You may have heard about the “leaked” memo from publishing giant Hachette on why publishers are still relevant. Perhaps more interesting, though, was author J.A. Konrath’s response. Though I agree with Konrath’s advice in principle, one of his comments disturbed me. Since he published with traditional houses and became well versed in the business before going it alone, he was probably not conscious of how his statement reflects what I feel is the biggest curse of self-publishing: impatience. If you’re wondering how to self-publish your book, consider these tips first and save yourself some heartache.
One Week to Publish a Book?
I don’t disagree with Konrath’s advice, except for one point:
“2. Release titles faster. It can take 18 months after a book is turned in to be published. I can do it myself in a week.”
You can get feedback from a developmental editor, have it copyedited, design the interior and cover, have the pages set, proofread, send the book to a printer, get it distributed nationally, etc. all in a week? I think not. I also think most self-publishing authors have day jobs, which makes that week timeline even less realistic. This is not how to self-publish a book if you want to see any success with it.
Even with digital, where you can skip a few of these steps like designing the interior and proofreading, I still doubt anyone would take only a week to do all of this. If you work with vendors, you are definitely looking at more than a week’s turnaround. If you do it all yourself, it should still take longer! I shudder to think of all the authors who don’t give themselves some distance before revising, let alone work with a professional editor or at least get a few critical readers. And that’s just production.
To be fair, perhaps Konrath was intentionally exaggerating to prove a point, which is well taken. Even crashing a book through production—something I was intimately involved in during my time at Simon & Schuster—takes several weeks and costs publishing companies astronomical amounts of money. They tend to avoid very timely works, even great ones. The mindset may be shifting since publishers could rush to produce an ebook more quickly than a print book, but still, by the time you get your query read by a publisher it could already be too late!
Most Self-Published Books Sell About 100-200 Copies
If your goal is to see your book in print and sell copies to friends and family, you’re probably thrilled with this number. However, if you’re a business owner hoping to establish yourself as an expert and increase your visibility, a couple hundred books is no great shakes. Serious writers working to build an audience won’t be happy with this statistic, either.
The reason for these low sales figures isn’t a mystery: Too many writers confuse printing a book with publishing one.
When you learn how to self-publish a book, you’ll learn that you are responsible for wearing all the hats: editorial, design, production, marketing, sales, publicity, subrights, legal, and more. That takes a lot of time, education, plenty of hard work, and sometimes money. If you want to do it well, that is.
You can have something fast, cheap, or done well—pick two.
Writers who approach self-publishing in a fury over mammoth rejection piles often choose the wrong two. They rush their manuscripts to printers without taking time to perfect their craft or get objective feedback. They refuse to spend money on editors or designers and don’t take time to learn these skills themselves. They pay for convenient publishing packages without fully understanding their limitations, and don’t create or execute a marketing plan. They don’t see that when they become a publisher, they are starting a business.
And, mostly, they fail.
Don’t you want to give your project the attention it deserves and give it a real chance at success? Study the marketplace. Learn the ins and outs of the business and get a handle on how to self-publish a book before you jump in head first.
I’m not suggesting you wait years while becoming a publishing expert. At some point, you’ll have to screw up your courage and just do it! For best results, though, make sure your decisions aren’t based on impatience, but on research and careful planning—as any good business decision should be.
Here are some questions that will help you identify whether impatience is driving your actions.
- What are your goals for self-publishing? Again, if you need the closure of seeing your manuscript “in print” or want to give copies to loved ones, you don’t need to follow the same path as business-minded independents.
- Do you have real time constraints? If you’re publishing a time-sensitive book, you’ll need to prioritize and focus your energy. Feeling tired of rejection, however, is not a time constraint, so get real about your situation.
- Speaking of submissions, before you rush into self-publishing, honestly consider whether your book is ready for the marketplace. Smart businesspeople realistically assess a product before launching it. Maybe those rejections are telling you something important, even if it’s difficult to acknowledge.
- Have you already invested time and energy in perfecting your book and learning about publishing? Successful ventures require preparation, but at some point, you gotta take that leap into the unknown. Check in with yourself about why you might be hesitating and separate the emotional reasons from the pragmatic ones.
You care enough to have spent precious time writing your manuscript. Don’t negate that effort by fumbling the ball now. It takes time to plan an effective marketing campaign and create a professional product, so respect yourself and what you have to offer the world by taking that time and doing things right.
And hey, if you can’t imagine spending hours sifting through websites and books, consider working with a publishing consultant. It can significantly shorten the learning curve by helping you make better decisions and get you the most for your time, energy, and budget.
Founder of The Writer’s Ally, Ally E. Machate is a bestselling book collaborator, award-winning editor, and expert publishing consultant who loves using her insider knowledge and experience with the publishing industry to lead serious authors toward success. She and her team live to help make great books happen, whether that means showing a writer how to improve a manuscript, get an agent, or self-publish; or coaching an author on growing her platform to sell more books. Since 1999, she has supported hundreds of authors on their publishing journey and takes pride in serving as their books’ best ally.