People keep asking me why I use a publisher when self-publishing has become more and more possible over the last few years. Today, 38% of Amazon’s top 100 titles are self-published. Authors with a long track record in publishing, like Bob Mayer and Joe Konrath, extol the advantages of self-publishing your work rather than going through a publisher. Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch, authors with decades of respectable mainstream publishing behind them, make solid business cases for skipping publishers and selling directly to your audience.
These authors write fiction. How well do their arguments apply to non-fiction? Well enough, if you want to do the work or pay someone to do the work. Here’s what you must do to produce a professional-quality nonfiction book. (If you want to produce an amateur, feeble book, you can skip any or all of these.)
Overall, you can expect to spend a few thousand dollars self-publishing a professional-quality book, and a fair amount of extra time. Miss any step, handle any step less than perfectly, and your book will suffer.
What do you miss out on when you self-publish?
Nonfiction authors have some potential advantages, however. If you have a truly unique book, with no competition, you can do well self-publishing. If you want to compete in an existing, well-established topic, however, you’ll have a much harder slog. I wouldn’t recommend self-publishing a FreeBSD book, for example.
How do these affect me?
I want an editor, tech editor, and copyeditor who are interested in producing the best book possible. An editor I hire is not going to tell me “Wow, this book is horrible and pointless.” An editor who works for my publisher will voice his concerns to the publisher, and the publisher will intervene as necessary. I can honestly say that none of my publishers have ever had to have this meeting with me, but I want them to have the freedom to do so.
Publicity? I have enough trouble with the little publicity I do now. I resisted blogging, Facebook, and Twitter for years. The less I talk to people, the more people like me. (It’s not that I’m an obnoxious person, but a little bit of me goes a long way.) An outside publicity person is an excellent idea. I try to give my publisher’s publicity person everything he asks for, follow his suggestions, and get out of his way.
Bookstores: I don’t see my books in stores in Detroit, but I know that some people buy my books in bookstores. It seems that Amazon owns my publishing career.
Graphics: I am an author, not an artist. Producing the graphics for PGP & GPG took as long as writing the manuscript itself. I need outside help with art.
I don’t want to do all this for my technology books. The tech publishing industry is in much better shape than the fiction industry, and I’m confident that I will be able to find a home for my nonfiction. I might self-publish my fiction some day, just to escape the submission treadmill. But I haven’t given up on that mainstream success… yet.