Ask Tania: To Self-Publish or to Not Self-Publish - huge question

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Hi Tania,
I would love to know more about the self-publishing process. How hard is it and is it something you would recommend for picture books?

Well, Penny--to be honest, this is like asking 'how long is a piece of string'but I'll try to answer it as succinctly as I can!

The self-publishing process is pretty huge but it's also--in terms of the production elements required--quite simple and straight forward. I've published five of my 17 books, and loved every minute of it. Yes, it was tough, but only in terms of the hours required to dedicate to the process.

Other than finding the time to put into self-publishing, I believe the 'hardest' thing, without question, would be the marketing and promotion. Making your book stand out in the morass. Essentially, the selling of your book.

Self-published works that do well (extremely rare!) are usually a result of the author knowing and understanding their market very well. SP authors often make the mistake of casting their net too wide. Whacking your SP book on Amazon and standing back to let it sell, is a big mistake, in my eyes, as it just sits in a massive pool of millions of other SP books and gets nowhere.

SP books need tender care and attention at a smaller, local level. And they need a good strong niche, focused target market, and preferably a pre-established audience that can be used for marketing. This is why books by well-known bloggers or other people known to their target industry, do well. They already have an audience and marketing platform.

For picture books, self-publishing is absolutely doable but again, the focus needs to be tight--not only in terms of aiding your financial outlay, but in terms of gaining a loyal audience.

It also needs to be done with excellence, to publishing house standard, to gain any credibility in the market. You want the Gatekeepers (editors, teachers, librarians, awards judges, reviewers, book bloggers, book sellers, etc) by your side, talking about your work and sharing it with others. They won't do that if the book isn't of the highest standard in terms of text, editing, illustration and book layout and design. Unless these are all infallible, a self-published book will never do well.

You don't want people talking about your book for all the wrong reasons. Remember, the best marketing tool you'll have is word-of-mouth. It's the fastest and most sure marketing tool - and it's free! - but you want it to work for, not against you.

I believe the best way to SP a book is by full outsourcing, ie: you do it all, bar the actual physical printing and perhaps the illustrating, yourself. If you source and implement all the required elements (absolutely doable), including a distributor, you will save yourself tens of thousands of dollars and will actually stand to make a profit.

I don't know why people feel the need to enter into 'joint venture' publishing arrangements when they can do it faster and easier themselves, and at a fraction (as much as a quarter) of the cost. If you go for the former, expect to be permanently in the red financially. If you go with the latter, expect to work at it almost full time, but oh, it's a joy, and yes, you will earn your money back and then some (if you do it right).

It cost me little more than printing costs to produce all of my books and each has made a very decent profit because I did it all myself, I kept things 'small' (although my internet presence was far-reaching), re-invested my earnings (like any small business) and knew my target market incredibly well. I also utilised my pre-standing marketing avenues, and developed new ones along the way.

I'm proof that self-published works that can do well if you take a smart route. It all depends on how much time and effort you're willing to put into the SP learning process.

If you live near Canberra, I'm running a workshop - Self-Publishing a Picture Book - at the ACT Writers' Centre on Saturday 22 November 2014, that would prove invaluable for you. Keep an eye on their website for more.

I hope this helps you decide whether or not to pursue self-publishing!

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