Disclaimer: I am not a self-publishing expert, but I have been self-publishing since 2012, with over a dozen novels and short stories available in print, digital and audio formats. Self-publishing 101 is my effort to pass along what I've learned for anyone just starting out or considering self-publishing. Questions are welcome, in the comments below or at Trolodad AT Gmail dot com.
Any discussion of self-publishing should start with a definition of what it is. The problem though, is that many people have different ideas and definitions. So the easiest thing to do is to say what self-publishing isn't. And to do that, you have to first look at traditional publishing—that is, the more common, familiar form of publishing.
For the past hundred years, printing books, publishing, has been done by companies and corporations. They didn't do this to spread knowledge like in the arly days of the printing press, but to make money.
That's right, publishing is all about the buck. Or pound, euro, etc.
Books are a product, to be bought by a consumer. Getting a book into a store is an expensive endeavor, employing many people. It costs money, so money is expected back in return.
In the old days, the days before self-publishing, if you wanted to see your work in print you had to go through the gauntlet of traditional publishing... or pay hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars to a vanity publisher who would make a run of books for you to do with as you chose—beit selling them at fleamarkets or stacking them up in your garage or basement.
With your finished manuscript in hand, the first step (if you chose not to vanity) was often to send a copy to an agent, hoping they would take it to a publisher they knew. Some publishers might allow you to bypass an agent and submit direct. In either case, your manuscript often ended up in a slushpile, resting atop, under or aside dozens, maybe hundreds of others. It was a literary lottery, where winning meant getting it read by someone who thought it could be sold.
Once you got on the track to being published (printed at someone else's expense), there came contracts, editors, proofers, cover designers, agents and much more. Traditional publishing is a village, raising your young novel from obscurity to a spot on a store shelf. Few made the cut.
There's no slush pile with self-publishing. There's no company or agent. Just you, the author, putti your work out there. Instead of a slim picking of agent- and editor-approved books, readers now have a choice of millions of works to choose from, often sold on virtual bookshelves online.
That's not to say self-publishing doesn't employ people other than authors. There are editors in self-publishing, if you choose to use them. There are also book doctors, editors who considerably rewrite your manuscript, making it something worthwhile if you couldn't. There are cover designers, proofreaders, publicists... a whole cottage industry supporting authors as they publish on their own.
In a nutshell, self-publishing is where one person takes on the role of a publishing conpany, hiring whoever they need to get their work out. This lets anyone be a self-publisher, but it also means the well-honed machine of publishing is bypassed. I like to think of this as the same difference between craftsman and mass production.
Writing is just the tip of the iceberg in self-publishing. If you think it's hard, you might not want to take on all the other jobs involved in getting your work out there. Of course, finding a traditional publisher, be it a huge corporation or a mom and pop indie publisher, might be daunting.
If you want to give it a try though, there's still a lot of work ahead of you.
Next time: Why Self-publish? Fame, fortune or art?