As a nonfiction author, you need to be aware of all self publishing pros and cons before you choose your path to publication. You want to make sure that whichever path you choose best aligns with your interests and abilities.
Self-publishing offers many rewards, but they come at the expense of a higher commitment of personal resources. This article will detail what it is that you’ll gain as well as what it is that you’ll have to give up in order to pursue this publishing route.
Why Self Publish Nonfiction?
In the not too distant past, self-publishing was considered to be a synonym for “amateurish” by the book trade. The reason for this perception was the proliferation of millions of sub-standard books published over the years through free self-publishing sites.
The vast majority of these books were published with no professional help: no editors, no book designers, no cover designers and certainly no marketing help in coming up with compelling titles.
For these reasons, self-published books had a hard time penetrating brick-and-mortar bookstores, limiting their potential discovery by readers.
Everything changed when Amazon disrupted the publishing world with their technology-centric approach to book buying.
In a relatively short amount of time, they managed to develop a new user behavior that revolutionized the industry: online book searches.
As Amazon managed to become the largest dedicated book search engine in the world, readers were for the first time given the opportunity to search a bookstore not based on book titles or the names of their authors, but based on searches that reflected their actual needs.
This key change of behavior forever redefined how books are discovered.
Savvy nonfiction self-published authors who understand how Amazon ranks books in searches, and who’ve taken the time to hire professionals to edit and design their books, are for the first time able to have their titles appear side-by-side with traditionally-published ones with much bigger budgets.
So, now that you understand how Amazon leveled the field for nonfiction self-published authors, let’s discuss below the pros and cons of self-publishing.
(Note: to become a “savvy” author, follow the tips in this article: “14 Self-Publishing Tips to Turbo Charge your Nonfiction Book Sales”).
- You control 100% of your book’s rights. This means that you get to sell your book in any market you choose to without any restrictions. You also get to sell your translation rights to foreign markets and to publish your book in as many formats as you want (e.g. paperback, hardcover, audio book, etc.)
- You have 100% control of all design decisions. Nobody will ever tell you what you can and cannot include in your book. You have total freedom to choose how your book will be designed, including picking the color of your cover, the number of pages in your book, its trim size, etc.
- You have 100% control over the title of your book. Nobody will change your title to something else you don’t agree with (which is not uncommon in the traditional publishing world since the publisher is betting their own money on each title they publish).
- You have 100% control over the publication date of your book. You get to choose when your book will be published, which isn’t always the case in traditional publishing circles where this date is set according to the priorities of the publisher.
- You have 100% control over your book pricing. Nobody will impose a list price you don’t agree with; you have total freedom of choice over this important financial decision.
- You own your book’s ISBN. Your ISBN will be associated with your own publishing imprint, over which you exercise total control. In the traditional publishing world your publisher, not you, owns your book’s ISBN.
- Your profits are the highest possible of all publishing variants (self-publishing, traditional publishing and hybrid publishing). Since there’s no middleman in the self-publishing book distribution process, you always get the maximum possible amount of royalties – namely, the list price of your book minus the distribution fee minus the discount to bookstores minus the print cost.
- The timeline to publication is the shortest of all publishing variants. In the traditional publishing world your book will be placed in a queue of upcoming titles and you won’t have much say in when your book will come out (unless, of course, you are a highly influential bestselling author).
- Self-publishing requires a significant financial commitment. In order to produce a book that’ll successfully compete with traditionally published titles, you’ll have to hire editors and book designers. These are all upfront costs that are absorbed by traditional publishers. To get an idea of your potential self-publishing costs, read my companion article: “How Much Does it Cost to Self-Publish a Nonfiction Book?”.
- You must do 100% of your book marketing and promotion. In the self-publishing world, you’re in charge of all marketing activities. Now, to increase your chances of success you can hire a book marketing professional to help you in this critical task, but that requires an additional financial commitment on your part.
- You must set up 100% of your book distribution. You need to take charge of setting up all the required distribution channels, including setup of accounts, file uploads, creation of metadata, creation of marketing blurbs, etc.
- You’re not mentored by a literary agent. Since you’re charting your own path, you don’t get the hindsight and mentorship from an experienced literary agent that can guide you through the sometimes-murky waters of the publishing world.
- You must interview, screen, select and hire a multiplicity of professional contractors. As a self-published author you must take charge of sourcing and hiring a competent publishing team comprised of editors, book designers and book marketing experts.
- You must be a skilled entrepreneur, knowing how to set up and run a business. Self-publishing is at its core a business that requires a number of skills, such as multi-tasking, strategic planning, and healthy doses of discipline and focus so that you don’t end up spinning your wheels on unnecessary tasks that waste precious resources.
Self-publishing nonfiction has a great upside for authors, but you have to be ready and capable to take on the challenge. Now, chances are that if you’re publishing a nonfiction title to support your professional activities you’re already in business for yourself.
The self-publishing path is certainly best suited for authors who are already entrepreneurs and who are used to troubleshooting and problem-solving business issues.
If this is who you are, you’ll be able to take on this project with minimal friction. But if running a business is not your thing, you’ll probably find this publishing path frustrating and expensive.
Choose the path that aligns closest with who you are. To learn more about the different publishing avenues that are available to nonfiction authors, read my companion article “How to Find The Best Publishing Company For Your Nonfiction Book.”
All the best on your publishing journey!
If you enjoyed this article and are in the process of self-publishing a nonfiction book, be sure to check out my free nonfiction success guide, drawn from years of experience editing books for bestselling authors (including a New York Times bestseller) and ghostwriting for CEOs and politicians. Simply click here to get instant access.
Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or a specific need that I can help you address – I operate an author services firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners who want to publish books as a calling card for prospects, to establish their status as an expert or to just to generate additional leads for their businesses.
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Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of six books published through Harper Collins (New York) and Titan Publishing Group (London). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press, editor for multiple bestselling authors (including a NY Times bestseller), ghostwriter for CEOs and politicians and the founder of Cascadia Author Services, a boutique full-service firm that specializes in premium author services specifically designed for busy professionals. Our end-to-end services include writer coaching, ghostwriting, editing, proofing, cover design, book layout, eBook production, marketing, printing and distribution.