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Self publishing can be a first choice

“The difference between self publishing and traditional publishing, “ a well-known author once told me “is the difference between masturbating and making love to someone.”

That’s a bad metaphor being used to make the wrong point. In some circles, it is fashionable to look down at our noses at self-publishing. Just like it is fashionable to look down our noses at fifty shades of grey. But as you, gentle writer, decide to publish your book, here are a few things to keep in mind about self-publishing.

1. It destroys a bottleneck. You now have a choice.

Once upon a time, an author had no option but to go stand at the door of a publisher and grovel. The publisher was god – sometimes benign, but to many, seemingly heartless. But even publishing professionals are human.  I know many people from the dark side & I don’t think they are heartless. It is just the nature of the industry which makes them seem that way.

But I digress. It felt like a whim on which the publisher rejects your precious manuscript or consigns it to the slush pile. is on the whim the publisher would turn his back on you. That happened to a no-name author called Stephen King. His first novel “Carrie” was rejected by 30 publishers. Back then he had no option so he stuck it out and eventually found a publisher. In today’s day he would have had an option.

Erika Leonard (E.L. James) wrote “Fifty Shades of Grey” and self-published it through a small Australian company, which released it on eBook and print-on demand. But as her fan base lusted for more (pun intended) the rights were acquired by Vintage Books. Now the sales for the trilogy top 70 million worldwide. Laugh at that

2. Statistically, self-published authors make less money

Yes, it’s true. Only 8% of self published authors make more than 5000 dollars on their self-published books. As opposed to 20% of traditional publishers. But at least it gives you the option to put your book out there, and give it a chance to find its readers. And maybe glory. Much better than the option of keeping your manuscript under your pillow and weeping over it every night.

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3. With the Kindle, everything has changed.

Adam Croft, an outrageously successful mystery writer from the UK, never stood in the line outside the publisher’s door. He published his first book directly on Kindle, and is today on his 8th novel with sales of over 500,000 copies. He talks about how he paid off his mortgage in just 20 weeks, thanks to kindle. The secret to that is the next point.

4. 70% is better than 10%

When you publish with a traditional publisher, you are paying for their staff, their office rent, their air-conditioning, their coffee machine and their alleged expertise. Most importantly, you pay for their distribution muscle. But with the online medium, all that can be dispensed with. That is the reason why kindle and most other self-publishing platforms happily give you a 70% royalty, while the traditional publisher will haggle over 8% or 10%.

So what is the moral of that story?

Your chances of making it big are a little higher in a traditional Publishing set-up, but many fantastic authors self-publish now, and are outrageously successful as well. Anyone who rules out self-publishing is quite behind the times.

Self publishing can free the writer from many constraints. However, that cannot mean anything less than your best should be put out there. There is value to editorial feedback. Refining and reworking a story is often what makes a book shine, and traditional publishers hold their authors to a higher standard. The worst thing a writer can do is to put something half-baked out there. Self-publishing leaves you that option, and you have to watch out for it.

If you do self publish, there is also a decent chance that you may go on to be picked up by the bigger publishers. You can then turn them down and get some pleasure out of that.

Note : In a developing country like India where Kindle penetration is still rather low, the above may not apply as much, but there is still a decent case for self-publishing, and it is only getting stronger as kindle apps catch on. The self-publishing of print books has also been used by big names like Amish Tripathi before they became big names.

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2 Responses

  1. The word self-publishing itself is such a temptation. It’s been out there for a while now and yet, yes yet, there are many of us who dream of pulling off such a stunt but don’t even know how to pull it off, it’s that big a mystery. How does a writer self-publish? There are many so-called proponents of the game but who is genuine and who not? And above all that, like traditional publishing, self-publishing, too, depends on the appeal of a writer’s work. A work published could be a hit or a miss, a blockbuster or a fizzled-out fire-cracker, a damp squib.

    All said and done though, the last words here should be ‘nothing attempted, nothing gained.” So, what is the route to self-publishing? How does a writer do it? Does a workshop with the Himalayan Writing Retreat help unravel this mystery?

    1. Shampa, Thanks for your thought-provoking comment. As part of our work we are in touch with many people from the literary world – publishers, agents and others. We also have a sense of the pros and cons of the various options available to the first-time author. In addition to traditional and self publishing, e-publishing (Kindle) is also becoming more relevant. We don’t give you a decision on how to publish and market. We share with you the information and industry insights based on which you can take a decision yourself. I hope this answers your question. THWR.

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