BLOGGER: JESSICA KIRKLAND
Agent, The Blythe Daniel Agency
QUESTIONS TO ASK BEFORE YOU SELF-PUBLISH OR INDIE PUBLISH
A common debate right now in the publishing world is whether or not authors should traditionally publish or self-publish. Every writer has heard wildly successful tales from both sides of the fence. As an agent, I fully believe that strong publishing partnerships are priceless. When you find the right publishing house to partner with, your career should be better for it. At the same time, I do think there are certain types of projects, circumstances, seasons—and certain types of writers—that lend themselves well to self-publishing. There are many instances where a quality, self-published title has helped an author get a contract from the agents and publishing houses they hoped to secure in the first place. If you are a writer who is considering the self-publishing route, here are a few questions to consider before you go on your way.
Money. Are you ready to be the bank? Many authors fail to consider the cost of self-publishing before they move forward with their book projects. I know many writers who are self-publishing well, but all of them spend anywhere from $1000 to $3,000 just to get the essentials: a good cover, a thorough developmental edit, and a quality copyedit. Can you do it cheaper? I’m sure you can, but my warning to you is that you get what you pay for. That doesn’t include any extra money spent on publicity or marketing. The nice thing about publishing with a traditional house is that they are the bank. They take on the risk and bring to the table all of the necessary personnel to make your story market-ready. As a self-published author, you should absolutely have a team that looks identical to what the publishing house would supply for you—but you have to find them, hire them, and pay them out of your own pocket.
Momentum. Are you ready to build a team to help push your book forward? When you self-publish, you volunteer to be a team of one. And if you want to be successful, you can’t stay a team of one. There are two types of teams that every self-published author needs: a prep team and a launch team. The prep team consists of all the people that help prepare your manuscript for production. These are agents, developmental editors, line editors, graphic artists, formatters, etc. Then, there is the launch team. These are marketers, publicists, social media assistants, readers in your target market, and other focus groups that are willing to tell the world about your book and share it on social media. It’s rare to find someone who can wear enough hats to do this on their own. Your team might be five people or ten people, but you must have a team in order to launch a book that will help your career.
Marketing. Are you prepared to market your work weekly? There are millions of books on Amazon. And if you want to join the ranks of those millions of books, then you need a marketing strategy to get noticed, because it’s pretty darn noisy out there. I believe that authors, any type in any market, should have a marketing plan for 6 months prior to their publication date, and 6 months after launch. You will not drum up anything but disappointment if you simply upload your book to Amazon and walk away. You have to remind people, in a responsible and non-annoying way, that you are a writer with a book for sale. Many people hate to market. If you are one of those people, then you probably shouldn’t self-publish or you will need to hire someone to do the marketing for you.
Motive. Why are you choosing to self-publish? There are a number of motives that drive a writer’s decision to self-publish their work. These motives can be derived from both positive and negative experiences that writers have faced in their careers. Maybe you want to self-publish because you are a great writer and marketer, so self-publishing is a natural fit for you. I know a few authors who have had long careers in traditional publishing and left for a bigger paycheck in the self-publishing world. But, again, those are established authors with huge followings, so they can run the risk of not having a publishing partner launch their titles. Sometimes writers who decide to pursue self-publishing do so through a lens of rejection. They have received no’s from traditional publishers, or they get impatient trying to find an agent, and decide to run ahead of the process. Most of the time, this ends badly—with damage done to their career almost before it begins. If you are interested in self-publishing, you need to weigh your motive against possible outcomes. Did a publishing house tell you no because your content wasn’t ready? If so, self-publishing could be a disaster for you in that moment of time. Do you write in a genre that only has a few reasonable opportunities? Then self-publishing might be a good route for you.
Manuscript. Is your manuscript publication ready? Have you given your story enough time to bake? Before I was an agent, I wanted to be a writer. The best advice that anyone ever gave me was to go to a writer’s conference if I was truly interested in pursuing writing as a career. It took me six years of writer’s conferences to fully grasp what good story looked like on the page. I’ve read countless books on how to write as well as studied bestsellers, all to become better. Have you studied your craft? I know a handful of authors who wrote a first draft before they studied the art of writing, but they didn’t stop learning after their first draft. A first draft is a baby step. It’s an amazing accomplishment, and harder for some than others, but you need to know the rules of writing and good story. And then, if you creatively choose to break a few, know the rules you are breaking. Some ways to get your manuscript ready include: get your prep team assembled, join a strong critique group, create a group of Beta Readers to give you general reader feedback.
One piece of advice I give to debut authors is that even if competition is high and opportunity to break in and get a traditional contract feels low, these factors should never change your passion for writing. A changing publishing landscape should never make you quit. If anything, it should make you a stronger, smarter, and more strategic writer. In the event that you have weighed your options and self-publishing is your path of choice, educate yourself and do it well.