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Self Publishing Is the Best Thing to Happen to the Industry

Anna Leinberger Posted by Anna Leinberger, Editorial Manager, Acqusitions, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.

Anna is a writer and editor for Berrett-Koehler in Oakland, CA. More on killer book proposals and writing can be found on her BK Blog.

Self Publishing Is the Best Thing to Happen to the Industry

Oh yes, I am going down this rabbit hole. It is the enormous, pink, awkwardly shuffling elephant standing in the corner, putting everyone on edge, inciting sidelong glances shot back and forth between authors and publishing professionals.

Comments like this sally back and forth:


Well, sort of. There is a third mindset possible here- and publishers and authors are slowly awakening to the massive opportunities for everyone offered by self-publishing.

Diving Right In- What Do You Mean It Is Great for Traditional Publishing?

Well, a better question would be to ask why it is a good thing for everyone. From the perspective of a traditional publisher, someone who has been successful as a self-published author is almost a guaranteed success, with a proven market and promotional expertise.

This is the rising trend for everything from job performance to getting VC to marketing strategy: prove yourself before you expect someone to back you. One of our current best sellers, It’s the Way You Say It, was a self-published success, already having sold an impressive number of copies when the author brought it to us. We signed it, and our edition has since sold more than double the number she sold on her own. It is a win for everyone involved, publisher and author.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have the authors. Contrary to popular belief, publishers are not elitist meanie-faces who enjoy crushing dreams. There is actually nothing we want more than for great ideas to get their day in the sun. That is why most of us are here in this rather unforgiving industry! Self-publishing is an easier and cheaper way than ever to get your ideas into a form that will reach with others. We really are cheering for you to be successful!

But why would a successful self-published author even want to go the traditional route?

This is a question with no blanket answer. For some books, it does make sense to remain self-published. However, there are some things that traditional publishing will always offer over self-publishing. Specifically we know how to make your book a beautiful, high quality product, and how to distribute it. Editors will make your book the best version of itself. Production will design a beautiful book that readers will pick up, buy, and trust. The only way to do this yourself is to hire freelancers with industry experience and that represents a significantly higher investment than throwing your book up on Kindle.

One of our editorial team is a big fan of young adult fantasy and reads both traditionally published and self-published books, and she put it beautifully when she said, “The main difference I see between self-published writing and traditionally published writing is the editing. A good editor really is key to a book’s success.”

Contrary to the assumption that quality is becoming less important, quality still sells. Where books are concerned, quality and trustworthiness are still key. The most egregious offense a book can commit is that of perpetuating false or misleading information. Books by their very nature must be trustworthy. Though not infallible, a publisher represents a level of assurance that the ideas in the book have been vetted, and serves as a stamp of approval.

Self Publishing is Great Training for Being Traditionally Published

When an author self publishes, they get to experience the book publishing process. This also is great for both authors and publishers. Authors start to understand how much goes into creating a book. They learn what it takes to design a great book cover, that the interior of a book requires more design than the cover, they learn how book distribution works, and most importantly, they begin to understand how to market a book and build their platform. By doing so, they are not only building a platform that might ultimately grab the attention of a traditional publisher, they are also learning how to market their own book- which will be a part of any publishing agreement and key to a book’s success regardless as to how it is published.

Reports of Self-Published Success Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Really- they have. I don’t mean that those who have achieved success are lying, rather that the few loud stories of self-published success have perpetuated a false picture of how widespread this success really is. When you look at the numbers, only a tiny fraction of self-published authors earn significant income from their writing. Your traditionally published book still has an exponentially greater chance of success than your self-published title.

Smashwords, as a publisher, is so successful because of its positioning- it gets a cut of those successes (the proverbial 20% of the 80/20 rule, though in the case of self publishing it is more like 95/5) but since it does not cost the company more to increase volume, they are also cashing in with lean startup principles in getting a cut of those thousands of books that only make $100.

Self-publishing offers authors a forum for distributing their ideas- platform or not, and a chance to experientially learn how publishing works. Self-publishing opens up new avenues for authors to prove their ideas, which in turn widens the pool of potentially successful books for us to publish.

Sounds like a win-win to me!