Should You Self-Publish? 15 Questions

Should you self-publish?

Today’s guest post is by Orna Ross (@OrnaRoss), director of the Alliance of Independent Authors.


Self-publishing is not for every writer. In order to succeed, you need to have or develop specific traits, along with certain ways of approaching the publication of a book. Consider the following questions.

1. Are you positive and proactive?

Many writers wait for permission from an agent or publisher to say they are fit for publication—or for a PR campaign to explain why somebody should buy their book. The flip side of this passivity is chronic complaint syndrome: writers moaning about the vagaries of agents or publishers, about the death of bookstores, the dominance of Amazon, etc.

Not independent authors. You must take responsibility for the risks, as well as the rewards, of publishing your own work.

2. Are you brave?

Risk is the core activity of self-publishing. You must risk time on ideas, promotions, or concepts that may come to naught. You must risk money to pay for editorial and design upfront. You must also risk, in some circles, reputation. Family, friends, and many others may see self-publishing as a second-best option. Independent authors must put themselves out there twice over, once in the writing, again in the publishing.

3. Are you hardworking?

If there’s one quality that all successful independent authors have in common, this is it. You must be full of energy and commitment, not only to your writing but to educating yourself about all aspects of craft, editing, design, and promotion. You must recognize opportunities and make the most of them, without derailing your writing, the engine of it all.

4. Are you entrepreneurial?

Independent authors who do best have an entrepreneurial mindset. You must always be on the lookout for new ways to reach readers, new communities who might be interested in your books, new opportunities to get your message out. You should be a savvy user of social media and know how to engage resources like e-mail lists, newsletters, promotions, competitions, and book giveaways to extend your readership. You must be open to failure and willing to learn from mistakes, while excited by the prospect of new projects and creative collaborations.

5. Are you resilient?

Successful self-publishers, by definition, are those who have kept on keeping on, adapting where necessary, and following their hearts. Mark McGuinness says in his new book, Resilience: Facing Down Rejection and Criticism on the Road to Success, in going indie, you must ensure you haven’t exchanged traditional forms of rejection and criticism for others that can be just as painful and costly. “Anyone who says, ‘Don’t take it so personally’ doesn’t understand what it’s like when you are hit by a major rejection or biting criticism,” says Mark. “Successful indies have found ways to acknowledge the pain—and bounce back from the impact.”

6. Do you base decisions on research?

You must follow gut feelings and intuitions, yes, but successful self-published authors generally back such horse sense with researched facts and figures to stay smart, sharp, and up to date—to search out their readers, stay in touch with influencers in their field, and give their books an advantage. Whether it’s keyword research, marketing studies, direct mail tests or just dear old Professor Google, you should enjoy learning, growing, and getting it right.

7. Do you have good financial sense?

Successful self-publishers don’t tend to be the kind of writers who say, “I don’t care about money,” unless they have a benefactor or obliging day job. Controlling costs is important for all businesses, and you must be able to take care of your resources and make sure you spend money where it will produce the biggest effect.

8. Are you collaborative and supportive?

That literary communities can be a tad, shall we say, bitchy, is well known—but the camaraderie between successful self-published authors is outstanding. Indies are likely to work from the co-opetition model, where competitors cooperate for mutual benefit.

Answering yes so far? Good—you’re half way there. With those personality traits in place, it is necessary to work them in a certain way in order to succeed in self-publishing.

9. Have you tried to find an agent or publisher?

Yes, great books can fail to make it through the gatekeeping process, especially books that are literary, or unusual, or in genres that the industry does not perceive as selling well. On the other hand, many books fail to find an agent or publisher because the writing isn’t ready for publication. The process of trying to get through the gates—taking the rejection, learning and applying the lessons, mastering your craft over time—is often a necessary one, if you want to get real about what’s involved in putting together a book worth reading.

10. Have you made a plan for copyediting, formatting, cover design, and ISBNs?

There’s more to making a book than writing it. Have you taken on board all the functions you will need to master if you are to successfully self-publish? They are all very much learn-by-doing activities, but you need to be realistic about the time and energy commitment.

11. Have you thought about your team?

Just because it’s called self-publishing doesn’t mean you’ll do everything yourself. You will need to draw on the services of some or all of the following: critique groups, beta readers, designers, editors, formatters, and promotional services. Have you at least begun to research how you will approach your workflow, and who you will use to deliver the services you need?

12. Do you understand your niche?

Niche markets addressing special interests are often seen as too unprofitable to be of interest to trade publishing. These overlooked niches is where many indie authors prosper. Even if you’re not that niche, to succeed as an indie you need to go where your readers are, which means understanding your place within the reading ecosystem.

13. Do you know who your reader is?

Some authors become self-publishers because they are recognised experts, or to enhance their standing in their field, or to justify an increase in their fees. Some they are committed to a cause, or have a story that just has to be told.

Regardless of your primary motive for writing, you must have a marketer‘s sensibility. You may not use marketing terms, but you will not survive, never mind thrive, if you are not attuned to the needs of your readership or don’t communicate with them. You will need to to go where most of your readers are most likely to be found online, to their forums and blogs, and make it your business to understand their concerns.

14. Do you have a marketing plan—a plan to reach readers?

Book sales happen only if you make them happen. How are you going to make people aware of your book? How will you make them interested? How will you find your audience?

15. Have you made a plan for your next book?

Are you using a self-published book to attract an agent or trade publisher? Or do you want to keep your own rights and grow your own audience, long term? To make the smartest choices possible, you should have a goal or strategy that extends past your first book.


Choosing a Self-Publishing ServiceIf you’re considering the self-publishing path, then I recommend taking a look at the annual guide from the Alliance of Independent Authors: Choosing a Self-Publishing Service 2013. The guide compares twenty of the most significant publishing services, in terms of price, royalties, and terms. Click here to preview or sample on Amazon.


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Posted in Getting Published.

Orna Ross

Orna Ross is a bestselling Irish author, living in London. She writes novels, poems and nonfiction and her Go Creative blog teaches methods of applying the creative process to all aspects of life. Orna has enjoyed independent self-publishing and publication by Attic Press and Penguin.

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94 Comments on "Should You Self-Publish? 15 Questions"

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[…] Self-publishing is not for every writer—you must have specific traits. Ask yourself the following 15 questions to decide if you should go it alone.  […]

Esther Aspling
2 years 11 months ago

Whew, That’s quite the list!

As someone who has done both, which option would you say gave your story the best foothold?

I’ll be sharing this one! 🙂

http://forthisisthetime.com

Author Susan Kaye Quinn
2 years 11 months ago
I’m an advocate of Indie First for most authors, but this list gives me some pause. These character traits, attitudes, and processes would benefit any author, not just self-published ones. And lacking those traits shouldn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to publish, via either path. It’s in the trying that we learn to be brave, inventive, and resilient. 😉 I’m indie/self published (as well as through a small press), and I’m a huge advocate of indie publishing. At first blush, it’s easy to say that the self-pub route takes more bravery, because it bucks convention. But emphasizing bravery, as well… Read more »
Skye Warren
2 years 11 months ago
If you’re not positive, proactive, brave, hardworking, entrepreneurial, and resilient, then you have no business being an author. Period. Having a traditional publisher doesn’t absolve you of those responsibilities. Being an author published through any means is an incredibly difficult way to make a living. There’s no one-click button for success, not even a Big 5 contract. Someone who prefers to ignore trends, has bad financial sense, and is a poor team player is not going to have any luck in the traditional publishing scene anyways! They won’t write the right book at the right time, they’ll sign a bad… Read more »
Jane Friedman
2 years 11 months ago

I’m sure Orna will respond here, but thought I’d throw in a side note that I’m more or less on the same page as you. However, some authors who traditionally publish have a very different set of values, beliefs, and expectations than indie authors, which then results in a nasty surprise when they realize (too late) that entrepreneurship, marketing, and promotion go hand-in-hand with any type of publishing.

Or, put another way, the most disappointed and bitter authors I meet are not the unpublished ones, but the traditionally published ones.

Darrelyn Saloom
2 years 11 months ago

Jumping in here, too. Great post, btw. To the point and so true. Would like to add that if you don’t have the 15 traits needed, this is where Orna’s great advice of finding a team can save you. Find people who have the qualities you lack to pitch in. And Jane, you are so right. I have a publisher but do all the work. Not bitter because I enjoy it, but I can see where someone who doesn’t could become dismayed.

Tam Francis: The Girl in the J
2 years 7 months ago
I can answer “Have you tried to find a publisher.” When I first started querying, I had an agent ask: “Are you planning to make this into two books?” Translation: My novel was too long. I went back to the chopping block and cut 20,000 words out. When another agent said one of the story lines wasn’t as compelling as the other, I looked at it and saw where I could create more interest for that character. It’s been a godsend. Not only that, in my quest for an agent, I got off my butt and finished my website, signed… Read more »
Tonya Kappes
2 years 11 months ago

I can say that I’ve done every single one of these fifteen questions. I love self publishing and a lot of writers have no idea how much work it does take to make a successful career! Awesome article! Sharing!!

H. Leighton Dickson
H. Leighton Dickson
2 years 11 months ago

Hey Orna, Thanks for sharing and I have a question for you. I’m a new ‘hybrid’ – an indie author who has just signed with an agent. She knew that I had works on Amazon but now I have two publishers interested in them. The agent thinks there will be a problem telling them they’ve been ‘out there’ already . I never thought it would be but I am naive. Do you have any experience with a situation like this? H. Leighton Dickson

Karolina Jones
Karolina Jones
2 years 11 months ago

I would say don’t sell your e-books for 99 cents and don’t give them away and you’ll be fine.

Jay Wren
Jay Wren
2 years 11 months ago

Thank you for the great outline for planning to publish. I love it!

Matthew Trinetti
2 years 11 months ago
Nice list Orna. I tend to agree with Susan’s comment as well — these are just as applicable for published authors as self-published. I know (and know of) traditionally published authors who expected to sit back and relax after being published, because they had “arrived.” The smart and successful authors, however, displayed the traits above and took matters in their own hands. They didn’t rely on their publisher for their book’s success. I’ll also say, if you don’t have these traits, there’s still hope. You can partner with someone who DOES have those traits, and who cares about and believes… Read more »
Paula Cappa
Paula Cappa
2 years 11 months ago
I have to say that when I first s-p my novel, I could not have answered yes to every single one of these. I’ve been writing for years but only into s-p over the past 6 months. Writers develop these qualities as we go along. I think, Orna, if I had read your list 6 months ago I would have felt overwhelmed and discouraged. I still am finding out who my readers are and still developing and redeveloping my marketing/promos plans and my fiction blog. This is not a static business and learning it takes a lot of time and… Read more »
Ann Stanley
Ann Stanley
2 years 11 months ago

Thanks for saying this, Paula. The list is a little intimidating, but it’s good to know that one can develop these traits.

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2 years 11 months ago

[…] We found a great article we would like to share with you written by guest blogger Orna Ross over on Jane Fieldman’s blog: […]

Matt from Saverocity
2 years 11 months ago

Excellent stuff- let me ask you, if I decide to go the self published route, I would imagine that to be an eBook due to practicalities of costs etc. Could that book ever be picked up by a big house and published for general sale by them, or once in print would it stay that way?

Or would it be better, if the eBook was a success enough to warrant publishing, to use that as credibility for book #2 from a publishing house and leave the original to run its course?

Anne Selby
2 years 11 months ago

the big publishing houses trawl Amazon and other online bookstores all the time and they frequent pick up people who self publish, although generaly they tend to pick from the stores’ best seller lists. However you can get lucky if they see a book that they fancy that isn’t a best seller by an unknown author.

Karolina Jones
Karolina Jones
2 years 11 months ago

I would say spend all of your marketing time marketing yourself. Even if an agent or publishing house doesn’t necessarily want to publish a book (or books) you’re already selling, they might be interested in you the person and the fanbase you employ.

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[…] Link to the rest at Jane Friedman […]

Pam Howes
Pam Howes
2 years 11 months ago
Thank you, Orna. What a great post and one I’m going to share with groups of authors. I love being Indie. Wouldn’t want it any other way now. Got myself a great team of editor – John Hudspith and cover designer Jane Dixon-Smith, and really couldn’t be happier with their results. It’s hard work marketing but I don’t do too badly at it. I’ve met so many lovely people from all over the world, all going down the same route. Eight books published, two more in the planning department and sales enough to make me want to continue forever on… Read more »
Kari S.
2 years 11 months ago

Great list Orna! Thank you! Just wanted to let you and Jane know that we linked this post over on WaveCloud’s blog: http://blog.wavecloud.com/.

Anne Selby
2 years 11 months ago

Yes to all of that… although I do have a publisher for my book!

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[…] Should You Self-Publish? 15 Questions by Orna Ross […]

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2 years 11 months ago

[…] gone in the Business section, but it’s really about you, not business. Orna Ross (@OrnaRoss) asks Should You Self-Publish? 15 Questions on Jane Friedman’s blog. For starters: are you brave, hard-working, entrepreneurial? Have you […]

Ralph A. Garcia
Ralph A. Garcia
2 years 11 months ago
Thank you for the excellent guidance with the 15 questions. I have self-published and my book has been on the market for two months now. I have some scheduled book signings past and coming up, as well as been invited to a specific authors’ round table discussion group where I will also be able to sell my book. My question is about your item 14 re marketing. Where can I find info on who and where to arrange for book signings? Is there info on the subject to guide me in this area of marketing my book? Thank you for… Read more »
Orna Ross -- ALLi
Orna Ross -- ALLi
2 years 11 months ago

Dana Lynn Smith, one of ALLi’s advisors on Marketing Matters, has some useful information on this on her website, Ralph. Here is her resource page: http://bookmarketingmaven.typepad.com/resources/2009/11/book-marketing-resources.html.

Sara Beatty
Sara Beatty
2 years 11 months ago

Great list, and great discussion. Thanks for pointing out that these skills can be developed. As an indexer, of course I’d add “indexer” to the team in #11 for any non-fiction book.

Orna Ross -- ALLi
Orna Ross -- ALLi
2 years 11 months ago

Good point, Sara, thanks for the reminder.

Dlady47
Dlady47
2 years 11 months ago

I’d like to add the main point that this author missed, and the BIGGEST reason I don’t self-publish. Do you have the time to take precious writing hours and use them for publishing activities?I have a full-time day job and writing is my night-weekend job. I need the support that a good publisher provides as I simply do not have the time to guide my book through the editing/publishing process, while trying to write, work full-time, and market my book.

Jami Davenport

Orna Ross -- ALLi
Orna Ross -- ALLi
2 years 11 months ago

Yes Jami, that’s completely understandable and I agree — self-publishing is not for every author at every stage of the writing journey. Good luck with your book.

JanetMermaid
JanetMermaid
2 years 7 months ago

Jami the world of “professional” publishing has changed. Especially first time writers get NO help with marketing and promo other then “helpful lists of suggestions”. At least with self-publishing not only am I in charge of my own promo (as I pretty much would be with a publishing house anyway) but I am the one making the money for all my hard work.

worldwide_webster
worldwide_webster
1 year 7 months ago

Oh my God, this is SO, SO not true. I’m sure it happens to “some” writers, but it is so far from the truth for most of the traditionally published writers I know. And I do know quite a few. Only books viewed by publishers as somewhat “disposable” (such as formula romance) are treated this way.

Christine Hurst
Christine Hurst
2 years 11 months ago

What a great list. Most helpful for me to ensure I am on the right path. I am just starting my Indie/self publishing journey and I am very excited!

Orna Ross -- ALLi
Orna Ross -- ALLi
2 years 11 months ago

How exciting for sure, Christine. Let us know if we can help and very good luck!

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[…] Here is an interview with Orna Ross, founder of the Alliance. She’s asking, should you self publish? […]

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[…] Should You Self-Publish: 15 Questions by Orna Ross […]

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[…] ______ enough to self-publish? Orna Ross, director of the Alliance of Independent Authors, offers a 15-point checklist. It’s a super list, but if it makes you feel the teeniest bit inadequate, remember #11 and that […]

Karolina Jones
Karolina Jones
2 years 11 months ago
I wonder if an aspect of this list could be about the people you know and the friends you have. Is it worth snagging one of your more outgoing, social media junky girlfriends to get out there and be your PR person? I’ve found in life that I sort of accidentally didn’t surround myself with particularly creative people; because of that, they’re all hugely encouraging to see me succeed at my efforts. Maybe they feel like if I succeed they will too. Regardless, I think if you look around you’ll find no shortage of people who’d like to help self-publish… Read more »
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[…] sieht es mit eurer Fähigkeit aus, euch und euer eBook zu vermarkten? Der in Jane Friedmans Blog veröffentlichte Gastbeitrag von Bestseller-Autorin Orna Ross von der Allianz für unabhängige Autoren liefert dazu 15 Fragen, die euch bei der Orientierung […]

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Tam Francis: The Girl in the J
2 years 7 months ago

This was wonderful and not to pro, pro, pro self-publish. I have been looking for something balanced and this is. My favorite is:
“On the other hand, many books fail to find an agent or publisher because the writing isn’t ready for publication. The process of trying to get through the gates—taking the rejection, learning and applying the lessons, mastering your craft over time—is often a necessary one, if you want to get real about what’s involved in putting together a book worth reading.”
I know it’s important to “believe in yourself,” but it’s important to understand the reality of craft.

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[…] indie authors know their audience and market to that niche. As indie publishing guru Orna Ross said, “to succeed as an indie you need to go where your readers are, which means […]

trackback

[…] sieht es mit eurer Fähigkeit aus, euch und euer eBook zu vermarkten? Der in Jane Friedmans Blog veröffentlichte Gastbeitrag von Bestseller-Autorin Orna Ross von der Allianz für unabhängige Autoren liefert dazu 15 Fragen, die euch bei der Orientierung […]

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[…] Ross on Jane Friedman Should You Self-Publish? 15 Questions “Regardless of your primary motive for writing, you must have a marketer‘s sensibility. You […]

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[…] indie authors know their audience and market to that niche. As indie publishing guru Orna Ross said, “to succeed as an indie you need to go where your readers are, which means […]

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[…] indie authors know their audience and market to that niche. As indie publishing guru Orna Ross said, “to succeed as an indie you need to go where your readers are, which means […]

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[…] indie authors know their audience and market to that niche. As indie publishing guru Orna Ross said, “to succeed as an indie you need to go where your readers are, which means […]

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[…] Successful indie authors know their audience and market to that niche. As indie publishing guru Orna Ross said, “to succeed as an indie you need to go where your readers are, which means […]

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[…] Successful indie authors know their audience and market to that niche. As indie publishing guru Orna Ross said, “to succeed as an indie you need to go where your readers are, which means […]

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[…] Successful indie authors know their audience and market to that niche. As indie publishing guru Orna Ross said, “to succeed as an indie you need to go where your readers are, which means […]

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[…] Successful indie authors know their audience and market to that niche. As indie publishing guru Orna Ross said, “to succeed as an indie you need to go where your readers are, which means […]

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[…] Successful indie authors know their audience and market to that niche. As indie publishing guru Orna Ross said, “to succeed as an indie you need to go where your readers are, which means […]

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[…] Successful indie authors know their audience and market to that niche. As indie publishing guru Orna Ross said, “to succeed as an indie you need to go where your readers are, which means […]

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[…] Successful indie authors know their audience and market to that niche. As indie publishing guru Orna Ross said, “to succeed as an indie you need to go where your readers are, which means […]

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[…] Successful indie authors know their audience and market to that niche. As indie publishing guru Orna Ross said, “to succeed as an indie you need to go where your readers are, which means […]

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[…] Successful indie authors know their audience and market to that niche. As indie publishing guru Orna Ross said, “to succeed as an indie you need to go where your readers are, which means […]

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[…] Successful indie authors know their audience and market to that niche. As indie publishing guru Orna Ross said, “to succeed as an indie you need to go where your readers are, which means […]

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[…] Successful indie authors know their audience and market to that niche. As indie publishing guru Orna Ross said, “to succeed as an indie you need to go where your readers are, which means […]

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[…] Successful indie authors know their audience and market to that niche. As indie publishing guru Orna Ross said, “to succeed as an indie you need to go where your readers are, which means […]

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