This is a guest post by Haley Stokes/ I began publishing six years ago, before digital publishers were taken seriously, when digitally published books didn’t even count as publishing credits, and agents made it clear they weren’t interested in epublishing. And you could forget about self-publishing. Most self-publishing outfits were really vanity publishers, an anathema to professional writers everywhere, and those that weren’t scams were still ignored. Basically, authors who wanted to work digitally, who tried to reach a new audience, and who were prepared to set out without New York’s approval were not taken very seriously.

Now publishing has a whole new world of possibility. Digital publishers are no longer shunned. With the growing popularity of ebook readers, everybody is embracing this new way of doing things. Six years ago, I didn’t have the luxury of choosing between several well-established and respected digital publishers or free and easy self-publishing. It’s an exciting time to be a new author, and you could make some real money with publishing, despite the standard wisdom that nobody gets rich writing. I make as much with my books as my husband does at his full-time job. If you set reasonable goals and work hard, it’s possible to make a decent living. And there are more opportunities than ever.

Here are six things to consider when choosing between a digital publisher or Smashwords:

1. Do you have the experience, time, or money to take a book through every step of the publishing process? You’re taking on the role of author, editor, copyeditor, proofreader, cover artist, marketing director, and finally publisher.

2. What’s more important to you? Complete control of the work or the ability to focus on other projects? If you’re doing everything necessary to create a book that people will want to buy, you won’t be writing the next book.

3. Do you know who your audience is and how to reach that audience without the aid of a publisher? Readers of ebooks tend to be more loyal to brands than authors. You’ll also be in charge of sending your title out for reviews, collecting blurbs, and promoting the book. It’s a common gripe among authors that the publishers never promote their book, but publishers do more behind the scenes than you may realize.

4. Have you set realistic goals? Can working with a publisher help you achieve those goals? You will get a smaller cut of the sales, but publishers can make up for that by selling more units.

5. Have you thoroughly researched the market? Does your book solve a common problem? Does it fit a particular niche? Genres exist to sell books, and it’s important to know if you’re in the correct genre, if your genre is growing or declining in sales, and how to target the readers of that genre.

6. Do you have a platform? Self-published authors with a platform and a built in audience tend to do well. Fiction authors tend to have better sales with traditional publishing.

About this post's author:  Haley Stokes is the Senior Editor and Founder of Arch Editing. She holds an MA in British and American Literature, teaches writing courses at Salt Lake Community College, and has published nearly 100 titles with Liquid Silver Books, Amber Quill Press, MLR, Loose ID, Samhain Publishing, and Carina Press. Arch Editing strives to provide quality writing assistance and support for students and creative writers by offering a variety of resources, from The Triumphal Writing blog, to published writing guides and professional editing services.

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  1. Great insight, Haley! Congratulations on your success – very inspiring.

    For those who self-publish it’s so important to head into the process fully prepared for the long road ahead. Most authors I speak with had no idea how much time it took just to publish traditionally and just how much of their own PR campaign (and expense) they would have to shoulder. A literary agent would tell you to budget for your PR campaign – whether you choose to take on the role or hire it out. I tell writers who want to self-publish you get what you put into it. If you take your book through all the steps a traditional publisher would – professional editing, copyediting, professional cover design, strong marketing and PR research, placement and push, distribution, reviews and sales (not to mention creating your author website, etc.), you’ll set yourself up for success.

    The secret is, know what steps of the process you can follow through with expertly and realistically and know when to hire a professional to do what you don’t know how to do or don’t have time for. As a self-publisher, you’re operating a small business and time is a precious commodity.

  2. Well said, Erin. I couldn’t agree more. This is exactly the reason that I started Novel Publicity to create affordable editing and PR options for authors, who want to quit working as a “business owner” and get back to writing!

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