I see this conversation happen over and over again on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and at Writers Conferences. "You can do it yourself, easily, so why should you pay someone else to do it?"
Human beings are great at binary categories. We love to simplify things down to two options. Black or White. Cats or Dogs. It used to be that the publishing discussion was "Traditional Publishing" or "Bust." Now that it's not, the indie category has become messy.
I get it, too. There are lots of opportunities for an author to be taken advantage of out in the marketplace. Spending four to ten thousand dollars to self-publish professionally doesn't make sense in every case, or even in most cases. But let me tell you, DIY self-publishing when you don't know what you're doing has killed some careers before they ever started.
So, why pay to self-publish when you can do it yourself?
1. Not everyone can do it themselves and get great results.
I'm a self-professed nerd. I like tinkering with software, and I love learning about new things. It suits my role as a publisher, and it suits my role as a publishing consultant helping people to self-publish. I've spent thousands of hours typesetting books, marketing books, designing covers. I spent several hundred hours copy-editing books before I learned that it wasn't my strongest skill-set. You know what? I'm better at all that stuff now than I was ten years ago. It's plum unfair to expect someone who's never done it before to be able to achieve the same results as someone who gets to do it all the time.
Now, there are people who manage to self-publish in a do-it-yourself way and do well. But they tend to put lots and lots of hours into the process. If you don't have the drive to learn how the various facets of publishing work, and you want great results, you're going to have to hire good help to do well.
2. Not everyone wants to manage every aspect of the process
Even if they possessed the drive to learn about every facet of publishing, some people don't have the time. I know what it's like to work on something you love while also working a day-job. It takes almost everything you have and leaves very little time for addition efforts. Add being a parent and a church member to those things, and you can quickly run into burnout issues. You have to know what you can and cannot do. Once you know it, your options are to either not do the things you can't do or to hire help to do the things you can't otherwise do.
3. Quality Is Worth Paying for. It costs time and money.
Every month, Joel Friedlander reviews cover designs. These are covers that are submitted for review by the author or designer. Joel has a professional eye, and he... well, he's educational. What you learn is that bad covers hurt authors. And, bad covers are often (but not always) author-designed. The boss around these parts, Dave Sheets, says "A good cover sells the book the first time. Good editing sells it the second time." He's right, and I'd argue it's even more complicated: the baseline that your audience expects is good content, edited competently, designed attractively, and easy to obtain. If you're missing any piece of that, it becomes an easy "No." And having all that doesn't guarantee sales, it just removes obstacles.
Quality work is worth paying for. It makes a huge difference in your ability to connect your book to readers.
So who shouldn't pay to professionally self-publish?
- If you have no plan to market your book, or if you're marketing plan involves the words "See what happens," you shouldn't pay to professionally self-publish
- If you don't know who your primary audience is, you shouldn't pay to professionally self-publish.
- If you don't have great content, you shouldn't pay to professionally self-publish.
- If your goal is to serve a niche of less than 1000 readers, you shouldn't pay to professionally self-publish.
- If you're able to produce professional results on your own because you have that skillset, you shouldn't pay to professionally self-publish.
The thing is, in the first three cases, you shouldn't DIY, either. You should not publish at all, at least until you sort out those answers.
So, let's put the conversation to bed: if you can DIY with professional results, great. If you can't, and you want to self-publish successfully, you're going to have to hire good help.