The Hard Truths About Self-Publishing
I’m sorry to tell you this, but if you are going to start self-publishing in 2020, you’ve come late to the party. When it comes to earnings, things have been going downhill for quite a few years now and there is no sign of improvement, or at least not any time soon.
To quote Mark Coker, the founder of one of the oldest self-publishing platforms Smashwords, “if the indie publishing movement were a house, the house is on fire.”
In his 2020 Publishing Prediction, Mark Coker, a well-known supporter of indie writers, for the first time openly expressed pessimism. As someone who’s been running one of the biggest self-publishing platforms for over 10 years and is now serving over 145,000 authors and publishers, Coker has valuable and rare direct access to a whole lot of authors and hard data.
The data speaks for itself and so do authors, or rather, their actions. Many of those who used to be best-selling writers are now struggling to make ends meet. Many were forced into cutting the costs of production or have stopped writing altogether and opted for steady jobs instead.
Self-publish for the love of it, not for the money
This, to be sure, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t self-publish. It does, however, mean that you should be aware of how hard the self-publishing market is even for seasoned self-published writers. It’s a lot harder for beginners who have yet to build their audience.
To avoid disappointment, publish for reasons other than money or at least put profit in second place.
There is nothing wrong with self-publishing a book you are proud of. You’ll have something to show for your effort and it will take far less time to get your book in front of the public than it would if you tried to publish the traditional way.
You can self-publish in a matter of days while publishing the traditional way means you’ll first have to get an agent (which is quite a feat in itself) who then might or might not be able to find a respectable publisher interested in your book. If they do, it will take another one to two years before you’ll finally see your book on the shelves.
And having a traditional publisher, mind you, is no guarantee the book will succeed anyway. In self-publishing as well as traditional publishing there are no guarantees. Books have either made it or flopped in both cases.
Given the level of competition today, it’s far easier to write a book and self-publish it than it is to become financially successful with self-publishing (or traditional publishing).
You not only have to be familiar with the self-publishing landscape, platforms apps, tools, social media, and marketing but also have to have a big enough budget. A few days ago one of the writers in a Facebook group revealed that she’s gonna spend from $50 to $75K on the promotion of her first book. She is confident this will work out well since she has experience in marketing.
To become successful, you need talent and budget for marketing, not just for writing. But keep in mind that you’ll also need many and not just one published book.
Most writers don’t have that kind of budget and even if they did, it’s questionable whether one could indeed hope for a return on investment (ROI) with just one book. Experienced self-publish writers will tell you that they make a decent ROI because promoting one book leads to the sales of others. To make it, you’ll likely need a lot more than one self-published book (think 20 to 30 rather than one or two).
Emerging writers are seen as easy prey and many have been scammed, plagiarized, and/or trolled mercilessly. Venturing into self-publishing can sometimes feel like venturing into a bad part of town. You have to watch your step and take extra care not to get attacked or swindled.
There are many self-publishing platforms, service, and vanity presses that take advantage of authors. Check everything twice before you sign-up for anything and upload your book. A good place to start is The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) and their Self-Publishing Service Ratings.
It’s also a good idea to google the service by including words such as “scam” or “user review” in search queries.
Be extra cautious when it comes to sites that offer to connect you with readers to get book reviews for free or at a low cost. Such services (for instance, Booksprout) are often used by thieves and trolls. They sign up to get books for free and then either steal or trash them with bad reviews on Goodreads and other platforms.
Speaking of which, stay away from Goodreads and don’t even dream of putting your books up there since the platform has turned into a cesspool of trolls. Numerous authors complained about bad practices there and tried to salvage their books’ ratings with more or less success. Avoid at all costs!
A good and reliable book review service I can recommend is NetGalley, but even there you risk getting poor reviews. For the most part, though, these are real reviews and not Goodreads kind of trolling. As a self-published writer, you need extra-thick skin. It’s bad enough to receive poor reviews, but it can be absolutely devastating if you get attacked by trolls.
What’s worse, trolls on Goodreads are well-organized and act like a pack of hyenas that don’t let go.
One way of avoiding this is to never use any review service that promises to connect you with readers for free. Instead, only look for highly reputable ones that give you the option to vet every reviewer who asks for your book before they get a chance to download it. You can thus hopefully prevent thieves and trolls from destroying what you put so much effort and resources in.