Self publishing may not be right for everyone

June 10, 2013 - By 

Taking a risk will inevitably lead to stirring the pot.

I recently wrote this article about self publishing, which sort of outlined my thinking as to why I would do it. Greg Howlett wrote a blog post about it, as well. My post soon became my most popular on my website. Read them both to get the background for this article (be sure to read the comments section).

So… am I rethinking my decision, based on the title of this post? Not at all. In fact, I’m going forward with greater resolve. But the discussion has helped put some things into perspective, and it has helped me consider some things I hadn’t before. You should consider them too.

So here are my thoughts about why self publishing may not be right for you:

1. You need to have an excellent product.

The best way to attain an excellent product is through education, but beyond that, I can’t think of a better way of honing your skill than gaining experience. Any publisher who knows what they’re doing will have a great editorial process that will certainly contribute to the excellence of your product. I’ve been working with publishers for nearly 15 years. You should, too.

We’ve all seen a self published product that made us cringe because it lacked in excellence. We have wished that they had gone with a publisher who would refine their product. (Maybe they tried to, but no publisher would accept them. And understandably so.)

2. There will be additional investments in product development that you may not be prepared for.

Writing good music isn’t enough. You have to have a spirit of excellence when it comes to all the additional elements involved in self publishing your music: music engraving, graphic design, store front, music delivery, etc. All of these are huge considerations, and if you can’t handle them, then you need to pay to have someone else help you.

(Now you’re beginning to see more value in traditional publishers who handle all that, right?)

3. You will need to have an adequate platform.

Comparatively, my platform is very small. But I do have a good base of people who—for whatever reason—follow my every move (I have learned through the years) and who are interested in what I do. For some reason, God has allowed my music to speak to them (or through them), something that truly humbles me.

Certainly, publishers have contributed to my brand and have served as the sponsors of my art. In many ways, publishers have been a catalyst for my ministry. I really don’t believe I would have even considered self publishing if I didn’t have the privilege to work with publishers.

4. You will (however reluctantly) be forced to market yourself.

Sometimes I cringe at how awful this sounds, but the fact is, you will need to market yourself. It’s a balancing act, and I don’t always get it right. You may be accused of being arrogant or self-serving, but marketing is essential if you think you will have any chance of making any kind of decent profit. In my experience, a traditional publisher will keep 90-95% of the profit, but it will all be used in one way or another to produce and market the final product. This is, yet again, another tremendous advantage with going with a traditional publisher, especially if you are more musically inclined than you are business inclined.

Let me close with two thoughts: one about me, and one for aspiring published musicians. First, I have not arrived in any of these areas. I continually feel as though my product is inferior (and depending on who you talk to, it might be!), and I’m always looking for ways to improve. Though I feel more confident in product development, I know there is room for improvement. My platform is growing, but it is still very small. That’s okay. And I have a lot to learn about marketing. No, I haven’t arrived. So if you thought you were reading an article from an expert, I’m sorry to disappoint. No, I’m just a man on a journey, learning along side of you.

Finally, a note to aspiring published musicians. Whatever route you choose to take in your music publishing pursuits, I strongly recommend you consider initially going through traditional publishers. They will make you into a better musician, and they will give you more opportunities than you would have otherwise experienced. They will take care of all these areas discussed, and you will have the privilege of focusing on your craft. After you’ve traveled the traditional route, then consider other options.

So tell me, where am I going wrong here? What do you think?

James Koerts serves as the worship pastor of Mikado Baptist Church in Macon, Georgia. In addition to his full time responsibilities at the church, James is also a published composer and arranger.

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