Why Self-publish? A Primer

I won’t go into this subject too deeply as it’s been covered in excruciating detail elsewhere. Consider this a quick introduction.

Amongst aspiring authors there are two main camps: those that believe in the traditional route to publication and those that prefer the “indie” route.

The Traditional Route:

Choose a genre, write a book, have it beta-read and/or edited. Rewrite it until it’s as good as can be. Then find a literary agent to represent you. This can be an extremely difficult and time-consuming process. You could easily spend 3-4 YEARS making submissions to literary agents without ever finding one who wants to work with you. If you succeed in finding an agent, he/she will look for a publisher to publish your book. If he/she finds one, you will receive an advance (usually tiny) and the publisher’s editors will go to work on the book. With a lot of luck, many rewrites and a following wind, your book might arrive on the shelves in some bookstores 12-18 months later. If the book sells, your royalty share will be just under 15% of the retail price of the book; the rest goes to the bookseller, the publisher and your agent. If the book doesn’t sell within a month or two, it will be removed from the bookshelves, shipped back to the warehouse and shredded.

The Indie Route:

Choose a genre, write a book, have it beta-read and/or edited. Rewrite it until it’s as good as you can make it on your own. Now, find a professional editor and have it edited. Rewrite (maybe several times) as needed.

Format your book. There are a number of choices here. Scrivener will produce documents suitable for the various eReaders. I prefer to use Guido Henkel’s instructions and Calibre for the Amazon Kindle (.mobi) format. Formatting for eBooks for the Kindle is tricky. It requires a lot of patience and attention to detail, but it can be done. (Calibre is free software explained in Guido’s Guide).

You’ll need a cover for the book. Best use an experienced cover designer. To me, this is as mysterious as any of the black arts, so I will say nothing more than that.

The final step is to submit your book to the eReader distributors, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Sony etc. For me this is a 2-stage process. I submit a complete .Mobi file created using Calibre, to Amazon and for the other formats (ePub etc.) I submit an MS-Word file to Smashwords. If you want to go for Smashwords Premium Catalogue, you will need to purchase an ISBN. Apple iTunes insist on an ISBN.

Now we come to the advantages of the indie route:

In the first place, the time from conception through to sales can be foreshortened and depends on no one but you. A hard-working indie author should be able to publish 3-4 well-written, well-produced books per year

Second, you have complete control over the content of the book (within the limits of the medium – you won’t be able to choose a font, or example) and if the day ever comes when you decide it’s awful and you shouldn’t have published it, you have the option of unpublishing it.

Third, you set the price and you can alter this if you wish.

Fourth, without the middle-men, you can expect royalties of 35%, 70% or 85% depending on the country where the sale is made, the selling price and the outlet. Smashwords pay 85% royalty on all eBooks in all ‘territories’ as far as I can tell.

And last, you have the comfort of knowing that no one will ever shred your book in some dingy warehouse. It will be available for sale on the Internet for the foreseeable future without apparent end.

Producing a POD (Print On Demand) paperback version of your book is also quite a straightforward process. I haven’t bothered with that myself, as the production costs (in Amazon’s CreateSpace service) are too high in my opinion, forcing the paperback selling price into the stratosphere.

4 thoughts on “Why Self-publish? A Primer

  1. loulocke says:

    Dear JJ,

    Welcome to the blogosphere and writing about self-publishing. As another flowerchild, I decided to self-publish my historical mystery because life was too damn short for this senior to go through the traditional route (been there done that off and on over 20 years.) 3 years into the process I am making more money a year than I made at my former career, having a lot of fun, and working on my third book. Just wanted to add to your comment about POD. I did do print copies of both my books–using CreateSpace, and while I don’t sell nearly as many as ebooks (15-30 a month for each book), I do like having them for people who have not yet migrated to ereaders, to send to reviewers, and frankly to have something to pass around when I talk about self-publishing.

    What I found is that I was able to be creative with margins and type font so that I could keep the prices reasonable. The first book, Maids of Misfortune, is 111,000 words-and using 12 pt, came in as a 6 x 9 paperback at 336 pages, and I priced it at $12.76. This is not an unreasonable price for a book that long, and most of the 3 years it has been out, Amazon has discounted it by 15-20% so it has been even cheaper. I make $2.77 per book no matter what the price through regular distribution. For my second book, Uneasy Spirits, I had to bring the font down to 11 pt (but no one has complained) because it is 137,000 words, in order to get it down to 390 pages. I priced it at $14.99, Amazon has discounted to $12.81, and I make $3.49 a copy. The main downside is that when it sells through expanded distribution (i.e. someone orders it through a Barnes and Noble, etc) I make pennies a copy–but that isn’t where I expect to make any money anyway. My point is, that with careful attention to the design of the book–and Amazon’s willingness to discount (I suspect because it is a CreateSpace book) this isn’t a bad deal for the reader or for me as an author.

  2. jjtoner says:

    Thanks Louisa for that extensive comment. I suppose I’d have to say the jury’s still out on CreateSpace for me. My first attempt produced a 333 page 6×9 book that had to sell at $14.00 odd before I could make any profit at all. I thought that was too high. I could have tinkered with it to reduce the number of pages, but it seemed that was going to make only a marginal difference, so I decided not to bother. I may have another go in the future, but for the moment I prefer to spend my time writing and publishing more eBooks. I sell about 15 eBooks in total each month, so there’s probably no market out there for paperbacks of my stuff (yet). Congratulations on your own success, which is remarkable.

  3. caseyvoight says:

    I’m going through this as well. I think you hit it on the head! Im selling my ebook at Booktango.com and have nothing but good to say as they give 100% royalties from books sold on their site:)

  4. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt says:

    Designing a cover is not the Black Arts – it is just one more thing to learn if you like. I’m not saying it’s a good thing to learn all the bits and pieces, but only that you can. There is an amazing amount of DIY information, and, for the next step up, pre-made covers or cover templates (Derek Murphy, Joel Friedman) available for free or relatively inexpensive prices.

    Keep in mind that if you do your own anything, you can change it whenever it needs changing. I corresponded heavily with an author this weekend when I found all kinds of errors in her ebook – errors which had been made by a formatting team they no longer used; she ended up paying for yet another formatting by a different company – and had no longer published when she found six more errors – which she decided to leave for the next edition. If I do my own formatting (I’m planning to use Scrivener), if it isn’t right – I CAN CHANGE IT.

    Of course your time is extremely valuable – you can’t make any more of that – so whatever you have someone else do (preferably an expert), you save time on. But beginners often don’t have a lot of free cash they’d like to use – and they don’t have to.


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