To Self-Publish or Not to Self-Publish

To self-publish or not to self-publish–if you’re a writer, you’d better be thinking about your answer long before someone else asks you the question. The two paths eventually diverge, and traditional publishing is quickly becoming the road less taken.

Coming out of Mount Hermon, Lisa and I were asked if we’d considered self-publishing, rather than going to the ABA.  We’d both previously wrestled with this question, but now found ourselves faced with it once again because of the uniqueness of our book. So, like the planner I am, I decided to do some research on the pros and cons of both (and share my findings with you of course).

Benefits of Traditional Publishing

Traditional PublishingIf you’ve been following along with our story and our past posts, you’ve probably already guessed what I see as a major benefit of traditional publishing–validation. Even though the stigma around self-publishing is rapidly fading, a large part of me still feels like I need a traditional publisher to prove to my extended family that I’m not a fool and a failure.

Self-publishing advocates will say readers can provide validation by loving your book, but I’m not sure that will be enough for me. I’m honest enough to admit that I need more than that. To feel like a success, I also need to earn the respect of my family or earn enough respect in the industry that I no longer crave it from my family. Traditional publishing gives me the best chance for that.

No up-front investment is also highly appealing. I’m a newlywed whose American husband isn’t able to work in Canada while waiting for his permanent residency, and Lisa is a mother of three. We sacrificed to make it to California for Mount Hermon. We’re not sure where we’d find the money to self-publish. We need to get paid for what we write, rather than paying someone else to publish it.

If we go with a traditional publisher, we’ll have their marketing, publicity, and distribution clout behind us (or as much as they’re willing to invest in us). We’re willing to hustle. We’re ready to market and promote our work. But we don’t feel capable of doing it all on our own, and hiring someone would, again, involve a bigger financial investment than we’re capable of making.

Finally, we want the confidence that we’ve put out the best possible book, and we feel that having an agent and an editor review our book and suggest improvements gives the best chance of doing that. An agent will also be able to give us the long-term career advice that we can’t get anywhere else.

Industry professionals who’ve spoken out in support of traditional publishing include . . .

Rachelle Gardner in Five Reasons to Pursue Traditional Publishing

Steve Laube in his Defense of Traditional Publishing Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, and Part Five

Wendy Lawton in Broken Things: Self-Publishing and Broken Things: E-books

Benefits of Self-Publishing

Self-PublishingSelf-publishing, however, makes an awfully convincing case as well.

Authors who self-publish get more of the profits from their books. They don’t have to give 15 percent to an agent and the majority of what their book brings in to a publisher. People with the ability to sell large quantities of books on their own can quickly make back their initial investment.

No gatekeepers in self-publishing can be a blessing as well as a curse. Not all of us love bonnet fiction. Some of us love edgy space adventure. Or fantasy. Or historical fiction set somewhere other than eighteenth century Victorian England or the Wild West of America. (No offense intended if you love those. To each his own.) A self-published author only needs to please their target audience. They don’t have to worry about a publisher dropping them because too many readers complained their novel was too gritty.

You can move quickly with self-publishing. Books produced by a traditional publisher often take two to three years to reach the public. If you’ve written a non-fiction book on a topic that’s currently in the news, you might need to get it out within months rather than years. Even if you haven’t, who doesn’t find a shorter wait appealing?

Industry professionals who openly support self-publishing include . . .

Jane Friedman on self-publishing.

Joe Konrath in his post that asks Are You Dense?

Nathan Bransford in Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing: Which Way Will Make You More Money?

What We Decided

In the end, we ended up back where we started. Our choice is to seek a traditional publisher. Our decision isn’t the right one for everyone, but we believe it is the right one for us at this point in our individual and co-writing careers.

Time for you to chime in. Which direction are you taking your career and why? Do you think we’ve overlooked something important in making our decision?


**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.


12 comments on “To Self-Publish or Not to Self-Publish

  1. I began my writing journey positive that I would never, ever, self publish.

    I sought a traditional publishing contract for four years. It seemed everyione loved my book, but were less enthusiastic about my platform.

    So, I ate my words and published with a self pub company. My book looks fantastic. I paid editors to make it the best it could be. I didn’t rush the process to get my book out quickly.

    I believe the trick to successful self publishing is choosing one that has distribution, markets with you, and is known in the industry.

    I shelled out a pocket-full of cash. That doesn’t bother me one bit. Any business one starts needs capitol. Why should writing be any different? I’m almost half way to my break even point and the book was just released two weeks ago.

    The best advantage authors, I believe, can have is marketing. Both traditional and self publishing requires it. A lot of it. I would not recommend that anyone shell out cash unless they have a very clear and realistic marketing plan already in place.

    • Hi Kim,

      I’m glad to hear that your book is already almost half way to earning out your investment. I’m sure a lot of traditionally published people wish they could say that about their advance 🙂 Your story will be an encouragement for those who decide self-publishing is the way for them to go. It really is about doing what ends up being the right choice for your particular book and career.

      I hope, though, that people planning to self-publish will take to heart your advice to find a good editor, make a solid marketing plan, and not rush the process.


  2. When and if the time comes, I too plan to pursue the traditional route. However, it looks very likely that a book I’m co-authoring will be self-published. (I’m the “as told to” author in this case.) I guess one day I might see the advantages and disadvantages of both choices…at least I can hope so.

    • Steph,
      When you’ve had a book out both ways, I’d love to have you write a guest post for us. I think there would be a big benefit in hearing from someone who tried both ways because they had a project better suited to each type of publication.

  3. I appreciate your point about validation coming from a traditional publisher. I never thought about it (and I don’t remember ever seeing it printed), but it is SO TRUE for me. I’m not ashamed to say I’m insecure about my writing. Having a publisher pick up my book would give me a great deal of confidence. Thanks for getting me to think!

    • You’re welcome 🙂 I definitely go through a roller-coaster of emotions when it comes to my writing. Sometimes I’m filled with confidence, and other times I’m filled with doubt. It sure helps chase away the doubts when someone says, “I believe in you enough to the invest time and money in you.”

  4. I’d rather not have the worries that come with self-publishing. I’ve always been the followers type, and I’d rather put the descision making and things like that in a publishers hands rather than do it myself. Maybe if I had any experience concerning publishing, I wouldn’t find self-publishi so daunting, but I don’t 😛

    • Nicole,
      In the future, I’ve thought about doing what James Scott Bell does. He’s traditionally published, but he also puts out a few ebooks (mostly short stories) on his own. That seems like a really great balance to me. But right now I too feel it would be too daunting to self-publish.

  5. Yes, your point about validation is a good one.

    However, I know a number of authors who initially felt euphoria and validation when they first got their royalty publishing contract. But by the time they’d gone through the entire publishing process, they discovered that the front cover design the royalty publisher approved wasn’t that great, their work would have been greatly improved if the company invested more time and money in substantive editing before they went to print, and the company actually did very little promotion for them because they considered them a B-list or C-list author, so therefore the sales didn’t even earn out the advance.

    So the initial sense of validation kind of frittered away into some disenchantment about the hard realities of the biz.

    No guarantees, period, whichever route — except the guarantee that it takes a lot of hard work and a commitment to excellence to succeed either way.

    Wendy E. Nelles
    Co-Founder, The Word Guild

  6. It would have been nice to go the traditional route, but at my age, I was anxious to move forward. A popular author advised me I shouldn’t wait, but go ahead with self-publishing. It seemed like a big cash out-lay to begin. However, with my first self-published novel my investment was fully repaid within months by the books I sold. Within a year, I had enough profits to publish my second novel. Because of the cost of colour printing, my children’s book will be lucky to break even. However overall, I have been pleased with my publishing company. It has helped that they also have a marketing arm. Although it cost extra, it also brought in more sales and got the book into stores across Canada. I’m not a natural-born sales person and I sometimes wish I had an agent to set up appearances etc., but I it seems that even traditional companies more and more demand their authors do a great deal of the promotion themselves any way.

    The journey has been an interesting and gratifying one–not only in sales, but in positive feed-back from readers and how it has opened up opportunities for speaking to many groups. I enjoy that as much as my writing.

    • Thanks for chiming in Ruth. I love that we’ve been able to get the point of view of a couple writers who’ve gone the self-published route and have been happy with the results.

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