Should I self-publish my novel?

Lee Weatherly
18 October 2018
Article uploaded by
Mo Harber-Lamond

For writers first dipping their toes into the world of publication, there’s often one big question that’s asked before anything else: should I self-publish my novel? The promise of total creative freedom and the apparent absence of publisher cuts of any profit sound wonderful, but is it all it’s cracked up to be? In this article, author Lee Weatherly explores the pros and cons of self-publishing.

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Self-publishing (or ‘indie’ publishing) is a much more respected and viable option than it used to be. Through sites like Amazon in particular, you can publish your book in an electronic format with very little financial outlay and then earn a higher – much, much higher – royalty with each copy sold than in traditional publishing. Though it’s been a while since I looked into it, I believe Amazon also offers a copyediting service and basically makes the whole process as simple as possible.

However, I wouldn’t say it’s easier to be successful as a self-published author, because first you have to get people to know your book exists and to buy it. With it being so simple to self-publish there’s a huge glut of authors who are going down that route, which makes it difficult to make your particular title stand out. Making a living out of it financially isn’t just about producing a good story; it requires you to be a good business person who’s willing to work very hard at all of the aspects of marketing a book that traditional publishers do for their authors. It’s essentially a full-time job – you can’t just upload your novel and expect a million downloads a week later.

For instance, I know that – in terms of Amazon, at least – it’s important to know how its algorithms work and be able to get your book to come up as a recommended title when people are browsing online. For details about this aspect of self-publishing, Amazon has online self-publishing forums where this and other issues are discussed in depth. Essentially, successful indie authors have to hustle.

They generally write very quickly, get lots of titles out there in a short time and are necessarily savvy at marketing and self-promotion, using Twitter, Facebook and other online platforms to try and reach their audience. However, the latter is something that traditionally published authors also routinely do, so that’s always something to consider whatever route you take.

Every traditionally published author has horror stories about front covers they’ve hated, or lacklustre marketing campaigns.

Lee Weatherly

The main pro to indie publishing – apart from the much higher royalty payments, if you get the sales – is that you have so much personal autonomy. Every traditionally published author has horror stories about front covers they’ve hated, or lacklustre marketing campaigns that they feel didn’t bring their book to the attention of their reading audience.

When you’re indie you do it all yourself, with the positives and negatives that brings with it. And, the main con, of course, is that you don’t have an established company behind you giving you financial backing and putting print copies into brick-and-mortar shops.

Self-published greats like Mark Dawson – author of the bestselling John Milton series – show that it’s not an impossible task to succeed, and it’s a case of weighing up if you think the hard work necessary beyond writing your novel is worth the potential pay-out.

If you do your research and are up for the challenges, then self-publishing could work for you.

Lee Weatherly

My feeling is that indie publishing is far easier when an author already has an audience – so, moving from a traditional publisher to going it alone. However, I’ve encountered some authors just starting out who aren’t even considering traditional publishing; they’re going straight to indie. If you do your research and are up for the challenges, then it could work for you. I know of several indie publishing success stories – books that were self-published and then picked up by a major publisher.

I should point out that I’ve never self-published anything – all of my personal experience has been in traditional publishing – so do take my thoughts with a grain of salt.

The bottom line before going this route is to do your research, know exactly what you’re getting into and what you can realistically expect from it. And as with all publishing, don’t give up the day job just yet.

Lee Weatherly

Lee Weatherly has written more than 50 books for children and young adults, including the bestselling Angel series, and is published in 20 different languages.

Awards for her work include the Sheffield Children’s Book Award, the Stockport Children’s Book Award and the Leeds Book Award; she was also shortlisted for the Edgar Allan Poe Award and the RoNA Award.

Passionate about guiding new writing talent, Lee works as a mentor, including for The WoMentoring Project and Gold Dust, and over 15 years has taught workshops and residential courses for Arvon, SCBWI and at Hay, Edinburgh and YALC festivals – she’s seen many of her former students go on to writing careers of their own. She is also a tutor on Faber Academy's Writing A Novel: The First 15,000 online course.

Find Your Writing Voice: Exploring Genre

Begins: 19 November 2018