The Difficulties of Self-Publishing

Updated on May 22, 2020
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Gemma is a mother, self-employed artist, self-published author, avid reader and lover of the paranormal!


Why Do People Self-Publish?

Self-publishing has exploded on the internet over the last few years, with Amazon and other companies expanding their self-publishing capabilities and new websites opening themselves up to self-publishing.

But why do people go down the self-publishing route instead of traditional publishing? To be honest that's an easy question to answer because it's easier and quicker to get their book out there to be read by the masses and make money. But is it the best option? Well, that depends entirely on your circumstances. People with limited money and limited mobility are big on the self-publishing scene, as it's cheap and easy to access. There are those that see it as a way to make a bit extra cash on the side or those that want to test the market, or even those that just do it for fun. There are so many reasons; they couldn't all be put down in this blog post. The most popular is that it's cheaper and easily accessible.

How Difficult Is It to Self-Publish?

Surprisingly, not that difficult if you're American. You can easily create an account and upload your book(s) onto the internet and sell them. Why? Because the websites that provide a platform for self-publishing are based in the US.

However, if you're from outside the US you will be subject to 30% tax, unless you get yourself an ITIN (Individual Tax Identification Number), which you can only apply for using IRS Form W-7—the websites themselves will either provide a downloadable version or will link you to a site—but you will need to send via airmail, which can take weeks to receive. Many sites, including Amazon, used to accept a FEIN (Federal Employer Identification Number) but no longer, and they were easier to obtain. You could call a number and speak to someone; it would take about 10 minutes and then you just had to wait for a confirmation letter.

That's not the only thing you have to worry about, you also have to read and understand the T's and C's for self-publishing with each site. Places like Amazon make it extremely difficult to understand or take large percentages of your costs. So be wary and make sure to read the small print, don't merely jump in feet first and expect things to turn out perfectly.

To be honest, going through sites like Smashwords or Draft2Digital, which connect with several online bookselling websites, is much more effective for selling your books and keeping track of sales, etc. You have everything in one place, rather than logging into multiple sites, and you get your name out on the web in more places, not just one or two sites.

What Is Expected of An Author Who Self-Publishes?

Readers expect a certain quality to your work, including the book covers, so if your work isn't up to scratch you will soon find yourself receiving negative feedback and reviews, which will affect your sales.

And here you thought all you had to do was write the book. You can't just write a quick piece of work and upload it to be published, and then expect people to buy it. Readers are very savvy with their cash and want to see an amazing book cover, to read a preview of the book (where possible) that showcases fantastic grammar, punctuation, spelling and formatting, as well as your fantastic story or poems, etc. They also want a synopsis that tempts them into buying your work, so that will need to pass muster as well. If you're thinking self-publishing is for just anyone, you have another thing coming.

Not only does your book need to shine, to attract customers, you also need to put yourself out there. Without an agent or a publishing company behind you, you need to remember that you have to do everything yourself. Yep, you have just become publicist, editor, proofreader, formatter, social media guru, designer, marketer and author, aren't you lucky?. To be honest, you can—if you have the money—go out and source a good editor/proofreader, book formatter and book cover designer; however, you still need to market yourself and your books, and become your own publicist. Exciting times ahead.

So You've Written Your Book, What Next?

Next is to determine whether your work is ready to be edited and proofread, all the fun stuff. You also need to sort out your synopsis to make sure that you can market your book to the right readers. Time to decide whether to find an editor or do it yourself. Do you know how to edit and proofread your own work? Probably not, but that doesn't mean you can learn. There are some free courses online—Writing and Editing: Polishing a Manuscript—or you can pay for a course, if you have the money—College of Media and Publishing—or you can just get a program to do it for you, which in many cases you have to pay for, like Grammarly.

Once your book is edited and ready to publish, you need a book cover to really showcase it on those wonderful websites and attract customers. You can obtain book covers from various sources, like groups or pages on Facebook or via Fiverr, etc, or you can learn how to use Pixlr, Gimp (which is free downloadable software) or Photoshop and create the covers yourself. It's not the easiest thing to learn; however, it can save you money in the long run, though the images you use will need to be purchased from photo stock websites like Canstock, Dreamstime, Getty Images, and iStock. Buying the images will still be cheaper in most cases than paying someone to make the book covers for you. You will also need to consider one other thing, to just publish online as an ebook or to have a physical copy made as well. But let's stick with just online publication for now.

Once your book is edited and ready to publish, you need a book cover to really showcase it on those wonderful websites and attract customers. You can obtain book covers from various sources, like groups or pages on Facebook or via Fiverr, etc, or you can learn how to use.


So, you have your book cover, what now? Well, now you need to get your social media sorted so you can market your book and showcase it to potential customers. Facebook groups and your own author page will come in handy; there are several writing and promotional groups you can post to as well. Just make sure you don't overdo it and saturate the groups to the point that people get sick of seeing your stuff posted on there. Don't forget to drag in family and friend as well, publicity is everything to get yourself known and your books. If you don't think you can handle all that social media marketing, you can get yourself a PA (Personal Assistant) who specializes in working with authors.

You need to think about how you will market yourself and your books; are you just going to post written comments or are you going to shine and post images that really promote your work: making you stand out from the crowd. Well, self-published authors and readers are becoming savvier, creating or having created for them some lovely marketing images with links to their books. Don't miss out on this, you may disappear quickly from sight and be lost in the mass of marketing posts out there without them (see image below).

Here is a shortlist of Facebook group links, where you can promote your book, get help and speak to other authors:

Here is a shortlist of PA's, Editors, Book Cover Designer, etc, to help you get your book in tip-top shape, should you have the money for it:

The above lists are suggestions; there are many other sites and people who can provide the same services. It is always best to do your own search and research when looking for promotional groups and author services.


Now, Who to Publish Your Book With?

So you have your manuscript, you have your book cover, your synopsis, your marketing material and your social media all ready, now is the time to publish your book and get yourself out there for the masses to read. But who do you sign up with?

  • Amazon is usually the top choice for self-publishing authors, because of its huge customer base, mass of books sales and the potential to be seen by millions of people. I say seen because it's not likely to be bought by that many, at least not until you become a popular name as an author. They have different costs they take from your sales, depending on how well you want your book to be seen by the public, but you can potentially earn 70% (ebooks) from the sale of your book. You can publish ebooks and paperbacks with them; however, their paperbacks are expensive and leave you with little royalties left. Their dashboard is easy to understand and you can easily upload your word doc to their site, which will then convert them to ebook file format—although, if you haven't formatted it correctly, it could potentially mess up the internal look of your book.
  • Lulu is just as popular as Amazon, and like Amazon, there are no upfront fees, everything is done through royalties: the sale of your book. Its dashboard and uploading are not so easy to navigate. They take anywhere from 20% upward in fees, depending on whether you sell a paperback or an ebook. Although, they do provide something that others don't, which is a free book cover making service. The downside to this service is the templates are samey, your book will look like others out there and they are very basic. If you want something dynamic and stand out, you need to get your book cover designed beforehand and upload it yourself.
  • Barnes & Noble is popular too, mainly with Americans, but they do provide self-publishing for those outside of the US as well. Their platform is fairly easy to navigate and if you sell a paperback as well as an ebook, you could have your book sold within Barnes and Noble stores, big perk. Saying that, their royalty fees vary a lot more compared to the others: theirs is based on the price of your book: Priced between $0.99–$2.98 the author receives 40% royalties, priced between $2.99–$9.99 the author receives 65% royalties and priced between $10.00–$199.99 the author receives 65%. It's a strange system.
  • Smashwords is fairly popular but it has its problems. The platform is easy to navigate but uploading a file can be a nightmare. To get the ebooks to look professionally formatted it's best to upload in mobi or epub format rather than word doc. What does this mean? Lots of problems and lots of hours trying to sort it. After that's sorted, your book can be distributed to other book sites; however, there is one other problem with smashwords ... it's not appealing to the eye and doesn't get as many visitors as you would like. As for the royalties, it pays better than most with a whopping 85% royalties to the author per sale and 65% from those sole via its distribution list.
  • Draft2Digital is becoming more popular with authors. Why? Because it has a very large distribution net of websites, including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Scribd and many others. Its distribution list is growing all the time, so you can add more to your list. This means, like Smashwords, your book is available on multiple websites for people to buy and potentially an increase in sales. They offer a few other services, like Amazon, including editing and such, but this is at a price. The platform itself is easy to navigate, much like Amazon and Smashwords and it looks appealing to the eye as well. As well as selling your book, you can also have you book included in a library for free—not a bad choice if you ask me. You don't need to convert your word doc; it will do it for you without messing up the formatting. You can even format your book during the publishing process and add funky or pretty chapter headers. They take 15% of your net sales in fees, so you receive 85% of the royalties.

Now, these are not the only sites out there that provide self-publishing services, I'm just listing the more popular ones. Does this make them best, well that is down to yourself. It's best to check out as many sites as possible and read their FAQ's as well as T's & C's. Don't be fooled by first impressions: just because the website looks flashy and they make it sound like they will self-publish your book for free, that doesn't been there aren't fees. Make sure to read up on them, make your pro's and con's list before deciding on the one that suits you the best.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Gemma Newey


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      18 months ago

      Nicely written, Gemma. Good job.


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