To Self-Publish Or Not To Self-Publish

Isn’t it funny how the times change? Years ago someone would be crucified for suggesting writers self-publish their work. And those that actually self-published their own work, well, they were looked down upon as jokes. Nowadays though, with publishing being where it is in the barrel, self-publishing has become tolerated, if not almost accepted in some circles. Keep in mind when I say “self-publishing” I refer to those print-on-demand places that don’t charge an upfront fee but will publish the book for you and then give you a little (should I say tiny?) royalty based on how much the retail is set at.

As so many more publishers are going the POD route, what difference does it make if a writer is published by one of those or they decide to self-publish their own stuff?

Theoretically, the final product would be the same, wouldn’t it? I mean, assuming the person doing the self-publishing knows how to properly layout the text, can provide substantial cover art, etc. A publisher is supposed to back your work, help promote it, but let’s be honest here -- the bulk of promotion lies in the author’s corner anyway. The benefit of having a publisher back you is your book is more apt to get reviewed by respected magazines, might get decent distribution, though in terms of most small press publishers that still doesn't mean you'll end up in major bookstores.

Why am I bringing this up? Do I plan on self-publishing a novel or short story collection? No, not at all. But I’ve been thinking about my pet project, the novella I posted online and also uploaded to Kindle. As I mentioned before (either on this blog or the old one), the project was more an experiment than anything else. Yes, it’s always nice to make money, but the purpose of putting The Silver Ring online was to try to attract new readers. I do pretty much no self-promotion on the thing at all, but the website has been linked to enough places that there are visitors every day.

My initial plan was to do the PDF thing, the novella and a bonus short story for a donation of 99 cents, and while a decent amount of people have donated (thank you again, everyone!), it’s definitely nothing that will buy me a new car any time soon ... or even a clunker. But again, this thing was never about making money. Ultimately it’s about the reader, giving the reader what I hope is a good product.

Only, the more I started thinking about it, is a PDF copy really a good product?

In the end, what does one do with it? Read it on the computer, sure, or else they print it out. And once they print it out, then what? It’s not like you can put it on a bookcase, and even if you tried, what would be the point? It's not really tangible, something you can carry around and show people. No, of course not, so what happens to it? Most likely, it ends up in the trash.

When I launched the novella back in May, the whole Hint Fiction contest had been in full-swing, and then with everything in its wake the project sort of got put on a back-burner. But like I said I’ve been doing some thinking, mostly about self-publishing, and I’ve been playing around with the idea of releasing The Silver Ring as a digest-sized paperback. It would include the entire novella plus the bonus short story and host that great cover my friend Wyatt made for it (even better, it would hopefully be wrap around too). And, as this was never about making money, the plan would be to price it just above the manufacturing cost, so that it would be as cheap as it can be. Right now I’m thinking around eight bucks, and that would include domestic shipping (international shipping might be another dollar or two). I would limit it to 100 copies, signed and numbered, and could sell them directly from the main website -- otherwise, going through Lulu's online store and Amazon and elsewhere, the retail price would be more expensive to off-set their costs, and then you would have to pay shipping on top of that.

So I would really like to hear your thoughts. Not necessarily regarding my novella, but in general -- are you more apt to buy a book if it’s priced reasonably than you are a PDF? Are PDFs a waste of time? Are actual printed books a waste of time? Is the fact that a particular story -- like my novella -- completely free to read online make you less likely to purchase a copy of the book? Or do you not care at all?

Every reader is different, just like every writer is different. What works for (or appeals to) one, won’t work for (appeal to) another. It’s trying to find the balance that is the hard part, and truthfully, I don’t think there is a way to find it.

Of course, this is all speculation right now. Just throwing the idea out there. And please keep in mind that those who had originally purchased the PDF and would like to buy the book as well will have 99 cents factored out of the cost.

Now, as Martin Landau always says in Entourage, does that sound like something you might be interested in?

P.S. My official thoughts on self-publishing are the same as giving your work away for free -- I don't see a problem with it as long as you know exactly what you're doing (self-publishing or giving your work away for free) and have a damned good reason for doing it.