Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Kindle 5 – Are you SURE you want to self publish?

I know I promised to get on to formatting this time. But last week catdownunder asked if publishing your own e-book means people will think you aren’t good enough for a “real” publisher. It’s an important question, so the Muse has ordered me to answer it before we go any further. One does not argue with a unicorn. His horn might glitter but it is also sharp.

So, at the risk of sounding like your computer when you try to delete a file… are you SURE you want to continue? Because it’s not too late to change your mind.

If you’ve got a backlist title which has already been professionally edited and proof read, and the rights are now definitely yours, then great – carry right on! There’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t republish your backlist book in e-format, except for the fact it might not sell many copies, and this may wound your author pride a bit (before you realize what an amazing job your publisher must have done to sell as many copies as they did the first time around).

But if you have a previously unpublished manuscript, then you may need to pause at this stage to check your motives and make sure the book – and you – are really ready to publish.

Why? Well, you don’t want to make a total idiot of yourself by publishing something full of grammar and spelling errors do you? That’s hardly going to attract an agent or a publisher, or many readers for that matter, no matter how wonderful your story. You might think you can sort this kind of thing out yourself using the spell and grammar checker in your word processing program, but you’ll be amazed how many errors slip through! In the interests of market research, I’ve been checking out some of the free self-published books on my Kindle, and most of them do themselves no favours. (Muse: that might be why their authors are giving them away?)

But even authors with excellent spelling and decent grammar need some kind of outside editing to help them focus their story, particularly if they are new to writing, and quite often when they’re old hands. I’m not saying you need to empty your savings account and employ a professional editor (though this is of course the ideal situation). But your manuscript should at least have been critiqued and read by somebody other than you and your mum. If you’ve worked on it during a writing course, for example, or swapped it with writing buddy you trust, then it might be ready. Might. Remember why you’re doing this. How confident are you that your book is not only in a publishable state, but good enough not to make a fool of itself (and therefore you) alongside the more professional books in the market?

Since judging your own work is notoriously difficult, another test is to ask yourself a few questions:

Is your manuscript being self-published because you’ve been sending it round to publishers for years and failed to sell it anywhere else? (Muse: warning bells should be ringing!)

Are you self-publishing your book because you’ve been told by several editors and agents it is good, and yet they don’t see enough of a market for it or they don’t know where to put it on their list. (Muse: you might decide to self-publish to test the market – though you’ll probably sell it eventually if you keep sending it out.)

Are you here because you have a project that no publisher will touch because it’s too personal/specialist to make them a profit? (Muse: this could be a valid reason for self publishing, though you might consider doing your book as a small print run or pamphlet aimed at a specific market, rather than an e-book).

Are you an established author with an experimental project that would not really work in paper format but might work in e-format? (Muse: could be interesting if you have the time to devote to publicity, though you'll need to decide where it fits with your other work, and how your fans might react.)

There might be other reasons you want to self-publish in e-format. For example, publishers always say that short stories don't sell, and so it might be appropriate for a published author of novels to self-publish a collection of their short fiction as an e-book. I am enjoying reading short stories on my Kindle and think they fit the format quite well, so I wish there were more of them.

If your muse has strong views on self publishing, please leave a comment below. And next week I promise we'll make a start on formatting your book for Kindle.

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