As a writer who has been traditionally published (publisher incurs all expenses), hybrid published (author contributes some money towards start-up costs) and self-published (author pays all costs), I have much to say on my experience of all of the above. You may well be reading this post thinking that I started out in self-publishing before going on to get a publisher, but I’d like to let you in on a little truth: the opposite is true.
My journey from small press publishers to self-published
Before I get into the nitty-gritty of this post, a disclaimer: I’m not here to slam small press publishers in any way. I have been fortunate to have had some positive experiences with the small press publishers who launched my various poetry collections or fiction books. Now, you may well be confused: why would an author with small press contracts already in place not choose to keep publishing future books with said publishers and instead go Indie (choose self-publishing)? Indeed, two of my past publishers asked me if I had any more books in the pipeline for them. Instead I chose to go it alone. Lean closer so I can whisper in your ear about why…
I did it to learn how to sell books.
Writing books is an author’s job, and selling books is a publisher’s job. My contracts with publishers meant that I found myself waiting for bi-annual royalties statements to arrive, not knowing how many books I had sold, or whether any one marketing technique contributed towards sales at any one time. I admit, I disliked the lack of control, and felt denied a learning opportunity in terms of marketing.
Want to know another secret? I never submitted The Blue Man or The Fairy Lights to any publisher. Nope; self-publishing was never my fallback option. It was the opposite, in fact: my sole publishing choice. This wasn’t to maximise royalties by cutting out the middle-person, though I must say, there is a world of difference in what I get directly from Amazon compared to a payment at 35% of net costs from a publisher. No, I did it to learn what sells, what doesn’t, and how to tweak my marketing strategies on the go, seeing the effects as they happen.
Does that make it sound easy? I hope not, because it really isn’t. In fact, marketing is harder for me than writing. Much harder. I am fortunate that I work in a grammar school, which means having 8 weeks off for summer. In 2021, I spent those 8 weeks off watching YouTube tutorials teaching myself how to market my books and reading countless articles about distribution services. Yep, it was a full-time education; I was effectively doing summer school while I myself was away from my day-job in a school. Quite ironic, if you think about it.
Does that mean I’m only going to Indie publish all my future books?
No. My experience of self-publishing has been so educational that I feel better equipped to approach publishers with future submission proposals. Often publishers nowadays will ask what you, as the author, plan to do in terms of marketing. I feel confident that I have learned some things about how to use metadata to target my ads. I feel I have a better understanding of how to write effective back cover blurbs. I have more of an eye for cover design and theme. I have more than basic knowledge about using distributors and wholesalers. I’ve gained some valuable – and willing – ARC readers through social media networking. Marketing isn’t simply publishing your book and hoping for the best. It’s about hard work and tirelessly self-promoting yourself. I carry author business cards at all times and a canvas bag with my author logo and website on it so that my brand is visible at all times. I don’t force conversations about my books, or ram my writing down people’s throats – but if people mention my books, or that they’ve heard of me (this is a strange feeling, being stopped by strangers, but it has happened once or twice), I’m happy to engage them in a conversation. The thing about promotion is being mindful of marketing opportunities at all times.
As for my 5 year plan?
For now, I am happy to keep using the ISBNs that I bought from Nielsen as a sole-trader, so I’m going to continue being my own publisher and distributor for the time being. Referring back to the disclaimer above, I will also let you know that the two poetry books I’ve self-published in 2022 and the three novels I’ve self-published in 2021/22 have made four times as many sales as I did through small press publishers, because I have control over advertising; as an added bonus I get 70% royalties directly from KDP instead of 35% of net costs from a publisher, which means I’m making much more money instead of dribs and drabs. In the future, I’d be looking for a mid-size to large publisher with a greater reach than what I currently have.
If you want to read more on this topic, my post from 2021 on why I’ve decided to start my self-publishing journey gives more background to my decision to start looking into Indie publishing, although my reasons have since moved on from that initial decision.
This is great to read! I’m so happy you’ve chosen self-publishing and that you’ve had a great journey so far. There is always so much to learn.
It’s definitely an ongoing learning journey. I love being able to try something and see if it works or not, which means nothing in the process is ever a mistake! ☺️