The Downside of Self Publishing (or Why Self Publishing May Not Work For You)

Google “self publishing in India” and you will get a full list of companies promising you the moon. For a (rather large) fee, they tell you, you can publish your book and be on your way to achieving publishing success. Amanda Hocking and E. L. James, and, closer to home, Amish Tripathi and so many others have achieved it, they say, so why can’t you.

While that may be true, and while publishing success can surely be yours, it also helps to understand that there are equal chances of the book failing in the market. The book might fail because of reasons totally out of your control, or for reasons you can indeed control. Nonetheless, it helps to know these reasons so you can prepare for them. Their knowledge can also help you be more realistic about your chances in the market and perhaps have a plan B in mind should you encounter some hiccups along the way.

To understand a bit about why books fail in the market, think about the last time you visited a bookshop. While looking for a book to purchase, you probably had a book in mind, or an author you wished to revisit, or a genre of books you’d have liked to browse through. If it was a genre of books you were going through, you probably were still looking for a book you had heard about or an author whose next book you wanted to read. It’s on a rare occasion that you would pick up a book randomly, and then too you would do such a thing because you read something interesting on its back cover.

This train of thought occurs wuth almost everyone who is in the process of buying a book. People often choose books that they have, in some form or another, read or heard about. Readers are often out to buy a book that is written by an author who is in the news or a book that has been widely mentioned in the social or print media. There is some familiarity – whether with the book, or with the author. And when an acquaintance with neither the book or its author exists, it is beautifully written back-cover text that sways the reader into buying that book.

The authors that taste success with self-published books are those that understand this point. They know that their book will not sell only because it is “out there”, whether it is listed on online portals, or on a shelf in a bookstore. They know that for a buyer to buy a book, he/she must be intimately familiar with the book – familiarity bred from either knowing (or knowing about) the author, or from having read about the book, either in the print or social media or in a well-written blurb.

It is a common misconception that book purchases are made based on the price of the book. The price of the book does play a part but a very late stage in the book buying process (think about it, you will turn the book over to see its price only when it is a book you consider buying). Like this infographic explains, a buyer looks at other aspects of the book before buying. He/She considers the cover of the book, its title, information on the flaps (if any) and on the back cover, and even glances at the content of the book before looking at the price of the book while deciding whether or not to buy a book.

Which brings me to my point: Self-publishing is a LOT of work. If there is a downside to self-publishing (and if one can call it that) it arises from the fact that an author who has decided to self-publish must spend all effort in making sure that every stage along the path of self-publishing has received its due attention. There is no publishing house to take care of the small details (like in the case when the book is published the traditional way) and it is left to the author to coordinate with the service provider (if there is one) to ensure that the book is properly developed at every stage. A detached author – one who trusts the publishing service to do everything for the author – will, more often than not, end up frustrated and disappointed. A well-meaning service provider will, in fact, engage with the author during each stage.

Ideally the author should a) ensure that the book is properly edited and make sure that the changes suggested to the text reflect his/her voice, b) be involved in all aspects of the cover design, including the back text and the design of the spine, c)make sure that if the book contains photographs, they are properly enhanced and fit for printing, and d) that the book is carefully and neatly laid out as per convention. The attention to detail that the author must have cannot be emphasized enough.

More importantly, an author should invest in marketing the book. Often confused with sales, marketing doesn’t always cost money. It is the time and effort that the author invests in getting as many people to know about the book as possible that is important. Very often authors shy away from this role that they need to play, often to their own peril.

As we saw at the beginning of this article, a buyer likes to have some familiarity with the book he/she is buying. That familiarity might arise after knowing the author or, perhaps, after knowing the book. This ‘knowing’ comes through various means – it could happen because the reader had met the author someplace or because the author is a public figure or, and this is often the case, because the author has reached out to the reader through email or other social media. The ‘knowing’ does not have to be personal – rather it should be an acquaintance, where the reader has heard about the author. It is therefore important that the author invests time (and, sometimes, money) in making himself/herself known to readers.

An author must also bear in mind that a book sells gradually, over a long period of time. Any marketing campaign that an author initiates must, therefore, spread itself so that the message being communicated is constantly reinforced. Many authors engage marketing services for a duration of 3-6 months, and then, seeing that it yields little or no sales, get frustrated and wind it down. Readers buy books at their own leisure and a good marketing campaign will be at hand to remind them of your book.

Self-publishing is therefore not for authors who are shy of marketing their own book. Even in instances when marketing is a paid-for service, it is important that the author remains involved in the marketing process. It is important that the message communicated to the readers is a consistent one, and reflects the spirit of the book. If you are an author who cannot be involved in the development of the book, and its marketing, or cannot be patient while calculating return on investment, probably self-publishing isn’t for you.

picture credit: https://stocksnap.io