While I love self-publishing for multiple reasons and there are a lot of serious self-pub authors that do as well, I can’t deny that there are a handful of downsides to self-publishing. There are downsides to traditional publishing as well, but since I’m strictly self-pub at the moment and those of you reading may be interested in self-pub either now or in the near future, I wanted to discuss the downsides of being an indie author with you today.
Note: This isn’t a post meant to discourage you away from self-publishing your novel! This is simply to share some more insight on what you may not know about self-pub. I didn’t know these things when I started out, and now I’m having to go with the flow and work through the kinks. Don’t think of this as self-pub discouragement at all, but instead, an extra tidbit of insider information that nobody would normally tell you about. 🙂
The downsides of self-publishing most likely depend on how old you are and whether you’ve self-published in the past before it became big, or if you’re just now looking into the idea. There are problems that forty year old self-pub authors complain about that don’t effect the twenty year old self-pub authors, and vice versa. However, I’m going to discuss some of the most common downsides, as well as the downsides I’ve had to put up with as a young self-pub author.
One of the most common downsides to self-publishing is that there isn’t a flawless system for you to publish your book on. Amazon, Ingram Spark, Barnes and Noble, and Lulu all come with their fair share of problems, and all differ from each other. I’ve heard that Ingram Spark tends to mess up some of your covers if you order a large shipment. Barnes and Noble and Ingram Spark both cost money up front to publish your book on their sites, and that may be money you don’t have. I’ve heard Lulu can be tricky to navigate if you aren’t sure what you’re doing. And most people don’t like Amazon because they keep such a high percentage of your royalty rates per book. Since there isn’t a more or less flawless system created just yet, the simplest suggestion is to do your research and go with whichever self-pub system you want to go with. Expect the kinks and work through them, and as long as they’re not horrible kinks, don’t go off the deep end about it. You complaining isn’t going to fix anything, I’m afraid. It’s just like in life. If you look at things negatively, the situation is going to seem way worse than it is and your complaining will get you nowhere. Accept the problems. Deal with the problems. Publish your book and move on. As a user of Amazon, I don’t particularly like how much of my paperback royalties they keep, but it’s either let them take that higher percentage or pay a large chunk of cash up front. I don’t have a large chunk of cash, but I do know how to work Amazon, so the royalty percentage taken out of my paycheck is just something I have to deal with and learn to combat in new ways (like writing and publishing more books each year).
Another common downside is marketing. The marketing world is constantly changing with our upgrades in social media. Because of this, a marketing strategy you may have used last year that worked wonders might not work this year. Or a strategy you’ve used successfully this year may not work next year, and so on, and so on. Because of this, self-pub authors can get frustrated because they’re constantly having to learn new tips and tricks. It can be especially frustrating when you feel like you’ve finally mastered a new strategy only to learn that it isn’t going to work well for much longer. When it comes to marketing, you have to accept that you’re going to have to be a constant learner and then put in the work to be in the know. Being in the know means you’ll be able to sell more books, and of course, as a professional indie author, that’s what you’re going to want.
On that note of marketing, one of the biggest issues with self-pub comes with reviews. Most self-pub authors just reach out to family and friends and family friends and are like, “Hey, I published a book!” and all of a sudden, their family and friends are writing raving reviews about the book. But one thing to realize is that authors that do this aren’t professional at all. All of those five star reviews are just from family and close friends, which isn’t the way to gain credibility in the self-pub world. Of course your family and close friends are going to rate it highly. That’s kind of their job. And it isn’t a crime to ask friends and family for reviews! But an author getting all of their five star reviews due to family and friends hurts their credibility since nobody can tell whether their book is actually good or if it’s just family raving on and on about it. If you really want your family and friends to review your novel, ask them to review it honestly and professionally, like they would any other book they read. Even ask that their review acts as though they’re just another reader and aren’t related to you at all! This can help, because another interesting tidbit of information: Amazon actually has started taking down reviews that it believes is written by family members and close friends. And never ever forget to reach out and ask people that have read your book that you don’t know for a review. They may not do it, but at least you asked! (Though never pester them, okay? That’s a huge no-no.) And chances are, they probably will leave a review, and your list of reviews on Goodreads and/or Amazon will look more credible.
Finally, the last issue I want to discuss is one of my biggest pet peeves of all. You enter the self-pub world and you’re expected to network, because connections will most definitely take you farther in the self-pub world. You’ll meet new people, go to conferences, join Facebook groups for writers, etc. But if you are one of the youngest people in said conferences or groups, or even just the youngest, you aren’t going to get taken seriously. I’m in a couple writing groups on Facebook, which I will leave unnamed. In said groups, we’re supposed to network with each other and help each other out if someone asks for suggestions or help with aspects of their book or marketing. Nearly every single time I’ve reached out to help because I know something in the area to be discussed from all my studying and experimenting, my comment is overlooked. People disagree with me. The other people replying are twice my age. They don’t know how to work an Instagram or Twitter account properly, but of course they must be right that “Instagram and Twitter aren’t good platforms for authors” since they’re older than I am. At the conference I went to, also remaining unnamed, I was the second to youngest writer there. Everyone else was at least five years older than me. When people asked me what panels I was going to sit in on, I told them I was going to all of the marketing and publishing panels. They gave me weird looks. They told me I should be going to the writing panels. In fact, when I asked a question of some agents in one of the q&a panels, the sympathetic looks they gave me were in a stark contrast from the respected, “I view you as an equal” looks they’d given the other authors in the room that were 5+ years older than me.
The moral of these two stories is that if you’re a young author looking to self-pub, be prepared to not be taken seriously. People think that age instead of maturity or your experience in the self-pub world is more credible. I know it’s not. I think we can all agree that in a lot of circumstances, it’s not.
Expect that you’re not going to be taken seriously. Acknowledge your feelings of anger and hurt when you aren’t. But then get over it. The only way to show that you are just as serious about your self-pub career as the authors older than you is to prove it. Work on your marketing. Continue to work on your writing. Take a break from your writing groups on Facebook or other social media sights if you feel like they’re discouraging you or constantly upsetting you; that’s actually what I’m doing right now. Don’t get on Facebook and cause a fight over your hurt feelings. One of the biggest tips in the self-pub industry, or really in any industry that involves social media when you think about it, is to remember that whatever you post comes back to you. You may be in a private writing group, but if you go on a rant about how awful you think you’re being treated, there’s a high possibility that the things you say in the heat of the moment won’t stay in that group. Somebody will share it with someone else, and then so on. Eventually, it will trace back to you and you will have your reputation tarnished.
Act professional. If you take nothing else from this post, just take “Act Professional.” I know I’ve stressed it a million times, but professionalism is key when it comes to being an indie-author.
Have you dealt with any of these downsides to self-publishing before? Or have you experienced others? Feel free to share below!