it yourself, right?) Or hand over some of your long term earnings in the form of a percentage of sales in exchange for editing or formatting or cover art. (After all, you’re not really a professional. You’re just self-publishing.) Maybe, young writer, you’re

just

not

capable

of doing this self-publishing thing.

I have one thing to say to that.

Bullshit.

Bull. Shit.

I call bullshit on all the “self-publishing services” out there who are trying to tell writers that all this is so far beyond them that they need to charge thousands of dollars to “package” their books for them and load them onto the publishing platforms. I call bullshit on services or companies that play on writers’ insecurities to convince them that they’re not capable of learning new skills. Want to know how I started self-publishing? I’ll tell you a secret.

I knew nothing about publishing. I learned along the way. I made mistakes, but I learned.

And you can, too.

I self-published my first book, A Hidden Fire in October of 2011. That seems like ancient history now, but it’s really only been two and a half years. At the time, I was told that self-publishing would sink any serious literary career. I’d never get an agent. I’d never make any real money. I’d be mocked by any serious review sites. That was the common wisdom at the time.

I didn’t care. At that point, writing was something I was really just doing for fun. I was writing fan fiction, along with original fiction. I was posting stories on my blog, trading stories with friends (some of whom are still my beta readers today and others who have published their own work.) I was having a blast.

Fiction was fun. It was my stress relief. It was my escape. And after I heard about self-publishing (Thanks again, Lydia!) I figured it might be a way to make some money, too. I hoped to write and publish enough that over the next five years, I could make writing and publishing fiction some or most of my income. But really and truly? I knew NOTHING about the publishing business. Nothing. Nada. So how did I go from hearing about publishing to publishing my own work eight months later?

I learned.

I researched what was out there about it, most notably Joe Konrath’s “A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing” and Dean Wesley Smith’s “Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing.” I read (and continue to reference) an excellent manual by David Gaughran called, “Let’s Get Digital: How to Self-Publish, and Why You Should.” I read The Passive Voice to get a feel for what was current in self-publishing news along with some of the business and legal side of this business. (Passive Guy is an Intellectual Property attorney.) And I read blogs. A lot of them.

And then I just did it.

See, here’s the thing. Self-publishing is NOT for everyone. Some people want to work within the traditional publishing system. And if they have a good agent who gets them a fair deal, then I celebrate that. To each their own. It’s common to vilify big publishers on a lot of blogs, but you’re not going to find that here, because I know for a fact that publishers, big and small, are full of people who LOVE books. You don’t get into working for a publisher for fame and fortune. You do it because you love books. And I have a lot of respect for that.

But for those writers who DO choose self-publishing (and there’s more and more of us all the time), I want to warn against any service that wants to charge you money for a package deal that promises to take all the work out of self-publishing, but really probably just takes a lot of your earnings.

I’m not talking about hiring an editor or a cover artist for an agreed upon price. I’m not talking about translations or audio productions where you have another artist’s (yes, translation is an art) work riding along with yours. I’m talking about paying someone to load your books onto Kindle Direct Publishing or Smashwords. I’m talking about giving someone a percentage of your work in exchange for something like formatting.

Please don’t do this.

I’m going to write a short series over the next few weeks about my publishing process and how I’ve chosen the professionals I work with. Most will not be epic posts like this. I’m just hoping to dispel some things I’ve seen cropping up online. Because I want writers to be successful. I want them to succeed. And I want them to keep as much of their well-earned money as possible.

Is self-publishing difficult?

Sometimes yes. Sometimes no.

Is it doable?

Definitely.

You can do this. It’s not rocket science. If you can write a good book, you have the smarts to publish it. Prepare to wear some different hats. You might be surprised how much you like the way you look in them.

I. EDITING

II. BOOK COVERS

III. FORMATTING

IV. PUBLISHING

V. MARKETING/PROMOTION/SOCIAL NETWORKING

VI. LEARNING TO JUGGLE WITHOUT LOSING YOUR MIND

Posted in Publishing, The Many Hats of Self-Publishing, Writing.

14 Comments

  1. Lucky me, I’ve not run into any of these “we’ll help you out” companies. Or perhaps it’s not luck, but the fact that the moment I hear something along the lines of “I’ll offer you a package….” I begin to run for the hills.

    Of course self-publishing is hard. Heck, writing is hard–why should living off it be any easier? Still, it’s doable. You make mistakes (lots of them, hopefully none leading to bankruptcy). You learn. You improve. You release another book.

    When I feel overwhelmed by it all, I usually fall back to something you told me: “It’s not perfect. Keep doing your thing, because that’s what writers do. Practice, get better, move forward.” That’s the heart of writing, isn’t it? And self-publishing is just taking what you do, what makes you unique, and turning it into your business.

    And whoever said launching, managing and driving any business to success is easy wasn’t being honest. Still, there’s plenty of successful companies in the world: it only takes work and learning to get yours up and running.

  2. Amen. I’m still learning all the time. No profession, perhaps with exemption of the world’s oldest, exists in a vacuum. Things are constantly changing, evolving. If I were to add anything to this excellent post, it would be not to come into the self-publishing thinking you’ll take a crash course in self-publishing and be ready to go forever. You need to be constantly learning. The landscape is in constant flux.

  3. Great article and I completely agree. It is very doable. It just takes time and effort like anything else. I knew absolutely nothing about self publishing so I sat in front of my laptop and spent hours upon hours upon more hours learning as much as I could. Apart from my editor and beta readers, I have done everything myself to get my debut novel self published even down to the cover art.

    I had seen so many posts about how hard it is to get your formatted book to pass the ‘meat grinder’ on smashwords and how ‘we can format your book for you and guarantee your books entry in to Smashwords premium catalogue’ , that I was actually terrified when I first submitted my book. But I’d followed the official guidelines and passed the ‘meat grinder’ straight away. After that KDP was a breeze!

    So yes, people should really take your advice and not pay for these services no matter how scary these companies make it all sound. Anyone can do it if they’re willing to learn.

  4. I very much love the idea of self publishing. I would like to keep all the control in my own hands. I only have one question and it is slightly personal. With all the books you have put out have you actually made any money doing this? Unfortunately, having a desire to publish is not enough nowadays. In this day and time, you have to feed yourself and keep the engine that our lives are today going. When I ask have you actually made any money doing this perhaps I should restate. Have you made an actual living self publishing? I would love to go down this road but a more than full time job is important right now. (Not being nosey just worried about real life.)

    • Yes, I have. In fact, writing has been my sole income for almost two years now. I want to stress that every experience is unique, and part of the reason that I make my living from writing is because I have multiple books published and continue to write. This is not a “write one blockbuster and make the big time” game. Self-publishing is a long term business. So please keep that in mind. At the same time, most of the people I know personally who make their living from writing self-publish some or all of their work.

  5. Awesome article!!! I will admit in front of anyone who reads and listen that some of my favorite stories (Such as your Elemental Mysteries Series) have been self published and I cannot tell the difference between them and books that have been traditionally published, other than the fact that I can buy the traditionally published books at the bookstore… But who needs to take a trip when Amazon delivers to your door?
    Thanks for this article Elizabeth! Your support to self published authors is heartwarming 😉

  6. Great post and I clicked to follow your blog. My story is very close to yours, although I tried to get traditionally published for 7 years. I finally sold to a publisher and the self-publishing boom hit. I wanted to give it a try. I took a class that promised you would have a completed manuscript up on Amazon by the end of the week-long class…and I did. That was October 2011. I have books in eBooks, print, and audio now. It is work, but I enjoy it. Thanks, Elizabeth for a great post.

  7. Thank you so much for this post. I have been writing for myself for many years and have decided to try my hand at self publishing. I did come across one business that wanted to ‘help’ me do it all for a huge sum of money but after quite a bit of research, decided I could do it. I think I would feel a little cheated out of the publishing experience if I let someone else do it. It’s been an amazing learning experience and I will forever be happy with the decision that I have made.

  8. Would love advice on a few things, please. I’m a Greek “writer”. Haven’t published, yet. I mostly write in my native language, cause as you, very well put it, translation is an art on its own ! But I manage English well enough – written a few short stories and lyrics. I;m interested in publishing on my own, cause I was told that my book is not long enough… 120 A4 pages, are not enough for standard publishing, they say… On the other hand, I think that if I should add another word, the whole text, would be “useless”… I would really appreciate, your help and commends on stranslation issues as well as long or short books. Thanks you in advance for all the great information through this site Sincerely, Vicky oceanpebble

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