I’ve dabbled. I have four self-published novellas on Amazon, and they do sort of OK in a very modest way. Three of these stories were previously published in anthologies with a limited shelf-life, so when the initial contracts were up I found myself with something already edited and polished to a decent shine, just lacking a cover. Since there are zillions of pre-made covers out there that wasn’t a massive issue, so I steeled myself at the foot of a steep learning curve, downloaded Amazon’s helpful little guide on how to format your ebook for kindle, and off I went.
It was easier than I imagined, actually. I’m no tech whizzkid, and the first one was something of a challenge but nothing too difficult. I was delighted when Bodywork emerged into the light and I was happy enough to repeat the exercise a couple of times since.
My self-published stuff doesn’t sell terribly well, probably because I’m crap at promotion. I know traditional publishers are similarly crap, by and large, but my best sales come from one particular publisher with a decent following for the sort of stuff I write. It keeps me in printer ink.
Self-publishing has never been my preferred route and still isn’t, though it no longer scares me. I know several successful authors who only self-publish and do pretty well. They all have similar horror stories to tell about publishers not paying up, going bust (Ellora’s Cave and All Romance being the recent key examples of this), exerting too much editorial muscle, skimming off a hefty share of the royalties in exchange for not a lot by way of marketing or other support services.
I sympathise, and the royalty rate is a key factor in whether or not I choose to go with a particular publisher. I do appreciate that decent editing (essential) and an eye-catching cover have to be paid for and this is the contribution made by a publisher which saves me having to stump up my own cash up-front. They are sharing the risk so can expect a share of the revenue. That’s fair and I accept it, but I want value for money and these days I am pretty demanding.
In my early days as a writer I just didn’t trust my own judgement enough, and I was probably right not to. What did I know? I was unsure of the quality of my writing, and although I was aware of the theoretical possibility of bypassing publishers entirely and going it alone, I felt the need for an independent ‘expert’ to tell me what I’d produced was OK and fit to put before a paying audience. This validated my efforts, I was a ‘proper’ published author, not just some self-delusional wannabe.
There’s a degree of criticism of self-published work, often around quality control. There’s also a lot of superb stuff out there, so self-publishing alone is not a recipe for disaster. I can’t stress enough the need for good editing (and I would always caution against relying on your own efforts, however strapped for cash you might be), and of course a couple of trusted beta readers will be invaluable. These days I might, just might, be able to bring myself to self-publish a full-length novel but I doubt it would be my first choice. At least though now I am more confident of my own ability to write a decent tale, and I know exactly what it will cost me in editing and cover design to bring the book to the market, and how many copies I need to sell to get my money back.