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Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing Part 3: Self-Publishing

Last week, we continued our discussion of traditional publishing and self-publishing by covering some of the types of traditional publishers out there, the generalized process, and many considerations in the changing market. If you didn't read that post, you can look at it here. This week, we'll round out the discussion by focusing on self-publishing.

Anyone Can Become an Author

If someone suggests that “real writers don’t self-publish,” go ahead and laugh. Plenty of very successful and very well-crafted authors have self-published their own books. These types of comments usually boil down to elitism and what I consider dated modes of thinking.

A real writer is someone that writes. It is not necessary to make the topic more complicated than that, and even someone that has NEVER written at any great length is qualified to become a real writer. Some in the industry may call that idealism, but self-published authors have continually proved them wrong. The indie market in music, literature, and other media is on the rise and traditional publishers, though they still control a large portion of the market, have felt the effects.

That said, self-publishing can come with a steep learning curve in many areas. While the same can be said of the role of authors in traditional publishing, the considerations in self-publishing are often much more technical and just as exhausting as traditional publishing.

Skills or Money

For the would-be self-published author, you are either going to need to learn many new skills or you are going to need to have money to afford the help of contractors and publishing consultants. There are merits to both routes.

Let’s assume you have no budget whatsoever and plan to handle the entire process yourself. The list of skills you may have to learn includes:

  • Writing

  • Editing and proofreading

  • Book layout, sometimes referred to as “typesetting” for print

  • eBook conversions, which honestly can be fairly simple for uncomplicated books

  • Advance knowledge of Microsoft Word or other word processors

  • Graphic design (effective book covers especially)

  • Marketing techniques (this has its own giant list)

  • Understanding of Amazon’s platforms (CreateSpace, Kindle Direct Publishing, how product pages work, HTML for descriptions, keywords, category placement, etc.)

  • Understanding Smashwords guidelines and many considerations with the other eBook platforms (all of the Amazon considerations above and sometimes more)

  • How ISBNs work

  • How to production proof a product

  • Marketing

  • And troubleshooting… lots of troubleshooting.

This isn’t even a very full list of the amount of skills you may require, and even if you happen to be a great writer and editor, editing your own work can sometimes be difficult. Considering how long it can take to simply write a book, especially for new authors, putting all of these other tasks on top of it can be overwhelming and take just as long as waiting for a response from a traditional publisher, if not longer.

In the best case scenario, you will have friends or family able to help you at no cost. This is especially true of editing, proofreading, and design. In the worst case scenario, you may be handling this all on your own. I can say with confidence that for those with technical prowess and a decent grasp on language and design, it is entirely possible to spend almost nothing and publish a book that will earn a profit. It also gets easier after the first couple books.

For many authors, though, technology is not among their list of strengths, or they understand that the time involvement with the technical end of publishing may not be truly worth the time compared to the costs involved when working with people that can have these things done efficiently. Of course, it also helps to simply have extra sets of eyes and someone to consult with.

If we talk about the cost of working with contractors, it becomes a very difficult task of coming to a specific number because so many factors are present.

Some companies and individual contractors (freelancers) may have general rates, but these span a spectrum so large that it’s difficult to pinpoint what is “fair pricing for great work” and what falls under the idiom “you get what you pay for.” Sometimes you get a deal, sometimes you overpay. Finding the RIGHT person to work with is difficult, and sometimes you can’t know until you’ve worked together. Not all contractors are going to be right for all authors either.

The type of businesses or individuals you work with is just as varied as prices. A freelancer out of the Philippines may be able to handle typesetting your print book for far less than an American contractor simply due to cost of living differences and eagerness to remain competitive. An overseas contractor may very well be able to produce something you are happy with and can sell, but at times there may be some communication struggles and difficulty fixing the problems that result.

With the existence of freelance marketplaces ( being an obvious choice), we are sometimes able to weed out the worst contractors fairly easily. However, when we talk about contractors with intermediate experience and prices, this can become much more difficult. (FYI, I am on this marketplace and charge $25 per hour for several “expert level” services, but I much rather work with you off the platform due to their high fees.)

In my opinion, you are best working with contractors that have a long history of successful projects when you can afford them. If you can’t afford these contractors that have good reason to charge higher wages, then you must manage your expectations. You may ultimately be surprised by what a lower cost contractor is able to handle. Plenty of contractors (foreign or not) that don’t charge what I consider fair rates actually are very good at their jobs. Of course, plenty promise the moon and can’t deliver as well.

The most crucial thing in my opinion is finding someone that wants to work WITH you. As a freelancer, it is sometimes nice to have clients that let you “do your thing,” ask for just a few revisions, finish up the contract quickly, and get you paid just as fast.

As an author, some of us want this person to be part of our support system, and I find that the best projects, and thus best products, are usually going to happen when I work WITH a client and not simply FOR the client. Of course, it depends how and why you are publishing and where the project is at once you begin to bring in helping hands.

You may work with a large number of contractors or find someone that can handle several different tasks. For example, I offer editing, proofreading, print layout, eBook conversions, and publishing consulting, among other things. Some are able to offer all of that plus great cover design. (I can help with many graphic concerns, but I will usually recommend someone that’s far better than I am for your actual cover designs.) Some only offer print layout and editing, and I even have very talented colleagues that regularly come to me for the eBook portion of their clients’ books.

The Book Shepherd

I’m not sure when or where the term originated, but a “book shepherd” is someone that often acts a project manager for your book. Sometimes these individuals have some knowledge of marketing and finding the team that will help make your book a reality, but they very often lack experience in more technical areas of layout, eBook conversions, editing, and other design concerns. As a freelancer, I’ve worked with many book shepherds that knew pretty much nothing about publishing whatsoever. I’ve also worked with some that, while they didn’t possess many technical skills, were actually very good at book launches, managing teams, and some marketing tasks.

I allow myself the use of the term because I can consult in almost all areas of self-publishing, and I can confidently say that I have helped many take their book from first draft to publication while only hiring me, a cover designer, and sometimes a marketing expert. Right Hand Publishing is basically the concept of, “I am a Book Shepherd that does a lot of the work myself instead of charging you for other’s work.” Not that catchy, but that’s the gist of it.

Be wary of some so-called “book shepherds.” Some are really going to just charge you to have others do the work. It may lessen the load if you’re completely lost, but your money is not always being spent very wisely. Your book shepherd should either be able to help with the process of publishing OR the process of launching. If they can effectively handle both ends, they're essentially a miracle worker.

The Self-Publishing Process Can Be EXHAUSTING

Perhaps after all of this discussion on traditional vs. self-publishing, it may be a bit disheartening to hear that self-publishing may be quicker, less restrictive, and possible on a small budget, but it is usually still a lot of work. Other than the submissions process, you still have to go through most of the steps, and honestly it can very often be exhausting for a new author or during larger projects.

A very generalized self-publishing venture may include the following:

  • Writing a book

  • Possibly editing it yourself

  • Possibly paying an editor or asking a favor for editing

  • Proofreading the book, usually more than once.

  • Having a cover designed, usually several until one is favorable

  • Print layout

  • Print proofing, revisions, and probably more revisions

  • Obtaining one or more ISBNs (which may or may not be an added cost depending on preferences)

  • Submitting the print book to Amazon’s CreateSpace (or other print-on-demand solutions)

  • Printing a proof copy and then more revisions

  • Writing a book description

  • Determining keywords

  • Determining category placements

  • Building a platform/fan base in which to market your book, which ideally should have started before ever writing the book (but probably didn't)

  • eBook conversions for one or more formats (I usually suggest Kindle and Smashwords)

  • eBook production proofing

  • Submitting eBooks to Kindle, Smashwords, and possibly other retailers

  • Publishing the book!

  • Realizing there is some small error despite the huge amount of work and multiple eyes on the book and having to create more revisions, only now the revision is to several formats that all have to be resubmitted

  • Begin post-publication marketing with the understanding that the market is flooded with books…

  • Continue building your platform, putting in marketing efforts, and…

  • Start writing another book just to start over again

It can truly be an exhausting process just like traditional publishing, except now the author is probably (but not always) far more involved than they would have been with traditional publishing. You are the publisher even if you hire a publishing guru.

As with doing it all on your own, even working with teams becomes easier overtime. If you find the right contractor(s) for you, the process can become very streamlined after you understand your role in it and know you can trust the people on your team. The important thing is always to remain as positive as possible. For most of us, this should be exciting, especially if it is your first book.

For those venturing to handle this on your own, I truly commend you. When I first stepped into publishing on a not-for-profit basis, I had no idea just how much work I was getting myself into. If the goal were profit, it would have been very difficult.

The Benefits of Self-Publishing

Let’s end this discussion on a positive note. There truly are some huge benefits to self-publishing, and not pointing them out in a list format would almost be a sin:

  • You retain all rights to your own work

  • You essentially have total control

  • If you manage to make large numbers of sales, your royalties are much higher

  • Printing costs are relatively cheap these days even when you just want one copy

  • Print-on-demand means that you only have printed copies if they sell or you order them

  • With the rise in eBooks, shorter book lengths are now more viable on the market

  • You don’t have to listen to stuffy “professionals” in the publishing industry

  • You can make revisions whenever you want without too much hassle

  • It is possible on a limited budget and in limited amounts of time

  • Indie sales are rising in general

  • You become a published author

  • You may just meet some great people in the writing community

Which Road Do You Travel?

That ends our discussion on traditional publishing vs. self-publishing. If you've read all three of the posts on the topic, I hope you have a better idea of where you would like to begin your publishing journey. If you haven't written your book yet, please don't wait. The longer you stall, the harder it becomes.

Thank you to anyone that stuck around for these discussions! I don't expect to share much more information about traditional publishing in the future, but Right Hand Publishing is a self-publishing services and consulting business, so expect much more on the topic of self-publishing, writing, marketing, and more.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to comment or send me an email at

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