Let me start by saying that by self-publishing, I mean Print on Demand (POD) using a service like lulu.com, CreateSpace, iUniverse, or similar service. I am not talking about a vanity press where you pay all kinds of money to get your work published. Print on Demand is better because the reader pays to have the book printed when he or she orders it. Your cost should be very low to set this up. However, if you go to a convention or trade show or even a flea market and order 50 copies to sell there, you'll need to pay for them up front.
It seems to me that the benefits of self-publishing are clear:
- You retain all rights.
- You control all aspects of the project so it gets done your way.
- There are plenty of good services you can use. As I mentioned before, Lulu, CreateSpace, and others let you create a really nice, professional-looking book.
- There are plenty of distribution channels you can use to promote your work. Smashwords, Amazon, Apple's iBook store, and others let you post electronic version of your book. Lulu also lets you set up a web site to help you sell your book. You will have to convert your book to Kindle and iBook format but that's probably worth the effort to get the book in wider distribution.
- No rejections; yet least no explicit rejections. The reader may still reject your work and not purchase it.
The drawbacks seem pretty clear too:
- You control all aspects of the project so if you don't have an eye for detail, quality can suffer. This can manifest itself in the form of poor editing, poor cover art, and poor production value if you go with a service that yields a low quality book.
- You assume all the risk for the project; if it does not sell you can lose a lot of money. Even using a POD service, you'll probably have to pay for artwork and maybe editing or proofreading and then any copies you order to sell. If the book does not sell, this could cost you thousands of dollars.
- You miss out on having the experience and expertise that a publishing house can bring to your project. This is a huge one for me. I don't assume I know all the ins and outs of publishing or selling books. Being able to work with folks who know this stuff would be a tremendous asset for me personally and the overall success of the book, it seems to me. I'm sure I could learn much from working with such folks.
- There is a bias against self-published works; after all if the work was really good wouldn't some publishing house/small press have picked it up? There really a false argument, I know. So let me rephrase that. For many readers, a self-published book is a big risk. What are the risks? That the story meets some general minimum standard of fiction in the genre, that the book has been edited and proofread by professionals. Without these, who knows what you will get?
Let me also dispel a few myths. The following items are not relevant to the discussion because you have to deal with them regardless of how you publish:
- Promotion, regardless of how you publish, you need to promote your work youself.
- Reviews, regardless of how you publish, it will not affect your reviews; chances are you will need to give to someone to review.
As for the last bullet point, there's really not anything to be done about it. I can't control what the reader thinks. What I can do, it get some reviews and use the best ones to promote the book. That will show someone else read it and liked it.
But I can't get passed the third point. I want to work with publishing professional as my first books go to press. I want to learn from them. I think that's the main reason for me not to self-publish. That may be silly and given the way life works, I may have to self-publish so that someone sees how good my novels are. But for now, I think I'm on the path of submitting to small presses and hoping I can sell my work.