The Pros & Cons of Self-Publishing: Practical Tips for Success
Updated: Jan 25, 2022
As a new author, you have lots of things to consider before writing your book. However, one of the biggest decisions you can make is whether or not you will publish traditionally or independently. There is no objectively right or wrong answer, as there are pros and cons to both options.
With traditional publishing, the chances of your title being selected for publication are slim. You may have an idea that you think is going to become the next bestseller, but your confidence doesn’t guarantee success. If you do get selected, you will only make a small percentage of the profit, and will lose quite a bit of control over the final product. However, incomplete control isn’t necessarily always a bad thing, since big publishers are usually more experienced and better equipped to help promote your book and make it marketable.
On the other hand, with self-publishing, you’ll do everything by yourself, which has pros and cons. The advantage is that you’ll have full control over the final product. However, the cost is a lot higher, since you are the one who has to pay for all the expenses. You could lower the cost by doing all the writing, editing, and marketing by yourself, but this isn’t something I would ever recommend—it is vital to have an objective point of view when it comes to your final product, since it is easy to become blind to your own shortcomings.
f you choose to go the self-publishing route, there will be different steps for you to take depending on the kind of publication you’re hoping to put out. First, you’ll have an idea, namely of what you want to write—for example, will it be fiction or nonfiction? The genre you choose to write in will determine the steps that need to be taken. For example, if you plan on writing a book with illustrations, you’ll need to hire an artist whose work best represents the content of your publication. If you do not feel confident in your own writing skills, the second step is to hire a ghostwriter. For the front and back covers, you will want to have those ready early on, around the time you have your first draft ready. Although your title may change, your cover can always be corrected during the final stages of publication.
When your draft is ready, you’ll then want to submit it for copyright. Getting a copyright usually takes around 6 months, and if you’re going to expedite your application at the last minute, it’ll cost you extra money. So, plan ahead and have your copyright registration early on. You’ll also want to plan ahead and get the ISBN and Library of Congress numbers for your book, as well as the barcode. Having these four things early on will help protect your book and allow it to be easily found.
After these steps are completed, you will then need to hire beta readers (i.e., reviewers), which will cost you around $1,000, depending on the amount of time you are asking them to put in. If you do not have the money, you can instead recruit a close circle of friends. In my case, when I wrote my most recent nonfiction book, I had 30 colleagues review my work and give me feedback. You will then need one editor to look at the overall structure and organization of your work, and another to look more closely at the specifics of your grammar and syntax. The final step is to have a graphic artist lay out the pages of the book, preparing a digital press-ready file, which you will then send to your proofreader(s) and have them look through again. After you finish proofreading and integrating edits, you’ll generate a single physical copy of the book (i.e., hard copy), which you will review one last time. Once this is done, your book is finally ready for mass production. Phew!
As both a printer and author, I’ve gotten to experience self-publishing for myself and for others. With this in mind, the most common mistake I have seen self-publishers make is underestimating the cost and effort involved in marketing and promoting their work. Most of the authors I work with will already have their money set aside, and will have a marketing plan ahead of time. This is the best way to operate. However, I’ve also had experiences with self-publishers who come to my company expecting us to fund and ideate the entire marketing process for them. This is not how my company operates. Ask yourself, who do you want involved in the project? Can you get their commitment ahead of time? Who will be your beta readers? It’s important to have all these people lined up. You’ll also need a timeline for the project from start to finish, that way you’ll have a realistic mindset of when you’ll have the book ready for launch. This is because you’ll want to have your launch scheduled and advertised on social media several months before the release date.
I also suggest, when bringing on freelancers, to interview them to test out the quality of their work. If you’re working with a new editor, for example, you’ll want to give them a test project because writing, editing, and proofreading are completely different ballgames, and you’ll want to make sure that the people you’re hiring are putting in a quality of work that best fits your standards and criteria. So, be very careful not to blindly select a big-name freelancer just because they’re a big name, or someone who claims to have years of experience, because their experiences may not fit your needs.
Similarly, when working alongside publicists or marketing firms, I suggest to make sure they have the experience necessary to successfully market and promote the kind of publication you’re putting out. What are their past successes and failures? Are they truly a good fit for your product? Usually I’d suggest interviewing five to seven potential publicists. Remember, the more expensive ones may not always be best for you. You want a PR firm that will help you find the media outlets that’ll maximize the exposure of your product. If you go with the big guy, you may get lost (or they may lose you).
One last word of practical advice: When sending publicists copies of your book, you’ll need to make sure you have a stamp on them stating “book sample, not for resale” (or something to that effect). This is because, if you don’t, the following will happen. You’ll send 200 copies to your PR firm, which will then be sent to media outlets—however, once the media outlets are done reviewing your book, they’ll send it to Goodwill or The Thrift Store. This is reverse publicity. Imagine, you’re trying to promote your new book title, but your potential readers are finding it in thrift stores for $1 when its retail price is $24. The reputation of your book is something to be guarded.
We hope this article has been enlightening. The process of self-publishing may seem overwhelming, but remember—just take things one step at a time, and you’ll be fine! You’ve got this.
Sarah Y. Tse is the CEO of TSE Worldwide Press, Inc. and Founder of United Yearbook Printing Services. She is the author of 7 Years on the Front Line and co-author of From Illusion to Reality: True Stories and Practical Advice on How to Prepare for Career Success Before Graduating From College. Sarah currently serves as a mentor and speaker at Biola University's Crowell School of Business, and is deeply passionate about empowering people, especially younger professionals, to explore their gifts, goals, and calling.