I decided, after a large number of rejections over some 10 years from both agents and publishing houses, to self-publish.
Yes, I questioned if maybe I just was not as good a writer as I thought I might be. However, after much analysis, I concluded it was less my writing and more my chosen genres. As mainstream as they are in some respect, sci-fi and fantasy are niche markets.
Further — both agents and publishing houses are averse to risk. In a niche market, wowing an agent or publisher takes a lot of unknown factors, such as what they are looking for, timing, the popularity of similar TV shows and movies, etc.
Making this choice, I’ve remained aware of the many pitfalls. There are plenty of works out there that have been self-published that are sub-par at best. No offense to my fellow authors intended — but for every well-edited, polished work — there are unedited, non-proofread books self-published in every imaginable genre.
One of the biggest issues with self-publishing is marketing. When you are published by a major publishing house — and even some more minor ones — they handle a lot of the marketing. They have resources that you might have a tough time matching.
I have taken several steps to improve marketing. Yet I know there are others I can make. One of the biggest problems with this is cost and return on investment (ROI).
Initially, to self-publish, even with free tools — there are costs before you ever get to marketing.
Amazon KDP offers some very helpful tools for self-publishing. Whether paperback or Kindle, they make it easy to get your book out to the world. And there is no cost involved.
For some people — that’s what they do. Write, go to KDP, use their tools to publish, call it a day.
What this ignores is the need to polish and make the best of your work that you can. That is not a cost-free option.
The two largest aspects of this are editing and cover art.
It’s all well and good to have some friends beta read your work, proofread, and give you feedback. But to make sure your work shines — you need to have it edited professionally.
There are a lot of resources available to help you find a decent editor. It’s good to have one who specializes in the genres of your work if you can. The pricing of a professional editor tends to be based on word count and can range from less than $200 to well over $1000.
I can’t offer much insight into how to choose the best editor for you. I’ve used 4 professional editors and paid each a different amount.
Along this line is a cover artist. Despite the adage that “you don’t just a book by its cover” — this is bullshit. People judge books by their covers. This will impact your sales.
For my fantasy series The Source Chronicles, I created the original book covers. I can’t lie — they were crap. Not the worst — but not good, either. As such, I recently paid to get new covers made — and the difference is stunning.
Cover artists, like editors, vary widely in cost. But I believe that they are worthwhile if you are self-publishing and desire to put your best face forward.
Spend money to make money
Let’s face it. If you are self-publishing, you are a business.
While I call my self-publishing imprint Argent Hedgehog Press, the reality is that it’s part of the overarching MJ Blehart — Author brand. A brand that includes multiple books in various genres on Amazon, blogs, podcasts, and published articles in various places that may or may not still be available.
Like any business, you often have to consider spending some money to make money. Every business has its own unique costs to meet its needs. But unless you somehow have mass appeal and are highly visible you need to market yourself.
There are free means to market yourself. You can put yourself out there in blogs, on social media, networking with other authors, and Google ways to get seen like guesting on a podcast, vlog, or blog.
But advertising is a necessary evil. Again, there are many avenues to do this. Amazon, Google, social media, and traditional options like print media, radio, and TV.
Advertising can get expensive. Advertising effectively is massively challenging. To be perfectly honest — I am still learning and doing what I can to be more effective with this marketing tool.
Which leads to the next option. Hire someone else to do it for you. I hired a company to help me do some marketing — which was not as effective thus far as I would have liked. I am still working with them — but it’s on me, save one element, to DO the marketing.
This can be super frustrating, and distressing (especially if you are running up some debt to do this). But if this is what you desire, you believe in this as your way, then you need to work with what you’ve got and take the pain to reap the eventual reward.
Is self-publishing worth it?
My answer is going to be different from yours. What’s more, how we value what we do is variable. Then, just to put the cherry on top, how we define success impacts this question.
To be fair — I could have continued my quest to find an agent or publishing house. Hell, I still could — but the entire nature of publishing is changing. And though self-publishing requires more work for success — the profit potential IS higher (since you don’t need to pay money to your agent, and the publisher is you).
My answer is yes. I may not be able to go to a bookstore and find my books there — but then, given the pandemic, I have no interest in going to a bookstore presently (which sucks bigtime for small bookshops). However — I can get my books into the local library and smaller bookshops on my own. I just need to do the legwork.
I love that if you Google my name, my website, my Amazon author page, and my Google business info all pop-up. Maybe I’m not making the kind of money I desire to presently — but I’m working on it. And I believe that this is for me. This is the path in life that makes me feel most accomplished.
I believe that nothing worth having in life is easy. To back that up I’ve chosen multiple challenging paths. I am an author. The 3rd book of my Void Incursion series — Strategic Crush — is publishing Sunday (4/25). I’m on schedule to publish a total of 6 books before the end of 2021. Next year (2022) I’m looking to publish another 6–8 titles (from multiple series).
When you finish a work, you get to choose what to do next. Though challenging, self-publishing and marketing can be extremely rewarding.
Originally published at https://www.mjblehart.com on April 24, 2021.