By Steven W. Booth
To self-publish or not, that is the big question facing many of today’s authors. Today, Steven Booth, a publisher, offers his thoughts on what should be factors in this decision making process.
Many authors are confused about when it is best to publish through traditional (including small press) publishers, and when to self-publish their work. I see this question every day on Facebook, and I hear it often in the writers and publishers groups I am associated with.
As an author who has self-published (without a publishing imprint) as well as publishing my work through my small press company (I’ll get to that in a moment), I can understand the confusion about the pros and cons of publishing.
Here’s what I tell every author who will stand still long enough:
- If the work isn’t good enough for a publisher, it probably isn’t good enough to be self-published.
- If the work is good enough that a publisher wants to publish it, then seriously consider self-publishing before you sign the contract.
Caveats to both perspectives
The caveat to holding off self-publishing if you can’t get a publisher is when a publisher says, “I love it, I want it, but I have no idea how to market it, so I won’t take it.” I have said that exact thing to several very good authors—and there is a twinge of regret in my heart for each one of them—because they really were great books.
But publishing is a business, and a good publisher will have a marketing niche that they can be successful in. Going outside of that niche is not cost-effective. But if you self-publish then your marketing niche is exactly what you have in your hands, and you will probably do a better job at marketing your own book than any publisher can—especially if it is a tough genre to label.
The caveat to self-publishing if you are offered a contract is that you have to remember that self-publishing is a business, and should be treated like one.
A self-publisher, when they do it correctly, is a small press with one author… you. For example, are you prepared to get:
- a fictitious business name
- a business license from your municipality
- start and maintain a website
- engage in and maintain a social media presence
- have a bank account for your small press that is separate from your personal account
- work on marketing your book at least once a day for the lifetime of your book
If not, then perhaps you would want to seriously consider traditional publishing?
You can absolutely do less than that if you start your small press, and let’s face it, many small presses do less than that as well, but if you aren’t serious about being in business then don’t take on that role or you will be disappointed with the sales. The more effort you put into your book’s success, the more success you will likely see.
We all know the breakout success stories of authors who kept pounding on the doors of publishers and couldn’t get anywhere, and then self-published and had a hit. That’s very romantic and exciting, but it’s also rare.
My recommendation for success with a particular book you’ve written is to shop it around, and while you are waiting for an offer, write another book, and shop that one around. And then another. And keep repeating this process until you get picked up.
Chances are, when you’ve written ten titles whether they have sold or not, you will become a good writer that people want to read. And when you sell that book and it finds an audience, the readers will demand more writing from you—which you just happen to have handy.
The beauty of being a small press (with one author or many) is that you get paid every time a book sells. That’s why I built my publishing company around my own work, though I do work with other authors. But it’s a balancing act:
- If you self-publish, you will have to take on the burden of paying for everything and learning a lot about publishing to be successful.
- If you publish through a traditional publisher, then you will give away half your money or more, but you will have the luxury of just being an author.
So, it all boils down to how motivated you are to have control of your own destiny. Are you going to self-publish and take the risks and rewards of being in business, or are you going to trade money and control for a certain level of security and support from a publisher?
It’s your choice.
Steven W. Booth is the publisher at Genius Book Publishing, which publishes dark fiction and non-fiction. Genius Books has 7 titles scheduled for release in 2014. Steven is the co-author—with award-winning author Harry Shannon—of The Hungry (Sheriff Penny Miller) series of zombie novels, and will be releasing The Hungry 5 in February 2014. Steven has earned a BA in Economics/Business from UC Santa Cruz, an MBA in Nonprofit Management from the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, and a Masters in Teaching from National University.