If you’ve read my earlier post, Getting in Bed With the Devil, you’ll know I’ve recently embarked on a journey into self publishing. While still in its infancy, I thought I’d provide regular updates to what I’m discovering along that route, the benefits as well as the pitfalls to avoid should you decide take up a similar journey. Say we start?
From the start, you’re in control. No waiting two years for the publisher to get around to releasing your title. You dictate when that happens, and you set the price. The latter was a big one for me. Having been published by small presses in the past, I found that to cover their expenses for editorial work, design, and printing, they charge a lot for a paperback. When you’re just starting out as a writer, and not many people know you outside of the family/friend circle, someone might not want to pay in the region of £10 for a paperback. This reduces your sales margin considerably. For me, having that control meant I could reduce the cost of both the Kindle and paperback, and hopefully entice readers to buy more copies. The theory being; sell more at less, make more in the long term. So far, I’ve probably made more in this first month than I have in a year with a small press. Oh, don’t think I’m rolling in money here. I just made some very terrible decisions when it came to contracts in the past, but that’s a different story.
Another benefit is DRM restrictions, and the control thereof. DRM (Digital Rights Management) is like a lock and chain around your Kindle book. If you choose to accept DRM, this means the book is locked down and no one can copy it and spread it around the Internet for free. Good right? Yes and no. If you believe no one will break that lock and distribute it anyway, you’re fairly naive. It happens. There are systems and websites made for that kind of thing. And to be honest, who truly cares? You wouldn’t complain to a charity shop for selling on your book if it was donated, would you? The same principle needs to be applied here. Accept it’s going to happen and move on. I choice not to use DRM. This is more beneficial for the reader because it allows them to download their Kindle on multiple devices – mobile/cellphone, laptop, e-readers etc. Give the power back to the reader.
Another benefit of self publishing is enrolling in KDP Select. I haven’t used this function yet, but I did a lot of research before committing to the option. Why? Enrolling in KDP Select gives you many benefits. The main one being you can give away your book for free up to a maximum of 5 times while enrolled in Select (you enrol for 90 days, after which you can opt out, or remain on a rolling basis). Great, right? Everyone loves a free book. And, depending on how many people download it, you may even make into a bestseller chart. You can also do a Kindle Countdown. Basically, you get to discount the book but keep 70% of the royalties and get extra promotion from Amazon. As I say, I have yet to try any of these features out, but I am looking forward to seeing what happens. The final perk is that the Kindle is automatically entered into Kindle Unlimited, whereby any Prime member can download the book for free. How’s that beneficial for you? You may not get royalties, but what you get is a cut of a 26 million pound pot of money. Hold on! Don’t think you can retire so soon. Payments go on pages viewed. So if your book has 300 pages, you earn (I think) half a pence per page viewed. This has led to a lot of authors bulking up their books to try and make more money, but seriously, if you’re padding for padding sake, then I imagine your reader will just stop reading pretty soon.
So why didn’t I just jump in and commit to KDP? Seems like a no-brainer, right? Well, Amazon set some pretty harsh rules. First and foremost, you give exclusivity to Amazon concerning your digital book. That means you can’t sell the ebook version to iTunes, Kobo, Barnes and Noble et al. It sits with Amazon and stays there until the 90 days have expired. This can be a pain if you feel distributing your ebook across many platforms is a more lucrative endeavour. It also means you cannot upload your book to your own website to give it away, or offer it to reviewers or staunch fan base (distributing paperbacks is fine though). In truth, save for a small percentage of your book, the content cannot appear anywhere on the internet. I think that small percentage is set at 10% as that’s what Amazon offers for free when you “Look Inside” any book they sell. All that said, I decided the pros far out weighed the cons. I hope to build up some momentum via KDP Select, and if it doesn’t work, then I don’t renew after the 90 days. This still gives me the freedom to explore the aforesaid options at a later date.
From the start, you’re in control. Wait, didn’t I just say that was a pro? To the attentive among you, yes I did. But it’s also a con because aside from being the writer, you are the editor, proof reader, book designer, and sales manager of that book. That’s a lot of work for one person, and if you don’t have an eye for detail and design (the double Ds) or have no family members/friends willing to read your book and point out all the grammatical issues and typos, it’s a long haul. You also need to format the book twice! Yes, you’ll create a Kindle version, and then you’ll have to create a whole new document for the paperback (assuming you take that option – which I suggest you do because people love to hold a book and crack the spine). It is stressful, time consuming and daunting, and that’s before you get to the marketing side of things. Fortunately, having gained a few contacts and a small fan base over the years, I was able to tap into a few resources. But even with that, I’m struggling. As you know, writing is an all consuming process. You live with characters and the story pretty much 24/7. The transcribing of that is just a small percentage of your time spent with it all. Hypothetically, if gestation and the labour of a novel takes about a year, then I can guarantee you won’t be far off the same amount of time getting your book to the reader. And, you’ll have to put just as much effort into that side of things as you did with the writing. So far I have had a podcast review the book, sent out physical copies (at a cost) to reviewers, built a website to help promote the book, embarked on a giveaway, and moved through social media like a dose of shingles. And the book has only been out less a month. The stories you hear about some unknown self published writer becoming a bestseller via Amazon are few and far between. They are the minority, and a lot of what they did was luck and knowing how things work. But it’s mostly luck, luck and luck.
I’m not trying to put you off from the self publishing route. Small presses have to be very selective about what they purchase, which reduces the acceptance rate dramatically. They also don’t have the resources to market the book as much as bigger presses. Therefore, most of the work will still be down to you. After an initial flurry of marketing, all my previous books ended up floating face down in the waters of obscurity. That’s not really a reflection on the publishers; it’s just the reality of the situation. You will need to work just as hard as the publisher to keep your title in the mind of the readers. That will only change is you get a deal with one of the Big Five, and the only way to do that is to find an agent, a task which is just as difficult, if not more so, than finding a small press to take on your book. This is why self publishing exists, and is thriving. Most of the books published through self publishing are crap. It’s not worth the paper CreateSpace use to print them on. But there’s also the odd gem in there. Plus, it is a great springboard to launch a career, or at the very least, a sobering experience to know what it means to be a writer.