Make the decision of whether to go for a deal with a major publishing house or to self-publish based upon your goals, your end-game, and your material, not on what you perceive to be outer obstacles. It’s true the publishing industry is going through some big changes, but I wouldn’t let that discourage you from going after what you really want. The most important question for you to ask is: What do you want your book to do for your business and your career? For some objectives, self-publishing is the clear choice to get you there, while for others, the best strategy is to hold out for the book deal.
Self-publishing is usually the best route under the following five circumstances:
Small Niche Market: If you have a particular specialty in a very small, niche market, or a small geographic region, you can self-publish and tap that market to the point where you are THE expert in your area and may not only have the best book on your topic, you may have the ONLY book. I have a friend, Kenn Amdahl, who self-published a book on electronics. He’s sold enough copies to pay his mortgage every year for the past 20 years!
Face-to-Face Distribution: If you are a professional speaker, and your main intention is to sell books and other products in the back of the room, self-publishing will give you higher profit margins and total creative control.
Book as an Entrée: Are you a high-end consultant? You may benefit from having a book you can give away to prospective clients as a way to build credibility and rapport. You don’t need a publisher for this. You will use the book as a loss-leader to land the five, six, or seven-figure consulting gig.
Timely Material: Big publishing houses move slowly, which is part of the reason they seem to be headed for the same fate as the dinosaurs (but I wouldn't write them off yet, see below). If you are a first-time author and decide to go for a deal with a big house, you are looking at two to three years (or more) before you will get an agent, land a publishing contract, and see it out in print. When your book idea is news-worthy or a commentary on a hot, new fad, you have a small window of opportunity to make a big profit, so self-publishing is the way to go. A great example is a small publisher who happened to have a biography of Sarah Palin in the can when she was selected as the Vice Presidential candidate in 2008. They cranked out their Palin biography first and sold about 500,000 copies in a couple of months.
For Friends and Family: Let’s face it, some books are really just for you and those who love you, and that’s perfectly okay, self-publish, get it out of your system, and move on.
Now, on to a look at seeking a publisher...
“Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated!”
First of all, despite all rumors and speculation about the turmoil in the publishing industry today, the big publishing houses are still the major players. They still have the strongest distribution channels, they still publish 98% of all New York Times bestsellers, and they have the most influence and credibility when it comes to launching a new author. So, let us remember the immortal words of Mark Twain and refrain from posting obituaries for the Six Sisters just yet.
For many authors, self-publishing or going with a vanity press may serve just fine, but certain circumstances will dictate that you hold out for a book contract with a big publishing house (or one of the few important mid-sized presses).
You have built (or intend to build) a national celebrity platform: National celebrities have no business spending their time on the phone with a printer or settling for a no-name publisher. If you are already a celebrity, this may be obvious to you. For the up-and-coming, my advice is this: plan for the long haul and put 90% of your energy into building your author platform (credibility, exposure, following, reach) and 10% into developing your writing and your idea until you land a book deal.
If you see yourself as a future brand-name author/expert, such as Deepak Chopra, Jack Canfield, Wayne Dyer, Marianne Williamson, etc., invest your time and energy in creating yourself as the expert. Expand your audience and market reach. Develop a demand for your work, do a lot of public speaking, and generate a track-record of sales.
Taking these steps before you seek a publisher will give you leverage. Lisa Nichols, author of No Matter What! built her celebrity platform so solid before she sought a publisher, she got a $1 million advance as a first-time author!
Big message, big market: Authors with a fresh message who write in popular genres have a better chance of being picked up. Relationships, money, health and happiness are traditionally strong sellers in the non-fiction market. Young Adult, both fiction and non-fiction, is a huge market that is presently under-served, so opportunities abound!
Controversy and credibility: If your topic is controversial, political, or contains thinking that is way outside the box, having a big publisher behind you will automatically and instantly grant you a level of credibility that is impossible to attain as a self-publisher or through a small press.
Exceptional writing or content: Believe it or not, even with all the angst big publishers are feeling over the changes in the marketplace, there is still a place for the “great American novel,” the exceptional narrative, artful poetry, or the latest, greatest solution. The catch here is you can’t be the judge. To see if your work qualifies, have it reviewed by a professional editor, a credible book coach, or a literary agent, preferably one with experience working with the big publishing houses who specializes in your genre.