What Every Author Ought to Know about These 6 Self-Publishing Myths
Anyone else have mixed feelings about Shark Tank?
I’ve stopped watching it because my sensitive little soul aches for the entrepreneurs who blow it.
But for the sake of this blog post, let’s go there. Pretend you’ve got a genius product idea. You know it’ll help people and you want to bring it to market. You’ve got two paths to do that.
The first one is to jump into the Shark Tank. You must convince investors your product is worth risking their hard-earned money. You need a polished presentation and tough skin to endure a few (or many) rejections. And if you do get the investment, you don’t own the product anymore; you’ve handed it to the investor to multiply it.
The second one is setting out on your own. You’re willing to invest your own money to create a polished product. You will likely make several mistakes, but at least you own it. You make all of the decisions, create the team, and pave a path for a profitable writing life.
Like it or not, as writers, we are entrepreneurs. Our products are our books. Publication is how we bring them “to market.” The Shark Tank way is traditional publishing while setting out on your own is, you guessed it–self-publishing.
Neither is right or wrong, best or worst.
This post will not try to convince you that self-publishing is the way. I don’t believe that–just like I don’t believe traditional publishing is the way either. Self-publishing is not the path for amateur writers vainly seeking publication, and traditional publishing is not the path reserved for celebrities and Instagram influencers.
Have you ever read a terrible traditionally published book? (I won’t name them here, but I have.) Have you ever read a fantastic self-published book? (Probably–The Martian, Beneath the Scarlet Sky, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, shall I go on?)
How a book is published does not change the book’s quality. Think of your favorite books. Who published them? Chances are, you don’t know. You can remember the title, the takeaways, the stories. But the publisher? Irrelevant.
So don’t put too much pressure on yourself. God will give the right message to the right people in the means he chooses.
What this post will do is dispel some self-publishing myths so you have all the right information to make the best decision for you, your readers, and your message.
Myth No. 1: Self-publishing is lonely. You don’t have a team with you.
This may have been the case years ago as the Internet was still finding its footing. But with social media, online writers networks, and sites like Reedsy, you can access hundreds of professionals to help you make this book a reality. You get to make the team: the editor, the designer, the formatter, the marketing consultant. And because you’re paying them, they (should) work on your timeframe.
Myth No. 2: Self-published books are lower quality. This option is for amateurs who don’t know how to write well.
I used to believe this one years ago too. I thought self-published authors refused to listen to the wisdom of people who knew what they were doing (i.e. traditional publishers) and arrogantly sought publication.
The truth is, traditional publishers don’t always have room for your type of book. Some of them only take on a certain genre or topic a year. Some of them have already committed to authors years ago. Your book’s rejection isn’t necessarily tied to poor quality.
Also, even traditional publishers don’t always know what they’re doing. They can only predict the market, and sometimes they’re wrong. A book they think will do well doesn’t and vice versa. Famous examples include Timothy Ferriss’ 4-Hour Work Week and of course, JK Rowling’s Harry Potter.
Remember, you get to choose your editor. They will make you a better writer. With the help of a team, you can write a well-written book, even a self-published one.
Myth No. 3: Self-publishing ruins your chances of traditionally publishing.
Not. At. All. In fact, if your self-published book sells well, you might increase your chances of a traditional publisher picking it up.
Additionally, if you tried to find a traditional publisher but were rejected because of low platform numbers, then your self-published book might help increase those numbers. Your self-published book introduces your writing and message to people more quickly and could build your platform should you want to try again for traditional publishing.
Myth No. 4: You have to market more than a traditionally published book.
Not necessarily. Marketing is part of every professional writer’s life. A traditional publisher might help you in some areas, but they rely on you to do much of the work.
A healthy relationship with marketing will only benefit you. Remember, we’re entrepreneurs; we’re always going to be “selling” our books. (Don’t let that scare you. You absolutely don’t have to be sleazy or gross in this. You can market without gimmicks, even as an introvert!)
Plus, a traditional publisher is less likely to pick up a writer who doesn’t carry much of the marketing weight. So cultivate a good relationship with marketing and selling; I promise it’ll only make you a more successful writer.
Myth No. 5: Self-published books sell fewer copies than traditionally published books.
Before we get into this myth, we need to make something clear: selling books isn’t exactly lucrative. If you want to accumulate wealth, then I wouldn’t recommend writing books as your first option.
That being said, how many copies you sell really comes down to you. Whether you’re traditionally published or self-published, you still have to drive the readers to your work. About 15% of traditionally published books sell less than 12 copies. Meanwhile, the average self-published book sells about 250 copies. The genre, type of book, and your platform all matter in the selling of the books. Your book may reach a larger audience with a traditional publisher, but that’s also never guaranteed either.
Furthermore, self-published books always make more money than traditionally published ones (unless you’re a celebrity or big name). So even if you sell more traditionally published books, you make far less of a profit. Self-published authors generate around 70% profit off of their books. Traditional publishing is much less than that. So selling copies doesn’t always equal profit.
Myth No. 6: Self-publishing is too expensive.
This myth is hard to bust because yes, self-publishing costs money. Traditional publishers absorb the cost to edit, design, and print your book. But, self-publishing doesn’t have to be “too expensive.” Because you have the control, you choose how much to invest. You can find affordable editors and cover designers. Perhaps you save money on the formatting and do it yourself.
The cost doesn’t have to come out of your personal pocket. You can do side work, like freelance writing or admin jobs, to build up a publishing fund. And, as you improve your writing and marketing, you will likely re-coop that cost–and perhaps even make a profit too.
Choosing how to bring your book to the world is a big decision, but remember this:
“More is lost by indecision than wrong decision. Indecision is the thief of opportunity. It will steal you blind.” - Cicero
Make a decision and keep going. You won’t make the wrong one.