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Top 10 Self-Publishing Myths

Myth #10: The only authors who self-publish are those whose writing is not good enough to be published by a traditional publisher.

Truth: This was probably never true because the first publishers were in direct competition with rich men who could afford to self-publish. These publishers actually created the concept of the vanity press, and rode that horse to huge profits. Today, however, things have changed. Rumor in the book industry has it that no large publishers are offering contracts to new authors unless that author has a following of at least 25,000 and a large online presence. For most major publishers, this is unofficial policy. Book sales in the 10,000 to 20,000 range used to be enough to make the midlist, but these days, a book with these sales would be considered a failure by large houses. The midlist author of the past is today’s self-published author.


Myth #9: Readers do not like to read self-published books.

Truth: Readers do not want to read bad books, no matter how they were produced.  Although publishers and other writers might be biased against self-published books, readers just want to know that they’re going to get their money’s worth. Huge self-publishing successe s like The Celestine Prophecy, and The One Minute Manager prove that readers are interested in the content, not who published the book. The issue is trust. That’s why it’s so important for self-published authors to make sure they get the best book possible out there. If it’s well written and well marketed, readers will buy it.


Myth #8: People who read can tell when a book is self-published because the standards of production are lower.

Truth: While publishing professionals might be able to tell the difference, regular readers will not notice minor differences in binding or laminating, and as long as your book looks more or less the same as similar books and the text is easy to read, most buyers won’t know (or care) about the size of the margins or the gutters.


Myth #7: Self-publishing is expensive because you have to order a lot of books up front and pay for publishing services.

Truth: A book is a product that you are trying to sell, and it has to be comparable in quality to the competition: other books that others are trying to sell. If you know how to format your own book and design your own book cover using software like Photoshop you can probably do a lot of the setup yourself. You will still need to obtain and ISBN, an EAN, a Library of Congress number, and a barcode, and you will also want distribution, and possibly editing. If you can afford it, these services are available through publishing companies. Some publishers do require their authors to order minimum print runs, which can cost thousands, or even tens of thousands, of dollars. However, POD (print on demand) publishers don’t require authors to order any books. And in some cases, a number of books are included with the publishing package.

Myth #6: No one reviews self-published books.

Truth: In fact, self-published books do get reviews. Some even get reviewed in major magazines and newspapers.  However, these are the exception, not the rule. Most POD books get reviewed on radio, in local media, in regional magazines, and on the internet.


Myth #5: Self-publishing is expensive because you have to pay large setup fees.

Truth: Some publishing companies include the actual publishing of the book in the setup fees. If the setup fee includes formatting, the essential administrative numbers (ISBN, EAN, LOC#, and barcode), a custom cover, and distribution then you aren’t really paying for setup, you’re paying for publishing services. Watch out for those companies who tell you a small setup fee that doesn’t include any real services.


Myth #4: It’s hard for self-published authors to succeed because they have to do all their own promotion.

Truth: Here's a quote from a Senior Editor at Harper Collins: "I won't even look at a book unless the author is prepared to do a book tour and book signings..." If that's not work, I don't know what is. All authors are required to do promotion on their books. No one, except celebrity authors, gets their books out into the marketplace without working for it. No large publisher will take on a new writer who isn’t about to do the promotion, the book tours, and the media interviews.


Myth #3: Self-published authors are at a disadvantage because they’re unknown and there’s no quality control system in place on published books.

Truth: Self-published authors are usually unknown; there’s not much that can be done about that. However, there are a few self-publishing companies who do insist on quality in editorial as well as production values. Such publishers don’t take every book that comes in “over the transom,” and because they have standards, it’s easier for potential readers to trust the books they sell.


Myth #2: Most self-published authors can’t get their books into large chain brick-and-mortar bookstores like Barnes and Noble and Borders, and you have to have books on these shelves to be successful.

Truth: Once, chain bookstores were the only place to buy books, but that’s no longer true. According to a recent poll, only 32% primarily shop for books in chain bookstores. 43% of respondents buy their books online and 9% buy most of their books from small, independent bookstores. 16% bought elsewhere--in drug stores, specialty shops, supermarkets, warehouse clubs, and airports. Plainly, since 68% of buyers buy elsewhere, chain bookstores are no longer the be-all and end-all of bookselling.


Myth #1: Self-publishing is okay for some, but I want writing to be my career.

Truth: The length of the mainstream author’s career is under the control of his or her publisher, and future prospects are only as good as the sales of the last book. If your book doesn’t earn back its advance, or sells only modestly beyond the advance, the publisher will not want to publish your next book.

Only 1-2% of all books published become bestsellers. Take a look in any bookstore at the books that are not selling in huge numbers. Take a look at the remainder tables. It may be rare for a self-published book to become a bestseller, but for that matter, it’s rare for any book to become a bestseller. Most books make their money in the long tail of sales, which brings in as much income as the bestseller, the difference being that this money comes in over time rather than all at once. Those writers who persevere no matter what, who continue to write and to publish, who continue to add books to their product line and promote them, can succeed.

A self-published author’s career isn’t over until the author decides to stop publishing. The self-published author’s career makes it or doesn’t, based on the author’s work and the author’s willingness to keep writing, publishing, and promoting. It’s not up to anyone else to decide if you’ll be an author; and it’s not up to anyone else to decide when you’ll quit.



The following excerpt is from Self-Publishing: Print-On-Demand and Electronic at SFWA.org.  To read the full article go to:  http://www.sfwa.org/for-authors/writer-beware/pod/


If You Decide to Self-Publish

- Know your options–all of them.

Be sure you have a good understanding not just of  self-publishing, but of commercial publishing (a.k.a. “traditional” publishing).  Many writers base their decision to self-publish on misconceptions about commercial publishing–such as the myth that major publishers aren’t interested in first-time authors. Unless you understand the whole range of options available to you, you can’t truly make an informed decision.

- Go into it with your eyes open.

Really open. Consider all the issues and challenges identified above, and factor them into your plans.

- Take stock of your goals.

Be sure that self-publishing is a good match for them.

- Have a plan.

Know what you want to accomplish by self-publishing. Draw up a list of what you’d like to receive from whatever service you decide to use. Decide what you’re able to spend–and don’t fail to include self-promotion in your budget. Decide how much time you can devote to your project, both before and after publication. Being clear on these things ahead of time will make it easier for you to evaluate what kind of self-publishing you want to do, and which service (if any) to choose.

- Do your research.

Make sure you carefully read all the information available on the website of the service you are thinking of choosing–including contracts, which are usually available online, and Terms and Conditions–so that you know exactly what’s being offered and what you yourself will be committing to. Many authors miss extra fees, for instance, because they don’t take enough time to peruse the fine print, or don’t realize that they are encumbering their rights (even if nonexclusively and for a limited time). For POD publishing services, don’t forget to order a couple of the service’s books, so you can assess physical quality and ordering efficiency.

Be sure to check out the reputation of any self-publishing service you’re thinking of using, whether POD or electronic–not all are reliable (there are resources below to help with this). If possible, contact other authors who’ve used the service to find out about their experiences. Be careful of brand-new startups–you’re probably best off if you stick with larger, longer-established services, even if they’re a bit more expensive.

- Keep your expectations realistic.

Know the possible limitations, as well as the potential advantages, of self-publishing, and understand what it is and is not likely to accomplish for you. Writer Beware gets many complaints from authors who believe they’ve been scammed by self-publishing companies, when in reality it’s their expectations that were faulty–whether because they didn’t read their contracts carefully enough, or erroneously assumed that self-publishing was a ticket to commercial-style success.

- Ignore the hype.

There’s a tremendous amount of hype around electronic self-publishing right now, and a lot of discussion of high-selling Kindle self-publishers and the established authors who are bypassing their trade publishers to self-publish online. Not all of this information is accurate, complete, or representative, however, and it needs to be carefully assessed and placed in context. (For a more detailed discussion of the importance of context, see this post from Writer Beware’s blog.) Beware those who claim that any author can make money by self-publishing electronically, or who present electronic self-publishing as the only viable route to publishing success, or who spend a lot of time ranting about the horrors of the traditional publishing model.

POD services hype themselves as well, often portraying themselves as a revolutionary publishing model that’s opening up a world of opportunity for writers locked out of the market by the narrow standards of the monopolistic commercial publishing industry. POD juggernaut Author Solutions has even recently begun attempting to rebrand itself as an “indie publisher” (see Writer Beware’s debunking of that particular weasel wording). But there’s nothing new about paying to get published–or about the opportunity it offers, which is mainly for the publishing service to make a profit. Most of the traditional difficulties of exposure and respect faced by vanity-published authors are duplicated in the POD self-publishing model.

More troublingly, POD services can be quite deceptive in the way they present themselves and what they offer, implying a greater potential for success than actually exists, glossing over the challenges of self-publishing, and overstating the value of the overpriced, ineffective marketing services they sell. When researching POD services, it’s important to remember that you are a consumer buying a service, not an author contracting with a publisher. As with any consumer service, the sales pitch is not intended to benefit you, but to motivate you to buy.



Finding a POD Publishing Service and Checking Reputations

  • Clea Saal’s Books and Tales website provides comparisons of a number of POD services, as well as a series of articles on the stages of the POD self-publication process (note: Writer Beware has received complaints about several of the companies listed here, including companies that this site rates highly, so be sure to do some extra research).
  • Successful novelist Piers Anthony maintains an internet publishing resource that lists and describes electronic and POD-based publishers, and flags those that have problems or are the focus of complaints.
  • E-mail Writer Beware. SFWA has assembled a large archive of documentation on publishers that engage in questionable practices. Send us the names of any POD services you’d like to know about, and we’ll summarize for you any data that’s in our files. If we have no information on a publisher, we’ll let you know that too.
  • Preditors and Editors provides lists of agents and publishers, with “not recommended” notations to indicate those that charge fees or engage in other writer abuses.
  • Google Groups is a searchable database of Usenet newsgroups, with message archives dating back to 1981. Writers often post publisher questions or complaints to Usenet. If you’re uncertain about a POD service, do a search on its name here to see what you find.