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Should You Self-Publish Your First Book?

Should You Self-Publish Your First Book?

Mike Doane

A reader recently reached out and asked what to do with a pile of rejection letters. He was feeling discouraged, even though he’d gotten many compliments on his book, and he was looking for some alternative publishing platforms. Here’s what I had to say…

The Truth About Rejection

As a new author, rejection is commonplace. When you’re reaching out to agents & publishers, you’ll probably get a lot of ‘this book isn’t right for me’ or flat out silence. This doesn’t mean your book is bad and it certainly doesn’t mean there isn’t an audience for it.

What’s happened is that many agents and publishers are stuck in the stone age. They haven’t moved forward with the tools & platforms now widely available and therefore can’t handle the amount of submissions they’re getting.

The support (financially and professionally) and prestige a traditional book deal can get you is quite attractive. However it can be a long and lonely road there. It took J. K. Rowling, arguably one of the most famous authors of all time, something like 7 years before she landed a deal with Burberry.

Why Self-Publishing Is Worth It

If you’re in the rejection phase with your unpublished books, deciding to self-publish is certainly a path in the right direction. Especially if you’ve gotten positive feedback from a busy agent or professional editor. You can start getting your work out there and if it goes well, a publisher will potentially pick you up as you gain traction (or you can just keep on with the self-publishing).

This is what happened for the now infamous Hugh Howey, author of Wool. He published his book as a mini-series on Amazon, with each chapter costing only $0.99. If you wanted to read on, you simply paid the fee. Otherwise you moved on.

It was a brilliant strategy that shot Howey into the spotlight and eventually landed him a 7 figure deal with a major publisher.

Need A Helping Hand? You’ve Got Options!

Booktrope, which is a hybrid between traditional publishing and self-publishing, is a nice in-between for those who feel they need a hand in self-publishing. The way it works is that after your book is accepted (the rejection rate is pretty low), you’ll be entered into the Booktrope system where you can assemble a team to help you with publishing your book. You’ll get an editor & proofreader, a graphic designer for your cover, and a project manager/book marketer. It’s a pretty great system if you’re not sure where to go with self-publishing.

They also shell out costs for some promotional copies of your book and your Facebook ads. And they make sure you have your eBook on multiple platforms (most notably Amazon and Barnes & Noble) as well as available in print (also on Amazon and Barnes & Noble).

You also get access to a huge community of others who are going through the process. It’s very supportive.

The downside is it’s hard to find a good marketer. Many are not professionals (the only requirement is that you have vaguely defined ‘social media skills’). You also only take about 30% of your profits (30% goes to Booktrope, 24% goes to your marketer, and the rest is split up between your editor, proofreader, and designer).

If you already have decent marketing skills though, you could easily bump that up to 54% by acting as your own marketing. Still, it could be nice to have an assistant marketer on your team to schedule social media posts and book blog tours and/or speaking engagements and whatnot.

Still, It’s Best To Own Your Content

That being said, you’ll get maximum value by owning all rights to your book (Booktrope retains them for 5 years), and having the freedom to experiment on different platforms.

The great thing is, there are all kinds of options for those who decide to self-publish. Reedsy is a fantastic platform for finding editors and designers, Gumroad is a really cool place to sell your books, and Heyo Cart is a way to automate book purchases through Facebook comments.

I’d say nine times out of ten, if you’re a smart person with a couple hours each night to burn, owning complete rights to your book is ideal. Investing in services that will help you market your books more effectively and educating yourself (or hiring someone who can educate you) on how to find your ideal audience and build a community of readers is the way to go.

It’ll pay off dividends in the long run and give you the power to continue your growth on new platforms as they pop up.