Self-Publishing Isn’t The Easy Way Out

Nothing about writing and publishing is easy, if your aim is to be professional.  The key here is professional.  There are no shortcuts if you want to be taken seriously.  Traditional publishing isn’t the easy way out.  There’s the vetting process, the editing, and the marketing.  There might not be a vetting process for self-publishing, and God willing, there never will be.  The beauty of self-publishing has been the freedom to write the story as it’s meant to be written.  It’s why I went into this business.  There’s also freedom to write only for yourself.  This notion that we only have to write with the idea of selling books is ridiculous.  If you write for a very small niche, a group of family or friends, or even yourself, what’s the harm in it?  Okay.  I can hear someone thinking, “Oh my gosh, they won’t worry about the quality of their product, and that will tarnish the reputation of every single self-published author out there.”  Keep in mind, the people writing for a small group are not going to worry about marketing to find the wider audience, so very few people will even know those books exist.  So don’t fret over those type of books.

What I’m focusing on is self-published authors who want to be professionals.   They are treating their writing like a business.  And in a business setting, there is never an easy way out if  you’re hoping to make a profit.  Businesses need a profit to continue.  This is the mindset of an entrepreneur who happens to be in the business of writing and self-publishing their books.  If you’re going into self-publishing because you think it’s easy money, then you’re in the wrong business.

You have things that will work against you.  Amazon changes its algorithms, some people hate your book and are vocal about it, sales fluctuate (sometimes with no rhyme or reason), you’ll find some authors are your enemies, editors miss stuff so you can still find errors post-publication, and there is no magical way to market your book.

There is some speculation on some forums that the golden age of self-publishing is gone.  From here, it’s all downhill.  Is that true?  I don’t know.  It’s speculation at this point.  But one thing that is certain is that self-publishing isn’t easy.  There is no one-size fits all method in writing and marketing that will work for everyone.  The only thing you can do is your best.  You don’t have to be someone else’s idea of “best” because their “best” might actually suck.  I’ve gotten some horrible advice from well-meaning authors over the years, and if I would have followed their advice, I would’ve failed in my business.  (One example: a critique group that wiped out my author voice to the point where my writing was stale–something one of my readers noticed early on and warned me about.  Lesson learned: aim to please your target audience, not others.    If you look for a critique group, it must be one where the authors appreciate and nurture your voice.)

So do your best.  Write the best story you can and find the right people (a good editor, good beta readers, good proofers) to help you polish it up.  Then pick two or three networking strategies you like most.  The key is that you enjoy them enough to want to stick with them because building a fanbase takes time.  You do it one reader at a time.  Some of us will go slower than others in reaching new people.  I understand how it is to watch other authors zoom by me, so I totally get the feeling of “I’m not as good as so-and-so.” The only thing you can do is focus on your own progress.  Easier said than done, I know, but it’s crucial if you’re going to have the creative energy to keep writing more books.  This is when going off-line for a couple of weeks or staying off some forums can help a lot.  Sometimes you have to get away from it all in order to get back to that spark of excitement that we all felt when we started writing our books.

It’s true that marketing isn’t easy.  Traditionally published authors face the same problem.  They might have a slight boost from a publisher, but when they’re starting out, they have to prove themselves to their publishers to get the additional support the publishers are likely to use to push their name.  So for the unknown author (regardless of publishing method), there is always that obstacle of “no one knows who I am” to overcome.

Which is why I suggest picking two or three marketing methods to focus on.  This can be blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google +, LinkedIn, forums, etc.  I think you can sign up for a multitude of these just to be out there (and to prevent some jerk from pretending to be you on one of those sites–this happened to a Harlequin author on Facebook who had to get her own Facebook page to get Facebook to remove the imposter).   When I say focus, I mean dedicate your marketing efforts on those venues.  You don’t have to pitch your book all the time.  Just be personable.  Engage with others.  Have fun with it.   Don’t think in terms of X number of sales.  Think of it as mingling with others and having a good time.  If you’re having fun, it won’t be a chore.  Then you will slowly build your fanbase, little by little, one reader at a time.  And, what’s also awesome, is that you’ll end up with a few author friends along the way.  😀

As for expenses, you do want to try to keep them low.  That’s why we have posts giving you a step-by-step process on formatting your books and making covers.  The aim is to have a professional looking book at minimal cost.  There’s no sense in putting more money into something you won’t get back.  With editors, if you find a good one, that would be worth the investment if you can’t barter.  You also don’t need to fork over a lot on marketing.  One free book could work more in your favor than a lot of ads or other marketing efforts, but I wouldn’t put anything at free until I had a few other books already.  It is still my opinion that the best proof you have that your books are worth reading is by letting people read one of them.   But if you hate the idea of giving away a book for free, then by all means, don’t do it.  You need to do what works for you.

If you don’t feel like doing all the work that self-publishing requires, then you probably should pick another business to go into because it’s harder to do this than a lot of authors will tell you.  And if you don’t mind doing all the work, then I think it’s one of the most worthwhile professions a person can have.  If you love it, it’ll be worth it.  But then, one could say that about any job.  😀


  1. M T McGuire says:

    Thank you for this post. It makes excellent sense and most of it is stuff that I know, that I tell myself, again and again, but when you tell me, suddenly, I listen. The bit about building a fanbase, especially, was something I really needed to hear.

    My work’s not going too well right now, I have a chronically sick family member who’s just got that little bit worse, Christmas is coming, there’s lots to do and my diary and my heart are too full to write… it’s not a great situation to be in when for someone who is trying to run a business – slow burn for sure but I do want it to be a business – who takes 18 months to write each book and who is pathologically addicted to writing but… can’t.

    So, thank you. I feel a lot more grounded after reading this. Self publishing is hard but, like you, I agree that the rewards are many.



    1. I sympathize with the stress. In a situation where you have a lot of other things going on, it’s hard to write anything. I’ve found taking breaks and writing a couple hundred words here and there when I can think of something to add helps. Some days I can only get in 50-100 words. Some days I can’t manage anything. The only reason I try to get in at least 100 words is so I can stay connected to the story. But if it isn’t coming, it’s not coming, and I know how frustrating it is. I hope you’re able to get some rest with everything you have going on.

      Building up the fanbase is hard. I wish I knew of some quick way of doing it.

      I’m sorry to hear about your sick family member.

      1. M T McGuire says:

        Thanks 🙂 That’s pretty much what I’ve decided to do. Like you say, just keeping in touch. I’ve another story I wrote a few years ago that has potential to turn into something but needs a bucket load of polishing. So I might turn my attention to that for a bit and leave the subconscious working on this one. Pastures new and all that. The ill loved-one is doing a lot better now. We just need to organise a whole new raft of support – a couple of 30 page application forms to fill in first (joy!) and that kind of thing. I suspect that once I’ve sorted that out, things will be a lot easier and the muse will return…. so to speak.

        Really great post though… lots and lots of commonsense!



        1. An old story that you can work on sounds like a great idea. I find in times of stress that it’s easier to do the polishing part than the creative part. I think we’re more inclined to be logical during those times.

          Ick on the application forms. All you need at a time when you’re already dealing with a sick family member is a bunch of forms to fill out. I hope it’s okay that I said a prayer for you and your family at this time.

  2. I could use a couple of basic business accounting and marketing classes, lol. I’ve got the writing and social networking down pat ;-).

    Great post!

    1. Thanks!

      I think most of it is just a matter of keeping track of your expenses and the money you make. 😀 I was so heavily in debt in 2009 and 2010 that I had to learn how to cut my expenses, and it’s funny how much I’m still in the mindset of publishing my books as cheaply as I can. Or, I should say, “cost effective” instead of cheap since cheap somehow makes it sound like quality isn’t important when it is.

  3. Great post, Ruth. I chose to self-publish to keep my rights, keep my voice…make all the decisions. I’ve NEVER written a query letter. I’ve always gone with self-publishing. But it comes with a price…hard work. Not just writing the book, but doing EVERYTHING. Even if you have an editor, YOU had to contract with that editor. Same thing with the cover, etc. You either have to do it or decide who’s going to do it. And you know what? I like doing all of it. It’s my business; I’m not working for anyone else. 🙂

    I’m very thankful for this blog. It’s a big help to authors.

    1. I love doing all of it, too. Every time I’ve thought about finding a publisher, I get a little queasy since I keep thinking, “They’ll do something I won’t like, whether it’s the cover, tweaking on my book, suggesting a title change, or who knows what else.” I’ve hired out for some things, and even then, I loved knowing I had the final say in what happened. I just can’t give that up. In the end, I stick with self-publishing because deep down, I feel like you. 😀

      There’s a difference between someone who loves self-publishing and chooses it versus someone who just wanted the easy way out. I think the next year or two is going to start weeding out those who want the easy way out from those who love it.

      Thanks, Lauralynn. I’m glad you enjoy this blog. 😀

  4. Many thanks for this helpful post. I think that I would benefit from going off-line for a while and writing. I published my first book on 11 November and have been putting a lot of work into promoting it, however I need to find time to carry on writing, not merely promoting my existing book.

    1. I know marketing is harder in the beginning because you have to get your name out there. It’s easier once you build up a fanbase, even if it’s small, because those readers start helping with your marketing by telling others about your book. I had the advantage of having a few romances already written when I learned about marketing, ebooks, and websites. In the past, I’ve noticed sales are best in January and February. That’s probably because of the people who got gift cards or ereaders. I don’t know if what is happening at Amazon will affect the past three years, but I would focus on writing in December and look into trying to market more (while trying to finish up the book I worked on in December) in January. December (for me anyway) has been pretty blah in terms of sales. Other authors report having good sales in that month, but it hasn’t been my experience.

      Just my opinion, for what it’s worth. 😀

      1. Many thanks for your encouraging words. It helps a lot to receive them.

        1. You’re welcome. I hope January and February are good months for you.

  5. Ruth, thanks again for the inspiring words and advice, as always it is most appreciated!
    Wishing you luck with the move too, hope it all goes well for you and your family … enjoy your first Christmas in your new home too! God bless,Dave/ AscensionForYou

    1. Thanks, Dave. Your kind words are always appreciated. I hope you also have a good Christmas. God bless you as well. 😀

  6. annerallen says:

    Excellent post. Too many beginning writers have read the “you too can be an overnight publishing success” blogs and books of a few successful self-pubbers (often authors who already were established through trad. publishing) and think it’s going to be a walk in the park. I’m especially annoyed by the ones who say, “Oh, grammar rules and all that stuff are old hat now that you can self-publish.” Right. As long as you don’t expect to make any money. LOL. Glad I found your blog.

    1. I hate the blogs that preach overnight success. It’s doing so many authors a disservice. Those blogs make it sound like all you need to do is publish a book and watch the sales come in. If it was that easy, we’d all be hitting the bestselling charts. I’m surprised people would take such a “who cares” attitude toward grammar. I think if you self-publish, you have to be more careful about it because you don’t have a publisher to back you up.

  7. For me, the creative control and personal freedom are the crucial factors in favour of self-publishing.

    1. I think that’s something people who shun self-publishing don’t understand. Every time I start looking at publishers, I end up getting a gnawing feeling of “don’t do this” in my gut because I would lose the freedom and control you mentioned.

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