People write books for many reasons and most have a common goal. They want to see their work in print, displayed in bookstores and hopefully, listed as a bestseller.
The traditional method is to send the manuscript to an agent and/or publisher hoping to be offered a contract. After a few weeks, months or even years getting a polite ‘no thank you’, many writers start to look at the alternatives. Self-publishing is one of them.
Self-publishing has its detractors, and not without reason. There are thousands of self-published authors which will languish forever in obscurity. On the other hand, most of the works being published today by major publishing houses will also go on to languish forever in their own slightly more well-regarded obscurity.
First, let’s clarify exactly what self-publishing is because the term and the process have both changed over the years. Once it meant employing an editor, a book designer and a cover artist to get the work into shape and ready for press, and then employing a printer for the books, another for the covers and a binder to put it all together. Print runs were usually in the hundreds, or even thousands, and the finished article looked pretty much like ordinary books in the stores. To get a book into print, self-published authors were to a degree setting up their own mini publishing houses.
Over the years, self-publishing has evolved in a big way largely thanks to the internet. Writers can now upload an electronic file to a company who will sell and ship the finished item for an agreed price. Authors rarely employ professionals to help with editing, proofing and layout, and unfortunately an enormous flood of such books, many without the editorial standards of the past, has made self-publishing a less attractive option for everyone else.
In the past, self-publishing cost a lot of money, and paying a portion of the total cost to an editor seemed like a good idea. Now you can publish a book for nothing, and paying hundreds, or even thousands of dollars for an edit is an expense most self-published authors are unwilling to consider.
More recently, self-publishing has evolved yet again. The advent of cheap eBook readers has brought electronic publishing to the fore, and many authors are skipping publishing companies altogether and doing everything themselves.
Many self-publishers are choosing to forgo print entirely and publish only in eBook form. But there are still good reasons to self-publish in print, although in my opinion, never only in print.
One is to give readers alternatives. The more formats you can offer, the more readers you can satisfy. There is an older segment of the population who shun electronic devices and much prefer to hold a book while reading. The second is to exploit real-world sales opportunities. An author may have a way of selling directly to their audience, through outlets closer to home, or at local markets and book fairs, for example.
There’s no right or wrong here—but it’s something you need to think about.