The Advantages and Disadvantages of Self Publishing


I’ve posted entries to this blog on traditional publishing vs. self publishing before. Here I want to concentrate on what you can expect once you do decide to self publish you work.

“A man who works for himself has a fool for an employer”. It’s been around for a while, but many self-employed people will not disagree. If you have a full-time job and write in your ‘spare’ time, and whatever income you derive from your writing can be consider the cherry on top of your ice cream sundae, you have the best of all possible worlds.

Don’t quit your day job.

But if you write for a living as I do, you probably sympathize with whoever came up with that old axiom.

Writing is the easy part; marketing your work, and making a living off your writing, is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. I can’t help you with your budget (I can’t help myself, so don’t feel lonely), but I can provide a bit of useful information to those who are considering self-publishing as a means to a good livable income.

Some people do make a living as self-published authors. We’re not including freelance writers or ghost writers in this discussion. I am neither, so I cannot speak to any issues such folks have to deal with. But I am self published and have been for the last three years or so.

I have published three novels and  a collection of articles I wrote while living in Israel. All are available through Amazon in both paperback and Kindle, and I recently published my novels for the Barnes & Noble Nook. I also do as many personal appearances at book signings as I can. I post entries to this blog once a week and am a member of several writing groups and on-line communities.  And I make the time to visit these groups daily and post something to each.

If you work for yourself there is no such thing as a day off.

Writing is the easy part. Whether you follow the traditional publishing route or self publish you will face the same issues; you and only you are responsible for any and all promotion and marketing of your work. That alone is plenty of reason to self publish (well, that, and the increased royalties since there’s no agent who can claim 15% off the top). No traditional publishing house will invest a penny in promoting a new author. They can’t afford it.

Don’t bother paying someone several thousand dollars to set up and maintain a pretty web site for you, and don’t throw your money away on some SEO professional who promises to fine-tune you search engine placement. There is plenty of information available on setting up web sites and deciding on keywords and meta tags for the pages on your web site is mostly a matter of common sense. Find a bunch of author web sites and choose one that you like. There are several free web sites available that allow you to customize one of their templates to suit your fancy.

Author web sites are not in the same league as big business sites, or lawyers web sites or even auto-body repair sites, and you don’t need a lot – or any – flash player technology to attract visitors. People who search for author web sites are looking for content, not entertainment or special pricing for their next oil change. People who look for author web sites want to see content. So get sample chapters, an author bio, a few photos, and a blog they can check back on each week. Get content on your site and leave it there. Don’t change it every week or every month. Leave it there. Update your blog frequently, add some info to your home page when you update your news, keep your calendar of events up to date, but leave the content – your sample chapters – alone.

When you join on-line groups or begin to attend local writer’s groups, be respectful and considerate and friendly and helpful. And listen, very, very closely. Take notes, ask interesting questions, and always be respectful. Many of the people you will meet have been writing productively far longer than you, and have been through the mill on many occasions. So listen, very carefully.

Get your books into independent bookstores and listen to what the owners have to say. Visit frequently – in person, not phone calls – and talk with them. People who own bookstores are some of the best friends you may ever have.

As a self published author, you are not just selling your work; you re selling yourself. And keep in mind that even if you did ‘luck out’ and get a contract with a literary agent and traditional publisher, you are still responsible for all marketing. Just because your book may find their way into a brick and mortar bookstore chain, you still have to promote yourself and your books.

And in case you haven’t noticed, bookstores are hurting, very, very badly. I’m not surprised their coffee bars are bringing in as much as their book sales. I am surprised that bookstores have converted some of their very expensive floor space to freezer cases and shelves for baby food cat litter, dog food and toothpaste.

As a self published author you are competing for buyers with authors who market through chain bookstores, independent bookstores, on-line retailers and author appearances. Just like you. Every time you sell a book to a customer you make a friend. Every time you you close a deal with a buyer you take a few dollars out of Carl Hiaasen’s pocket.

Think about that the next time a reader says he enjoys your stuff. And giggle. Quietly.


About Gary Showalter

Gary Showalter was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. He lived in Aruba, Florida and the Panama Canal Zone before joining the U.S. Army during the 1960s. Following his discharge from the Army, Mr. Showalter picked cotton in East Texas, baled hay in Ardmore Oklahoma, sold light bulbs in Los Angeles, California, and built cattle pens in Fallon, Nevada (during a blizzard, of course). After settling in Atlanta, Georgia, Mr. Showalter worked as a professional gardener before turning his hand to furniture making. In 1981, he moved to Israel, married, and raised four children while working as a furniture maker, silversmith, goldsmith, and ornamental wood turner. He served in the Israel Defense Forces Reserves for sixteen years, and when not on active duty he worked in government and private security. He has also served in senior management positions in two software development companies in Israel. During his time in Israel, Mr. Showalter published articles dealing with international terror and the Israel-Arab conflict in the Jerusalem Post, Israel national News and several political science web sites. Mr. Showalter returned to the United States in the fall of 2003, to care for an elderly parent. He published his first novel, “The Big Bend”, in the fall of 2008. His second novel, “Hog Valley”, is now in print. Mr. Showalter's third novel, “Twisted Key”, was published in the fall of 2011, and his fourth novel, "Lonesome Cove" is now available in Kindle format and should be published in paper near the end of 2012. He currently lives in Deland, Fl, where he is co-authoring "A Silent Star" with Tony Attanasio. "A Silent Star" is the true tale (though novelized, with names changed for security reasons) about the 4-person covert action team sent into Yemen to capture Osama Bin laden immediately after the bombing of the USS Cole in the Aden harbor in Yemen in October of 2000.
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