Here’s the brief answer to the title of this post:
Sell a lot of copies, strong five figures, if not six figures. Sell so many copies that traditional publishing is potentially less profitable for you than self-publishing.
Few people like the brief answer, so here’s the long answer.
By far, the No. 1 consulting request I receive is the author who has self-published and wants to switch to traditional publishing. Usually it’s because they’re disappointed with their sales or exposure; other times, that was their plan all along.
These authors ask me, in many different ways:
How can I get my book the exposure it deserves?
Back in ye olden days of self-publishing (before e-books), the message to authors was so much simpler: Don’t self-publish a book unless you intend to definitively say “no” to traditional publishing for that project. Yes, there was a stigma, and in some ways, it helped authors avoid a mistake or bad investment.
Today, with the overselling of self-publishing, too many authors either:
- Decide they won’t even try to traditionally publish, even if they have a viable commercial project, or
- Assume it’s best to self-publish first, and get an agent or publisher later.
The assumption of #2 is one of the worst in the community right now. As far as #1, some authors end up self-publishing for the instant gratification (we have a serious epidemic of impatience), or to avoid what’s increasingly seen as a long, exhausting, and dumb process of finding an agent or securing book contract (which, of course, offers less profit than self-publishing).
I support entrepreneurial authorship, and authors taking responsibility for their own career success. But I would like to see more authors intelligently and strategically use self-publishing as part of well thought out career goals, rather than as a steppingstone to traditional publishing. It’s not any easier to interest an agent or publisher when you’re self-published, and since new authors are more likely to put out a low-quality effort (they rush, they don’t sufficiently invest, they don’t know their audience), chances are even lower their book will get picked up.
Before you self-publish, consider whether any of the following describe you. If you can say “yes” to at least a few of these statements, then you’re on a better path than most self-publishing authors I encounter.