The DIY conundrum: beating the bad rep of self-publishing

I’ve learned a lot of things about self-publishing during the process of publishing my book.  Perhaps the greatest thing I’ve learned is this: I am proud to be a self-published author.

Self-publishing sometimes has a bad reputation, but that’s mostly because of the monopoly that traditional publishing houses have had on the industry for so long. The balance of power is shifting with the age of technology, however, allowing people with small budgets and large ambitions to make their own way in a once-exclusive market.

It’s an amazing tool, when used properly. And I think if the demands and process of self-publishing were more widely known, people would have a much greater respect for and would be more willing to support Indie authors. The people who self-publish and are serious about it have to be extremely dedicated, because they are their own publishing company – they have to arrange editing, design, cover, and, most difficult of all, marketing.

It’s not an easy road, but it’s a rewarding one.

One of the difficulties of being an Indie author is the stigma that’s often placed on the idea of self-publishing. A lot of people think that if a book isn’t published traditionally, it’s not good. This simply isn’t true. People need to realize that the odds are stacked against any potential authors from the start – even if they’re great – because of the way that the publishing industry works.

Publishing houses only accept a certain number of manuscripts a year, and most won’t even consider one if it is sent in directly by the author. They require an agent. Agents are great, but they’re also expensive, and even with one, you’re not guaranteed publication because publishing houses have thousands of manuscripts and only a few spots to fill. And in the event that an author gets a contract, it often is conditional, essentially saying something to the tune of, “If you don’t sell X number of copies within this amount of time, you’ll be dropped from the company and on your own.” And yes, publishing houses are businesses, and they do have to make profits, so it’s not really their fault that they operate this way… but it’s still very inconvenient for authors with limited budgets.

And, believe it or not, there are BENEFITS to self-publishing! The biggest one is FREEDOM. When you’re signed with a publishing company, you have to submit to the creative and technical decisions of the company. And while they may have great ideas and believe they hold the key for the best way to write and market and package your book, as an author, your creativity can certainly feel stifled. When you self-publish, you have the final decisions.

So next time you see someone turn up their nose at a book because it was not “traditionally published,” remember that self-publishing is a viable and legitimate form of self-employment, and that an author isn’t “bad” because he or she goes the Indie route.

Personally, I didn’t even try to go the traditional way with my book – I’ve always found self-publishing a more attractive option, especially knowing the sheer odds of even getting my book seen by a publisher. Do I think I could publish traditionally? I do, and someday I might make that plunge. But for a newlywed with bills to pay, getting an agent and pursuing the traditional route isn’t feasible.

And that’s ultimately where the flaw of traditional publishing lies: It’s hugely weighted in the favor of those with a lot of money, visibility, and pull. In a nutshell? Mainstream publishing companies are mostly focused on already published and known authors. It’s kind of like when you’re looking for a job, and every application you fill out requires so many years of experience – and you wonder how you’re ever going to get this experience if you’re not given the opportunity because every job requires but doesn’t give what you need to succeed. It’s frustrating, yes, but it’s also possible to get your start with self-publishing, if you have the drive and dedication.

And, guess what? There have been plenty of self-published authors who have been contacted by traditional publishing companies after garnering a lot of success – some of them even becoming bestsellers! Believe it or not, some of these authors choose to continue self-publishing rather than sign on with a publishing house.

Just remember that, in the end, it doesn’t come down to talent so much as it does to money, circumstances, and resources – like pretty much everything else in this life.

This is a great time for independent authors – so if you are one, be proud, and if you’re thinking about it… take the plunge!  It’s worth it.

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