Should I Self-Publish?

 

By W. Terry Whalin @terrywhalin

I could see the resolution in the eyes of this author across the table from me when she said, “I’m going to self-publish.” 


We were meeting at a conference (pre-pandemic) and talking about her manuscript. I liked the shape of her proposal, her title and the energy that she had put into her book idea. In just a few minutes, I could see the potential. I acquire or find books for one of the top independent publishers. We spent the next few minutes exploring why she wanted to self-publish. I’ve heard these words from other authors:


“Everyone is doing it.”


“Isn’t this the best way for any author to get started in publishing?”


“I want to get it out quickly while the market is hot for my topic.”


“I don’t want to give up my rights to a publisher (and the control).”


Without a doubt, no matter what direction you decide to publish, just entering the field is challenging. I’ve been working with books for decades and yes, every book is filled with unique challenges.


Before you take the leap into self-publishing, I encourage you to move forward armed with a bit of reality: “According to the latest Bowker data (Publishers Weekly, February 20, 2023), 2.3 million books were self-published in the US in 2021, which was the third year in a row that more than two million books were self-published. This is the number of new titles that received an ISBN from Bowker. Several years ago Bowker stopped releasing the numbers of new titles that were not self-published, but a recent industry estimate is that each year “between 500,000 to 1 million . . . new titles are published through traditional publishers” Here’s where I got this information with much more detail: The 10 Awful Truths about Book Publishing.


Anyone with a computer (and everyone has a computer) feels like they can get a book published.  I understand some of their motivations. I often tell authors that making books is easy. Now selling those books you make—that is a completely different story. Statistics have proven the average self-published book sells 100-250 copies during the lifetime of the book.


Many companies are happy to take your money and make books (and a number of those companies are scams). In fact a prominent large Christian publisher has a self-publishing imprint. I’ve seen some poorly created books from this publisher. While on the surface it looks like an “easy” way to get published. The reality is something quite different. You are not really working with that publisher (giving money to them for the referral yes). In the production, you will be working with people in the Philippines (part of why you speak with a different person each time). The books will not be sold inside any brick and mortar bookstores (poorly distribution—a key consideration). And, the parent company (something they will not tell you about) has many different imprints and produces over 20,000 books a year (anything from poetry to porn). Yes, these companies are a scam preying on uneducated writers. I’ve met several authors who have unnecessarily spent $20,000 with such companies which is tragic because they will never sell enough books to recover such an investment.


To be fair, every publisher has unhappy authors and complaints. It’s part of the publishing landscape. Yet some companies have many complaints which should be a red flag to potential authors. 


One of the best ways to learn about complaints is to use Google and type in “NAMEOFPUBLISHER + complaint” and see what you learn.  Ask questions about what you discover and listen to the answers. Occasionally I field complaints about Morgan James and have answers but authors have to take the initiative and ask questions (your responsibility).


From my experience, the best publishing involves working with a team and involves cooperation, give and take. To get this experience, you have to write a book proposal. I believe even if you self-publish, you should write a proposal because this document will become your business plan or blueprint for your book. To help writers, I wrote Book Proposals That $ell. Writers have used my book to get an agent, get an advance and much more.


Or you can write an excellent manuscript and skip the proposal if you send the book to me for possible publishing. For eleven years, I’ve been working with one of the top independent publishers (Christian owners but not all Christian books). Our books have been on the Wall Street Journal bestseller list over 100 times. This fact alone demonstrates broad distribution not just online but selling in brick and mortar bookstores.


On the surface, publishing looks simple but in reality is complex with many decisions and variables. I encourage you to watch this 36-minute video master class where New York Times bestselling author Jerry B. Jenkins asked me a number of questions—including about publishing. Keep learning all you can from every possible source and reach out to me if I can help you.


Tweetable:

Everyone is self-publishing. Should you? This prolific writer and editor gives his insider’s perspective. Learn the details here. (ClickToTweet)


W. Terry Whalin, a writer and acquisitions editor lives in
Colorado. A former magazine editor and former literary agent, Terry is an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing. He has written more than 60 nonfiction books including Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams and Billy Graham. Get Terry’s recent book, 10 Publishing Myths for only $10, free shipping and bonuses worth over $200. To help writers catch the attention of editors and agents, Terry wrote his bestselling Book Proposals That $ell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success. Check out his free Ebook, Platform Building Ideas for Every Author. His website is located at: www.terrywhalin.com. Connect with Terry on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn.

7 comments:

Karen Cioffi said...

Terry, this is an excellent article. I hope all authors read it. Self-publishing scammers take advantage of authors - it's terrible. I've seen clients spend over $10,000 to have their book illustrated and published. It's a rude awakening to know that, as you mentioned, "Statistics have proven the average self-published book sells 100-250 copies during the lifetime of the book." Thanks for sharing!

Terry Whalin said...

Karen,

Thanks for the feedback. Each of us take different paths to get published but we need to carefully select the right one for us and not fall into some of the traps out there.

Terry

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

This is one of the best tips I have seen in a long time, @terryWhalin! I'll quote it on Twitter for sure! As always, experience counts. By the way, that is getting to be one of my favorite phrases since I am seeing a resurgence in ageism in politics and other places just when I thought we might be in a moment when we would all see the destructive quality of the "isms" including #bookbigoty.
Best,
Carolyn

Terry Whalin said...

Carolyn,

Thank you for the feedback. Yes our years in publishing give us a different perspective and hopefully some wisdom to pour into these articles. It's not easy for any of us to find the right fit for our work to get into the market.

Terry

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Speaking of experience …ii am glad when i see it valued I notice a surge of agism is our current events. Here is what I know from a personal perspective: i am glad that that i know more about the world of publishing than i did way back when i started. It’s one reason I recommend YOUR books in the appendices of my books! It’s your collected knowledge in those books that make them a frugal way to get credible information.
Best, Carolyn

Terry Whalin said...

Carolyn,

Thank you for this comment about my books and work. I have (and continue) to learn a great deal about publishing through my personal experience as an author and an editor. I'm delighted to pass that on to others as countless others (including you) have passed on to me.

Grateful for the journey,

Terry

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Those "many years" are called experience. It's a lesson in avoiding ageism like the plague--young or senior. (-:
Hugs,
Carolyn

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