To Self Publish Or Not To Self Publish, That Is The Question!

The following article was published in the NT Writer’s Centre’s newsletter February 2012 issue:

In coining a phrase from the great bard, I believe this is the most pertinent question on the mind of most writers. With the decline in traditional publishing and the poor economic climate, the chances of a new author gaining a contract from a traditional publisher is slim. Conversely, with the advent of Print on Demand (POD) technology, the opportunity to self publish has never been greater.

I faced the self publishing decision after three years of hard work writing my manuscript, “The Crystal Realm Krytor’s Return.” After sending my manuscript to traditional publishers and agents I received the well-known polite rejection letter. Many of these letters were not form letters, but personal replies, and indicated that although my manuscript was good, the publisher could not take the risk in these economic times.

Then, one fortuitous day I was reading an interview between Peter Stampfel (Associate Editor of Daw Publishing) and Anna Kashina (author) in which Stampfel talked about the self publishing phenomenon, and how it could actually be of great benefit to writers trying to get their book published. I was specifically interested in this as my manuscript was an epic urban fantasy and Daw Publishing specialises in this genre. I found the following questions from the interview particularly interesting:

What percentage of submissions you receive make it to publication?

The conventional wisdom is that one in a thousand manuscripts is publishable. Actually, I feel this number is closer to one in a few thousand. These days it is extremely hard to break in a new writer. Book distribution is controlled by big companies which are much more reluctant to take on new unknown authors compared to previously established ones. A new author has to be extremely, extremely good to make it through the process.

What are the trends in book publishing right now?

Book publishing is definitely on the decline. Readers – and writers – tend to spend more time on the Internet. In fact, I could think of several writers who nearly stopped writing – haven’t produced any new books in a year or two – because they spend their time on some on-line games. There are just more things to do out there for creative people than before, and books are sliding down the list.

What about self-published authors?

Doesn’t really matter. I definitely wouldn’t hold it against them. In fact, I think that in the current competitive environment self-publishing is a good idea – simply because you can do it. I never realized before how many people are trying to write books. The vast majority of them will never be commercially successful. But if you self-publish, you can sell to friends, and the few people who happen to enjoy your writing, and this way you can at least reach somebody.
Self-publishing may be an even better idea for those authors I mentioned whose writing is solid, and who would have been successful 20-30 years ago but cannot breakthrough in the current markets. If these authors can reach their audiences with self-published books, they could potentially make pretty good sales. There is always a small number of self-published books that make it in a big way.

In addition to everything else, Internet is now providing unprecedented possibilities to advertise yourself, making it easier for anyone to self-promote. An average person can easily reach thousands of people, in some cases this is all any author can hope for even with traditional publishing. And if you can sell thousands of copies of your self-published book, it can really serve to your advantage in finding a big publisher for your next work.

Stampfel’s comments created an excitement in my mind that I couldn’t quell. I decided to self publish and, as they say, the rest is history. My book was published in September 2011 through CreateSpace and is available on Amazon as a paperback book and as an e-book on Kindle. I am having a positive response in both sales and comments by those who have purchased and read my book. Although this is not the time to elaborate about the publishing process, I found that CreateSpace were exceptionally good to work with and were always available to answer any of my questions.

So, my recommendations regarding self publishing – don’t hesitate! It can be a lot of work as you have to do everything yourself (unless you want to pay for services, which can become costly), but if you are willing to put in the effort, you can publish a book for little or no cost (depending on the POD publisher). Be aware though, everything means everything: formatting; editing; front and back covers; blurb; marketing; website and much more. But it’s worth it. And don’t forget about the support of your local community. I have had many kind and wonderful people who have gotten behind me and supported The Crystal Realm. Thank you everyone!

Christopher Ballantyne

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