There is a well-known Greek aphorism that goes a little something like this: “Know Thyself.” And if there is anything that an aspiring self-publishing author should know, it is exactly that. At a first glance, self-publishing appears simple. One could easily take a few pages from a Microsoft Word document and throw it up on Amazon within 48 hours. But this doesn’t mean sales will follow.
All best-selling books have a bit of luck attached to their origin story (unless, of course, you already have an
established fan base such as James Patterson), but the rest of one’s success relies solely on the information an author’s provides to the reading public. This requires a massive amount of time, energy, and expertise that often takes the author away from his or her writing. Expertise that many publishing companies have already figured out.
For example, knowing the search engine optimization words (or SEO) for a book could be the difference between being seen by hundreds or thousands. Selecting a category for your book might seem simple at first, but how many self-publishing authors know about the little details of that particular category? Is it a niche category that brings few readers? Is the category so popular that your book will be lost in the white noise? Is your book truly a self-help or could it be more akin to an inspirational? Do you know your readers’ mindset? Are they the type of readers that focus on the quality of your advice (the content), or the fact that you missed a comma in the fifth sentence of your prologue? These are just a few matters that have to be taken very seriously.
Self-publishing also requires a critical and excruciating look at your own work, forcing the author to be as objective as possible in order to stand out from the crowd. This is a very dangerous situation as authors usually only get one chance to make a great first impression to the public. Family and friends are encouraging, but no true success comes without the support of strangers. And in order to impress strangers, the work has to be more than just a great piece that you poured your heart and soul into. It has to be immaculately edited, given a fantastic book cover, a tantalizing synopsis, the proper categories, great SEO, it has to be priced correctly, promoted well and most of all, given your undivided attention.
This requires hard decisions to be made, including being able to scrap a project completely if need be, no matter how precious and dear it is to you, and especially if your goal is to garner as many readers as possible.
You must know yourself. You must be honest, and ask yourself if you have the time, discipline and determination to accomplish your goal, even if it requires decades to achieve. Establishing your platform as a self-published author is the equivalent of raising a child. It’s that extensive.
Though publishing houses take a royalty and may charge for their services, the fact of the matter is that they have already done the research and legwork required to give a work of literature the best chance it can receive in an already convoluted market. From a first glance, they can take a look at your work and immediately give an assessment of its potential and marketability.
In order for a self-published author to achieve the same level of expertise, they will have to put in research hours equivalent to that of a full-time job. Considering that most authors cannot afford to write full-time, the best option for many is to reach out to a publishing house or agent for help—to both make their book a success, and to relieve the burden of the business. This is not to say that an author cannot make it in self-publishing. They certainly can. They just have to grasp the magnitude of such a decision and understand their limitations.
As more and more authors self-publish, it is getting harder to make a name for yourself in an already saturated market. In order to rise above the tide, there has to be something that gives authors an edge. And so far, the only available paths to success are these: an unwavering dedication to all aspects of the business (not just writing), or finding a publishing house that can meet all of your needs.
Know Thyself, and Choose Wisely.