Is Your Book Worth Publishing, and Should You $pend on Editing, Design or Formatting?
September 10, 2015
Self-publishing via websites such as Kindle Direct Publishing has become hugely popular. Anyone who was written a book, a novel, a short story or a bit of poetry is able to upload it themselves, and have it available to millions of readers around the world.
So you have written something which you think is publishable. Do you tread the path so many other writers have trodden before you? Whether or not you decide to self-publish, I think the important thing is to ask yourself what you want to get out of your writing, and what its value is to you. It is helpful to have answered this question before setting off on your self-publishing journey. A lot of people’s answer is like this: 'I want other people to praise my work and affirm that it was worth the time I spent on it; I want to make money doing what I love and working for myself; I want my friends/family/acquaintances to see that I am a serious, talented writer'.
Okay. If this sounds like you (and be really honest with yourself here), hold off on casting off your moorings for a moment. Having too many stars in your eyes could have you wrecking on the rocks. Most self-published books make very little money. Most self-published books don’t get heaped with praise (unless you are doing a review swap with a fellow indie or have just bought a batch of five star reviews). Most self-published books make only the tiniest ripple on the great literary pond, one so small nobody notices it. If you were all for telling everyone how you have written this amazing book that is going to make loads of money, whoa.
With this in mind and still wanting to self-publish, your next step is to think about whether to do it all yourself, or whether to pay for formatting, layout and design, editing, copy editing, and cover design. Your honest answer to the earlier questions will guide you here. If you just want to try it out just for interest or fun, paying for services is probably not for you. Some authors enjoy the creativity of designing their own books and covers, and tech types will enjoy getting to grips with formatting. If you have more serious literary ambitions, wanting to write and publish multiple books and hoping to make some money, then you might be considering paying for some or all of the above services. Perhaps you have read those books and blogs which say that serious authors MUST get their books professionally produced, in order to match the standards of traditionally published books and therefore compete more effectively with them. They believe that all the rank amateurs out there producing poor quality DIY books are giving self-published books a bad name.
It is true that you need a good product to get good sales. The degree to which you DIY is partly going to depend on your own skill and resources (see my earlier blog post for more on designing book covers). But before you rush into paying for anything, think about these points. To get a novel-length book professionally edited is likely going to cost from several hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on word count and who you use. There are bad apples out there too, people who will take your money and deliver a poor job. The important thing to remember here is this: traditional publishers only spend money on books they believe have serious commercial potential. A large number of the books people write have a small or none-existent market. If you are going to approach your book as a serious commercial endeavour, you too should be taking a long, hard look at your book’s market potential before investing money in it. If it is a collection of bad love poetry, definitely think twice before spending money on it! Realistically, you will probably have trouble even giving it away. If it is a how-to or other practical/advice nonfiction book, consider if your book offers value. So much information is available for free on blogs and websites. People are going to need convincing before they will pay for it. If it is fiction, really look at the entertainment value of your story. Is it well written? Is it engaging? Is it easy to follow? Is there room in the genre for another one? Do many people want to read this kind of story? Writers tend to be a bit self-indulgent when writing fiction for their own enjoyment. Often, they are writing their favourite fantasies or dwelling on their obsessions. Readers might not share them.
The would-be author wanting to get readers and/or make money should also get second opinions on their work before investing. Try to get opinions from people you consider to be your target market. If you have had quite a bit of experience writing and publishing in a genre, you may be able to judge your book’s marketability for yourself. Get some beta readers too, before paying for professional services. They must be people who will give you honest feedback. Do they think your book needs help? Do they think it is any good? Just remember that the opinions of others are not everything. Listen to what they say, but still listen to yourself too.
What if your book has come out of this process with a big cross beside ‘market potential’? Does that mean you should not publish it? What if you are still unsure about its market potential? I say: if you feel your book has something to offer, even if only to a small number of people, go ahead and publish it as an Ebook and/or a print book via CreateSpace (CreateSpace is print-on-demand - if someone buys a copy, one is printed and sent to them. There is no big print run leaving you with boxes of books to sell. If none are sold, none are printed - unless you order copies yourself.) Do your best to produce the best book you can, and put it out there. If even a few people get something out of your book, that is something.But don’t spend a lot of money on printing, editing or any other services, unless you have spare cash to splash and are happy to never see it again. Because chances are, you won't.
If you do decide to go ahead with publishing, try not to lose sight of the reason you write. The thing most independent writers get out of their writing is not money, fame or praise, but relaxation, creativity, self-expression, therapy, self-knowledge, the chance to explore and discover. If your book is badly written, is about things hardly anyone else is interested in, death-is-better boring to everyone but you, or annoying to anyone but you, that does not mean it has no value. We tend to value things by the value they have to others. If everybody thinks a certain car is amazing, we value it more, if everybody thinks some place is THE place, we value it more. But why should we? If your book has value to you, why should it matter if it has little value to others? If your book gave you happiness, relaxation and self-development, why does it have to give anybody else anything?