There's a lot of different opinions out there on the whole self-publishing vs. trade publishing debate. And the self publishing world is changing very quickly. What it means now, and it's potential for success, is quite a bit different than five years ago. No one really knows how things are going to look five years from now. And I certainly don't have any special insight. But I am working on self publishing some stuff, so let me tell you why and how and maybe that will be instructive as a single data point among the many.
I have no connection to the writing world. I don't hang out with famous authors, I have no formal literary education, I haven't done any writing workshops or attended any conferences. Truthfully, I'm not very interested in networking. I just want to write. Publishing is simply a way to pay for what I want to do. It's a necessary evil in my opinion, and I understand necessity. Luckily, the most important thing for getting published is writing a good story, which is where I like to spend my time and focus.
But you can write til the cows come home. How do you break into that publishing world? I talked about that in a previous post, but the traditional route all involves gate keepers - people you have to win over before they decide to get you published. It's not an easy thing to do, and having a good book doesn't magically open doors. It takes a lot of time and effort and some luck along the way. But self publishing avoids that. It allows you to decide when your work is ready. It puts your work directly in the hands of the public. And it gives you a greater cut of the revenue since there aren't as many fingers in the pie.
So how do you know if you should self publish or if you should try to get with a trade publisher? It depends on your goals, your time frame, and what it is your trying to publish. Let me use myself as an example. The first novel I wrote is a contemporary love story. It's very commercial and mainstream. I think it could be very successful if it was marketed correctly. Thing is, I have no real good way to market it. I don't have connections in that genre. And by its nature it would need a very wide distribution. It's a good book club book, but some unknown author self-publishing their first book isn't going to get it in any book clubs.Neither would I be able to get it reviewed in any major journals, or have it read by other authors for endorsement. Quite simply, I lack the resources to publish this book in a way that would maximize its chances for success. So I'm trying to find an agent for it who can help me get it to a publisher who does have those resources.
But I've also written a series of fantasy novellas (Necessary Evil). They're too long to sell to magazines as short stories, but no trade publisher would waste their time on something too short to be a novel. People just don't buy single novellas at the book store, and the collections they buy normally come multiple authors or well established ones. So trying to get these stories published through one of the big houses would be a waste of time.
On the other hand, I can publish these novellas myself. Novellas do better in electronic format - they can be priced cheaper and there is no print cost to worry about. Fntasy is a smaller genre with it's own rules and conventions and I do belong to some fantasy writing forums, so I have some avenues to publicize my books. And I know lots of people who read fantasy. Ultimately it's word of mouth that sells books, so if I can get it started, and people like what they read, then there's a good chance they will sell. And if not? Well, it doesn't actually cost anything to self publish eBooks. It just takes time and effort, which I can afford to throw around these days.
Editing is another task that falls on the self-publisher, so I've spent a fair bit of time on that end and I'm confident my work is as error free as possible. Could a professional editor do better? Probably. But will the reader of a cheap novella care if the prose is not perfect? Not really. As long as the typos are gone and the language flows well, the story is what matters.
The current novel I'm working on is a Young Adult book. Which way will I go with that? I'm not sure yet. Again, it's a concept that I think could do very well with a marketing department behind it and a distribution through the major stores. But young adults are well known to buy things through the internet, and they have a nice tendency to share what they like with their friends (read: potential customers). But again, it's getting the book out there in the first place that is the challenge so I will have to see how I feel about my networking/marketing abilities in that particular genre when the time comes.
So I'll be making my foray into the self publishing world any day now (just need to format the novellas properly and get them uploaded). I don't expect immediate success. Most self published books sell less than 200 copies. But I don't see any down side to trying with work that I would never be able to get published by an actual publisher. And I do like the idea of being able to control the whole process myself, of not having to change the ending to make it sell in Topeka (there's some darkness in these books), of getting it out directly to the public right away and hearing what they think. It's going to be an interesting experience and I expect to learn a lot. That alone will be worth it and I'll share what I learn right here when I learn it.