This is a question I ask myself on a regular basis. And let me be honest, for many reasons, I would not choose to be self-published over having a decent traditional deal with the right publisher who knows how to market my books. Let’s get that out in the open. There are many proud indies out there who feel very differently, and I admire them greatly. Perhaps their books are selling so well they have been able to give up their day job. It does happen! Perhaps they are earning enough to keep a smile on their face and self-doubts at bay. Perhaps they are natural promotional and marketing wizards, or have experience in this area. I salute them.
But for many indies, the self-published route is a hard old slog. That’s not to say it’s without its joys and successes. It’s thrilling to finally publish a book. It’s exciting to work on a cover, and it’s challenging to learn how to craft a decent synopsis. There are a lot of positive aspects to self-publishing, and I would never ever deter anyone from trying it. You learn innumerable skills, you run your own business, you hit the ceiling with joy when your book connects with a reader so much they send you a personal message or leave a book review that blows your mind. Believe me, there is a lot of fun to be had.
But let’s take another look at the hard old slog of it. Let’s take a look at what it can take to get a book finished and out there, to push it and promote it, and then see a trickle of sales reward you. Let’s think for a minute what it is like to remember that literally millions of other indies are publishing books, that the market is swamped and that it is getting harder and harder to be seen and heard.
So, first, you write a book. Which might take a year or two out of your life. There will inevitably be blood, sweat, and tears. There will be semi-breakdowns and outright temper tantrums. There will be a neglected family and or partner who know you are never really listening to them when they talk. There will be a day job for you to try to focus on. There will be housework and life and this crazy, messed up world. But somehow, you do it.
Of course, the hard work has only just begun. Now you must rewrite it, redraft it, edit it, proofread it, cry over it some more, enlist beta readers, cry some more when they tell you what sucks, feel like giving up, bang your head against the wall and do it all again, and again and again until you know it is done.
Then you try to find a publisher because you’ve heard how hard self-publishing is. You’ve heard that it costs money to edit, create a cover and get it marketed. You don’t know how to do all that stuff, so you want a publisher. You want someone of authority and experience to grab your book and demand to publish it. You want that recognition that all that hard work was worth it. That your book is worth it. That you are in fact, really and truly, a writer.
Next, you face rejection. You get sorry not for us, right now. You keep going because you know how many times Stephen King and JK Rowling got rejected, but eventually, you realise that self-publishing may be your only option.
If you are made of tough enough stuff, you don’t balk at this. You want to be published and decide to grab onto this adventure with both hands. So you start doing your research, network and make contacts, maybe go to workshops or events and you start to feel good about this. You can do this. This might even be fun! It’s a challenge!
You read articles and secure a cover and pen a synopsis and do everything the best you can, although you will always harbor a sneaking feeling that it all could have been much better with more money and experience behind it. You plan a book launch. Exciting, indeed.
Exhausting too. This was me the last few weeks, months even. Reading up, reaching out, building hope. Sending the book out to agreeable ARC reviewers, which is something I have not done before. I decided to focus more on reviews than sales with this book to see what difference that makes. Because everything with self-publishing is experimental and trial and error. No one thing works for sure. What works for one person will do nothing for another. You have to keep trying different things.
As I got closer to launch day, I panicked. I panicked that the book was not good enough. Two people found a few typos, so there was panic in getting these amended in ebook and paperback, and in both cases, I managed to mess up the formatting and had to ask for help to fix it all again. In the nick of time, all was well for release day. In a negative mindset by then, I decided that no one would come. No one would join in. Most of my FB friends had ignored it. What was the point? It wasn’t worth it. None of this was worth it. I was well and truly down about it. And feeling down about self-publishing is not a new state of mind for me, it’s a pretty regular one. I have down days and then something happens to lift me up again. It’s a good old fashioned roller coaster of a ride, all right.
I spend a hell of a lot of time on this. Writing and crafting the books, keeping my social media and author platform engaging and consistent, reading and absorbing new trends and information. The list goes on and on. This is not a game for the faint hearted or the easily dissuaded. This is also not a game for anyone banking on instant success, money or fame.
Nevertheless, I persevered.
And launch day reminded me why.
Launch day reminded why self-publishing is worth it.
Launch day kicked off with 6 instant reviews on Amazon, courtesy of those amazing ARC reviewers. By the end of the day, I had 12 glowing reviews. One review was the longest I have ever had for any book! The reviews left me in no doubt that these readers had got the book, enjoyed the book and been affected by the book. Over the moon does not go close to revealing how this made me feel. I believe reviews are fuel to writers. They feed us and warm us and keep us going when we feel like quitting. These reviews will fuel my journey for some time to come.
Launch day saw my online Facebook party start at 1pm and end at 11pm. I managed to juggle this with childcare and domestic duties, and though I had been dreading it and wishing I hadn’t started it the day before, I ended up really, really loving it.
I shared news of my release in a Facebook group called Book Connectors, and had a great response there with a few people buying the book and coming over to join in the party. I’ve already had a great response from bloggers in that group for this book and some of the others. It’s been a brilliant group to be part of.
Feeling more confident, I launched the party and to my surprise, things really took off. Lots more people started joining, loads of people shared the event and each post and giveaway got a really great response. It was tremendous fun!
I sold some books, gained new likes and followers, enticed discussion, gained reviews and had a great time. A few days later and I am still selling books and gaining reviews. I keep telling myself to enjoy it while it lasts, and prepare myself for a slow down or a stall in sales. I am sure there will be another down day, another ‘this is not worth it day’, but until it comes I am determined to bask in the glory of the now and let people know how much I appreciate their help and support.
So, going back to my original question; is self-publishing worth it?
Will you ever make back the money you spent?
Yes. One day you will.
Will you ever feel like you are worthy after the rejections of traditional publishing?
Yes. Given time, patience and increased work and attention to both your craft and your promotional activities, you will. Not all the time. But enough to keep you going.
Because self-publishing is one thing above anything else. It’s an opportunity. It’s a chance. It’s not easy, and it does not guarantee sales, reviews, recognition or respect. You have to earn all those things and yes, in time, they do come. It’s an opportunity to get better. To become a better writer with every book you produce, to become a better promoter, to improve your author platform, to network, to keep trying, to work harder and harder.
What do you guys think? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject! Have you tried self-publishing? What are your thoughts on how easy or hard it is to succeed?