Monday, January 27, 2014

AiIP: Is Self-Publishing Worth It?

It's not as if that is a particularly novel question. In fact, I would wager that nearly every person who has completed a manuscript in the last decade or so has puzzled over that very question. For some, the answer comes rather quickly, usually skewed to the self-publishing side of things (the exceptions being people who have published traditionally previously, or have only ever accepted that as the route to publication). For many, it comes after a string of rejections from agents and publishers. For still others, it's a result of sitting down and calculating costs, time and chances of success (to say nothing of how that success is defined; more on that in a bit).

I've broken down the general costs associated with self-publishing before, and while by no means definitive, it gives you a pretty good idea that self-publishing is an investment. Not a prohibitive one, but it's a cost without any manner of guaranteed return.

Nor should that in and of itself be a deterrent; one of the glories of self-publishing is that you are not married to sales numbers as the sole indicator of success. If your only goal is to make your book available, you can do that. Or perhaps it's a really niche market- also doable. If you're happy only selling a few copies, that is available in a way it wasn't before.

For most, though, they want more. The next 'Great American Novel' or some such thing. Avenues like Kickstarter open the door to defray some of the expenses, to say nothing of helping spread the word before the book is out. There are no promises there, obviously, but it can save a person several thousand dollars (if it is funded).

But then there is the ongoing problem of reach, which I have talked about a lot lately. I was actually going to take this post in a different direction until the purveyor of this fine blog (that's what they're called, right?) send me a link to this post, wherein a fledgeling author decides to invest in 2,000 print copies of his book to distribute to bookstores. As he points out, physical books still make up 80% of marketshare- no matter what die-hard indie publishers say about how many ebooks they sell- print still commands the majority of readership. This will change eventually, but for now, if you want to make it, I won't go so far as to say you have to have a print presence, but you basically do.

Those 2,000 books cost him the equivalent of nearly $5,000 and he hasn't sold, stored or mailed one of them. I'm not saying it's a bad idea; I'm saying it's a lot of cash and time to spend on something like that (to say nothing of the fact that if his garage burns down, he's out five grand).

Which in turn got me thinking, as I read somewhat incredulously, 'that's what I want to do'. Yet, at the same time, my estimator/engineer driven mind is analyzing cost. How much time does he have to spend to move 2,000 copies of his book? If we assume it takes a half hour of labor for every copy sold, that is six months at a forty hours a week. I hope it works for him, but that is a lot of time to spend for that amount of money- and there is the added problem of the stigma of self-published authors, even though he has put a ton of time and effort into making it a presentable as possible).

Time is money, and usually comes at a premium price (at least in my life- this column is already a week late), so I read that and I puzzle over again, is self-publishing worth it? I have always striven to define myself by the quality of my work, not the genre or publication method, but those are big questions a writer faces, and I find myself increasingly on the fence about it. Maybe it is worth it; maybe it's not. Or maybe it is for someone else, or for me, and not for others.

Either way, G knew what he was doing when he suggested 'Adventures in Indie Publishing'.