Did you listen to Use Your Words BlogTalkRadio yesterday? If you did, you’ll know that I issued quite a stern warning about self-publishing too fast. If you missed it, you can listen to the recording here!
But here’s the gist of that show: many of us speakers self-publish too quickly because we want to get a book on our table, and it ends up being a big mistake.
We’re lured by self-publishing because we’re told that it’s pretty near impossible to get published the traditional way anymore. No publishers are buying books from relative unknowns (which is true), so if you have a great message, you just publish it yourself! And if you publish it yourself, you could make a lot more money anyway! With a traditional publisher, for instance, you’re lucky to make $1 a book in royalties. If you self-publish, though, you can make as much as $10-$15 each copy sold. Most self-publishing companies are hooked up to distributors and to Amazon, so your book is automatically entered into a distribution channel, so your problems are over!
But are they?
Here are some thoughts before you go down that route prematurely:
1. Self-Publishing is Expensive.
I paid $8000 to have 2000 copies of a book of my columns run off several years ago. I’ve made my money back (barely), but it’s years later, and I”m still stuck with several hundred books that are cluttering up my garage.
If I were to do it again, I’d go with print on demand. It may cost more per book, but I wouldn’t have the huge outlay and the huge inventory.
2. Just because you have distribution does not mean bookstores will stock it
Think of all the books that are available right now through all the major distributors. Hundreds of thousands of titles. How many of those titles do you think bookstores will stock? Very few. They’ll buy the ones that they think have the most chance of success, and those books tend to be the ones published by the big, traditional publishers. Yes, you can get your book in small bookstores by contacting the owner and doing a sales pitch, but that’s a lot of work to move maybe ten copies.
But aside from those considerations, there are these ones,which, I think, are actually more important when it comes to building your ministry:
1. Most self-published books are not edited enough.
The benefits of a traditional publisher are often on the editing side. They have an editor work with you to figure out how best to tell your story; how to improve your grammar; and how to fix basic mistakes. While some self-publishing companies will also offer editing, in general this falls under the umbrella of “copyediting”, which is editing to fix grammar and spelling, and not editing to fix the big ideas.
Most self-published books I have read do not tell the story and make their point well. I know there are exceptions (and some of my speaking students are those exceptions), but these exceptions are few and far between. Just because you have a good idea does not mean that you necessarily have the skill to put it into book form and make your point compellingly and concisely. Most books could really use a substantive edit.
The other related issue is that a traditional publisher approaches a project with two questions: who is the market for this book? And is that market willing to shell out money for this book? In other words, the publisher looks at the market first. What do they need? What problems do they have? What will entice them to buy a book that answers those problems? How should we slant the book so that they can see it meeting a need?
Most self-published authors instead approach a book like this: “What is the message God has given me?” It’s backwards. You’re sharing your message, but you’re not necessarily thinking of who will be reading it and what they need to hear. A good editor can help you with this aspect, too.
If you do decide to self-publish, then, please put the money into a substantive editor, who will read your manuscript and move paragraphs and even chapters around, and tell you if you have to add some more material to flesh out a point. This is absolutely crucial for the finished product.
2. Your book is your resume
If your book is not absolutely top quality, with a great substantive editor, a great cover, and a great message, you are doing your ministry a severe disservice. People will pick up your book, and they will judge your speaking abilities by that book. If people want to hire you, they will first look at your book. If it’s not up to standard, you won’t get that phone call.
What does all of this mean?
Many of us have a story to tell, and we want to make some extra money on our book tables. However, self-publishing should be one of the latter steps in our ministry, not one of the first. It comes after you’ve talked about a subject for a while and really understand it (it’s amazing how my ideas change after talking about something for a few years). It should only be done when you have the funds to afford to publish something of quality and to hire a substantive editor. And it should only be tried after you’ve made every effort to go the traditional publishing route, including going to writers’ conferences and meeting with editors.
For some people, self-publishing is worth it. If you speak to a combined audience of about 3000-4000 people a year, having a book to sell is a definite asset. You’ll likely be able to move several hundred copies a year at least, and you’ll likely make a profit. It’s still not worth doing, of course, if the book isn’t high quality, because of the resume issue, but you’re unlikely to be out a lot of money.
On the other hand, if you’re still building your speaking ministry, I would put the effort and funds into a website and generating business first before I published a book. Build your platform! Let people know who you are! A book is the last step, not the first.
And if you want something to sell in the meantime, think about these options, which are more affordable:
1. CDs of your talks
2. Bible studies/workbooks/devotionals printed out and put together in a binder
Many of you have received promotional literature from self-publishing companies, telling you how rich you will be if you self-publish, and how easy it is to do it. It is easy. You supply them with the manuscript, and they run it off. That does not mean, however, that is easy to do it well. So just beware: don’t take shortcuts when it comes to building your ministry. Commit with God to doing everything with excellence, and if you can’t do it excellently yet, then put it on hold. In the end, your ministry will be the stronger for it.