For new authors, the biggest drawback of self-publishing is one word: marketing.
Yes, there are plenty of opportunities to promote and advertise a new book.
You only need to do a quick search to find hundreds of ideas to promote a book online.
But these activities are not marketing.
What is marketing?
You can find many different definitions and descriptions of marketing.
But I came across one of the best by The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM).
Every product we buy, every store we visit, every media message we receive, and every choice we make in our consumer society has been shaped by the forces of marketing.
Sometimes people assume marketing is just about advertising or selling, but this is not the whole story.
It is a key management discipline that ensures producers of goods and services can interpret consumer desires and match or exceed them.
The quote above is from a document that describes marketing in detail.
The problem for authors is that marketing is time-consuming and very expensive.
Most readers don’t differentiate between self-published and traditionally published books, particularly when buying on Amazon.
But what guides them to make their choice is often astute marketing.
In this regard, self-publishing authors are at a distinct disadvantage.
The immense marketing power of big publishers
The big five publishers are all owned by huge media conglomerates, which gives them a huge advantage.
Simon & Schuster is owned by Paramount Global. (Pending sale to Penguin Random House)
Hachette Book Group is owned by Lagardère.
HarperCollins Publishers is part of News Corp.
Macmillan Publishers is owned by Holtzbrinck Publishing Group.
Penguin Random House is one division of Bertelsmann.
If we take one as an example, HarperCollins Publishers has 120 imprints and has access to the media empire of Rupert Murdoch.
It means that it’s possible that a book can be marketed using Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, The Sun, or The Times, among many others.
There is no way a self-publishing author can compete with this marketing power.
On top of that, traditional publishers have extensive lists of advanced readers, as well as employees, to help prepare and post book reviews.
You might have read about the success of self-publishing authors such as LJ Ross, Mark Dawson, Rachel Abbott, and many, many more.
But what differentiates these authors from 1,000s of others is that they understand publishing and know how to use marketing.
Every step of the way, from writing to releasing a book, is planned and executed in painstaking detail.
They all have a deep knowledge of what their readers want and expect.
Way before they release a new title, they work on creating publicity and exposure to maximize reviews, pre-orders, and first-week sales.
In other words, they know that marketing is what you do BEFORE you release a new book.
Traditional publishers always have the advantage, however.
But that doesn’t mean self-publishing authors will always lose out.
The advantages of self-publishing
Marketing might be one drawback of self-publishing, but there are many advantages.
The biggest advantage is book royalties.
Under traditional publishing models, an author receives between 5-8% for paperback sales.
Hardcover sales are higher at around 15%, and for ebooks, it can be between 20-25%.
But self-publishing authors can usually earn between 60-70% for all versions of a book.
It’s simple arithmetic to calculate that a self-publishing author doesn’t need to sell anywhere near as many copies to make the same return.
Another advantage is that an author retains all rights to a book.
It means that all decisions regarding how and where a book is available are up to the author and not an agent or publisher.
Then there is the issue of time. It can take up to two years for a book to be traditionally published.
But with self-publishing, there is no time constraint. You can publish as soon as your book files are ready.
The overriding advantage of self-publishing is that it is the author who is in full control of every step in the process.
Can you overcome the disadvantages?
Every business has weaknesses. But if you know what they are, you can address them and try to minimize the downsides.
Self-publishers know that it is next to impossible to have their books available in retail bookstores. You could say that this is another drawback of self-publishing.
But by some estimates, Amazon controls up to 80% of all book distribution in the US.
The number might be debatable, but it means that an enormous number of readers are buying books online. This is where self-publishers can and do compete.
Most self-publishing authors know they need to promote their books online.
There are so many ways to do this with social media, content articles, interviews, reviews, and blogging.
But these promotional activities usually occur AFTER publishing a book.
Too few authors think about marketing a book BEFORE it goes on sale.
There’s no doubt that self-publishing authors have limited options when it comes to book marketing compared to large publishers.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. But it does require time, effort, and a lot of hard work.
Self-publishers need to slow down and think more about what they can do before publishing to promote a book.
What can you do?
In a nutshell, it’s a matter of doing more promotion before rather than after publishing a book.
Concentrate on telling people about your forthcoming book instead of selling it.
You can use the same online methods but with a change of focus.
You might want to try to find beta readers and book reviewers or ask for opinions about your book cover options.
Don’t forget to involve your family and friends, members of clubs you belong to, or work colleagues.
Get the word out as widely as possible to help your book launch and gain early book reviews.
Anything you can do to create interest in your book before publishing is marketing.
Every year, thousands of new books go on sale on Amazon and other online book retailers.
The truth is that very few are successful. The only way to give a new book a chance is to do everything right.
From a quality perspective, self-published books and ebooks can compete quite easily with a little investment.
And book buyers certainly buy a lot of self-published titles without giving a thought to how or who published them.
If you are a new author, you need to make the best of the advantages you have.
But yes, marketing power is a drawback and one of the disadvantages of self-publishing, but it is not insurmountable.
If you place more emphasis on what you can do before you publish a new book, you will stand a much better chance of success.
Related reading: 5 Digital Self-Publishing Skills New Authors Need To Master