Without a doubt the most frequent question I am asked is "Do you think I should self-publish my novel?" On one hand, I think this is pretty funny. I mean, what do I look like, the Wizard of Oz. I can't answer that question for you. On the other hand, I wonder in this day and age with so many resources for authors about their publishing options, how is there not some sort of checklist that helps writers make this decision.
Now, I'm no self-publishing expert, having never done it myself. That said, I like to think I know a few things. I know that there are so many variables, making a decision like this can be scary. I've seen first hand from authors who have self-published to great success (both staying indie and being courted and accepting big deals) and those who have self-published to anonymity. I know that sometimes this is more of a decision of the heart than the head and that there's nothing wrong with that.
So, to help in whatever way I can, here are a few questions to ask yourself before asking me (or any other publishing professional) if you should self-publish.
1. Can you afford to self-publish?
While there are a lot of ways to keep costs down, it is going to cost you money to self-publish your book. Here are just a few items that you will need to pay for: editing, proofreading, cover art, formatting, ISBNs, copyright, promotional copies (ARCs), marketing, and the list goes on. Now, you don't have to pay an arm and a leg for these efforts and some of them you could do yourself with the right skills and time. But not all of them. Even if you are an editor, you will need to pay for editing. Unless you are a graphic artist, you will need to pay for cover art. Arc copies are not free. If you are taking your publishing efforts seriously (if you're not then stop reading this and go home) then you will need to invest in the product. Maybe those costs aren't a big deal for you. That's great. Maybe the idea of a $400 editing bill is enough to keep you up at night. Either way, it's a good idea to sit down with a calculator and figure out if you have the bankroll to put out a book you can be proud of.
2. Is your book in the right market?
Some genres just do better than others when it comes to self-publishing. For example, right now NA and category romance practically walk off the virtual shelves. Those are great genres to self-publish. You are going to have a harder time with a literary novel or a chapter book. If you aren't sure, do your research. Go to Amazon. See what is selling well. Find out how many of those are self-published. And yes, this is going to take time. No, you may not skip this step.
3. Will your book convert well into ebook?
Pretty much every self-published author I know tells me the majority of their sales come from ebooks. Also, they tend to make more per book with ebooks. Lesson: your book will need to be an ebook. For most writers this is not an issue, but not for everyone. Does your book have illustrations? Those are harder to put in an ebook. Does your book have an unusual format? Does your book utilize footnotes or depend on stylized fonts? If you answered yes, chances are you are going to need a skilled formatter in order to get your book into an ebook that is readable and will translate your vision to readers. I'm not saying it can't be done, just that this will require more time and/or money from you.
4. Are you willing to do your own promotion?
Now, I realize that marketing efforts of the big 6 aren't what they used to be, but they aren't non-existent, either. First off, going traditional means your book will be on shelves. This is valuable. It means readers will see your book even if nothing else is done to promote it. Visibility is the biggest part of marketing. In addition to that, most big publishers are also going to put you on Netgalley which will increase your reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, etc. They will also put you out for professional reviews, enter you into contests, and get you blurbs from other authors in your genre. To be clear, these are all efforts you can do for yourself. You don't need a traditional publisher to do them for you. The question is, will you do it? Before you give an automatic "of course" think very carefully about your schedule, other writing projects you want to tackle, your non-writing commitments and all the other tasks that currently suck up your time. Now decide if you are willing to shuffle or remove some of those obligations in order to fit marketing in. Your answer may still be a resounding "yes", just make sure you know what you're signing on for.
5. Will you be satisfied by self-publishing?
I think this is the hardest question you'll need to ask yourself. For so many writers getting that big book deal is the dream. The one that kept them going when they were certain round 8 of revisions almost destroyed the entire subplot. The dream fueled by coffee and sour patch kids that made them skip the Downton Abbey premiere to crank out another 2K before bed. There is no denying the benefits of self-publishing. More control, flexibility to make nimble changes, the opportunity to make more money, etc. But at the end of the day, will you be okay that your book isn't on the shelf at Barnes & Noble with a fancy publisher logo on the spine? It's perfectly okay if that doesn't matter to you. It's also okay if it does.
The truth is, no one else can decide for you if self-publishing is the way to go. There are some pretty clear advantages and disadvantages and you can weigh those all day until the cows come home. You are the only one who can decide what's right for you and your book. Whichever way you decide to go, make sure it makes you happy (though cash is a nice consolation prize).
I'm joking. Mostly.
So what am I missing? For those of you who have taken the self-publishing plunge, what are other questions writers should ask themselves before hitting submit?