Self-publishing can be overwhelming and confusing, particularly if you have ever published a traditional book, or worked in an institution with a publications department. That said, there are many reasons to self-publish a book. Here are my top five:
Self-publishing allows the author complete editorial control of their product. Anyone who has written to a strict institutional editorial/ style guide knows the challenges of feeling stymied or having your voice altered. Self-publishing allows you to establish the voice you choose. (However, make sure when you work with your editorial, you explain your style choices. Better yet, create a style guide for your book that you can pass on to your editor.)
Nothing feels better than holding your book in your hand, your hopes made manifest, bound and ready. If you have felt you have not had agency over your ideas or your IP, self-publishing will feel freeing, maybe even rectifying.
Self-publishing is a great way to establish a niche in the market. I self-published a book about Self-Care that helped many museum professionals get to know me. The project started out as a personal one, but then I decided to share it broadly. While I published the book to help others, as the ideas helped me, I was pleasantly surprised at how much attention I received. It helped me gain name recognition as a consultant.
Books can also help support an existing brand. Let’s say you have a successful blog. If you want to expand the reach, or make your brand feel more established, find a way to weave that brand into a book.
Self-publishing is time-consuming, even if you outsource design and editing. (Please, please outsource editing.) Traditional publications have deadlines that might be out of your control. But, self-publishing is like running your own business. You set your work hours and deadlines. You might choose, as I did, to have the book ready for a big event (in my case #MCN2017/ #MCN50), and you are in control of launching on time. Also, if someone else is working in the same area, you can bring your book to market before them.
Publishers and museum publication departments usually have branded formats, so breaking from them can be challenging. If your project is something somewhat untraditional, self-publishing allows you to establish your own format. For example, I published a self-care book in response to my stress about American politics. I wanted the format to be a workbook. I didn’t have to ask anyone. I just did it. Thankfully, people enjoyed it.
Self-publishing isn’t necessarily the path to riches. Given the number of hours needed to finish a project, you might barely break even. If you publish as part of your job in an institution/museum, you get no royalties. Self-publishing allows you to be compensated directly for your work.
So how do you actually self-publish? There are many ways to do this, and even more resources online, but here is a zine that might help you get started. (printable / read online)