JM Williams

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To Self-Publish or Not?


I have spoken (or rather written) much on my views of self-publishing. I have always felt it was very difficult to break-in to the industry through self-publishing, despite the merits of your manuscript. Thus, I have continuously pushed to get my work published traditionally, despite the difficulties and lengthy time-frame I’ve had to endure.

An article in the Guardian cites statistics that only support my thoughts on the subject. Bear in mind that this article came out several years ago, but I imagine that things have only gotten worse as more amateur authors add their books to the already overstuffed lists of self-published books.

According to the ARTICLE, half of all self-published writers earn less than $500 a year. This includes traditionally published authors that dabble in self-publishing and other writers who have a district advantage over your typical self-published author. Science Fiction and Fantasy authors (like me!) earn markedly less than romance, and only a fraction of the average earnings of $10,000. That, too, is an income that is not livable. Worse, that average is skewed significantly by the extremely rare blockbuster million dollar earners.

My major take away from the article was the following passage:

Even traditionally published authors are now dabbling in self-publishing, and the survey found this was to good effect: they earned 2.5 times more when self-publishing than did rejected authors or authors who went straight to self-publishing. This suggests, said Cornford and Lewis, that “traditional publishers are decent arbiters of quality” and that “the reading public finds, in these authors’ work, the same high standard (or marketable writing, at least) that led publishers to choose them in the first place”.

This is the major reason I will keep pushing for traditional publishing, because readers will be more willing to risk a read of an author with a traditional reputation over one without. But traditional publishing can take many forms. It is more than just getting your novel in print. Another angle I pursue is short stories. I still haven’t had a story placed in a pro-rate mag, but once I do, that will be a boon to any self-publishing plans I might make. I would urge anyone who writes short stories or flash fiction on their blog to try to get something published in a literary journal, magazine, or ezine.

Another important point about self-publishing is that success requires significant investment on the part of the author. This comes typically in three forms: editing, covers, and marketing. Speaking for myself, I won’t even bother with a book if the cover looks amateurish. There are simply too many options to risk my time (or money, depending on the case). Good covers are critical to getting views and sales, and good covers will cost you several hundred dollars.

Here’s what the ARTICLE has to say about it:

Authors…would be well advised to spend time and money on making a title look professional, the survey found: self-publishers who received help (paid or unpaid) with story editing, copy editing and proofreading made 13% more than the average; help with cover design upped earnings by a further 34%.

That’s almost a 50% increase in earnings by having your book tooled by professionals.

My plan still is to do my best to get a traditional publishing deal for my book. Should that ultimately fail, I will shift to self-publishing. But my work has already been worked over by an editor several times, and I fully intend to invest in a good cover and marketing.

Hopefully that will result in success.

Anyways, you can find the article at the following link: <a href=”” target=”blank”>Stop the press: half of self-published authors earn less than $500</a>

As always, good luck with your writing. I hope this doesn’t discourage anyone, but rather motivates you to value your writing more and invest in it. Your work deserves it!





2 Responses to To Self-Publish or Not?

  1. I’ve waffled on this issue many times myself. I’ve compromised by going the hybrid route–I’ve got ten trade publications for my short stories, and two of the twelve tales in Dragon Hoard were first published by someone else before I made them part of my self-published collection. That sort of validation is extremely important to me. I want to write at a professional standard.

    As far as covers go, I paint my own art, but I use Deranged Doctor Design to put it all together into a professional cover. I just can’t do font the way they can. I agree that the package needs to project that this book isn’t just some quick homemade project that someone slapped together. There’s nothing wrong with self-publishing just for personal satisfaction, but I’d like my work to be competitive in the overall market.

    As far as going purely the trade route, I decided against that, too. I know I’ve only published one collection so far, but I’ve put together two more, and I noticed an interesting thing. To get twelve good stories that work together, I’ve got to write about fifteen.

    So, essentially, I end up rejecting about three of my own stories every time I put a book together, and these were stories I really liked. It’s helped me with the whole trade process. It’s nothing personal if my work isn’t accepted–it’s just that something else worked better for them. And now I get this in a more visceral way.

    I think everyone has to find their own path in this area. There’s no wise old writer guru who can advise us. That’s not to say we can’t take counsel from those who went before, but everyone faces this editor or agent with this story at this time. Circumstances are never exactly the same.

    It looks like you’re on the right path, though. If we keep stepping back and re-evaluating, I think we’ll do all right. 🙂

    • J.M. Williams

      Have you tried Canva for incoperating your art into covers? Bear in mind I know next to nothing about visual art, but I’ve used it a few times. It has templates and tons of fonts.

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