To self-publish or not to self-publish? by Liz Carter

I've noticed quite a few questions and discussions about self-publishing on the ACW Facebook page lately - questions about how to do it, if it's worth it, how much it costs, how on earth it works, if you should hold out for traditional publishing. Last year in lockdown ACW put on a very helpful day session all about the ins and outs of self-publishing, and there are lots of ACW members who are extremely knowledgeable and helpful, like Wendy Jones and Karen Rosario Ingerslev.

I thought I'd take a few moments with my spot today to talk a little about my experience, having gone down both the traditional and the self-publishing route within the Christian market (non fiction and poetry, in my case.) With my traditionally published book, there's no denying that it was easier to get it out there. Bookshops stocked it because it was a trusted publisher (IVP), radio stations were more open to me going to talk about it, the Christian press happy to review it (I have heard of some self-published authors being reviewed in the Christian press, but it seems very difficult to pull that off in my experience!) I still had a lot to do in terms of marketing - organising blog tours, launch team etc, as well as endorsements, but the support I was given helped a lot.

The Christian publishing world is a small one, particularly in the UK (and getting smaller, with big imprints being taken on by big publishers). It's wonderful that we have some 'hyrbid' publishers like Instant Apostle, Malcolm Down, Onwards and Upwards and so on, who still only publish books that are good enough for their list, but with the caveat that authors purchase a certain amount of copies (at least 500, I believe.) It's great that this opens things up to many people, and the books they bring out are top quality and excellent reads. They are able to keep afloat in these challenging times because of the hybrid model - it's a good one! But many people simply can't afford this choice, and haven't had any luck trying to place their book with the small number of publishers who don't ask for payment/purchases. Some authors don't want to go down the whole submissions route - it is a whole lot of hassle and can bring a whole lot of rejection.

The problem is, when people start looking into self-publishing, there is such an overwhelming amount of information out there. Some of the first sites that come up are big companies with very slick websites, who will publish your book for you. And it will look great - they'll take your book through each step, including proofreading (in some cases) and cover design, and some of them even help with marketing to a certain extent. The issue with these sites (Austin McCauley and all) is that they cost so much money. They will take thousands from you. 

And the truth is that you don't have to spend very much at all. The problem is, what if you are tech averse? How do you get your book out there? How on earth do you design a cover? What about editing? What about marketing?

You can understand why people pay for these companies to do it all for them. The problem is, they don't really do marketing in any significant way at all. They might post a picture of your book on their social media feed, followed by all their authors who want other people to see their books. But apart from that, and maybe the odd Facebook ad or blog post, it's down to you. I know people who have spent thousands and their book has sunk without a trace.

And that might be OK. Some authors simply want a polished product out there, and don't mind about the money. If that's the case, definitely submit your book to some of the hybrid publishers - they are so professional and supportive, and will work hard to get your book out there and champion it if they take it on. The big self-publishing companies, however, only care about your money, I'm afraid.

There is another way. You can go on a whole learning curve and learn how to format a book and upload to KDP and/or Ingram Spark (definitely do both if you can), or you can prepare the book and pay a freelance formatter/designer - they will charge just a fraction of what you'd pay to go through one of the big self-publishing companies, and might include various things in a package (do ask me if you like - I do proofreading/copy editing as well as formatting and design.) If you go on the website you'll find a whole lot of designers, editors and formatters who will charge very decent amounts for these kinds of services, and know what they are doing in terms of specifications for Amazon and Ingram - for ebooks as well as paperbacks. Don't be put off from getting your work out there if you can't afford the huge fees of the big companies or don't feel your work fits with traditional or hybrid publishers - there are ways!

But does self-publishing work? Well, in my experience, it's a yes. My self-published anthology of short stories and poems has sold well (almost as many as my traditionally published book, interestingly) and continues to. Obviously, marketing and building up a mailing list is really important here - but that's for another post (ask Lucy Rycroft about that - she is queen of the socials!) The thing I really love about self-publishing is the control you have over your own book. You can price it how you want to price it - you can price the ebook fairly low, for example, which will sell a whole lot better than if it's priced highly - traditional publishers in the Christian world often seem to price Kindle editions quite highly, and people don't tend to buy them as much (people love a 99p or £1.99 deal, and it really is true that the more you sell, the more it is visible.) You are in charge of the cover art, or you can talk with the designer about what you want. You can choose the font. You can basically do whatever you want with it, and you get to track its progress and see what works in terms of marketing (for example, I did a paid Facebook ad and was able to track how well it worked in terms of sales.)

I'm not saying that self-publishing is the answer to everything and that once your book is up that's all the hard work done and it will sell thousands (I wish!) - but I am saying that there are definite perks to it, and once you've learned the process it's easy - and it is possible to learn the process. If you can use MS Word, you can format a book. If you can use Canva, you can make a (simple) cover (if you can use photoshop or gimp, even better!)

Saying all that, I still think that traditional publishing is the better way to go if possible. I've got a deal for my next non fiction book (coming in 2023) and I'm delighted. But I'm also thrilled to have the possibilities of self-publishing. I've just published a prayer journal, for example - anything goes on Amazon - and I'm looking at publishing 2 of my unfinished YA trilogy later in the year. People keep telling me to do it, so I need to pluck up my courage for that one :)

And that's the thing. It's often about courage. So many of us feel like we are not good enough, that everyone else is better, that we can't possibly let the world see our writing. What if they think we are bad? What if they hate it?

I want to remind you today of your calling. When you have a passion for words it is because God has imbued you with that passion. It doesn't matter what other people think, because your words count in eternity. And it's more than likely they're going to touch people in the present, too - so don't keep putting it off. Don't keep locking that manuscript away. It's in you, it's part of you - and you can get it out there. Do get it edited if possible, then - go for it! Even if only a handful of people read it, and love it, you have touched hearts - you might even transform lives. God works in the little things as much as in the big famous things.

If you have any experience or questions, please do drop them in the comments. This is one of those subjects where there is far more to say than a blogpost can contain, but I wanted to give a small flavour of why I think it is possible. Bless you in your journeys!

Liz Carter is an author, poet and editor from Shropshire. She loves to write about the difficult and painful times in life, and how we can find gold in the mess. Her books Catching Contentment and Treasure in Dark Places are available in online bookstores. You can find her at and she’s signed a contract for her next book with The Good Book Company, coming 2023. She's just brought out a new prayer journal which is filled with verses and poetry about creation.

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