Self-Publishing: Five Myths

There’s a lot of interest in self-publishing among authors—even those who have been traditionally published in the past. The problem is that there is so much false, outdated, or just plain wrong info out there that it’s hard to know what to think.

I made the leap to self-publishing my mystery novels less than a year ago, but I spent two years researching and learning about how it works and what I could expect—and making some mistakes—that by now, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on the truth. I’m coming up on the publication of the third mystery novel in my Fin Fleming thriller series, and I’m very happy with my results. So in hoped that those of you who have been reluctant to test the waters might find this info useful, here goes.

1.    Self-publishing is expensive

Self-publishing may require the author to make some investments, but the difference between what a traditionally published author and a self-published author must spend before publication is not that big.

For example, many authors hoping to self-publish will hire a developmental editor, a copy editor, and/or a proofreader before they submit their manuscripts to querying. So do most serious self-published authors.

I hired a developmental editor while I was still querying, and I received very little value. I hired another developmental editor who wanted to charge by the hour. $450 in, she’d done eight pages. Another bad decision on my part.

Then I hired another developmental editor who came highly recommended, and boy, what a difference! So, I definitely overspent on developmental editing, but it was because of my own stupidity and naivete, not because developmental editing costs so much. So, I spent $2,450 on bad editing, and another $2,000 on good editing.

That’s my fault. Not a self-publishing problem.

Just because I’m a software geek, bought Vellum for book formatting, but I had done that years before I decided too elf-publish . Cost $350 (I think)

The current Cover of In Deep
Professionally designed. Much more impactful. Self-publishing lets the author control the cover
My original cover design
My original cover design. Not bad, just not great. Self-publishing lets the author tweak what isn’t great until it is

When I originally published my first mystery novel, In Deep, I designed the cover myself. I thought it looked pretty good. But then Michele showed me what a professional cover designer did for the new covers on her republished Sabrina Salter series, and I was hooked. I hired the same artist, and she redid the cover. The differences are subtle, but the impact is huge. Cover design cost me about $350 (I had already licensed the images for the original cover, so the cost was less.)

I trade proofreading with writer friends, so I don’t pay for that.

My total sensible pre-self-publishing investment would have been $2,350. It could be less if authors work together on serious critiques and skip the developmental edits, although I have to say my editor was worth her weight in gold.

2.    You can’t buy self-published books in bookstores or in libraries

This one is sorta true. You probably can’t walk into a bookstore or library and find your self-published book sitting on the shelf, but your readers can buy your books or read them by requesting your titles. I have found that libraries are happy to add the eBook to their catalog if a patron requests it.

The trick to this is to publish with a company like IngramSpark. Your title will appear in their catalog, and to the library, the self-published title will look like any title in the Ingram catalog.

3.    You’ll never earn any money if you self-publish

I can state categorically this is not true. I had earned back every penny I invested in self-publishing—including the stupid investments—in less than three months. It took another month to cover all the advertising investments I’d made. By month five of my self-publishing journey, I had netted more than many authors from their advance, and I received my funds within thirty days after the sale—not six months or, God forbid, even years later. Thirty days.

4.    You’ll spend all your time marketing your self-published books

Well, you can, but you don’t have to.

Amazon makes it easy to set up ads, and I’ve also found Facebook ads to be highly effective in driving sales. The trick to e-marketing a self-published book is to know your reader and to know your comparables.

Analytics can help

I invested in a couple of analytical tools designed to help self-published authors. One helps you identify the key words your most successful comparable books are using, so you can use them too.

The other helps you define what segments of the market your book falls into. Amazon, for example, has over 1,000 categories. The categories you choose for your self-published book will affect whether your book hits the coveted top 100 list in your category.

The good news about hitting that list and running Amazon ads is that Amazon notices.

Done right, suddenly, your book will be appearing in their newsletters to readers, along with your comparables.

For free.

But pay attention

But never think that Amazon ads are just set it and forget it. You should check your ads at least weekly to make sure you’re focusing on keywords that are working for you. (I’ll write a post on how to do this soon.)

But the point is, you can spend all your free time visiting libraries, book clubs and bookstores, or you can stay at home and tweak an ad and get great results. Maybe even better results.

5.    Self-publishing and vanity publishing are the same thing

Vanity publishing was called self-publishing for years, but it’s not at all what self-publishing means today.

Vanity Publishing:

  • IS expensive.
  • Will not get you into libraries and bookstores, no matter what else you do.
  • Won’t get your books into the hands of readers unless you personally put them there.

Good Sources of Info

There are a zillion free or inexpensive tools to learn about the differences. Amazon KDP offers tons of free classes. So does Barnes & Noble, IngramSpark and others.

ALLI, the Alliance of independent authors, is a terrific resource, and membership gets you discounts on all sorts of useful tools or products.

Self-publishing isn’t easy, but neither is traditional publishing

Publishing of either flavor is a tough business.

My background is in business, so I’m always looking at my projects in terms of resources in versus revenue out.

There are only two resources in the universe. Time and money.

Who controls the resources?

With self-publishing, you control the lever for both resources. If you don’t have time, you can pay someone to do it for you. If you don’t have money, then you can do whatever it is yourself.

With traditional publishing, for the most part, the publisher controls the levers. The author may or may not have access to the information needed to determine the effectivity of the marketing efforts, but if they do have access, it’s much later, after the fact.

And they have no control over the money resource—it’s determined by their contract. The only resource they can control is the time they’re willing to put into selling their books.

It’s all about the data

As a self-published author, I have access to the data about which of my efforts are resulting in sales, and which are ineffective. I get those results daily.

I can raise or lower the price of my books at will. I can give them away or run BOGOs. I can increase or decrease my ad spend every day, depending on how my sales are reacting. I control the content of my ads. I can test new ads for a few days to see if they’re successful.

Self-publishing is my business, and it succeeds or fails based on my efforts. And that’s no myth.


Sharon is a successful freelance writer specializing in technology, manufacturing, and supply chain—even before the
supply chain became the topic of the year. Before that, she worked at some of the most successful tech companies in the world, including Microsoft and Oracle. Her real love, though, is diving. As a PADI-certified divemaster, Sharon helped local dive shops with their training classes and has hundreds of dives under her weight belt. Wantingto share the joy and wonder of the underwater world, she wrote In Deep, her debut novel, released in August 2021. The second in the series, Sunken Death, is scheduled for release on December 31, 2021. The third, Dark Tide, will hit the shelves on May 29.

Sharon Ward


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