Why People Who Self-Publish Are Very Privileged

To start off, let us assume that all people who self-publish are sinking at least $1000.00 into their projects so that they are able to compete with traditionally published books. This would include editing, cover designing, formatting, and a little bit of marketing, plus buying copyrights and ISBNs.  

With the explosion of self-publishing in recent years, authors have taken the business of publishing into their own hands, turning what was once a stigmatized route into a route that takes just as much work to finalize a book as the traditional route takes to create a publishable product. But with this new route are proponents who believe that every writer should turn his/her back on traditional publishing in favor of going the self-publishing route. They cite such reasons as being able to keep one’s copyright, having full control of everything, the results being faster, no gatekeepers, making more money, and getting paid much faster, among a myriad of other reasons. While a lot of these reasons are viable, they also come from a very privileged standpoint from people who can afford to self-publish without having to sacrifice the food on their families’ tables. The fact is, for a self-published book to compete with traditional books, you have to sink some money into it, and not everyone is privileged enough to be able to afford this option, which is why the traditional route will always be a viable option for those who have to live paycheck to paycheck or for those who can’t scrap enough money together to go this route. Some people are lucky to know others who can do it for free, but for everyone else, receiving the services necessary to put together a decent book is going to come at a price.

At one point I wanted to self-publish When Stars Die because I did want control of my book. However, my research yielded I would have to spend a fortune (for me) to make this dream come true. Currently I have quite a bit of money in my account, but it took me half a year to scrap together that amount of money without having to sacrifice ballet–which is a sacrifice I refuse to make. But during that half year, I managed to land a contract with AEC Stellar Publishing whose royalties are about the same as if I were to self-publish. The only difference is I don’t have to sink near the amount of money into it as I would if I were to self-publish, so I don’t have to worry about making back all that money and more that I sunk into the project. So now I get to use that money on giveaway swag for my book, which is a privilege I would otherwise not have been afforded without being with a small press. So instead of picking up more work hours to make my self-publishing dream come true, I was able to spend more of that time writing and doing ballet, which is a privilege AEC Stellar Publishing allowed me to have.

Self-publishing, in my opinion, is for the business savvy mind or the author who already has a large platform. Most writers are not business savvy, and to gain a large platform takes years. I am certainly not business savvy, and I simply have a burgeoning platform. In fact, AEC Stellar Publishing has made me realize that self-publishing is not for me because I am way too close to my book to decide what needs to happen to it. I can weigh in on it, but I need the approval of a professional. Christine Braden and Raymond Vogel have come up with some awesome ideas for cover art that I would not have been able to think of without their help. They know the business of publishing and cover design and I don’t. I am just too close to the book to accurately judge what types of covers will draw a readership to my book–but they know because they are business savvy and were the readers of my book. And the fact is, most authors who go the self-publishing route aren’t the best judges at what covers should be used for their books. Most self-published book covers are terrible because the authors either design them themselves or do get a book designer but end up describing a poorly thought-out design that they don’t let their potential readers weigh in on. But then there are also a number of beautiful covers for self-published books for authors who really know what they’re doing. And then some authors get lucky with their covers.

I am not one of them.

Now it is possible to make more money self-publishing than traditionally publishing, but you have to have a fairly large platform and a little bit of luck to do so. Most self-published authors are not going to make a lot of money right at the start. Then many never do make that money because they are not business-minded and don’t devote the necessary time to marketing their books that they should. It is also difficult for self-published authors to justify prices higher than $2.99. Sometimes it’s even difficult for them to justify $2.99! As a reader, I can’t take 0.99 cent books as seriously as $2.99. Sometimes the author doesn’t care about money and simply wants to use that price point to develop a readership if there is a sequel, but $2.99 tells me the author has enough confidence in his/her book, and so I am apt to spend more money on a well-packaged self-published book than I am 0.99 cents. And I have. I have bought more $2.99+ books than I have 0.99 cent books. In order for me to spend 0.99 cents on a self-published book, I either already have to know you or need to be convinced by a large number of reviews to do so.

With the traditional route, you receive your advance as well as a royalty paycheck. You aren’t paid as often, and don’t get a whole lot, but if your first book sells well, your ensuing advances are going to be more. ALSO, by going the traditional route and receiving an advance, you can use that advance to self-publish your next book because your traditionally published book has helped you build that audience necessary to do well with self-publishing–let’s assume, in any case. So it’s very misleading to claim self-publishing can make you a lot of money, when this is flat out untrue for the majority. The majority of traditionally published authors don’t make a whole lot of money, either.

The traditional route exists for those authors who simply do not have the time to become business savvy in the world of publishing or who simply cannot afford it and won’t be able to afford it in the near future. People who self-publish need to realize what a privilege it is to be able to do so because it is. How awesome is it that you’re able to go at it alone (being able to choose your own editor and everything) AND be able to afford it? So to demean the traditional route is to demean all the writers who went that route because they know self-publishing is not for them for a multitude of justifiable reasons.

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Author:

Also known as The Dancing Writer, she is currently working on The Stars Trilogy, among other works.

13 thoughts on “Why People Who Self-Publish Are Very Privileged

  1. I don’t see why we can’t all just respect each other’s choices in this. I’m still struggling with the very issues you describe; the editor I most want would cost thousands of dollars I just don’t have. Right now I’m moving toward self-publishing some day with the help of critique partners and a more affordable professional editor, cover designer, and probably formatting templates, but even that costs money that many people don’t have (and that I understand I’m not likely to earn back). It’s not easy, no matter what path we choose, and it’s not an easy decision by any means. If someone tells me they’ve chosen a path to publication, I assume that it was the right decision for them and don’t judge them for it. Why would I? Why would anyone?

    1. I have found very affordable editors. The one who is editing 1/3 of one manuscript I have is charging 98 bucks for it. 98 dollars! How affordable is that? She charges .004 cents a word. The thing is, more expensive does not necessarily mean more quality editing. It just simply means that it is that person’s full-time job so they have to charge that amount o live off of freelance editing.

  2. I agree with Kate, to each her own. I’m self published and the most I’ve spent is the postage for a few copies of my paperback to give away.

    Regardless if you self or traditionally publish it all comes down to how you do it, luck, and who you get.

    In my case I know a perfectly competent editor. That’s one expense down. Actually most people probably know someone with enough grasp of English to help edit – but most is certainly not all.
    Some publishers make no effort to promote books, some make a great deal of effort. Then there’s agents and other things.

    I tend to see the economic discussions of publishing as simply all the same dollars going different ways. The lower traditional royalty goes to paying those a self published author might have to buy up-front. However, you can buy a cover now, save up for an editor, etc. Neverminding the fortunate ones who can design their own covers, have editor friends, etc. who catch breaks.

    Self publishing is still stygmatised, just different now; as this post shows. It’s not automatically garbage, too many name authors are shifting to it to believe that, but now there’re many different bits and pieces of misinformation flying about. You don’t HAVE to hire a pro-editor if you can find a competent person to do it for a trip out for pizza. You don’t HAVE to hire an artist or buy stock images (and Photoshop), not with creative commons images out there (and Pixelmator or GIMP). Certainly after editing and art it isn’t necessary to spend another dime: epublishing is absolutely free on all major retailers and all the reputable little guys, even a print book is free to make with Createspace.

    Still, it’s a lot of work and stress and artists are a notoriously quirky lot. For some, like Ms Seanan McGuire, they’re too much and a traditional route brings with it sufficient peace of mind to keep creating.

    There is no true roadmap to publishing, even traditionally. Some will say short stories first, some say you MUST have an agent (okay, that’s some of the publishers, but they don’t count), some say your agent MUST ______, etc. Yet sometimes you write a novel first, shop it to a few publishers directly, and hit gold.

  3. I agree with Kate and Jaye. But I also think that in your case YOU are the lucky one, because your route is working for you. Plus I’ve attempted to read a lot of crappy self -published books from authors who had the financial means to pay someone to handle all the editing publishing, marketing, etc.

    And I also see your point when you said: “…it’s very misleading to claim self-publishing can make you a lot of money, when this is flat out untrue for the majority.” I think that is a very strong point that all would-be self publishers need to realize. But not making a lot of money-or hardly any- may be o.k. for some authors, depending on what their intentions and expectations are. But on the other hand, if low sales is considered a disappointment, it can be a learning opportunity dedicated writers to get better, and maybe make better decisions next time.

    1. Crappy is subjective too, so that can’t be overlooked. I’ve read plenty of crappy traditionally published books, but they’re mostly crappy because they don’t fit my tastes. But that doesn’t mean they’re going to be crappy for someone else. Same with self-published. There is always going to be a certain amount of risk at play when putting one’s artistic work out there. There will never not be risk. Self-published authors risk never making back the money they spent. Publishers risk losing money on an author who doesn’t pay back the advance he/she was paid. Risk is ever-present in this business.

      1. Well, I suppose that is contingent on who you hire. Because there are some crappy editors out there who know nothing of structure and all that. That’s why it’s super important to do some research of an unknown editor before shelling out money. Or, even if the editor is willing to do it for free, it’s important to have some credentials because not just any person who knows grammar is able to edit.

  4. I especially like what you’ve said here about price. I understand as well that some writers just would love their work to be read and so want to make it available to everyone, and that’s fine. But with so many books out there that are poorly edited you do often get the impression that a higher price must mean either two things:

    The author is trying to make money back on all the services they paid for; god editing, copy editing, cover, etc.
    And two, that yes, they have faith in their work.

    At the same time, yeah, you can still get stung!

    1. I mean, I see a lot of 0.99 cent books whose rankings are below 100,000 on Amazon, and I suppose that’s great and everything because the books are actually being read, but for me it wouldn’t feel that authentic. But I suppose it really doesn’t matter because the authenticity of the experience just depends on the person. I want to make writing a full-time job for me, so a 0.99 cent price point would never do that (unless you’re Amanda Hopkins who sold thousands of her first book).

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