Why Writers Choose Self-Publishing as their First Alternative

In spite of its growing popularity self-publishing still has a stigma attached to it in the traditional publishing world. Many supporters of this publishing format will attempt to encourage new authors to adhere to the practice by telling them if their book is good enough a traditional publisher will see it and perhaps offer them a contract to republish it traditionally. The reality is that this seldom happens, and one of the reasons that is besides the fact that traditional publishers do not search online or in bookstores for exceptionally talented self-published writers is because very few bookstores will stock self-published books. Why is there a hesitation on the part of bookstores? They are concerned about sales, so therefore they don’t want to stock books they are unable to return. Of course, if an author wants to provide the books on consignment to the bookstore they may succeed.

The big question is why so many novice writers are looking at self-publishing as the first option. Of course traditional publishers are taking fewer new writers, but that should make a writer work harder to produce work that is perfect, right? Unfortunately that doesn’t always happen. That doesn’t mean all self-published writers produce inferior work, but the fact that so many do is why self-publishing is still looked down upon by agents and royalty-paying publishers. What are some of the reasons writers choose self publishing? From my own experience I have found the following major reasons from self published authors:

Total Control Over their Work

Novice and even some experienced writers seek total control over their work. They know publishers/editors will likely demand they adhere to certain guidelines. In addition, they don’t want to have to change anything in their work, even the most simple detail. This is their “baby,” and they are confident they know the best way to sell it.

Unfortunately what they don’t see is they are also sacrificing continuous sales of their work. They either think they know better than the publishers what is selling or they develop an unrealistic mindset that says they just want to tell a story and they don’t care about the public. I ask what kind of sense that makes: if you don’t write what the public wants to read you are not going to make any money. It doesn’t matter that you invested money into self-publishing and all the profits belong to you; you have to sell something to make a profit!

Lack of Confidence

Many unpublished writers do not have enough confidence to believe they will be accepted by an agent or publisher. They know the competition is strong, that they will be competing with authors who may have published dozens and even hundreds of books. They give up before they even make an attempt, developing the misconception that once their name is on a self-published book they will increase their potential for being accepted by a traditional publisher. Unfortunately in many cases quite the opposite happens.

Impatience

The turnaround time for traditional publishing can be as long as a year or more from the time of approval to the time the book arrives on the bookshelves. Even fiction writing that is complete must go through an extensive editing process before it is ready for printing. Novice writers become impatient, they want to see their work in print now–they want to KNOW they have captured the attention of an audience.

Fear of Rejection

One of the reasons many novice writers choose to self-publish is because they fear rejection. They don’t want to send out the query letters and book proposals only to find out their work is not good enough for traditional publishers or it isn’t what is currently selling in the market. Self-publishing allows them to avoid rejection before publication, but they don’t consider the fact that lack of sales is also a type of rejection.

Greed and Selfishness

Greed and selfishness are two other reasons both novice and seasoned writers choose to self-publish. Instead of paying commission to an agent to find them a publisher and living off the advance and royalties, they want the entire price of their book. They don’t want to share their profits with anyone, not even an agent or publisher. They would prefer to to pay substantial up front costs to self-publish and then attempt to recover their initial investment which frequently fails to happen. Of course, in today’s e-book market the costs are lower, but writers who restrict themselves to only one format are setting themselves up for failure.

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While there are certainly other reasons writers choose to self-publish, these are the ones I have noted from articles I’ve read and people with whom I have come into contact. That doesn’t mean all self-publishing is unnecessary; there are certainly times when it is justified such as those who are writing in a niche market that would not draw enough of an audience to interest a traditional publisher or if you have a great book but are unable to find a publisher after numerous attempts. If you do fall into those categories, you need to make sure you hire a good editor who will make sure your manuscript is well-written, grammatically correct and free of errors.

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Writing for Content Mills: How it Can Affect Your Reputation as a Professional Writer

There are probably very few writers who have not been exposed to content mills at one time or another, especially those who have taken the steps to become full-time freelance writers either by choice or necessity. When you first start your writing career as a full-time freelancer it is natural to see dollar signs and not give it a second thought. In addition,  you think you have to begin by writing for free or making minimal pay just to test the waters and find your niche. Writing a few articles for minimal pay will help you get your foot in the door, but you still have to be careful where you post your articles.

One of the mistakes many novices make is becoming involved with content mills and not understanding the importance of looking for better paying writing gigs. They initially see this as a way to make money, but since most content mills hire freelancers on a work-for-hire basis, you are not accomplishing anything more than earning a few pennies on the dollar for the work you perform.  While some content mills pay larger amounts such as Demand Studios that pays $15 for a 400-500 word article and actually puts your name on the article, there are many that want to pay a penny a word or less with no credit to the writer.

The other tactic content mills want to take is pay-per-hit. They expect you to write a perfectly well-written article free of errors, perfect grammar, and well researched, but they don’t want to pay you for it unless people read it! This is a tactic Suite 101 employs completely while Demand Studios tries to encourage its writers to choose those articles from the article pool. They also want to hire writers that have substantial knowledge and experience even though they want to pay very little for those writers. In reality what they are hoping to find is highly experienced hobbyists.

As I already mentioned, there is nothing wrong with building your portfolio by writing for free or low pay, but you have to learn when to stop. You also have to understand that if you don’t receive a byline for the work you do it is not going to help you build a portfolio. Work-for-hire or ghostwriting means you sell the copyright to what you write in exchange for a previously agreed upon price. This means you cannot then or at any time in the future republish that manuscript anywhere either online or offline. If you are looking to build a portfolio writing for a content mill without a byline is not going to provide you with what you need.

Many writers who become involved with content mills doing work-for-hire tend to write articles and other material they would not ordinarily write under other circumstances.  For instance,  I prefer fiction writing but do non-fiction for a living. I would only ghostwrite fiction in genres in which I would not write for myself and even then I may not choose to do so. I once agreed to ghostwrite a fiction book based on the Mafia with the background information provided by the client. I began to have problems collecting what the client owed me for projects I wrote previously, so I told them I would not write the book. However, I have no interest in Mafia-related writing, so it was a genre outside of my interest.

This brings us to the question concerning how this might affect a budding author. If you aren’t getting a byline, you certainly cannot include that work in your portfolio unless you have permission from the author of record. On the other hand, if you receive a byline, isn’t that a good thing? While writing for free or small pay for a website can help build your reputation as an author, you have to look at the source. When I first started looking toward publication in the first five years of 2000, I wrote many articles for an online publication and even became an assistant editor-in-chief and major editor. However, as I began to look toward publishing other material, I had to re-evaluate my involvement since the publication in mind was more interested in quantity than quality.  I also believed it was time to move forward and begin looking for earnestly for paying gigs. However, if you can build your reputation writing a few articles for free for a reputable online or offline publication you will have clips and tear sheets you can use in your portfolio.

On the other hand if you write for content mills, even those that put your name on the work, you may be damaging your future potential. Most content mills are not looking for the high quality writing that is necessary for an author to obtain a contract with a literary journal or other high paying publication. In fact, many print and online magazines look negatively at authors who have published with content mills because in most cases the work is minimally edited and the majority of authors are just looking for a few extra dollars–these are popular outlets for college students and others just needing some extra money.

One of the problems is the content mills target those they know are unfamiliar with the effects of their involvement. I have written for my share and only recently discovered the real scope of the market and how it could affect my future as a professional writer. I won’t say I will never do it again because writing puts bread on my table, but I will be more selective with the clients for whom I write. In the meantime I am seeking other outlets for my work, clients who value my services and wish to pay me a living wage for my writing. After five years as a full-time freelance writer it is time to move forward in my career and look for higher-paying work and perhaps write one article for the same pay I previously received to write five or more articles.

Novice writers need to look to their future and evaluate what they what to do. If you are seeking a career as a writer content mills will have a negative effect on your future reputation. Keep in mind if you published articles in your college newsletter, those are clips you can use in your portfolio. Did you write for your church bulletin or other volunteer organizations? All of these outlets are sources of clips and will help your writing career much more than writing for the content mills.

Publishing: Making Choices that are Right for You

As a writer, I understand that what is right for me is not necessarily right for someone else. How to publish is a personal choice, but it is one that requires a great deal of research before reaching a decision. The problem with many novice (unknown) writers is they understand the competition, and they understand it will be difficult to find a traditional publisher but without doing any research or attempting to contact a publisher or agent, they immediately make the decision to self-publish. The problem I am seeing is many seasoned authors are encouraging these new writers to self-publish while failing to provide all the information they need to make the right decision.

I have to admit, I have not yet published a book though I have done a substantial amount of ghostwriting and have published many articles online. However, that doesn’t mean I am going to rush out and self-publish my first book even though at 58 I may only have 20 more years to earn my recognition. In today’s market there is still a stigma attached to self-publishing, and it is not confined to just publishers and agents. Many readers even hesitate to read self-published books because they are not certain of their literary worth. I have done it on occasion myself, especially if the book is from one of the vanity presses or from beloved Publish America, the latter of which is the lowest on my list of potential books to review. I attempted once to read a review copy from an author who published through Publish America and couldn’t get past the first page–the entire thing was narrative, no showing, all telling.

Where does that leave new authors, myself included? With digital technology there is an entire world out there–e-books, and you don’t have to pay someone to publish for you. What many people don’t know is there are many royalty-paying e-book publishers–you just need to take the time to search. You don’t need an agent even for a royalty-paying e-book publisher, and many of them even offer the option of publishing your book in print if it does well in e-book format. However, if you choose to pay to publish your e-book, you will face the same stigma you will if you self-publish your print book.

I have learned through various contacts over the past 8 years or so that self-publishing is not the way to go unless you fit into one of two categories:

  • You have attempted to publish your book traditionally without success and you believe in its worth.
  • Your book fits into a niche market that a traditionally publisher is unlikely to accept.

Unfortunately there are many people who disagree with this reasoning and feel it is strictly a personal choice. For some it’s a matter of having “control” over what they do. They talk about not allowing a publisher to take most of the profit from the book, but they fail to look at the big picture and what they receive in return for giving the publisher most of the cost of the book.

  • The publisher pays all the costs of printing and binding the book.
  • The publisher secures your copyright registration and ISBN number.
  • The publisher does much of the pre-release promotion and marketing for your book and helps you identify your target audience.
  • The publisher will help you arrange book-signings and distribute review copies of your book.

One of the biggest reasons many authors give for self-publishing is because they want to have complete control and because they don’t want to depend on someone else to do marketing and publishing. Even when you are traditionally published in today’s market, the publisher expects you to help market your book. The days of publishers doing all the marketing have faded into oblivion; besides, would you really want to depend on someone else to get your “baby” before the audience.

I am not telling you not to self-publish, but you do need to make sure you have all the information you need before you make that decision. You also need to understand you may be placing your career in a stalemate since many bookstores will not carry self-published books. If you only want to sell your books online, you are in a better position to self-publish, but if you want to see your books in bookstores at some point in your career, you should look at a royalty-paying e-book publisher that also offers print publishing. After that, PROMOTE PROMOTE PROMOTE and never stop.