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5 Dangers of Self-Publishing

I admit that this headline is click-baity and might even seem contradictory to a lot of what I post on Creativity Matters. Let me be clear that Inkling Creative Strategies is a staunch supporter of independent authors and that I strive to help writers publish their work and do so with excellence.

I’ve been working as a professional writer in varying fields for almost seventeen years, and it’s been interesting to watch different opportunities arise for authors to publish. When I was in grad school working on my MFA in fiction, we were always told that vanity publishing would make us look desperate and ruin opportunities to publish in the future. This dialogue happened around 2008, before Kindle Direct even existed.

The first time I remember people self-publishing books through Amazon and other sources was around 2015, and I initially had a somewhat elitist attitude toward it. After all, anyone could publish a book now. In my eyes, this ruined the prestige of having your work “chosen.” Now, you could click a button and be a published author. It honestly made me mad.

But after having my poetry chapbook, Bone China Girls, rejected over thirty times, I flipped the script on self-publishing. Anyone could publish a book. And “anyone” meant me.

I put the book out mainly as an experiment to see if the system worked. I’ve sold a fair amount of copies in the six years since I published it, and I’m glad it’s out there, even though I think my writing has evolved beyond it (which is, frankly, supposed to happen).

And, of course, I’ve written multiple posts about my novel-in-stories, The Goodbye-Love Generation, and how independent publishing that book has won me a faithful audience that I didn’t expect.

In general, self-publishing has been a game-changer for authors. But after helping four authors publish on Amazon and learning more about the industry, I’ve discovered that authors need to be aware of several dangers and cons to self-publishing.

It boils down to this: just because you can publish a book yourself doesn’t mean you should.

Here are my top five dangers of self-publishing to be aware of as you consider this process for your book.

People Who Self Publish Try to Do It Themselves

“But wait!” you might be thinking. “Isn’t that a contradiction?” Not really. A LOT goes into book publishing, including editing, proofreading, cover design, typesetting, distribution, and marketing. And precious few people know how to do all of that.

The danger happens when they try to do all the things anyway. When they do, the result is usually amateurish and unprofessional. The cover is tacky, the work is riddled with typos, and because the author often doesn’t know how to start a dialogue about the book online or doesn’t do social media at all, the book ends up sitting on Amazon gathering dust.

If you want to self-publish the right way, you need a team. Find creative friends to align yourself with who can do the things you can’t. This is the great thing about being a part of a creative community and why forming this kind of community is one of Inkling’s values.

It’s never a solo endeavor. Not if you want your work to reach its full creative potential.

It’s Easy to Rush the Process

One problem with self-publishing is that it’s created a culture of impatience. I’ve talked to some independent authors who have referred to the self-publishing process as “addictive.” They get so passionate about having total control over their work that it gives them an odd sort of high.

As a result, it’s possible to move through the process too quickly and put out work before it’s ready to be in front of an audience.

I understand the excitement about assembling a book, especially if you’re like me and can do your own type-setting and layout. But no matter how excited you are, you cannot succumb to the urge to release a book that’s not “done.”

It’s like eating chocolate chip cookie dough. It tastes good, but you aren’t getting the whole intended experience—the crunchy edits, gooey chocolate chips, and soft center (if you really want cookies now after reading that sentence, you aren’t alone).

Plus, you can get salmonella, and I’m pretty sure that if you showed up at a party with cookie dough, not everyone would be psyched.

Resist the urge to publish a book just because you can. There’s always work to be done to make it better.

You Can Develop an Unhealthy Competitive Mindset

Another unhealthy trend I’ve observed among independent authors is competition due to the sheer number of books you can publish.

In the traditional publishing model, the process moves much slower and is more selective. But self-published authors have total control over these factors, so they can publish as often as they want. I know writers who have published upwards of twenty books.

This is fine, provided that these authors have a system to ensure that they are producing quality work. What isn’t okay is when up-and-coming authors look at authors who are human book factories and feel like they aren’t accomplishing enough.

Let me say this clearly: It’s not about the number of books you create. It’s about the quality and effort of producing an impactful story.

It’s not a competition. The only thing you should be worrying about is making your book a better story than it was yesterday.

You Can Lose Credibility (But Not for the Reason You Might Think)

Believe it or not, it’s not choosing to independently publish your book that makes you lose credibility. Self-publishing has become more accepted as a path to getting your writing in front of audiences.

What makes you lose credibility is when the book itself needs to be more organized, edited, and assembled.

A bad book cover can cause readers to short-change your story and not buy the book, no matter how compelling a tale it may be. Likewise, bad by poorly spaced words and poorly-broken paragraphs.

Then there’s the content. Half-baked storylines and typos can fail to bring readers into a believable world or deliver a satisfying plot.

Success Doesn't Look the Way You've Imagined It Does

Last fall, an article circulating on my social media writing communities stated that 90 percent of books sell less than 2,000 copies. That’s a hard fact to swallow.

I don’t want to be a dream killer or anything . . . but the odds of you being able to make a living and retire on being an author in any format, self-published or not, are slim.

Yet, many authors drop their books on Amazon, expecting this to be the outcome.

If you aspire to publish a book to make money, you’re doing this for the wrong reason.

Once you think of your goals from another angle and pursue the objective of sharing your work with others, you will find more joy in the process and the experience of gifting your audience with your writing.

Still Have Questions about Self-Publishing?

Schedule a free virtual meetup with me on Zoom to talk about your writing projects & objectives. It’s 30 minutes of my time to get answers to your burning questions so you can start reaching your full creative potential to impact and inspire readers.

Click here to learn more and grab some time on my calendar!

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