The Truth About The Struggle of Self-Publishing

Publishing a book is now easier than ever, right?

Well, yes. But also no.

Actually getting your book to market is easier than ever, assuming you’ve already done the hard work of writing it that is. But everything else involved in self-publishing? That’s difficult.

And if you’re thinking about self-publishing your work, you’d better be prepared for the struggle.

Difficulty 1: creating a quality product

I’m not talking about the actual writing here. It should be fairly obvious by now that the actual writing of a book is a struggle all by itself.

No, I’m talking about what comes after that.

Sure you can just upload your manuscript to the Kindle store, throw together a quick cover and hit publish, but I promise that you won’t sell any books that way.

There’s a whole bunch of work that happens between typing “the end” and hitting publish if you want to turn your manuscript into a quality product.

And if you’re self-publishing, all of it happens on your dime.

Editing services. Your dime.

Proofreading. Your dime.

Formatting for ebook and print versions. Your dime.

Cover design. Your dime.

If you want to make your book available in more places than just Amazon, you might have to go through this process two or three times to meet the criteria for each store.

And depending on your experience with choosing who to work with, you can expect to be overcharged, underwhelmed or made to wait weeks for the end product. Sometimes all three.

I’ve been pretty lucky in choosing who to work with for this part of the process, but it still costs me money out of my pocket to make my books as professional as possible.

Difficulty 2: getting your book in front of people’s eyeballs

Once you’ve got your book looking all fancy and you’ve pressed publish it’s just a matter of time before Amazon cuts you a cheque for a million quid and anoints you their best-selling author of all time, right?


I tried to find figures for how many new books are self-published on Amazon’s KDP platform every day but in the end I gave up. Let’s just go with Lots.

And your book is competing against every single one of them for the attention (and money) of book buyers.

There are things you can do to increase your chances of getting noticed from fucking around with your keywords to making your book description look pretty to literally paying Amazon to put your book in front of more eyeballs.

And those that don’t cost you money like blogging (hi!), tweeting, posting to Facebook and Pinterest and Pfleddit and any other place people congregate on the internet will cost you time. Time that you could be using to write your next book.

Difficulty 3: Tumble-weeds and crickets on every front

Say you’ve got a good handle on how and when to announce your brand new book on Facebook, Twitter or Pinstagram, you’ve still got to get a reaction from people.

And I promise, you won’t get as much of one as you think you will.

Yes, even from your friends and family.

You might think you have built in audience with your 5000 Twitter followers, all 72 of the cousins you’ve friended on Facebook and the handful of people who constantly upvote you on Pfleddit, but you’re wrong.

Chances are every single one of them is going to ignore your book en masse.

It sounds harsh, but it’s true.

And it’s an uncomfortable truth to acknowledge, that you’re not going to get the support from your friends and family that you might expect. And all those Twitter followers you’ve spent a decade amassing? They’ll be more than happy to like your tweets but less good at actually clicking a link to buy your damn book.

Which means you need to pour more money into point number two to be able to get anywhere.

Expect tumble-weeds on social media as well as in your bank account.

Difficulty 4: realising that you’ve got to sell 200+ copies to make back the money you’ve already spent

Since getting your book out has actively cost you money, you’re gonna need to make that back before you actually get into profit.

So even when and if you start making a few sales, it ain’t gonna be paying the bills.

Which is fine if you’re doing some self-publishing as a side hustle (fucking hell I hate that term) to your day job. It’s less fine if writing is your job.

And this one really stings when you see a never ending parade of white dudes telling you how easy it is to make six figures self-publishing, and they’re only too happy to tell you their foolproof method if you just hand over, you guessed it, more of your money.

Which you can do in ten easy instalments of several hundred quid.

The truth is there’s no real sure-fire method of making a ton of money self-publishing, so leave your chequebook where it is.

The road to success in the publishing industry is different for every author and is mostly a crap shoot that depends on what genre you’re writing in, how much experience you have, what criteria are important to search algorithms this week, whether minimalist book covers are in today, the phase of the moon and whether you sacrifice has pleased the Elder Gods.

And the odds of success on the back of a single book are vanishingly small, which means you have to go through the whole thing all over again.

And again, and again, and again.

Difficulty 5: Finding the strength to continue despite all that

“But Tonks,” I hear you cry, “if self-publishing is so hard, why the fuck are you doing it?”

To which I reply “you think I don’t keep asking myself that?”

The answer to that question is simple: I’m a writer.

Deep down in my bones, I am a writer. My marrow is composed of words, sentences, paragraphs. My skeleton is a novel that is constantly being rewritten.

There are other ways to be a writer than self-publishing of course, but this is the route I chose.

Partly because I like being in control of every aspect of the process, partly because as I mentioned in my previous post, people like me (fat, queer, mentally ill, etc) need self-publishing to have our voices heard.

Which means somehow I have to find a way to keep going despite the struggle.

Some days are harder than others, that’s for sure, but I get my strength from remembering the simple truth that I am writer.

I don’t know how to be anything else.

And so I don’t have any other choice.

The Truth About the Struggle of Self-Publishing

The truth is that self-publishing, doing it well and being successful enough to make a living from it, is just as hard as any other form of publishing.

Anyone who tries to tell you that self-publishing is easy is either wrong or trying to sell you something. Usually both.

Making a living from self-publishing is a long, hard slog with hundreds of potential setbacks and disappointments. And yet, more people than ever before are choosing to put their words into the world this way.

Why is that?

Because for all the struggling and effort and disappointment, it’s worth it.

When one of your books sees a small amount of success, it’s worth it.

When you get a lovely review from someone, it’s worth it.

When someone tells you how much your book meant to them, it’s worth it.

Self-publishing is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done as a writer, but it’s also the most challenging.

If you’re a writer who’s weighing up their options, self-publishing might well be the best route for you. But if you do decide to follow this path, you’d better be prepared for the struggle.

Originally published on Medium

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2 thoughts on “The Truth About The Struggle of Self-Publishing

  1. My late uncle finally self-published his book. I watched his entire writing career grow to that moment and I purchased a copy of his book, which he signed. I read it, loved it, and have it still–it’s my keepsake from my uncle. Another reason to self-publish. Oh–also, that book lead to the woman my uncle wrote the book about being reunited with her mother…after decades. I am still so moved by it. Books are not merely financial ventures.

    1. I absolutely agree with you that books aren’t just financial endeavours. One of my major motivations is to write stories that matter, stories that make a difference, much like your late uncle’s book did. Having that kind of impact on someone’s life is the ultimate goal of my writing.

      That said. I also want to make this my career and main source of income. Which means the financial side does need to be considered.

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