Friday, September 17, 2010

A Self-Publishing Reality Check

by Yolanda M. Johnson-Bryant

 I have been in the literary industry for nearly twenty years in some form or another. Over the years, I have learned a lot about this industry and know that as long as I am willing, there will always be something new to learn about our ever-changing industry. Currently, Urban and Christian Fiction, e-books, e-readers, and social media are saturating the market. I am amazed at the drastic changes that have occurred in the industry in just the past five years alone.
          Although changes are abundant, I find that some things never seem to change. The market is still spilling oil into the literary ocean. Great writers, big and small are finding it hard to get their quality work into the hands of readers, because they know, it is not always about what you know, but who you know. Let’s not forget the fact that the almighty dollar also drives the market. It seems that quantity has overshadowed quality.
          As a literary consultant, I have found that there are many things that seem to never change. One in particular is the fact that some authors still think that they can break into this industry by taking and not giving and in addition that they will not have to pay to fulfill their goals of being a published author. This is directed to no one in particular, but I have had several clients over the years who have either thought they could send a manuscript to a publisher and get a book deal or that they can self-publish and not have to come out of pocket. Please let me squash some of the myths that linger over the self-publishing industry.

Myth #1:    I think I have a great manuscript and an agent and/or publisher will think the same thing and give me a contract.
Fact:           Just because you, your family, and friends think that you have a great story does not mean that other readers, let alone an agent or publisher will think the same thing.

Myth #2:    An agent and/or publisher will care about me and how I would like my work to be displayed. The will keep my work the way I want it.
Fact:           This may be true in a few cases, but the bottom line is that agents and publishers see you as a dollar sign. They want to know that you are going to make them money even if that means changing your work to read the way they want it to, based on what they think will sell—ultimately making money.

Myth #3:    I will get a big advance and make money off my books.
Fact:           Not everyone gets a big advance against his or her manuscripts. Many writers go into the process of publishing for the sole purpose of obtaining a big advance. And even if you do get an advance, big or small, many aspiring authors don’t realize that they may not make any royalties or profits from their book sales until those sales exceed the amount of said advance. In plain English, you may not get any money until you pay the publishing company back the money they loaned you.

Myth #4:    Self-publishing is not for real authors and is only for authors whom have no writing talent. Translation: Self-Published authors are losers.
Fact:           Need I remind some that the late, great, E. Lynn Harris, self-published and sold books out of the trunk of his car. Even in his death, he is one of the most renowned authors in African-American literary history. In addition, there is John Connolly and John Grisham who both sold books out of the trunks of their cars. Several authors with major publishing contracts still self-publish some of their work.

Myth #5:    I don’t want to self-publish my work because I don’t want to have to deal with the marketing process.
Fact:           Whether you have a major publishing contract or you are self-published, you will have to be a part of the marketing process. Even best selling authors will tell you this. Some may be in a position to afford to hire a PR or Marketing consultant, but this is not often a perk awarded by publishing companies and contracts.

Myth #6:    If I self-publish, I kill the chance of ever being picked up by a traditional publisher.
Fact:           Many authors have had their self-published work picked up by traditional publishers. Just because you self-publish your work doesn’t mean that you can’t still shop around for a contract.

Myth #7:    Self-publishing is more expensive than traditional publishing.
Fact:           With various print on demand and print run options, a self-published author can order one book or five thousand. Some traditional publishers require their authors to order a minimum amount of books, which can be very costly to the author. In fact, a self-published author does not have to buy any of their books unless they want to. They can use distribution methods to sell their books allowing them to be free of inventory.

Myth #8:    Self-publishing is expensive; period.
Fact:           This is simply not true. If you are talented, you really could perform many of the required services yourself. For a modest fee, an author coach can teach you how to do this if you don’t already know how. Various software options allow authors to layout their own page format, design their own book covers and so on. An author is at an advantage to do their own marketing with the advancement of social media and resources such as Google. I always tell my clients, “Google is your friend.”

Myth #9:    If I don’t get picked up by a traditional publisher, then I have failed as a writer.
Fact:           If you actually believe that, then perhaps, this is not the field for you.

Myth #10:  I can sit back in this industry and not do anything and receive a great return.
Fact:           If you think that you can steadily take from the industry and not give back, you will find yourself alienated faster than Michael Vick at a PETA convention. If you think that you will not have to do any legwork or pay any money, again, you are sadly mistaken. Should you choose to pay for services associated with your book, self-published authors pay much less for the same services of those with traditional contracts.

There are several myths concerning self-publishing and traditional publishing options. The best way to find out if self-publishing is for you is to do your research, talk to authors who have self-published and did I mention research? Self-publishing can be a very rewarding experience if you sincerely have the passion for writing, patience, tenacity and thick skin. If you really want it, you can achieve it, you just have to work for it. 

Copyright ©2010 by Yolanda M. Johnson-Bryant


  1. I love this blog!! It's helpful....
    Thought you'd be interested in my collaborative blog, -- literary works about growing up and beginnings in general. Check it out :)

  2. Jessica,

    Thank you! And I will check out your blog as well! I'll give you some feedback tomorrow. Have a good one!