Here are more of my posts from that SFFWorld discussion on some of the factors involved in considering self-publishing and partner publishing with a publisher:
It’s definitely easier if you have a following, because most things are. If you have a following of people who like your stuff, you don’t just have a following who buys, you have an army of word-of-mouth activists. It’s an army that you can’t control at all, but it is an army that is the number one sales factor for all fiction works. And if those they speak to buy you, like you and join the army, there is a rapid amplification effect. (This is why Sullivan and others recommend putting out a lot of titles close together in self-pub, if you can, because it can potentially increase that amplification effect.)
But Sullivan, Howey, Hocking, and many others gained their sales status without a following starting out. It is possible to do, but it’s harder and it’s more work and still depends on luck. You have to be more organized for self-pub, because you are doing more jobs. You have to, as imaster pointed out with music too, strategize a lot of marketing on a slim budget. Fiction readers again are marketing resistant. No matter how much marketing and publicity you do, you cannot make them spread word of mouth, your main engine. They will judge your work, not you. But, if you can effectively market through channels, then your books are more visible in more places, which increases the chances that someone will notice them and try them, then maybe become part of your army. It takes effort and time to do that, whether working with a publisher or self-pub. It usually starts slow, then builds if you are lucky. An advantage of self-pub is that you are in total control of your publicity and marketing efforts. If you want to limit how much you do and how much you spend and go for a smaller audience, you can do that, and the small audience may still turn into a bigger one through word of mouth.
An advantage of partner publishing is that they already have access to lots of marketing channels to make your name visible and they can do much more than you can alone potentially. But a self-pub author can get access to a lot of channels, because fiction publishing is very democratic. Another advantage of self-pub is that you have a lot more time to try to build the audience. Fiction publishers actually do take large amounts of time to let fiction titles build audiences — more than probably any other product on the market. But economic issues do come into play. When times aren’t good, booksellers won’t keep titles in stock long and publishers acquire fewer titles and spend less time letting new authors build audiences and mid-listers lift themselves to the next sales level. (This was why the collapse shrinkage of the North American wholesale market in the 1990’s was so devastating to fiction. Paperback fiction in grocery stores, drugstores, newsstands, airports, etc. made fiction very visible, which attracted lots of buyers. Before the collapse, many authors could sell nice chunks of books without doing much or in some areas any touring and promoting. Bookstores were less important. Before the collapse, bestsellers sold paperbacks in the millions through wholesale. E-books has restored some of that lost paperback market, but it still greatly effects the fiction market, because books are simply not as visible now and so fewer people buy them. That visibility could be improved with more ads, but unfortunately, fiction readers seldom respond much to ads unless the author is already a bestseller with name recognition. So authors need more time to build the audiences they used to have with print wholesale, but don’t always get it, even with e-books.) But with electronic self-pub, you can keep the books on sale for years (and sometimes it takes years to get that audience,) and with print self-pub, you can keep the books in your garage and sell them at book festivals, etc. for years.
The good thing about fiction publishing is that a lot of the time, you can make mistakes and then still correct them. And fiction readers don’t care who you are or who you know, so it is still the most democratic of the arts. So you have to estimate your budget, potential costs, time availability, income and career needs, creative promotional abilities, the considerations of the particular products, the economic climate, etc., like any business. And then there’s the big old luck factor. But remember, fiction publishing is counter-intuitive to other businesses, democratic, marketing resistant, runs on word of mouth and visibility and operates through author symbiosis, reader browsing and market variety of titles offered. The people who work in fiction publishing are business people, but they also love books. They will mess up potentially, they are not your friends necessarily but neither are they horrible enemies intent on screwing you most of the time. (That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t audit them as necessary.) Screwing you is not their goal as you are the source for the product and each author again is a microbrand, not interchangeable with other authors and if successful, capable of helping and funding many other fiction authors through symbiosis. But you have to approach any partnership with them as a business, and you have to make terms as much to your advantage in giving them a license as possible. (That’s where literary agents come in. Though you also have to watch your business relationship with agents because it’s a business.)
Remember also that fiction publishing (and pretty much all of trade retail publishing) does virtually no market research whatsoever.
They can’t afford it, it doesn’t help them much, especially in fiction, and what info they do have tends to come from big booksellers who do some market research but haphazardly and often doesn’t share it beyond basic sales category information. All the things you hear from editors, agents, booksellers, etc. about what the market is going to do, what is hot or going to be hot, etc., is these people guessing combined with personal and company preferences that vary. Granted, they often have a wider view of what’s going on than you do, but fiction is very unpredictable and again, marketing resistant. They have a good general idea what titles might sell in numbers, but again, each title and author is a microbrand that could blow up or fail, sometimes for no clear reasons. This again means that self-pubbing can be potentially just as effective, though it has a harder time getting visibility, name recognition and can be a lot more costly for authors beyond small scale. For self-pub or partner publishing, sales are always, always, did I mention always, a pyramid. Small group at the top sell a lot, with the very tip of the pyramid being the phenoms who sell way beyond anyone else. Larger middle list with middle sales. Really big base of titles at the bottom with small amounts of sales. This pyramid structure never, ever changes, though the amounts for each tier of the pyramid may. (The amounts are smaller now per title then they used to be when we had the wholesale market, but there are more titles selling greater amounts of books more internationally than there used to be.) You may be able to climb the pyramid. You may personally not be that interested in climbing that high on the pyramid. Luck plays a very big, unpredictable role in getting up the pyramid. Luck and a story that people hear about and see in passing, and then like and spread word of mouth. If you do well, your following will give you most of your money on your backlist — your frontlist title will be visible and have good word of mouth and then people will go from that and buy the series, your backlist, in greater waves. This is why SFF is full of series, plus authors like doing them.
So no easy answers, no marketing formulas, no silver bullets and magic keys. But the people you will meet either way you go? They love books. Be kind to them even when your tastes and theirs do not match and you think they like drek. Be open, not demanding. Be creative but to your own beat and your own decisions. Find what works for your life (but hopefully what works will include you getting to do lots of writing.)