I’m so excited to share another guest post today! This time, it’s from self-published author and SPFBO participant, Alexander Layne, author of the debut novel, The Bone Spear. Alexander reached out and asked if I could share a guest post, about the choice to self-publish and what goes into that process. As someone who loves to support self-published books, writers and demystify the process, I couldn’t say no! Especially after reading the essay he wrote.
So, sit back and enjoy learning more about self-publishing!
The Choice to Self-Publish
There are a lot of good reasons to self-publish a book and a lot of reasons why you shouldn’t. There’s a stigma against self-published books. People assume that the writer went down that path because it’s easy or because they had no other choice.
For me, it ultimately comes down to one thing: maximizing the chance of success. For context: I’m a self-published author of fantasy and horror under the pen name Alexander Layne. Under my real name, I’m currently querying literary agents in an attempt to break into traditional publishing. In other words, I’m going for a hybrid approach split between different author identities because, ultimately, it’s hard to get noticed at all in the writing world, and I figure trying both paths is the optimal way forward.
But there’s more to it than that. Something essential to me is the freedom of a self-determined publishing schedule. Trad publishing is far too slow for my taste. The time between selling your book to a press and having that book on the shelves is, on average, around two years. True, it’s often quicker than that for later installments in a series, but even still, a book a year isn’t satisfying for me. This is another reason why going hybrid works in my favor.
My debut novel, THE BONE SPEAR, is the first in a trilogy, and came out in April. A tie-in novella, THE LAST GENERAL, is going to be out in August, while book two in the trilogy will definitely be out before the end of the year. Then, next year, I’ll put the third book, and two more novellas in the same world. That’s my current self-publishing schedule. And it’s 100% incompatible with the current model of trad publishing.
This feeds into another thing I wanted to talk about: how success is measured in self-pub vs trad. In the trad world, an author is expected to move a certain number of books in the first month of their release, and another specific number for the entire year. They want explosive, out-of-the-gate growth that can build momentum. Often, this starts before the book is even published. Hype is the keyword, and it’s dominating the industry right now. Us self-published authors can’t really play that game. Long-term growth is what we’re after. And this means building a strong backlog.
Marketing in the Self-Published World
Marketing is hard.
I mean, it’s pretty simple in theory, but actually marketing yourself and your books in a way that results in meaningful book sales is insanely, ridiculously, hard. There are a lot of things you can do, such as participating in contests like SPFBO, as well as staying active on social media…
But ultimately, ads sell books.
Amazon ads tend to be the most effective. They 100% result in people clicking on your book (assuming you have a decent cover and can figure out how to use keywords) but the problem here is that, although you WILL sell books with Amazon ads, you probably won’t make any money. In fact, you’ll likely lose money, because ads are expensive, and you have to pay every time someone clicks on one.
The point is, this is why one of the best things self-published authors can do is be prolific. Write a LOT of books. Build a strong backlog. The way, when you do buy ads, every click has the potential to result in MULTIPLE sales.
Does Self-Publishing Have an Effect on Craft?
To answer my own question: yes.
But also no. Because generally speaking, as long as what you write is good, it doesn’t really matter what it is and how you do it. It can exist just fine in either the self-pub world or the trad world. I’d wager that most people, when they start writing a book, aren’t really thinking about their publishing strategy in the early days.
But also, it does actually have an effect.
Although you can do whatever you want in the trad world so long as it’s good, there are undeniably certain things that are going to turn off agents and publishers. A basic example is tense. Past tense is obviously the standard. I’ve seen some agents say that they’re not a fan of present tense, either because of personal preference or because it just doesn’t sell as well. I hardly need to state that, if you’re doing things yourself, you can do whatever you want. It’s safe to say that there’s a lot more freedom when you’re operating in the self-published world.
My trilogy, The Flayed Sun, is written in present tense. Sometimes, I regret that choice purely, because I know a lot of readers out there are going to refuse to read the books just because of something which, in my opinion, doesn’t even matter that much. When I read novels, I don’t give a damn which tense they’re written in, so long as the author has a good command of their voice and prose (and I’d like to think that I do).
Going with present tense is a choice that I made just because it felt right for these books, and it’s just nice to know, when you’re self-pubbed, that you can make choices like that, with absolutely no worries as to whether or not an agent is going to frown down upon you. The freedom of not having to concern yourself with such things is a really important and overlooked aspect of going down this particular publishing path.
And lastly, another thing which isn’t really talked about enough, is the fact that trad published authors have a lot more people supporting them. An editor is the first person that comes to mind, but a lot of agents like to weigh in heavily and will often do their own rounds of editing with the author before the book is even sold to a press. So, between the agent and the assigned editor, a book can often go through three or four rounds of revision at the hands of literary professionals, which, it’s safe to say, has a pretty significant impact on the final product.
Self-published authors, on the other hand, don’t really have this luxury. Sure, most of us who take it seriously DO hire an editor, but that’s usually just for proofreading, rather than for actual developmental work. Unfortunately, editors are expensive as hell, which wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for the fact that writers aren’t exactly bringing home a whole lot of bacon, so ultimately, our finished products are more individual, by which I mean devoid of as much outside influence.
(Although, for the record, I DID actually hire a developmental editor for THE BONE SPEAR. But it was an incredibly disappointing experience and I spent a lot of money for basically nothing–so much so that I was actually offered a refund.)
I guess, in summary, the one word that comes to mind when it comes to self-publishing is freedom. It really does give you the ability to do whatever you want, which, as a creative, is an amazing thing. Another word that comes to mind is stress, because it also means you have to do everything on your own. You’re not just a writer, you’re a project-manager and a marketer. It can be tough to manage so many different things at once— but it can also be very rewarding.
Thank you so much again, Alexander, for sharing your insight on the choice to self-publish and what goes into that. It was such an enjoyable read! I hope, for writers considering this avenue, this helps!