WEEK 30 - #VoidDeckWriter: What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Self-Publishing
Week 30, and I’ve been preparing Unstable Directions Chapter 2 for sale and launch. Thus, this got me to think about this week’s topic - what we don’t talk about when we talk about self-publishing.
Week 30, so that’s another five (5) or so months to the end of the year. How did things get so fast? This week, I’ve been preparing Unstable Directions Chapter 2 for sale and launch. At the same time, I received the remaining copies of Unstable Foundations from our distributor. Thus, this got me to think about this week’s topic - what we don’t talk about when we talk about self-publishing.
Before we start, here’s a bit of setting we need to get clear - I will be coming at this from a perspective of self-publishing through a hybrid model, which means I will be talking about self-publishing in print (where you fund the printing yourself), and digitally (through PDF / eBook formats, but not on Amazon / Amazon-like services for independent authors).
Keeping books around
A week ago, I posted the above picture on Instagram, saying that I will have a good number of copies of my comic, Unstable Foundations, from then onwards. The truth was that our contract with our distributor had ended and they still had books left in their storage and no more orders. Therefore, they wanted to return the books.
Half of what you see in the picture above was what was left after I gave the distributor consent to pulp the rest of the books they wanted to return.
While this felt like a waste, it’s one of the realities of self-publishing in print - what are you going to do with books you cannot sell? Do I need to print many copies to save costs? Will I be able to sell 100 copies so that I don’t have to keep these books with me? Do I even have space to keep printed books, even temporarily?
And all of these questions pop up even before you consider the costs. So far, I have printed books I’ve self-published (Pulp Toast, for example) overseas, in small quantities. Even then, I still needed space at home to store at least 50-100 copies, depending on how many pre-orders or how demand is like, and we all know how unreliable sales projections can be.
So this is a point to keep in mind when you want to fund your own publishing.
The Zen Practice of Layout (and Process)
I actually like doing layouts for my books, especially Unstable Directions.
It gives me a sense of zen and concentration when I’m laying text out - deciding font, spacing, keeping the page numbers and headings consistent, and watching your work come to fruition on digital paper. Somehow, this feeling of accomplishment and peace is also similar to the feeling I get whenever a stage in the publishing process is done.
In self-publishing, unless you are forking out money for people to do all the non-writing work for you, you will have to source for many things on your own - editors, covers, layout styles, printers, digital formats, distribution, marketing, engagement. While it is a lot to deal with, going through the process, at least for myself, gave me a greater appreciation for the publishing process itself and the amount of work that goes into traditional publishing.
Note: We may complain about how much work it is for us to do self or independent publishing but here’s the thing: You’re likely handling just one manuscript at a time. Traditional publishers don’t have that luxury, and their (or agent’s) slush piles amount in the hundreds PER DAY.
Though caveat: I only find layout zen because it’s just text within margins. Fancy layout, however, is a different story altogether.
Pricing & Community Building
Price low first to attract and build community - don’t reward supporters who just want freebies. / Price high first to be sure of your worth - your tribe will find a way and/or appreciate your work.
Technically speaking, both pieces of advice work, depending on the kind of context you’re in and your intention. Yet, pricing still ends up to be one of the most challenging aspects of taking charge of your own business. Do you price along with the market? Do you price low and increase? Do you price high and decrease?
Admittedly, I still have issues with pricing. However, here are a few things you might want to consider while pricing, especially to cover costs:
Manpower Costs (YES, YOU HAVE TO PAY YOURSELF)
And then consider your intention for pricing as well - do you want to attract and/or build community first? Do you want to help a cause with your books? Those will factor into your pricing as well. But one rule still sticks: If you’re uncomfortable with the price, or if you feel like you are cutting your own flesh with a pricing that’s too low, it’s probably not a good price.
70% of nothing is still nothing
This is a fact though. Many self-publishing platforms boast high cuts to authors, as compared to significantly smaller advances and royalties from traditional publishers. However, let’s be real about this - 70% of nothing, if you don’t sell anything, is still nothing. Your book on Amazon doesn’t equate or guarantee sales - and you’re, in essence, competing with millions of titles on a daily basis. Your marketing will be through your own efforts (unless you have at least another five or so figures to spare to hire someone to do it for you) So this is something to think about if you’re basing your self-publishing choice on earnings.
What are your impressions of “self-published books”? Why is that so? Let me know in the comments!
Importance of Mindset
In publishing (traditional or self), rejection is a matter of “when” rather than “if”. And there can be a lot of blame and resentment if you have issues coping with rejection from your desired publisher or opportunity. (P/S - not have thousands of readers at your first day of launch is also a form of rejection. IF you see it that way.) Now, this is how mindset is important as you move forward -
Why do you want to publish? Why do you want to have this story out in the world the way it is? Being aware of your intention to create a story to put out into the world in published form helps with coping with rejection, pacing, and healthily embarking on your own, authentically creative journey. Knowing your intention also helps you find your ideal audience - the people who will support you and/or your work, hell or high water. That said, how do you deal with intentions that don’t make you feel confident or supported? Here’s an example:
“I publish because I want to earn money. It’s an easy way to earn money.” - You might want to sit with this intention for a while, especially if your publishing journey is not making enough for you to feel satisfied. There’s nothing wrong with publishing to make money, but you need to be clear about how much you want to earn / make, what your expectations are, and why. How much is enough? What do you mean by “easy” to make money? - sit with it for a while (if you need some time, at least about 10 minutes). Because there are easier, stabler, and less stressful ways to earn / make money. Trust me.
Self-publishing is an option, but it’s NOT your back-up when you get rejected
“Self-published books are not respectable publications.” - I hear this or a derivation of this in almost every conference or gathering of writers I find myself in. I am not going to argue about the credits and discredits about self-published books, but keep in mind that this is a common idea, and you cannot control how people think.
HENCE, this is where intention comes in - Before you self-publish, what do YOU think about self-publishing? Are you doing so because you truly believe that it’s a viable way to get your work out to the world? Are you doing so because you want the freedom to experiment in ways that traditional publishing may not allow you to do so? Are you doing so to test the market and refine your small print run of a chapbook? There is no right or wrong answer, just the need for clarity.
Why is this important?
If you go into self-publishing because “no one wants to publish my book so I have no choice!!!”, it is going to influence your decisions moving forward. Depending on how you work (or not work) with this mindset, you can either be more open to experimenting or end up resenting the industry. And that, in turn, will inform how you view aspects of the industry, how you communicate with the industry and community, and how you build your career. Sure, I also want my full manuscripts to be published, no questions asked, as long as it’s submitted. However, it becomes a math issue - Books and IP are not sold fast enough for this industry to keep that many people afloat on living wages if the industry says yes to every manuscript that hits their table. It is what it is.
No one owes you an audience
I cannot say this enough - and many of us learn this the hard way. Just because you’re passionate about your craft and your story, does not mean that you are entitled to an audience. Whether you are traditionally or independently-published, represented or not, the building of your audience lies, at the very least, mostly in part with you - who is going to advocate your work for you if you are not willing to do so?
In the end, mindset is very important to me because it’s what will help me on the days where my books sit and collect dust on whichever platform I have them on. Mindset and personal clarity, while unable to change circumstances (sorry but try as you might, you cannot change things out of your control), allows me to make more informed and intentional decisions, and makes it easier to accept outcomes; especially when nothing can be guaranteed.
Here’s an example of how mindset clarity helps -
“Yes, I advocate change in the industry. We should work towards a greater acceptance of popular fiction and have more accessible work in the market. And yes, I am not happy with the current state of the industry. However, I ALSO accept that the industry has been the way it is for a very long time and I cannot control how it works overnight. Therefore, I will continue to focus on my own craft and actions to elevate the kind of work and action I want to see more in the community and the industry. Regardless of the outcome, I allow the dissatisfaction but hold no resentment to the circumstances. However, I am and will continue with my intentional actions to help with the change I want to see.”
P/S - Again, I’m not an expert on mindset but if you’d like to hear me talk about my mindset journey, let me know in the comments!
Ultimately, these will be questions that you’ll be looking at while you go into or consider self-publishing (just be honest with yourself, there is no shame in personal clarity):
Why are you self-publishing?
Are you willing to put in the work to achieve your answer to the previous question?
Are you publishing to make money and only to make money?
How would you feel when you see peers doing the same thing as you, doing better than you?
And can you make peace with your choices / answers - with “making peace” here defined as being satisfied with your decision, without external blame or resentment?
And that’s it from me - see you all next week!
Was there anything that surprised you about self-publishing? Or is there anything you want to ask about self-publishing? Let me know in the comments!