ASK EM — To Self Pub or Not

That is the question.

Keyboard with Tips and Tricks Button.

I get a lot of people asking my opinions on publishers. Since I’m sort of a publishing whore–either working as an author, in marketing, or editing for many publishers in the past and present, I can usually look at a project and steer the author toward the house that would best suit him.

One of the most commonly asked questions I get is… Should I self-publish or not?

Well, this is tricky. There are a lot of pros and cons. It comes down to personal preference and your career goals.

We’ve all heard those self-publishing success stories where authors stick a book up for sale and sell 10k copies over a weekend. The book continues climbing the charts until it’s a bestseller on Amazon. Literally thousands of copies have sold and hundreds of thousands of dollars pad his bank account.

But that doesn’t happen to most. I’m sorry, folks. I don’t care how terrific your writing is or how much you promote. It boils down to luck. Ever pick up a lottery ticket when there are millions on the line? Yeah, that’s the same theory here. You might buy a ticket that wins the jackpot. You might buy one and win $10. You might not get a red cent. Publishing is similar, in my opinion.

You write a book that sells very well, so you write a sequel and it tanks. Is there a rhyme or reason? Maybe the readership got bored with the genre. Or maybe you aren’t as visible suddenly. It happens. (disclaimer: there are things you can do to help your sales, but that’s another post)

With the thought that you aren’t self-publishing in order to get rich quick, why ARE you self-publishing?


Higher royalty rates — Traditional publisher rates are 15-20% of net revenues. Digital publishers run from 25-50%. But if you publish without the middle man, you could earn up to 70% of the sales depending on the cost of your book.

No Wait Time — If you’ve ever submitted a book to a publisher, you know you’re waiting anywhere from 4 weeks to 6 months. If your book is trendier and you’re catching a wave, it might be better to self-publish.

Control — freak out much? With self-publishing you get complete control of art, content, pricing, and how to tag your book. You can run sales. If the book isn’t selling, you can take it down and slap a new cover on it, which might garner more reader interest. You have utter control over your book, so think hard about your career goals. Are you out to be the .99 book queen? That’s fine. Or are you shooting to put up books that look like traditionally published works right down to the cover art and review quotes?

Time for Sales to Marinate — self-published books sometimes take more time to “catch fire”. The readers need to find you out of millions. That takes time. With traditional publishing, you’re sometimes pulled off the shelves in a few months unless you’ve hit bestseller status. Over time with self-publishing, you can continue to build your audience and release more books, which allows readers to go through your book list and find those self-published works.


Up Front Costs — You’ll need money for editing work, cover art, or even formatting services. Traditional publishers and e-publishers pay for these things.

Publisher has built-in readership — there’s a reason your publisher is in business. They specialize in the kinds of books you write. That means every week readers flock to the site to find new books. This means built-in sales.

Control — yes, this overlaps with the benefit above. Some people want control, others don’t. I’m one that doesn’t totally love control. I like falling back on the publisher for editing, covers, and readership. I don’t want to continually tweak my books in Amazon to get the right tags or the perfect price. Let someone else do it *grin*

Self-Publishing Backlash — we’ve all heard the rumor that self-published books are garbage — unedited, filled with characters who are too stupid to live, or just plain unreadable. This is NOT TRUE. However, some readers will only buy books that are traditionally published. It’s sort of like those people who would never pick up a generic box of crisp rice cereal because the blue box with Snap, Crackle, and Pop is just plain better.

Publishers Know Their Biz — Publishers hire staff that is amazing at marketing, editing, cover art, etc. Do you have these same people at your back? A well-written blurb can make or break your book. If I made my own cover, people would laugh. And I need an editor to push me to release my very best work. These are things your publisher can do for you.

Perks — some publishers do still help an author by putting up ads for them or running sales on sites you can’t always tap into.

Overall, the choice is yours. You can try both. You can opt out of one. You might keep both methods of publishing. I suggest writing a list of your goals and applying which method is best for you.

Do you have more information to add? Weigh in and help out a fellow author!

Thanks for reading!


9 comments on “ASK EM — To Self Pub or Not

  1. Interesting post. I’ve done both and right now I am looking at how much my publisher does vs. how much I am doing vs. who is getting the money and I am planning to self-pub again, so I guess that gives you an indication of where I fall down. When I tell people I am going to self-pub they usually say something like “oh I would never be that brave” and that makes me sad. I know there are benefits to both, but in an era of epublishing (and in my genre publishers who do little more than run spell check before sending a book out into the world) I encourage authors to be more confident in themselves and what they bring to the table.

  2. Great analysis, one of the clearest explanations of pros and cons – not just listed, but explained.

    I found this very useful, thank you!

  3. I’ve been published with a traditional ebook publisher and sold precious few books, so now I’m trying self publishing. The initial costs are higher, with the most expensive being a good editor. But it’s totally worth it. I would not self pub without it being professionally edited.

    My main motivation is speed. By the time I’ve hung around waiting on an acceptance or more rejections then I could have been having the thing selling for a year. I used to tell myself I would be rejected if my book was rubbish. I now don’t. Rubbish is in the eye of the beholder. How many agents and publishing houses could not see the brilliance in Harry Potter?

    I think self pubbing is a risk, but for me it’s one worth taking.

  4. Very interesting round up! There’s so much to try to take in where self-pubbing is concerned. Thanks for the information and thanks to Cara for posting the link to our loop.

  5. Great info on both sides of the publishing coin. I’ve never tried self-pubbing but have many friends who have. I’m under contract with a traditional publisher, and to me, it was worth the pitches, rejections, partial/full requests and all that waiting to receive validation from a publishing professional who didn’t know me. I just needed that with my debut novel, but that’s me. Also, I’m such a tech idiot that I could never handle the formatting and cover art.

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