When someone learns that my books are self-published, they often sneer as if they don’t exist at all.
Oh, so you’re not really published. Your books aren’t, like, real.
No? If you type my name into the search bar at the top of the Amazon page, you’ll find a list of all eight of my books, ready to be ordered in physical or electronic format, just like J.K. Rowling or Ryan Holiday or James Patterson.
I don’t say that to be cocky—one look at my stats will prove that—but rather to illustrate the fact that between the rise of the e-book and the struggles of traditional publishers, the book world is flatter than it has ever been. Self-publishing, once seen as an avenue used by propagandists and proselytizers and delusional authors, is now a viable way for anyone to put their work out there without having to deal with the gatekeepers of publishing mangling your work while also reaching into your wallet for their cut.
Do it for yourself and the consequences, good or bad, are all on you.
Besides, in terms of sales, publishing houses don’t really help because most books, regardless of their method of publishing, don’t sell:
It doesn’t matter how you publish, most books don’t sell very well. If you query your manuscript, there’s a 99% chance you won’t sell a single copy. If you self-publish, there’s probably an equal chance that you’ll never sell more than 1,000 copies. A great thread on KBoards pointed this out and serves to balance the numerous threads from those authors doing very well. The message is this: Don’t think you’re doing something wrong or that you aren’t successful if your book isn’t keeping up with your neighbor’s.
Need more incentive?
Take Drew Magary. If you don’t know who he is, someone close to you almost certainly does. He’s a very popular columnist for Deadspin and GQ, he has over 115,000 followers on Twitter, and he has been statistically proven to be the most read writer on the Internet. Back in 2011, he released a novel titled The Postmortal, which, considering his name recognition, was probably the object of a bidding war, right? Not exactly. According to Magary, “eighteen editors passed on the book before it was rescued by a lone editor who also happened to be a reader [of mine].” It’s nearly impossible for a writer to be more popular with a bigger platform than Magary and yet his book was almost never published.
So what chance do the rest of us have?
If you want to learn how to self-publish, I wrote a small book on my process, one that I have expanded and improved upon over the years, but I first learned how to do it — and, more importantly, had the confidence to do it — after reading a post written by James Altucher:
Advances are quickly going to zero. Margins are going to zero for publishers. There’s no financial benefit for going with a publisher if advances are going to zero and royalties are a few percentage points. The publishing industry does minimal editing. The time between book acceptance and release is too long (often a year or more). That’s insane and makes zero sense in a print-on-demand world when kindle versions are outselling print versions.
There are exceptions, of course, and if you can snag a book deal with a fat advance and a big marketing budget, you should absolutely take it and run. But the majority of us aren’t being presented with that offer, so our options are: a) sit around for years waiting to be discovered by someone who will very likely want to change parts of our work before making us wait another twelve to eighteen months until it is published; or b) publish it ourselves, the exact way we want, as soon as our book is ready, controlling the entire operation from beginning to end without ever having to ask for permission or being forced to compromise.
Doesn’t seem like much of a choice, does it?
Christopher Pierznik is the author of eight books, all of which can be purchased in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, and many more. He has been quoted on Buzzfeed and Deadspin. Subscribe to his monthly reading review newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.