Self-publish or perish?

Dear Andrea,

I’m tired of getting rejection slips.  I’ve found some presses that will gladly publish my book, if I’ll just purchase a certain amount of books. Others  simply outright try to sell me a publishing package. I’ve heard that in a legitimate publishing contract, all the money flows towards me, but so few first-time authors are getting published. This book needs published, so I’m thinking about self-publishing.  What mistakes should I look out for?

Signed,

Perishing*

Dear Perishing,

Five big mistakes come to mind:

1) Thinking about self-publishing.

Sorry, I stooped to shock value. What I actually mean is all some people do is think. They never actually get around to doing anything.

2)Publishing under your own name.

Have you ever seen an advertisement for a movie made by Johnny Amateur, directed by Johnny Amateur, written by Johnny Amateur, and starring Johnny Amateur? What kind of quality production did you expect? Were you eager to see it? Publish under your name, and the reader in the book store will see, “Written and published by Johnny Amateur.”

The reaction of industry professionals is even worse. Fairly or not, many, if not most, of the very folks you’ll need to help you market your book and actually get it into readers hands won’t touch you with a ten foot pole.

3) Publishing under the non-traditional publisher’s name.

Professionals in the industry know who these guys are and that you paid for the privilege of being published, so you’ll face all the same problems as you would if you’d put your name where the publisher’s name goes, such as the spine.  Speaking of which, to the book store owner, the number one mistake is putting nothing on the spine at all. They can’t stock your book that way.

4) Skipping the professional edit, or relying on the services of the publishers who have the money going the wrong way.

My apologies to any editors who work for these companies who actually do their jobs, but those who will publish you if you pay them are notorious in the industry for not properly editing your work and even editing in mistakes. I personally have yet to pick up a novel printed at one of these presses that couldn’t have benefited from another edit and most of them needed another edit quite badly.

This is one of the most serious problems self publishers face.  Unless you hire the appropriate professionals to edit your book, you’ll end up putting out a shoddy product wrapped in a cool cover–and that’s if you use a well-intentioned subsidy publisher (that would be the ones that require you to purchase a bunch of books). Otherwise, the cover is usually of inferior quality as well.

If you want to publish a quality book, at minimum, you’ll need to hire two professionals. One to do a copy or a comprehensive edit (depending on the shape of the manuscript)  and another to proofread the book after you’ve gotten it typeset (looking like a book rather than a manuscript).

The hitch? While I don’t share the qualm myself, you may have difficulty finding qualified professionals willing to take on a self-publishing client.

Naturally, this one is pretty big in my mind. However, there is one mistake that tops it, because it’s the mother of all self-publishing mistakes.

5) Thinking like a consumer rather than like a business owner.

If you had the opportunity to start up your own business, would you jump into it without researching the field and what goes into making that business run? Would you not shop around, find out how much time and money you will need to invest to make your new business venture profitable? Would you not seek to learn everything there is to know about your new business?

That’s exactly what you’re considering right now. A business venture. Treat it like one. That’s another reason you need to create your own publishing house with it’s own name that isn’t yours. You’ll feel and think more like the business owner you are.

You’ll face many decisions as a brand new owner of a publishing company. Such as where to outsource the actual printing and warehousing of your book, preferably to the folks the large established houses use, but a POD printer like lulu.com may suit your needs as well.

One more major decision you’ll have to make is whether to only publish your books or those of other people as well. Whatever you decide, know the decision to publish others’ manuscripts would mean becoming a literal independent publisher, which would give you some measure of actual credibility, or more pointedly, make it more likely that marketing and distribution professionals will be willing to do business with you.

Even if you chose to only publish yourself, treating this venture like the business it is would lead to wiser decisions that would result in more book sales. If your sales figures were high enough, a traditional publisher would then pick up the book and you’d escape the self-publisher ghetto that way.

In Christ’s Service,

Andrea Graham

*This letter is based on the sentiments expressed to me in conversations with various individuals over the years.

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