Why I’m Considering Self-Publishing over Trad

I’ve had a re-invigoration of writing recently, specifically in my WIP Unchosen and a decision to explore self-publishing. For those unaware, Unchosen is my fantasy novel about Kithra, a petty thief who accidentally kills a god. Between the rest of the Pantheon sending assassins her way, a sassy voice claiming to be a new god taking shape in her mind, and naive student of her former tutor following her around, she’s forced to decide whether to confront the ruling theocracy, or spend her probably-shortened life on the run. Also, the world may explode, so that’s a thing.

After I pulled myself of a course that pointed out some key issues in the manuscript, I’ve had the time to reflect and put in place a plan to fix it. It’s also given me time to plan a timeline to publication or submission. Previously I’ve always planned on seeking a traditional deal; however advice from a friend prompted me to consider other option. So, I’m taking twelve months to work self publishing and decide whether it’s viable for my WIP.

But why self-publishing?

For my writing journey so far, I’ve planned for tradition. Self-publishing was great for those that had the time, but all I wanted to do was write. Agents and bigger publishers did, in my head, make that a possibility. In reality though, there is still a lot of work for the writers to do in both circumstances. Perhaps more for self-published authors, but percentage-wise the payoff is larger too. Which gets to an awkward topic; money

Lets face it, I’ll use any excuse to include a Grogu meme

I know that writing isn’t a get-rich-quick (or for most of us, ever) scheme. But my measure of success isn’t measured in specific dollars; it’s about whether I can support my family. There are plenty of financial upsides to traditional, and even the lower royalties rate can quickly outperform a self-published author if a book sells well enough. But there are downsides too. If I don’t sell, my return on investment is tiny. A publisher won’t necessarily keep me on. I can’t control the deadlines.

BUT – as a self-published author, I would have much more control over the processes and have an unmatched interest in the success of my book. Key decisions and deadlines are mine to make. As part of a special needs family, I can move deadlines and efforts around our requirements. Also, even though I may not I have a lower sales threshold to meet what I need to succeed, and I can guarantee my publisher won’t dump me if I don’t sell. For me, that flexibility and control over the process makes self-publishing far more suited to my circumstances than I originally thought.

Look! A distraction!

Actual image of me trying to write

Still, there are plenty of challenges in self publishing. When I mentioned this to my writing group, one of them offered some sage advice about the number one thing every self-publisher needs:

A manuscript!

It might seem obvious, but for me it’s easy to get distracted. I see a shiny, I chase a shiny. I love learning new skills, so my friend was completely justified in asking if this was another distraction for me. I’ll admit, learning how to self-publish is hugely tempting for me, whether I use it or not. I love learning, and I’m not studying at the moment, so the temptation is real. Therefore, on the back of this advice, I’ve made a system; before I binge-listen to Joanna Penn’s 570+ episode back-catalogue of podcasts, or write a hundred page business plan based on Jane Friedman’s checklist for self-publishing (both fantastic resources), I need to have done my daily tasks. That is, I need to work on my manuscript.

I have a plan based on a weekly word count that over-delivers words, and if successful will have my latest draft done by mid November. If I’m on track, I can reward myself with learning about self-publishing. But if I’m not on track, I don’t get to publish at all, so I won’t let myself get distracted by the learning. Or rather, my learning won’t be counterproductive by coming at the expense of my writing

This Time Next Year. . .

If I’m going to be done by November though, then why 12 months? To be honest, the timeline is 100% based on subscriptions. In my day job, I always argue for setting the best support environment to enable the desired output. Getting the right programs and systems in place is the start for me, and quite frankly they’re expensive. But by getting them now, I get a solid chunk of time to evaluate and exploit the benefits of a professional website, editing software, and newsletter lists. By doing it now I’m able to use that future date as a solid go/nogo decision point.

If, in 12 months time, I decide I’m able to self publish and don’t have the support network, I’m going to need to set it up in the fly. I’ll be learning marketing, editing, and how to use new software while trying to manage a launch. This unnecessary division of my focus and time will likely disadvantage my book. In the case of a ‘go’ decision, having invested in the right support now means I can focus wholly on the launch and promotion. In the event of a ‘nogo’ decision, I’ve still optimised my understanding and environment. At the very least, it means I’ve supported my manuscript and platform to be the best they can be. Should I submit to agents and publishers, that can only work to my favour.

Really? 100% based on subscription?

Okay, I lied a little. It’s not just based on the subscription timelines. I needed a deadline though and it was a convenient reasoning. Because November will be the end of my current draft, not the end of my manuscript. I also need professional edits, covers, typesetting and all the other bits that go along with being your own publisher.

But wait, there’s more! I’m still learning, but I’ve consistently been told there are two necessities when self-publishing. First of all, having a mailing list before your book is published. Secondly, having a freebie to either entice signing up to the mailing list, and/or to accompany early sales. So even if November comes and I have the most complete and perfect manuscript ready to go, it won’t be enough. Before spending money on an unknown author, I’m always a little cautious. I wouldn’t blame others for taking the same approach. So offering a free novella or anthology de-risks the possibility of a regretful purchase – my writing becomes more a known quantity. Alternatively, you could just read some here, but I’d like to get something newer and more unique to offer as well.

Which means I need to write more than just my manuscript to boost my chances of success in self-publishing. There’s never a guarantee, but by setting myself up over the next 12 months, the best case scenario is I can self publish and move towards full time writing. The worst case, is I have a polished manuscript and a folder full of works ready to go. No matter which way I go from that point, it’s a solid base to give myself the best chance of success.


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4 thoughts on “Why I’m Considering Self-Publishing over Trad

  1. Great plan, Nathan! I think you’ve got a good handle on how to approach self-publishing and wish you all the best. If there’s anything you want to ask, don’t hesitate to contact me. I’m not an expert, but I can let you know what I’ve done in my own SP journey.

  2. Awesome planning. Goals are the best things to keep us going and accountable, even if just to ourselves. I’m thinking I need to move my goals out of my head and onto paper as well. Thank you for reminding me.

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