Self-publishing: The Good, the Bad, and the Fraudulent
by Marcus A. Nannini
I began this post with the intention of delving into some of the statistics and facts underlying the production of one million self-published books in 2017. The first keyword links to pop up had nothing to do with self-publishing success, but instead focused on the multiple ways self-published authors are being ripped off. Consequently, I am sharing this link from The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America website, which publishes Alerts for Writers. I suggest you refer to it, often: Writer Be Aware Alerts.
By the time I waded through multiple stories depicting all manner of frauds being perpetrated upon the 81 percent of Americans who either aspire to write their first books, are writing books, or have written books, I began to experience depression. Not everyone has the chance to belong to a group like Phoenix Publishing & Book Promotion or the Southern California Writers Association. Belonging to a group such as I just mentioned is a big boost to side-stepping fraudulent book publishing and marketing potholes. I belong to both groups and have never left a meeting without learning something important.
During my research, I uncovered enough fraudulently placed articles extolling the virtues of various self-publishing or marketing companies to know nothing is better than first-hand information. If you are among the millions of writers seeking to publish your own book, I urge you to find a group of like-minded persons anywhere near you and join it. Of course, just joining the group is not enough. In my experience, people must force themselves to get out of their abodes, attend the meetings, establish relationships, and grow their knowledge.
When it comes to self-publishing (and I include vanity/hybrid presses in the definition), a person needs more than their own research to discover the best route to publishing. I truly believe a writer needs input from those who have tread before them. The best way, in my opinion, to obtain the requisite input is with one-on-one personal contact through group participation. So get out and join, or if you already belong to a group, make an effort to attend most of the meetings. Simply joining without attending is unlikely to yield your desired results.
One million self-published books in 2017! That likely means a whole lot of poorly drafted ramblings making it into book format, ISBN and all! At least a writer has a chance to break even in the bargain, assuming said writer publishes in one of the top three book-buying countries in the world: the United States, China, or Germany. Breaking even, meaning recouping your actual out-of-pocket costs, is a reasonable goal.
If you have a rough idea of how much time you have invested in your book, you can calculate an hourly rate of return in the event you realize income above the actual out-of-pocket break-even point.
I have invested from a high of 2,000 hours to a low of 800 hours, so far, in the three books I seek to see published in 2019. Thanks to my publisher’s advances, I know I will make at least a whopping $1 an hour on the first book and $2.50 an hour on the second book. But these books are being published by a publisher that is in the business of generating income from book sales, as opposed to selling publishing services. They have more than 100 people on three continents to pay, so they are going to sell those books or die trying. They don’t even recoup their extensive costs until they have achieved significant sales. They are motivated to sell books.
A vanity or hybrid publisher generally has already covered its costs, and even earned some profits, with the fees they charge their authors. Beyond that, they have little motivation, as their focus is generally on soliciting more authors. As a self-published author, you will need a very well-defined and funded marketing plan. Every hour you spend writing the book can be spent again on marketing – likely more. As a self-published author, you are the person who must be motivated. The publisher has already made its profit, from you!
Please do not rush to publish and, even more importantly, do not rush into a marketing plan. One of the reasons groups such as the two I mentioned above feature different topics and speakers throughout the year is because publishing and marketing can’t be done in one swoop. There is too much information to digest, and the parameters of book publishing and marketing are in a constant state of flux. Again, I suggest you regularly attend the meetings as they can establish an effective marketing knowledge foundation for you.
I recently spent a week visiting the websites of more than 800 bookstores in the USA and Canada. I can count on two hands the number of them featuring a section for self-published books on their home page. Roughly a third of them state they focus, at least to some extent, on the offerings of INDIE publishers. However they offer a caveat: The indie publishers must use Ingram as their book distributor. As for the stores with a self-publishing section, they appear to be reserved for local authors only.
A book, once published, needs a physical distribution system to reach the buying public. A self-published author cannot expect a bookstore to buy directly from them, though there are a few who will take books on consignment with the absolute right to return any books they do not sell without regard to their condition. The potential potholes to navigate when it comes to distribution and bookstore sales are mind-boggling, but with knowledge you can dodge most of them.
Join one of the groups I mentioned above, or a similar group, attend the meetings, and learn. I urge you to be proactive and get involved. You can succeed in realizing your dreams. After all, it is still the United States of America!
Marcus Nannini began his journalistic career when he published his own newspaper in the sixth grade, charging 25 cents for the privilege of reading the only printed copy of each edition. During his undergraduate years, Nannini was a paid reporter and worked three semesters as the research assistant for journalism professor and published author Richard Stocks Carlson, Ph.D. Nannini is a life-long history buff with a particular interest in World War II and the Pearl Harbor attack. His continuing curiosity over several Japanese aerial photographs and the turtling of the U.S.S. Oklahoma lead him to write Chameleons, first as a screenplay and now as a full-length novel.