RT Booklovers Convention 2013: Digital DIY - The Pros And Cons Of Digital Self-Publishing

You've read the debates online, you've gone back and forth, and you may have even seen some of the numbers self-published authors have shared. But the question still remains, is self-publishing more profitable than traditional publishing? This is a loaded question that sparks debate among authors, and today we heard from some of self-publishing's experts about what authors need to know before jumping into the oh-so-tempting world of self-publishing.

(left to right) Sylvia Day, Mark Coker, Jordan Summers, Shayla Black, Lindsey Faber and Karin Tabke

Lead by bestselling author Sylvia Day, the panel consisted of Smashwords founder Mark Coker, bestselling author Shayla Black, Lindsey Faber, publisher at Samhain, and authors Jordan Summers and Karin Tabke. The balance of authors and publishers allowed attendees to get a diverse view of how self-publishing works and what some of the benefits and restrictions are.

Sylvia Day, who has released stories through traditional print publishers, digital-first publishers and by self-publishing, started off the conversation by stating that the forms of publishing she's participated in have "all [been] unique and valuable experiences in [her] career." She mentioned that the ability to freely write unique, niche stories is what drew her to digital-first, and eventually self-publishing, in the first place. (One of Day's first books was an erotic vampire space romance!) Mark Coker supported Day's love of self-publishing by claiming that of all the 200,000+ books released through Smashwords, many have been romance and generally "romance readers and authors have led the [digital] revolution."

One of the major points discussed by the panelists was the idea that through self-publishing, authors have a greater level of control and can try new things with their work. Sylvia spoke openly about how having control over details like metadata and cover art have boosted sales for her self-published work.

But author Jordan Summers cautioned midlist authors against jumping right into self-publishing. She encouraged writers to weigh the pros and cons of each option for their work, asking, "What is going to be the better route? You still have to learn how to write [a] book," which is something traditional publishers can often assist with when it comes to resources like editors.

Shayla Black mentioned that not every author is good at every aspect of producing a book, saying that while she " ... made the NYT bestsellers list, I would never not edit a book ... [I need] editorial input," and it's "disrespectful to the reader" to ignore important steps in the publishing process such as editing. However, while editing is a valuable part of producing a quality story, Shayla said that authors should strive to be in a "respectful" editorial relationship where they still maintain control over their voice. Mark Coker agreed by adding that authors need to feel free to "express themselves as they feel fit."

The bottom line is, when it comes to selling books, an engaging, emotional story is key. Lindsey Faber stressed that "people are looking for a really great story and a really great emotional experience," and the key to developing a fanbase is to "have an author brand" and "polish your craft."

Karin Tabke, who has experience with both traditional publishing and self-publishing, says that in order to deliver an exceptional book, authors need to invest in the many elements that make up the complete package. "Authors feel that they can do what publishers can, but most don't. All businesses require investments." And the investments necessary for a quality self-published project are content editing, copy editing and cover art. Tabke left the audience with a sage final thought: No matter which publishing road you choose to travel, "You only have one chance to make a first impression."

Be sure to check back for continuing convention coverage all week long, take a look at the RT Convention Home for more information about day passes if you are in the Kansas City area. For continuous convention updates, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook. And if you can't make it this year, we hope to see you in New Orleans for 2014!