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7 questions to ask before deciding to self-publish

Every writer’s dream is to be published. Obviously, getting a publishing contract is desirable: your publisher takes care of everything for you—from editing, cover design, and layout to distribution and marketing. It’s also somewhat like a unicorn: elusive and maybe non-existent, especially if you’re not based in any of the English publishing hubs of the world (New York and London). International publishing aside, getting a local publishing contract in Malaysia is even tougher—especially if you’re writing genre fiction in English.

Fortunately, there are other options now in the form of self-publishing, or indie publishing (whichever term you like using). The book industry has changed enough that it isn’t bad form anymore to be self-published. (It wasn’t bad form back in the 1900’s either!) Whilst the main thrust of Teaspoon Publishing’s Publishing Hub focuses on the ebook market, indie publishing also includes print and print-on-demand, which we’ll look at briefly in coming weeks.

Self-publishing isn’t for everyone. By self-publishing, YOU are in control of the whole process as well as the final output. YOU are also 100% responsible for sales and marketing and how it’s going to get into the hands of your readers. Before you take this very drastic step, you should ask yourself a few questions:

7 Questions to ask before self-publishing

1. What’s my definition of success?

Everyone’s definition of success is different. For some, success is counted by sales numbers and money earned. Readership might be more important for some, even if they don’t earn much from their writing. For others, literary acclaim and book prizes might be the goal. Understanding what you want for your writing will help you decide if self-publishing is for you.

Until something drastic changes, the only way to get literary acclaim now is to chase for a traditional publishing deal so if that’s your motivation, you’ll have to keep submitting. If your primary interest is for your book out in the world for people to read, then self-publishing is a very viable option, provided you do the work.

2. What are my long-term goals for my writing and will it be helped or hindered by self-publishing?

If you’re very definite that you only want your book published via big publishing houses or your goal is literary acclaim, you might want to hold off on experimenting with self-publishing. Whilst self-publishing has gotten some authors good traditional deals (see Andy Weir, Amanda Hocking, EL James), if your self-published book does poorly, it might bias publishers against offering you a contract because the risks are higher for them. Just like a job interview, publishers will look at your publishing history (if you have one) so having a clean history might just be better for you.

Another consideration, especially for Malaysians, is how and where you want to sell your book. If you’re looking at the international market, it makes sense to indie publish your novel as an ebook with print on demand options. If you’re looking at the Malaysian market, your best bet is probably a print book, at least until more Malaysian readers catch on to the ebook reading trend.

3. Are my books suitable for self-publishing?

As strange as this sounds, the type of books you write can and do affect how well you do as an indie author. Certain genres do better than others as independently published novels, e.g. romance, sci-fi/fantasy, where readers often follow a favourite author brand rather than a publishing house.
If you need some help with market research, http://authorearnings.com publishes annual reports on the ebook market with data on genre sales by publisher type.

4. Is my craft ready?

This is a tricky question. As writers, we like to believe that everything we write is awesome and wonderful. However, we need to be both critical and objective about our work. If you work with an editor, beta readers, or a critique group, their input will help you decide when your work is ready to be released.

Self-publishing isn’t about doing away with the gatekeepers. It’s about making yourself your own gatekeeper. Releasing a book that isn’t quite ready or good enough will harm your career as you’ll put off any potential readers. Before you self-publish, please be sure that your book is the best that it can be, not according to your own standards, but in accordance with worldwide publishing standards.

5. Do I have a marketing plan?

Sometimes what makes a book (or any product) sell is not the book itself, but how it’s marketed and packaged. Once you have your novel ready, you also need a marketing plan. Putting your book up on Amazon but not doing anything to market it will not help you make any sales.

6. Do I have the resources to start this venture?

At the very least, you should have the resources to pay for a) a good cover, b) good editing, and c) printing costs (if you decide to print). If you’re not willing to spend money for at least the first two, you’re probably not ready to self-publish your book.

7. Am I ready to do the work?

Deciding to self-publish is really making the decision to do everything a publisher does with a team by yourself. It’s deciding to make your passion for writing into a business. True, you don’t have to (and can’t) do everything alone, but by committing to self-publishing, you’ll be the one hiring others to help you do the work.

If you’re not ready to commit to this level of work or do not want to make the necessary business decisions, then self-publishing is probably not for you.


At Teaspoon Publishing, we believe in Malaysian authors. We believe that you have a unique perspective that should be shared with the world. If you write fantasy, take a look at our Traditional page and consider submitting a manuscript during our reading period from 1 May – 31 July 2018.

We also believe in empowering authors to take control of their career. If you need a boost on your journey, check out our Publishing Hub to see how we can help you!

Up next: How do I avoid being scammed by publishers?

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