All writers, especially those who self-publish, have to decide: Are we writing and publishing just for ourselves? Or are we writing and publishing to get customers (readers)?
If we’re doing it for ourselves, things like editing and those nice covers we talked about last time don’t matter. Those who write for themselves can self-publish with zero expectations of anyone else discovering or enjoying their work.
Maybe they just want to see their name on Amazon. Maybe they simply want to print a couple for friends and family. Maybe they figure, “what the heck, let’s see if anyone else cares.”
If We Expect Customers, We Must Expect to Invest in Our Business
Those are all fine reasons for self-publishing our work without worrying about editing or cover art or formatting, etc. But as soon as we expect people to hand over their money, we have to convince them we’ll make it worth their while and then fulfill that promise.
In short, we have to reach customers and keep them happy, just like any other business. And like most businesses, self-publishing businesses can struggle to get off the ground.
Whether we’re opening a restaurant or self-publishing our work, we have to be willing to invest in our business. Wanting to sell books rather than restaurant meals doesn’t make the laws of business not apply to us. Others who start businesses either save or find investors or barter for services. We should expect to do the same.
Have We Been Spoiled by the Ease of Self-Publishing?
If we look at the history of self-publishing, we have it easy now. Until the last few years, someone who wanted to self-publish their book would have to invest in print copies and have almost zero chance of ever selling their book in a store.
A friend of my brother’s went this route over ten years ago. He paid to have a professional design, printed up a thousand copies (now that’s expensive), and drove across the state from store to store, asking them to stock his book.
He was lucky. Because it was a non-fiction book that met a need, all that work actually led to success. If not for that fact, virtually no amount of effort would have been enough.
Now we don’t have to invest in print or rack up miles to sell our book in an online store. Have we become spoiled by ebooks, print on demand, and Amazon? Do we expect that because those printing and stocking aspects now cost nothing, that we should be able to self-publish without any upfront money?
What If We Have the Will but No Money?
I know the money issue is a tough one for many of us. Taurean Watkins and I have had many conversations in the comments here about will versus money, and I feel for his situation. My family still hasn’t recovered from the job loss I wrote about a year ago today. So I don’t bring this up to be heartless by any means.
Instead, I want us to share ideas about how we can treat our writing as business even when we’re hurting for funds. These will take compromise on our part. There’s a business saying: “Fast. Cheap. Good. Pick Two.”
- If we want something Fast and Cheap, it probably won’t be good. If we’re impatient and just want to start making money, this is a valid option. But we’d need to compromise on quality (possibly with the goal of updating to a better cover, editing, or formatting later, after money comes in).
- If we want something Fast and Good, it probably won’t be cheap. If we’re impatient and demand quality, this is a valid option. But we’d need to compromise on cost. In other words, this is the “money is no object” option.
- If we want something Cheap and Good, it probably won’t be fast. If we demand quality and cheap prices, this is a valid option. But we’d need to compromise by being patient, as this choice would require extra time and effort.
I’ve already stated that the first option—compromising on quality—is a valid option, depending on our goals. There are risks with that method. All those “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” truisms are well-known for a reason. But if we had money for only one thing—like editing—I think compromising on book cover quality wouldn’t be the end of the world.
However, I want to look closer at that last option. If we’re willing to be patient and put in extra effort, we might be able to cheaply launch our writing business with good products. Here are some ideas for how we can use time and/or effort to reach that goal:
- Collect several excellent critique partners and/or beta readers to help with editing.
- Search for freelance editors who give discounts on “clean” manuscripts (and then ask for a sample edit to ensure your manuscript is as clean as you believe).
- Watch for contests with manuscript edits as prizes (occasionally offered by agents and editors, as well as by multi-published authors).
- Learn PhotoShop and make our own covers.
- Learn about typesetting, interior design, and ebook formats to create our own files.
- Trade our services with those of skilled friends.
- Ask for favors, like friends & family discounts, from our skilled friends.
- Contact emerging talent (high school art students, etc.) who might work for less money.
- Contact skilled people who might enjoy supporting an author (high school English teacher, etc.).
- Exchange services for “advertising,” like a promotional blog post.
- Beg friends and family to invest in our success.
- Utilize Kickstarter to raise funds (CreateSpace’s five free paperback copies to NaNoWriMo winners could be used as incentives).
Of course, querying and pitching in an attempt to gain a traditional publisher is one way to avoid all this hassle. But due to changing market conditions, genre trends, etc., the traditional publishing route is essentially that same “cheap and good, but not fast” situation.
No matter how we decide to publish, we still need to prioritize among these choices. So far, I’m definitely not on the “fast” path. *smile*
Do you have additional ideas for how we can save money when starting up our writing business? Are you writing/publishing for yourself or to gain readers? Do you think self-published authors are spoiled now and expect something for nothing? When and how would you be willing to compromise on quality? How do you prioritize “fast, cheap, good”?Pin It