When I sat down to write this article, I originally wanted to title it, ‘Why I Love Self-Publishing!’ But when I really began to envision my preface about how much my publishers have taught me, and what an integral part of my writer’s journey they’ve been, I realized pretty quickly that I am only a competent self-publisher because I’ve had the privilege of working with some great publishing houses.
To start: what is a ‘hybrid author’? The term usually refers to an author who has published both traditionally and independently. While I don’t have an agent and have never been published by one of the Big 5 (Penguin Random House, Macmillan, Hachette, etc.), I’ve been published by both a boutique press and a large indie press (48fourteen and Limitless, respectively), as well as self-published many of my titles. Once upon a time, when I was a newly published author, I used to scratch my head and wonder why I’d see so many authors beginning with publishing houses (large or smaller ones, like mine), and then self-publishing the rest of their series/later works. I had so many questions. Was it because their publisher rejected the sequel? Why would anyone voluntarily choose to go from the “prestige” of having a publisher to the “stigma” of self-publishing? Why would someone pay to publish if she had access to a publisher who covers all the costs? While these are all valid questions, five years later, I can answer them from personal experience.
I’d first like to reiterate that I wouldn’t be anywhere near the writer I am today if it weren’t for my publishers who gave me a leg up and introduced me to everything I know about indie publishing. 48fourteen gave me not only the confidence and validation I thrived on as a fledgling author, but a great editor who forever changed my writing for the better, an amazing cover designer who’s been the Hannity to my Trump (OK, bad analogy), a tight-knit community of fellow authors who encourage each other, and even, some years later, a job. Limitless brought me a whole new audience, taught me marketing skills, and introduced me to an even bigger author community, which led to me attending book conventions with fellow Limitless authors…which led to being invited to join my local RWA chapter…which led to more fantastic friendships, networking, and learning opportunities. I don’t even want to imagine what my author experience would’ve been like without both of my publishers. It might even be safe to say I would’ve hit a dead end long ago had I never been signed by them.
“OK, C.K.!” you’re saying. “I get it! You’ve got these two great publishers, that’s established…now why do you exclusively self-publish?” The short answer is because, thanks to them, I now have the resources, connections, know-how, and wherewithal to put forth a product of equal quality on my own. Not only that, but I’m able to customize the book exactly how I want it, and release it as soon as it’s ready, without having to wait (and wait and wait…lol) months, or even sometimes years, for the service and approval of any publisher. Not to mention, the self-service is ongoing, and allows for plenty of experimentation. And now, for the long answers…
The top reason I self-publish now is because I don’t have to wait. In the words of Tom Petty, the waiting is the hardest part. I remember at one point, I had four or five books in the pipeline just sitting there, all just twiddling their thumbs as they awaited publication. It really blocked me from being able to create more content, as I felt so backlogged. It was so difficult not being able to share my finished work with my readers until years later, when several had already moved on, forgotten about me, or simply lost interest. That is sooo the opposite of how we want to engage our audience as writers! While the publishing industry may have once worked that way, where publications by one author needed to be spread out, nowadays digital readers tend to favor the author who releases a new book every 3 weeks. (No way any of us can be that prolific, of course, unless we write all that content ahead of time, package it up beautifully, then strategically schedule those back-to-back-to-back releases. Which is an excellent strategy, by the way. Or, unless we are not an author but a TEAM of ghost writers *coughBellaForrestcough*.)
The digital age is speeding everything up, including publishing. So, there’s really no need to wait months or years anymore between publications that are otherwise polished and ready to go. After all, by then, the whole market could have changed, and your ‘young adult’ readers are no longer young! Time and expediency is the paramount perk and reason I exclusively self-publish now. As long as I can ensure the book I produce is still high quality, there’s no reason for me to wait in line behind 15 or 215 other wonderful authors, when I have all the resources, connections, and skill sets to create the same product myself.
Another reason I love to self-publish is that the editing process is smoother. My beta readers, copy editor, and ARC reviewers give me all the early feedback I need if something is problematic. Otherwise, I love not having to engage in back-and-forth with various in-house editors, many of whom aren’t experts in my genre, and often over very minor (and, let’s face it, silly) quibbles. With a publisher, I’m pretty much expected to accept all an editor’s changes unless I provide a potent written argument for rejecting one. Of course, I’m always going to accept if I’ve used the wrong homonym or misused a semi-colon, but do we really need to have an argument over my choice to make my hero bald (lots of pirates shaved their heads; have you tried managing your hairdo while living on a man-o’-war for 8 months?), or whether or not I’m using ‘to’ as a subordinating conjunction in a particular instance? (I wasn’t. There are other uses of the word ‘to’.)
What’s important is that the book is an overall quality product, properly edited, grammatically sound, with no gaping plot holes, and protagonists who remain sympathetic (without crossing any lines too far – I’ve learned my lesson there). Scrupulous or obtuse editing becomes counterproductive after a while. So, with self-publishing, I can handpick competent editors who totally “get” my style and work, and who aren’t going to hold me up over the fact that there are two cities in my 60,000-word fantasy that happen to start with the letter S. (Who cares?)
The third reason is money. While yes, a publisher covers all your costs (mainly editing and cover design) up front, you then have to share your royalties with them. Depending on how many books you sell, it could be worth the cost up front to keep all your royalties. In my case, I’m able to keep costs down by crowd-sourcing and bartering with other authors who have other skills to trade for mine. You also get to make all executive decisions when it comes to things like pricing your books, sales, promotions, and even creating the book in other formats, such as hardcover or audio book. The more formats in which your book is available, the more revenue streams you create off that title. (And lots of indie publishers don’t bother with hardcover and audio creation, for instance.) My biggest expense as an author, honestly, is not creating the books but marketing them. And I tend to spend the same amount marketing a title whether it’s self-published or with a publisher.
#4A: Interior Revisions
Another major reason I only self-publish now might seem small, but to me, is huge. And it’s that, even after I’ve already released a self-published book, I can go back into the text any time to correct errors. Every traditionally published author has experienced the heart-stopping horror of reading through their published book baby for the very first time and spotting The Dreaded Typo. *shiver* You’ve all got at least one – chances are, you know them by heart. Down to the page number where they occur. You even warn people before they read it. There’s a missing period on page 112! The word ‘She’ was supposed to have been capitalized in Chapter 20 but somehow wasn’t! “I had two rounds of editing,” cries the author, “copy edits, revisions, line edits, and even a proofreader – HOW DID THAT GET THERE?!” I’ve actually seen cases where typos in an author’s finished work made them – get this – completely give up on marketing their book, because they didn’t feel comfortable selling something with errors.
First, I want to back up and say that nearly every book in the world has an error or typo somewhere. (With anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 words, hey, it’s bound to happen to one of those words.) Yes, even books published by major publishers. So this phenomena isn’t because indie books or indie editors are “sub-par.” It’s merely an inevitable occurrence in a human world. When your book is with a publisher, you’re doomed to cringe for the next 4 or 5 (or 60+…however long your contract is) years every time you even think of that typo. I don’t know how to explain it to non-authors, but to all the published authors out there, you get me.
What’s great about self-publishing, though, is that literally as soon as the error is brought to your attention, you can go back in and fix it, hit publish, and within a few hours – all fixed. Like it never even happened. Sure, people who’ve already bought the book will have the old version with the error, but you can at least rest assured that all future customers will now be getting the cleanest possible edition. Stuff like that makes an author sleep well at night. Having the freedom and ability to fix errors immediately is something only self-publishers can do. If you so much as approach a traditional publisher about your typos, you’ll not only get the stink-eye, but you’ll likely be asked wait till your contract is up…at which point they might determine that fixing it isn’t worth their time.
In this same vein, you can also update your front & back matter instantly, and without any push-back, in self-published books. Got a new book you want to sample in the back of the previous one? Holding a newsletter giveaway? Want to update your bibliography in the front with links to all your books? Have at it!
#4B: Exterior Revisions
As well the ability to make interior changes with self-publishing, you also can rebrand and update your covers….whenever the heck you want. Starting to get sick of your old covers? Do they no longer reflect the market? Maybe you’ve been getting negative feedback lately (the font’s not legible as a thumbnail, or these five new books all use the same stock model)? Make it over any time you want! No need to go begging to a publisher with your tail between your legs, then look like an ungrateful jerk. You don’t have to make a case to anyone, or wait on anyone’s funding or approval, to get a new book cover. That is why the freedom of self-publishing is so fabulous!
#4C: Metadata Revisions
You also get full access and freedom to your book’s metadata when you self-publish. Does your blurb have typos or need some sprucing up? Want to switch up the subtitle? Turn it into a series? Update your Amazon categories and keywords? You can do all of this and more when you self-publish. As someone who’s studied digital marketing and owns software like KDP Rocket, you can bet I want to get my sticky fingers all over my books’ keywords and metadata. As well as update them regularly to keep them relevant. This is something I can only do self-publishing…unless I want to be a high-maintenance nightmare to my poor publisher.
#5: It Doesn’t Affect My Audience
Lastly, I’ve found my audience is no different whether I have a publisher or don’t. Many readers don’t discriminate, or wouldn’t even think to choose a book based on its publisher (or lack of one). In some cases, I’ve had a larger audience for my self-published work than for my works with a publisher. This could be due to many factors, such as genre or audience or keywording (or the fact I can run my own AMS ads on my self-published work). And a lot of times, I have even more freedom to pursue various promotions, cross-promotions, and other opportunities to expand my audience when self-publishing. But, all the same, I can also piggy-back off my publisher’s existing & growing audience to find new readers. So, there truly are perks to being a hybrid…you get the best of all worlds!
Of course, self-publishing isn’t for everyone. You gotta hustle. You gotta have the mind of an entrepreneur. You gotta be willing to learn new skills, including many digital ones, or else pay others who are great at it (and won’t rip you off – that’s a big one to look out for). Formatting books from scratch – and doing it right – can be absolute torture the first few tries, but I promise, with practice, it gets a little easier each time. (I will NEVER compose a Word document using tabs again!) There is a lot of Googling, podcast-listening, YouTube tutorials and webinar-watching, seminar and conference-attending, and a whole heap of trial and error involved. But if you have the time, motivation, and grit, nothing can stop you.
And of course, even though it’s called self-publishing, I don’t believe anyone can truly do it alone. Alone and well, at least. While some authors are also artists who can design a stunning cover for their novel, others aren’t. We have to know our own limitations. Cover design is where I personally reach out to the pros; sometimes I barter, other times I dish out the cash. It’s worth it. Because your covers are what sets your brand and sells your books. If you just know there’s no way you can format your own paperbacks, or you need a serious content editor, those are costs to plan for. But as low as you can keep your costs, and as many skills as you can master yourself – and yes, you will spend that much less time actually writing, because you’ll be running all ends of the self-publishing business (which, once again, isn’t for everyone) – then the less of a financial burden it can and will be to produce quality self-published work.
At the end of the day, all-around excellent quality is what matters most. And if you’re determined enough, you can achieve that with and without a publisher. 🙂
I hope this article was somewhat informative, enlightening, and encouraging to you along your path as a writer. If you’ve got something to ask or to add, scroll down to leave me a comment! As always, thanks so much for reading!