Self-Publishing Behind-the-Scenes Part 1: Introduction

March 8th, 2015 by Potato

Maybe you’re thinking of writing a book and want to hear about my experiences in self-publishing with the Value of Simple, or maybe you’re just bored and happen to have the site bookmarked. Either way it was such a large project and part of my life that I’m going to talk about it in a bit of detail, and because there are so many aspects to it this is going to be a multi-parter.

Outline of what’s to come in the series:

  1. 1. Introduction (this post)
  2. 2. Timeline and Writing Process
  3. 3. Editing Process
  4. 4. Creating e-books (ePub)
  5. 5. Publishing an e-book Version
  6. 6. Creating a Print Version
  7. 7. Publishing a Print Version
  8. 8. Registrations and Cataloguing
  9. 9. Business Side and Taxes
  10. Epilogue: Interview with Melissa Leong (aka Wynne Channing)
  11. Epilogue: Interview with Kyle Prevost

Traditional publishing has a fair bit going for it, including acting as a gatekeeper for readers. Every now and then some people complain about the take — as a self-publisher you can keep much more of the gross sale of each book — but realistically almost no one who can go with a traditional publisher chooses to self-publish, despite the potential to make a lot more money if you become the next Hugh Howey or EL James. Publishers offer editors, typesetters/layout artists, cover artists, take care of distribution, sometimes some marketing, and they make it easier to get past other gatekeepers like librarians, journalists, and bookstore purchasing managers. As a self-publisher you have to do all of that yourself or outsource it (and at least some of that should be outsourced for quality), which is more work and also increases your risk of losing money on the whole venture.

However, publishers are slow. Ssssslllllooooooooooooooowwwww. For some things that doesn’t matter — whether your steampunk zombie action-adventure novel comes out this summer or a year and a half from now likely won’t affect how well it will do. It’s just a matter of how much frustration you’re willing to deal with shopping it around and waiting 6-12 months for a response. For me and my plans for the Value of Simple though, I wanted to get it out before changes in mutual fund disclosures started to hit and people really felt the need to go buy a do-it-yourself guide to index investing. Other topical issues can sometimes be fast-tracked by publishers, but it may be a reason to look to self-publish for you.

So speed was one factor in choosing to self-publish. By the time I realized the Value of Simple was its own book — and a real book-length book, not just a second, expanded edition of PSGtDIYI — it was largely done. It’s hard to think about sitting on something like that for years — the book has a life force of its own and it wants out. I also knew my odds were low at getting picked up by a traditional publisher because I’m not a household name with a regular newspaper or magazine credit. Balancing that was the fact that it was good and needed. So I put together a proposal and sent either the full package with manuscript or a query to a few publishers — I took a shot at traditional publishing but had a time limit because knowing the odds were against me I didn’t want to waste years trying to shop the manuscript to publisher after publisher. To highlight how slow they are, I still haven’t received a reply to one query (which they recommend you do before sending a manuscript because it’s supposed to be much faster), and the rejection for the full package I sent to Wiley came almost three months after my generous time limit expired and I went the self-published route.

Traditional publishers are also (gasp!) interested only in making money from the books that they put out, and not taking risks to do so. That means they want a book that will fit neatly into a genre where they know there will be readers, and preferably by an author who is already established and has an audience of some sort (which may not necessarily be a book audience — celebrities and webcomics with huge followings will often get traditional book deals). That was a strike against me and the book on the traditional publishing route1. As a self-publisher you may have alternative goals beyond just making money, such as using a book as a marketing tool to help boost your business, or your profit targets may be smaller2, or the demons that live inside your brain may have already forced you to write it and now you’ve just got to do something with the manuscript in your lap.

Speaking of demons on the brain, that is the main reason to do something crazy like write a book. Think of being a paid author like an iceberg: a few at the top are above water and actually making money at it — and some of them are glorious and sparkle like diamonds — but many more are not. They’re below the surface and invisible, and quite possibly underwater in the sense of losing money if they’re paying for editors, shelf placement, book tours, and artists. The Value of Simple has reached my first success milestone — that is, not failure — so I am making money on it. But given how long it took me, and how I could have done freelance4 editing or writing with my time to make more money3, it was not a smart economic decision. I have seen some horrifying stories on self-publishing forums of writers who are making a living as self-publishers, but they generally do it by not paying editors and taking a quantity over quality approach — which in the long term may make the already existing stigma against self-publishing much worse. Of course, it’s also easier to make money if you’re in a field where there are more readers: horror, mystery, and erotica are global markets, whereas investing for Canadians is a really limited market.

Be sure to ask any questions in the comments section and I’ll address them in the coming posts. Also note that I am Canadian, so this will focus on the particular issues that all the American guides and personal experience posts miss.

1. In hindsight, I should have let someone else take the author credit and just collected the money as a ghostwriter.
2. For PSGtDIYI it was a bit of a toss-up whether I was going to give it away for free. I was mostly looking for pizza money, which is orders of magnitude below a publisher’s criteria.
3. Or made sandwiches at Subway for minimum wage, though that would have been harder to schedule in and do while I kept an ear on a sleeping baby.
4. Weird realization: it’s been two years since I’ve had a freelance project that required me to use InDesign.

2 Responses to “Self-Publishing Behind-the-Scenes Part 1: Introduction”

  1. save. spend. splurge. Says:

    I will be reading these very carefully, I am considering publishing…

  2. In the world of Save. Spend. Splurge. Says:

    […] Thinking of self-publishing? (Like I am?) Then start reading here. […]