Why Self- Publish?

Pros and Cons

by Louis N Jones

Why Self-Publish? Pros and ConsFor as long as I can remember, if you wanted to publish a book, you had three options: either 1) submit it to a traditional publishing company and hope that if you were even slightly less known than Stephen King, the company would accept your book for publication; or, 2) you could pay to get the book published through one of the vanity presses, or 3) you could put the book out yourself using crude printing and binding methods.

A good chunk of my early childhood involved hand-printing stories on plain paper. I would bind them with either tape, staples, glue, or a combination of the three. Then, I would fashion a cover from cardstock paper and share the "books" with my friends. Later, I graduated to a beat-up typewriter that would print jagged paths of words and sentences across the page. I was certainly not the first nor the last to do this, as this was the only way that I could afford to share my stories with others. It was either that, or pay thousands of dollars to get my books published through a vanity press, and I had as much a chance of that as I had of getting my pre-teen writing accepted by a traditional publishing company.

Times have certainly changed.  Now, the traditional publishing companies are no longer the gatekeepers of the bookselling world. Almost anyone can get a book published these days. The mere thought of that causes some people in the industry to cringe and others to pop corks of champagne. The self-publishing industry, thanks to current technology, has come a long way from the crude self-publishing efforts of Mark Twain and Lewis Carroll.  According to Bowker, a leading provider of bibliographical information, self-publishing grew at a rate of 21.24% between 2010 and 2015, with 727,125 ISBNs assigned to self-published titles, an increase from 152,978 in 2010.

An explanation for this growth is that many authors have eschewed traditional publishing and are instead financing the publication of their works on their own. In these self-published author ranks are many who have tried to get their books published by a traditional publisher, only to be rejected. Self-publishing became a viable option for them.

Despite its burgeoning popularity, self-publishing does have its issues. One of the major ones is its reputation for books that are low-quality and substandard. Many of the authors of these books do not have the advantage of a seasoned professional guiding the process from manuscript to market, as would be the case with a traditional publishing company. Therefore, a great deal of self-published books contain flaws such as poor cover design, lack of professional copy-editing, potentially libelous content, copyright and trademark violations, interior design errors, and more. Because self-publishing is easily accessible and, in most cases, relatively affordable, there is a glut of bad books out there, which makes it difficult for the good books to get discovered.   A few years ago, an author sent Dove Publishers a proposal for a book to be traditionally published.  We rejected the book, as it had no less than twenty-four glaring grammatical and spelling errors within the first two pages. We recommended that the author have the book reviewed by an editor. The author obviously did not take our advice, as the book is currently available on Amazon, glaring errors and all.

Another drawback to self-publishing is just that: it is self-publishing. The author is technically responsible for all aspects of the publishing process, from editing, interior design, cover design, printing, marketing and promotion to distribution and has to foot the bill for the entire process. The self-publishing company facilitates the process, but all the responsibility is on the author. If the author is not fully skilled and experienced with every aspect of this process, or does not engage professionals along the way to help with areas such as cover design and editing, the final product may be virtually unsellable and could give the author a very bad reputation that is difficult to shake. However, for those authors who are committed to the quality of their works and have brought to bear the necessary resources, self-publishing can be a very feasible road to becoming published.

Below are six pros and five cons of self-publishing. Any author considering self-publishing should examine these carefully and make the decision that is best for them and their writing career.

Pros of self-publishing

1)   Full ownership. The author owns all rights, cover and interior files, images, and materials involved in the production of the book.

2)   Authors who self-publish tend to enjoy a great share, if not all, of the profits and royalties from book sales

3)   The author makes all editorial and production decisions.

4)   Self-published books tend to make it to the market quicker, as they usually do not go through the vetting and editorial logjams common with traditional publishing.

5)   Contracts with self-publishing companies tend to be limited in duration, usually extending only until final copies are sent, production files are handed over, and all payments have been received. There is no long-term commitment to the self-publishing company.

6)   With self-publishing, you have freedom of content, making this option ideal for books that appeal to limited or niche markets.

Cons of self-publishing

1)   The author is required to handle the time-consuming tasks of marketing, promotion, and distribution, which can be quite prohibitive for an author with limited time.

2)   Self-publishing is often stigmatized due to the low-quality of many self-published books.  For this reason, many brick-and-mortar and online bookstores, some agents, and some distributors will not accept self-published books, and many book review sources will not review them.

3)    If the author does not have experience with all aspects of the production process, including cover design and book layout, a substandard product can result.

4)   The cost investment for a self-published book could be as little as a few hundred dollars to as much as several thousand; this cost investment may be prohibitive for some authors, and many self-published authors fail to earn back their initial investment.

5)   Publishing is not a by-the-numbers process. There is a steep learning curve, and new authors will have to invest significant amounts of time learning and studying the industry if they hope to be successful in the highly competitive business of book publishing.

A good self-publishing company will help the author retain all the pros of the self-publishing process while limiting the number of cons. A good company will not only be selective as to the books that they publish but will work with the author on ensuring that the final product is as excellent in quality as any by a traditional publisher. Dove Christian Publishers, a traditional publishing imprint, has recently started a self-publishing imprint to assist authors who may not be able to meet the steeper acceptance criteria of a traditional publisher. Our self-publishing imprint, Inscript Books, will distinguish itself by its commitment to quality and by ensuring that its authors are well-versed and well informed about the publishing process.

Obviously, given the popularity of self-publishing, many authors who have chosen this option feel that the pros outweigh the cons. Traditional publishing is still the best way to go for those authors who have publishing experience and who have established a platform that will lead to significant book sales. However, if you are an unknown author with a passion for writing and a strong desire to get your work in the hands of readers, self-publishing remains the most viable option.

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