Since the invention of the internet, the publishing industry has transformed in the last twenty years. Social media is full of writers tweeting and advertising their books and hundreds of new titles are published every single day.
It’s free for you to self-publish, unless you count the potential costs of editing, proofreading, and book cover design. These are optional, but it’s generally accepted that investing in these makes the quality of your book better.
I self-published my first fantasy novel when I was nineteen after paying some guys from my university to create the cover. I was really proud of it! People who read it gave it great reviews and I was full of happy confidence. I’d been writing since I was ten years old and this, I thought, was the first step to reaching my goal.
A new publisher got in touch to tell me that they were interested in re-releasing the book under their name. I was ecstatic! On my 22nd birthday I signed a contract and handed over the rights to Quest Publications.
I’d wanted to be a writer since I was a little kid and I felt like things were finally coming together. I wrote the sequel and they published that, too! I waited for the books to appear all over social media and for the fans to come flowing in.
It didn’t happen, though. Quest Publications, I later learned, was little more than a couple of guys in their basement who had no idea what they were doing. They didn’t even edit or proofread the books before publishing. I was told to market them myself and collect reviews, and I had to remind them to pay me. After a lot of heartbreak and frustration, I cut ties with them.
I was back to square one, except my reputation had been damaged by Quest.
I didn’t bother re-publishing the novels after that because I found out the first few people hadn’t been completely honest with feedback. I found out my books were not very original, the world was a “stock fantasy world,” and there were parts that didn’t make much sense. People were giving five-star reviews out of pity, kindness, or because they wanted similar return treatment.
To say I was “crestfallen” would be an understatement. I completely lost my confidence. Here are some reasons why I don’t self-publish anymore.
1. It’s Expensive
Yes, self-publishing is (technically) free. Amazon and Kindle Direct Publishing doesn’t charge you for clicking the “publish” button. However, once you’ve paid for editing, proofreading, and a nice book cover, it sets you back at least a few hundred dollars – more so if the book is long.
Unless you’re already famous or extremely market-savvy (which I’m not), you’re never going to make that all back in sales. If you take your project seriously by paying for all the needed services, you’re likely going to lose money. I just can’t afford to do that.
2. You Market More Than You Write
When you’re self-published, publishing the book is just the beginning. You have to have a big social media presence such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and maybe YouTube, too. You have to schedule tweets. Make videos if you can. Have an amazing blog. Expand expand expand.
I enjoy using Twitter, but I don’t enjoy posting about my own books all the time. I know people whose entire online presence revolves around books they have written and published themselves. Hate me for saying this if you like, but it comes across as narcissistic. Trying too hard.
I like tweeting funny memes and witty one-liners. It’s tiring having to market myself and it’s a lot of hard work for very little reward.
3. The Self-Published Community is a Mess
No, this does not apply to all self-published writers. I have a few friends who self-publish who are really cool. However, indie writers in general are annoying and really up themselves.
I talked about this a bit in my article How Toxic “Book Review Groups” Can Destroy Your Writing Career. Self-published authors flock together to swap Amazon reviews, which to them is even more important than sales. People are dishonest with each other on feedback (“yes, your book is wonderful! I’ve left a review. Have you read mine yet?”), snobby, and often react in an angry way if disagreed with. It’s a community I want no part of.
4. People Agonise Over Reviews, Not Sales
I’m pretty sure this is a myth, but there’s a sort of belief among indie authors that having lots of positive Amazon reviews makes your book more visible. People will give away free books in exchange for a promise that the reader will write a review, and the aforementioned review groups or the arguably worse review swaps take priority over developing your craft or working on your next book.
I admit that I was swept up in that, as well. But what’s the point in working so hard and spending a lot on releasing your book when you’re just going to give it away for free anyway? The whole system is a mess and just got annoying.
People who have disagreed with me, even with things unrelated to writing, have hunted my books around on Goodreads and Amazon and left (obviously fake) one-star reviews. This kind of behaviour can be really upsetting and isn’t fair at all. Personally, I think there’s a good case for getting rid of Amazon’s reviewing system altogether.
5. Books Can Be Low-Quality
Who doesn’t want to save money? All too often, writers don’t want to or can’t afford help with their book development or design and end up with awful covers, bad grammar, and plenty of typos. I’m sure my first books were the same! The worst part is that if you’re a writer yourself, you can’t possibly tell them. The general responses you get are “I’d like to see YOU do better!”
Even if you do hire an editor, it is generally another struggling indie writer who is just trying to make extra money, and they therefore can’t offer much in the way of valuable, professional editing.
I’ve read some great indie books, but they’re honestly very rare. I can take a book that has been published by HarperCollins or Penguin Books much more seriously.
I’ve published a few stories on my blog because:
- They can be edited. If I spot a typo, it can be quickly rectified.
- They’re free to read.
- It’s not possible to write Amazon/Goodreads reviews for them.
- I can get more honest feedback. My blog is visible to all, and people might feel better about pointing out errors if it’s not a “real book.”
Self-publishing is something people will continue to do. After all, some self-published titles have found enormous success. However, I don’t personally want anything to do with it anymore.
I’ll probably continue to publish short stories on this blog and maybe look for an agent once my latest novel is done. Who knows what will happen? For now, I’m leaving my short story, The Queen’s Alchemist, on Amazon, but avoiding self-publishing in the future.
*All images are copyright-free unless otherwise stated