Are you considering self-publishing? If so, that means you are the publisher, so you need to think like a publisher. If you're considering going indie, ask yourself these questions to see if this path is right for you and your book(s):
1) Is your craft ready?
Have you written more than one or two books? Do you have a writing group or a stable of critique partners who you can call on for feedback? Do you feel confident in your storytelling and your writing craft? You are more likely to find success as an indie writer if you have hit your stride as a writer, rather than just starting out. All the time you spend focusing on craft will pay dividends when you do eventually publish.
Don't rush it. Be patient.
2) Is this the right book?
Is your book the kind that could successfully sell in the indie market? Adult titles do best in indie, YA does well (especially those with cross-over appeal), and even literary novels, anthologies, shorts and other forms are starting to have success. Middle grade and picture books do less well. Series tend to bring more success for writers than stand-alone novels. Are you planning to write more books? Is your book the start of a series? Will it help you to build a fanbase for your future works, or do you not plan on writing more in that genre?
Plan ahead. Lead with your best work.
3) Are you willing to invest money and time in the book?
Publishers would invest time and money in editing/copyediting/coverart for your book - you should plan on doing the same. Are you willing to spend time and money on marketing (ARCs, blog tours, review requests)? You will need a substantial push to get enough sales/reviews to get word-of-mouth going. After that, the Amazon marketing machine might kick in to help. Or it might not (the ways of the Zon are mysterious). If you just throw something out on smashwords, or even Amazon, but do nothing to market/promote it, you are unlikely to sell more than a few hundred copies (maybe this is acceptable - see #6).
Going indie is like running a small business.
4) Are you willing to give up the dream of paper for this book?
As an indie publisher, most likely 90% of your sales will be ebooks. If a large fraction of your sales are paper, it is probably because most are bought by friends and family that want a paper copy. Selling thousands of print books is not going to happen as an indie, nor do you want it to. Getting into bookstores may sound great, but it brings the possibility of returns, which can easily eat up whatever profits you have made. You can still have paper, if you want (it's useful for signings, libraries, giveaways), but paper is unlikely to be the main part of your business.
Indie is not a route to seeing your book on the shelf at B&N.
5) Are you trying to score an agent or book contract by going indie?
Indie publishing is not the new query. This idea has been tossed around due to high-profile instances of authors like Amanda Hocking going for traditional publishing deals or agents plucking authors out of the bestseller lists. But I know many authors who are selling more than NYTimes bestsellers and not being flooded with offers from the Big 6. Still other successful indie authors have turned down traditional publishing offers after going indie and are scooping up international deals and optioning movie rights, all while not giving up their ebook rights. Why? Because they would lose money by taking a traditional deal. Indie publishing and traditional publishing are really two different beasts. Success as an indie brings many rewards (including financial ones). If you are yearning for a traditional publisher, you should pursue that route directly.
Indie is not the route to traditional publishing.
6) Do you have a support system/social network to help launch this book?
Are you comfortable with social networking? Do you have a blog/twitter/facebook page (one or more of these is fine) that you use to connect with people, whether writers, friends, or fans? You will have to extend your reach beyond your immediate social network to reach new readers, but you will be more comfortable doing that if you have an online presence and are facile in using online tools. And your immediate social network will help get your book out in the world to begin with. You don't have to have a huge following to launch an indie book, but you need to have some sense of how the online world works.
Friends matter. You can't ignore social networking.
7) Do you have concrete goals and a marketing plan to reach them?
You should decide your goals and make a marketing plan before making the decision to go indie. Will you be happy making back your investment in the book? Do you want to reach a certain number of sales? Do you want to get on the bestseller lists? You may dream of an overnight bestseller, but achieving that will take more than dreaming. You need a plan of how to get there. I worked up a full marketing plan for Open Minds before I made the decision to go indie, and it’s served me well. I set goals that I wanted to achieve (have the book break even, reach a certain target of sales), and developed a marketing plan to make it happen. The plan definitely evolved along the way (and continues to evolve), but making the plan ahead of time helped me decide if indie was the right choice for Open Minds. And having realistic goals helped to keep my expectations grounded while going through the process. Be SMART when you make your plan, and you will give your book the best chance of success.
Set Goals. Make a plan. Keep your expectations realistic.
I believe that the “right” publishing path can easily be different for each book and definitely for each author. I personally could not be happier with my indie experience so far. I love being in charge of my writing career. But I have manuscripts on my hard-drive that I will not indie publish, unless/until the time is right. And probably after they have been rewritten. I want to make sure they have the best chance of success before I send them out into the world.
Are you thinking about going indie? What questions are you asking yourself?