Self-publishing has taken off, that’s no secret. Bestsellers, from Fifty Shades of Grey to Wool, began as self-published books. Recently, the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), in the UK, even began its own masters program in self-publishing. A full-time student can complete the program in one year; when he or she graduates, they will have all the skills needed to edit, design, publish, and market their own book. At least, that’s the idea.
I’ll admit, I’ve read very few self-published books. So few, that as I write this, I can’t recall their titles. But by no means do I “hate on” self-published books. Sure, I have, on occasion, expressed the belief that self-published titles are generally lacking in editing, design, and marketing—all those aspects of publishing that UCLan hopes to teach—but that isn’t always the case. If I’m being honest, those nameless self-published titles were bad apples that spoiled the rest.
What do I mean by spoiled? The great thing about self-published titles are that you can often get them for cheap (sometimes even free if they’re e-books). Low prices are great; that means more books for me. Yet, in my experience, this leads to reading a lot of bad writing, and in the end, I’d rather pay more for the good stuff.
For a long time, most readers have felt this way. Publishers may be the “gate keepers,” but, as a reader, I appreciate knowing that I can trust a book stamped with HarperCollins’ or Penguins’ logo will be a good read. However, I think it’s important to remember the exceptions, because, surely, not every reader will love every book published by the “Big Five.” So why shouldn’t that same logic apply to self-publishing?
Self-publishing has many positives. None too small to overlook. Wool, as I mentioned earlier, was a great success story. Hugh Howey originally self-published the book as a stand-alone, short story on Amazon. When it began to develop a following, he continued the plot with additional stories, all of which he eventually sold to Simon & Schuster for six figures.
Howey’s strategy is definitely one option available to authors, and UCLan is another. However, I find the idea of a graduate program in self-publishing a bit absurd. If you want to learn how to improve your writing skills and are willing to pay thousands of dollars to do it, there are plenty of MFA programs out there. And if you’re more interested in the business side of creative writing, there are several great masters programs in book publishing (like the one I attend at Portland State University). At PSU’s program specifically, your degree can be custom-made to help you achieve your goals, with a focus in design, marketing, editing, management—you can even take electives in creative writing. These degrees are more versatile and practical than one in self-publishing.
But beyond higher education, self-publishing was started with people who possess a can-do-attitude. Luck is one element of a great, self-publishing success story, but brains is another. It’s no surprise that many successful self-published authors were also self-taught the skills they needed.
Need editing? Hire a freelancer (this is where I shamelessly plug the editing service I currently intern for). Or if you think you got the skills, set your manuscript aside for a month or two. Work on something else. Take a break. Purchase a subscription to the Chicago Manual of Style (the industry standard) and take a whack at it.
In today’s world, freelancers can also be hired for design and marketing if you have the financial means to do so, but there are also many free and low-priced online classes, like Skillshare, that teach these skills as well. Amazon makes self-publishing a breeze if all other elements have been taken care of beforehand (as well as a large customer base), but there are also many other alternatives, like Lulu or Ingram.
Because writing is so competitive, today’s authors are getting creative with not just the words on the page but the way in which they find their audience. How do you plan to find yours?