Why You Should Act As Your Own Author-Publisher (At Least Once)

Notebook From Nepal
If you are a writer:

Consider self-publishing.

Not everything.

But at least one thing.

A short story. A novella. A novel that’s too weird and too risky to crack the carapace on the traditional system. A sex manual. A cookbook. A baboon fart story. Something. Anything. It’s like achieving carnal pleasure from a vibrating home appliance: everybody should try it once. I’ve spoken to plenty of authors who are increasingly going in the hybrid mutant miscreant deviant direction of making out with all forms of publishing, and they seem pretty damn happy doing so.

Here’s why, in short, you should at least dip your toes in these warm waters:

1. Because Yay Money

Selling through most online outlets nets you somewhere between 35-70% of the cover price of your work. This percentage is even larger when you sell direct (and do believe me: you should consider selling direct). It’s easy to conflate this with suggesting that self-publishing will earn you more money overall — this isn’t automatically the case, mind you, because while traditional offers lower percentages, you might sell more with them (and further, the advantage of an advance is notable for many authors who can’t foot the bill to self-publish everything).

Just the same: acting as your own author-publisher gives you a greater return per individual books sold. It’s a good deal, not a bad one, and while it cannot replace the advantages of what you get by being with a larger publisher, it brings this as an advantage all its own.

2. Because Yay Steady, Fast Money

The money isn’t just good — it’s pretty close to immediate. (It really is immediate when you sell direct.) Traditional publishers pay more slowly — some pay so slowly you’ll think they’re shipping your check on some icebreaker sailboat shattering its way through frozen polar waters. Even if the money you earn from your author-published releases is small, it remains steady — steady enough to potentially supplement income, maybe even enough to let you do what too few authors can: go totally fucking pantsless. Uhh, I mean, “go full-time.”

3. Because The Sweet Taste Of Freedom

Publishers, understandably, have a stake in what you publish with them. They are, for better or for worse, your partner in the endeavor, so they want to sign off on what you’re doing. They’re invested in you, but like any stakeholder, that gives them a say into what you actually do.

Self-publishing offers you total freedom. Which is scary and dumb sometimes and might lend itself to drunk-publishing (“I GOT BLITZED ON GIN AND TONICS LAST NIGHT AND ENDED UP PUBLISHING EVERY HALF-FINISHED ABERRATION OF A TRUNK NOVEL I WROTE SINCE I WAS 13. IS THAT BAD?”), but it also grants you a weird breath of fresh air. Publishing is about business, but writing is about craft and art — and if you want to take the risk to publish some really off-kilter genre mash-up: that’s your right to do so. Erotica featuring your favorite NPR on-air personalities? Go you! Shine on, you kooky cubic zirconium.

4. Because The Iron Glove Of Control

When you’re with a publisher, lots of things remain out of your control. This can be blissful in a lot of ways — because not every author wants to be involved or invested in every step of the publishing process. Just the same, eventually you might hit a point where you feel like your publisher isn’t doing everything you want them to, regardless of your expertise (or, equally likely, lack of expertise). You think the cover is ugly as a possum’s asshole. You think they should be targeting libraries more. You’re persnickety about fonts. Whatever. When you’re an author-publisher — ta-da! All that falls into your mashing, sweat-slick hands. You set the price. You determine all of the marketing and advertising. You can design the prettiest cover or just put a picture of a dog humping a bunny rabbit on the cover. The control is yours. You have all the levers, all the buttons. You’re the Doctor and this is your TARDIS. Flip switches! See what happens.

5. Because You Actually Learn What A Publisher Does

Once you publish yourself, you start to learn more about what publishing actually entails. Which means when it’s time to talk to your other publishers, you’ll have a real clue what they’re doing, and why, and if they should be doing it better. Listen, part of why publishers have power is because they own that power. Deservedly. They know how to do the things you don’t do. That is, frankly, part of the arrangement. But — but! — if you learn more about their role, you at least buy yourself a greater investment into their role, and can determine more completely whether they’re actually working for you or abusing the arrangement.

Learning more about the business side of your writing life? Never a bad thing.

6. Because Faster, Pussycat — Kill Kill!

You should not hastily self-edit your work, slap on some kind of horrible stock photography as your cover, then flick your literary booger onto Amazon’s windshield in the hopes that careless readers will get drunk enough one night to lick it off. That’s what bad author-publishers do (*swats them with a newspaper*). Right? Right.

But, even if you take the proper amount of time to outline, write, edit, edit, edit, rewrite, edit, re-edit, format, design, and then post — you’re still doing it faster than larger publishers. This is often a knock against those publishers when it really shouldn’t be — the time it takes them to put together a book is a team effort, and requires a lot of careful threading to marry it into the schedule with all their other books while simultaneously helping to ensure it gets space at the bookstore shelf level. What this means, though, is that in the gaps between traditional releases, you can slot in books you are publishing yourself. You are the mortar between bricks.

6. Because More Pebbles Means More Ripples

A creative career — meaning, actually making money being a person who crafts the fuck out of art — is a a hard row to hoe, but despite what many might say, nowhere near impossible. Part of it just means throwing a lot of pebbles and making a lot of ripples. Ripples run into other ripples and have interesting effects — some go far, go wide, and reach the shore.

The more pebbles you throw?

The more ripples you make.

Author-publishing affords you the chance to make more ripples.

It might lead to new and interesting deals with larger publishers.

More importantly: it might actually earn new readership. Gasp!

(And remember: we do not build our audience. We earn our audience.)

7. Because You Might Like It

It’s like with anything. You need to try new things because, hey, guess what?

You might enjoy it. You might decide you enjoy the opportunity to be bit more independent. It tickles some part of you — maybe it’s the freedom, maybe it’s the control, maybe it’s that you can write a fictional instruction manual for a time-traveling VCR and post it to the Internet and charge three bucks for it because why the fuck wouldn’t you?

As always: diversification is rad. Publishing with publishers large, small and so itty-bitty the publisher consists of you-and-only-you brings a host of advantages and disadvantages unique to each path. The truly amazing thing about being an author right here, right now is that you aren’t required to pick one path: you can multi-class like a dungeon-traipsing dragon-hunting bad-ass. You can explore every aspect of publishing and mine them for their advantages — which further helps to obviate their notable disadvantages.

You don’t have to go all-in with author-publishing. (I’d advise not doing this, actually. This is business, which means baby-steps to see if the ground if stable beneath your feet.) But it remains an opportunity — a real option. But how will you know that if you don’t try?

Would love to hear about your experiences as an author-publisher. Good and bad!

Drop ’em in the comments below if you’re willing to share.

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500 Ways To Write Harder: Coming Soon500 Ways To Write Harder aims to deliver a volley of micro-burst idea bombs and advisory missiles straight to your frontal penmonkey cortex. Want to learn more about writing, storytelling, publishing, and living the creative life? This book contains a high-voltage dose of information about outlining, plot twists, writer’s block, antagonists, writing conferences, self-publishing, and more.

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