| Don’t Write Alone
Shop Talk Should I Self-Publish My Romance Novel?
For our Romance Week series, Bryn Donovan breaks down the pros and cons of self publishing as a romance writer.
“Should I self-publish my romance novel?” is one of the most common questions I get from romance writers as an author coach and a former executive editor in publishing, and it’s no wonder. While the sales of self-published books aren’t publicly available, most industry experts believe that books by self-published authors, or “indie authors,” make up more than half of all romance-novel book sales, and I believe that’s a conservative estimate.
I think self-publishing is a good option for some authors, but there are a lot of factors that go into the decision.
Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing
You Don’t Need a Book Deal
This is the number one reason people decide to self-publish, and it’s legitimate. Querying is tough, and there’s no guarantee it’ll lead to publication. With self-publishing, no one can reject your book. Keep in mind, though, that people can still give it bad reviews.
Your Book Comes Out Much Faster
Nothing in traditional publishing is fast. When you finally get a book deal, you have another very long wait, after rounds of revisions, before your book is up for sale. If you self-publish a novel, you’re going to have much more immediate gratification.
You Have Complete Control
Authors, especially debut authors, don’t always get a lot of say about their cover design, though this varies. As an indie writer, you get to be the art director. You also get to choose your release date and make every other creative and business decision. It’s great for writers who are committed to a detailed vision of their work (which is a much nicer way to say “writers who are control freaks”).
You Own All Your Rights
You’ll retain the right to anthologize the work, to translate it and sell it in other countries and other languages, to put out any sequel you want, and even to give it away for free if you think it will lead readers to a subsequent book. You may not use all these rights, but then again, you might want them! With publishers, rights like these aren’t always negotiable.
You Get a Higher Royalty Rate
In both self-publishing and traditional publishing, profits vary wildly. Publishing deals vary from publisher to publisher as well, but most debut advances for romance novels are under ten thousand dollars, split into two or three segments. You’ll likely earn 6 to 8 percent on paperback editions and up to 25 percent on ebook editions. Some digital-first imprints offer no advance and up to 40 percent in ebook royalties.
When you self-publish, you earn a 70% royalty rate on ebooks from Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, Barnes and Noble Press, Apple Books, and Kobo. And of course, if you sell your book on your own website, you get 100 percent of that sale. This makes self-publishing attractive to authors who are optimistic about sales.
Most industry experts believe that books by self-published authors, or “indie authors,” make up more than half of all romance-novel book sales.
You Don’t Get a Publisher’s Seal of Approval
For some authors, that external validation means a lot. Only you can say how important it is to you.
You Have to Pay for Everything
You hire your own editor, cover designer, and so on. I have a detailed breakdown of what you’ll need to have done and how much you can expect to pay for it in this post on self-publishing costs . The expenses vary a lot, but you can expect to spend about four thousand dollars for a professionally edited, proofread, and designed 75,000-word ebook with its own ISBN.
Authors can cut costs in many ways. Just keep in mind that if you self-publish a book, you want to make it as polished, professional, and error-free as possible. I’ve talked to many authors who have realized that they put their book up for sale when it needed more editing, or that their DIY book cover was a mistake.
By the way, there are many “self-publishing companies” out there, but some of them offer poor creative services and/or overcharge. A few are even known for barraging potential customers with sales calls, so be sure to do your research before even giving a company like this your email. Whatever you do, never sign a contract that gives another company the copyright to your story.
You Don’t Benefit from a Publisher’s Expertise
A debut author can learn a lot from a traditional publisher, both through the editorial process and from their advice and marketing plans. The best remedies for this as a self-publishing romance author are to take advantage of opportunities to learn more about the business and to hire freelancers with previous publishing-industry experience.
It’s Hard to Get Your Book into Brick-and-Mortar Bookstores
The hard truth is that even traditionally published books don’t always wind up on these shelves. Getting a self-published book placed there is an even bigger challenge. You can reach out to independent bookstore owners or the managers of chain bookstores, and they may be interested, especially if they have a “local authors” section. Running a bookstore is a tough business, and you’re more likely to get the book placed if it’s professionally designed and has good reviews and sales online.
You Have to Do or Oversee Everything
Nothing happens unless you make it happen, and there’s a learning curve involved. You have to get the ISBNs. You have to get the book formatted. You have to set up accounts with retail sites so you can get paid. You have to write your product description. You have to learn about metadata. And once the book is up for sale . . .
You Have to Market It Yourself
Some writers have the idea that if they self-publish a book, it might sort of magically take off and become a hit. That’s not the way things work. Unless you hustle to promote it, nobody will find it.
The successful self-published authors I know—and a few of them are very financially successful—are absolute beasts when it comes to marketing. They’ve built up big mailing lists and other ways to communicate with their readers, such as TikTok accounts or private Facebook groups. Many are data geeks when it comes to Amazon advertising campaigns, constantly experimenting with different bids, keywords, and sell copy to refine the results. Many successful self-published romance authors spend at least as much time marketing as they do writing. But of course, if you love marketing and you’re good at it, then this isn’t a drawback!
Other Considerations About Self-Publishing
Self-Publishing, Especially, Favors Fast Writers
Speedy writers always have an advantage, but this is even more true with self-publishing. Many successful indie authors in romance are releasing a few books a year—or more. These rapid releases enable them to reach more readers in a shorter amount of time. Authors who turn out a lot of stories align themselves best to the most voracious romance readers, who read a few romance novels a week—or even one every day.
Romance readers, like fantasy and mystery readers, really enjoy reading books in a series. If you’re not a fast writer, I recommend writing a complete trilogy and then releasing the books in three consecutive months. The Amazon algorithm may recommend books two and three to people who purchased or spent some time perusing book one, and it’s likely to offer the whole trilogy to these shoppers at a reduced price—and whenever Amazon offers a price cut on your book without asking you, you still make your full royalty. Releasing a trilogy like this also gives you the option of offering book one for ninety-nine cents or free for a week or so, spiking interest in the other two books. It takes patience to hold back a completed book one, but this is a great way to build some momentum.
Many successful self-published romance authors spend at least as much time marketing as they do writing.
Where to Sell Self-Published Books
The most common places to sell a self-published romance novel are Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Apple Books, and Google Play. Some authors are exclusive to Amazon so that they can take advantage of the Kindle Unlimited program, where they are paid by pages read, while others prefer to make their book available on several platforms.
Beyond Ebooks: Barnes and Noble Press, ACX, and More
In addition to offering your book in ebook form, you can also offer it as a paperback through Amazon and Barnes and Noble’s respective print-on-demand services. To make your book available to brick-and-mortar bookstores and libraries, also upload your book to Ingram Spark . Please note that for Ingram Spark, you’ll need a separate ISBN. If you’d also like to produce an audiobook version, that’s a possibility through Amazon’s service ACX (Audiobook Creation Exchange).
I hope this has given you a better understanding of the self-publishing path for romance authors. If you’re committed to getting a traditional book deal, that’s great too! Manuscript Wish List is a good place to search for agents and editors who are looking for your kind of story. Either way, I wish you the best of luck. Happy writing!