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Self-publishing Pros And Cons

At the beginning of this year I made a new year's resolution-  
Get an agent.


Now of course, I don't have all that much control over whether or not an agent falls in love with my work. More or less, the plan was that I was going to fight as hard as I can for the two novels I have polished and ready. All or nothing. I'm nowhere close to being done querying, both novels have a long list of agents to be queried. I'm definitely not giving up, nor am I feeling hopeless.

BUT, I have been spending a little time thinking about "what if". What if I DON'T find an agent for either of these novels? Am I willing to give up on them and hope to find more luck with shiny new novels? Don't get me wrong, I've got some amazing (if I do say so myself) novels in the works. A MG dystopian fantasy, a YA paranormal historical with pirates (YAY!) and another awesome contemporary. I COULD find an agent and get published with any of those novels. But I'm not willing to give up on my first two. I LOVE them. Like LOVE LOVE LOVE them.

Along with my "get an agent" resolution I made another private promise to myself. If, at the end of the year, I don't have an agent (if I have agents still reading, I will wait to hear from them) then I will self-publish my YA fantasy. It's my baby, my first novel. One I've fought for since I first started writing. Years, I've worked on this bad boy because I can not give up on it. I won't. 

(I feel  a little like a young girl saying "But Daddy, I love him!")

Truth is, I have reservations about self-publishing. I think anyone in my shoes would too. Most of you reading this are serious writers with a dream of finding an agent and getting a traditional publishing contract with an advance, cover artists, editors, marketing and an entire team behind you. The idea of self-publishing is SCARY.

But so is the idea of giving up on something I'm in love with.

So I've been doing research.

No decisions have been made, as I said I still have a long list of agents to query and a few agents reading each of my MSs. But I'm still thinking contingency plans. This week I've been reading a book called Let's Get Digital, How To Self-Publish And Why You Should. (Definitely suggest this book to anyone considering self-publishing or even just want a little more information on this market. It's been great.) The first 1/3 of the book is about the publishing industry in general, the rise of ebooks, the fall of book stores (it was written before Borders shut down, but just after they filed bankruptcy.) It gives some amazing statics about royalties, and sales percentages. Of course, it is a little biased but it's pretty open-minded and explains every side of every question or remark you've heard about self-publishing. Even if I never self-publish I'm glad I've read it.

Anyway, it's got me thinking a lot about the subject--something I've just been turning over in my mind as a distant possibility.

So I'm doing this partially for me, because writing these things down always helps to wrap my mind around it, but also for you, my awesome blog followers/readers.

Self-publishing Pros and Cons.

            Full cover art control. Most big publishers have great artists working for them so you know your cover will be of good quality. But that doesn't necessarily mean it'll be what you want it to be. And it doesn't mean it will be a great fit for your book. Some small press covers? Eeek. I've seen a few that I would be VERY disappointed in, if I were the author. The cover is a HUGE promotional tool.

            Control over the Title, character names and a the little bitty details in the book. Most of time there is a reason for a publisher to want to change these things, but it's definitely nice to have the control.

            Set your own price- Most self-published ebooks are 99cents to 3.99. Traditionally published ebooks? Around 9.99.  If both are new, un-established authors, which do you think a reader will be more likely to take a chance on? (especially since  most readers don't know the difference between any of the hundreds of other publishers and an indie author publishing themselves) You can control how much you sell your books and therefore how much money you'll get per copy sold (based on a royalties %) Let's Get Digital talks a lot about big publishers reluctance of ebooks. They're going the way of the music business (back in the early napster days) and trying as hard as they can to not let ebooks take off (in part because of fear of piracy and part because they're afraid of losing physical sales, (mostly hardcover sales, which they make most of their money off of)) But it's not working. Some of the things they're doing --keeping ebook prices high, not releasing ebooks at the same time as physical books in hopes that people will splurge on the hardcovers instead of waiting-- are only making things worse. Might they work for big authors? Sure. New authors? Not so much.

             Let's Get Digital also goes into detail about royalties for a self-published author as opposed to a traditionally published author.

            With a Traditional publisher The Author gets (approximately):
            10%  off each paperback sale
            17.5% off each Ebook sale
            12.5% off each Hardcover sale

            A self-published author gets 70% from each ebook sale. 
            (Sorry don't have a stat for self-published physical books)

            That's a big difference.             

            So even with a much cheaper price and less sales, a self-published author can easily make as much as a traditionally published author. (There are A LOT of variations on this topic, and this is one of the few things I kind of disagree with David Gauhry, author of Let's Get Digital, about. He makes it seem like "All you have to do is sell 5,000 copies and you'll be making more than a traditional published authors average advance!" But it's A LOT harder to sell those 5,000 copies without a publishing team, marketers and distribution around you. You very well, may never get to that point and if you do—it takes a long time)  
            David Gauhry also gives an interesting statistic about author advances. 2 of 5 authors don't earn out their advance. 1 of 5 break even. Which means 3/5 authors will never make more than their advance on a book.

            You can always keep going- With a publisher, there is always the pressure to sell well. A lot of mid list authors won't get resigned if they don't sell enough to pay off their advances. With self-publishing there is never any problem. Keep writing, keep editing and keep on publishing. In fact, it seems pretty clear that the best way to sell more books is to have more books available (as in, books 1 and 2 will also sell better once 3 is published and even more once book 4 is out, regardless of genres) As long as they're good, the more the merrier.

            You can write whatever you want whenever you want. This pretty much goes with the above, that you can just keep on writing. You aren't pressured to write in the same genre as the last book. You can do whatever you want. Seriously. Anything. True freedom.


            Investment- Unfortunately you'll need to shell out some good money to self-publish right. And you WANT to do it right. It only takes one crappyily written, or unedited book to turn a lot of readers away from all of your books. You'll need a professional, and interesting cover that fits your novel. You'll need the book to be professionally edited (which is flippin' expensive, holy cow) This money has to come out of your pocket. With a publisher, even if they don't pay an advance, they do all of this for you!

(I like to think that the overall difference between Self-publishing and Traditional publishing is like starting a business with or without an investor. If you don't have an investor, does that mean your business is bad, or won't do well? NO. But if you have an investor, than you already have an in. You have people fighting for you to succeed and willing to pay for a lot of the upfront costs (but most likely a lot less freedom))

            Support- If you sign with a publisher- you have an entire publishing team working with you. This is an incredible asset, one you cannot get with self-publishing. I mean, yes, you can have some great people working for you to succeed, but you'll never have the same kind of professional expertise as with a publisher.
            No experience selling or marketing books- Here's the truth of the matter. Unless you have worked with a decent publisher, marketing and selling books- You aren't a professional. You are an amateur that hopes to become a professional (by becoming successful). 99% of you do not have the experience that a publishing company will have. You are fighting an uphill battle from the start. Lucky for you, many people have done it before you and there is a path to follow. Will it lead to success? Maybe, maybe not. But then again, even professional publishers don't know if something will succeed. It's a crap shoot.

            You probably won't reach as many readers- (That "probably" is important because there have been some wildly successful self-published authors/books.) Because of the royalty rates, you can make as much money as a traditionally published author by selling less books. But money isn't everything and most of you aren't writing to make money (If so, it's probably time to pack up and head home) Most of you are writing both because you love it and to reach readers. And self-publishing isn't the most grand or easy way to garner a huge audience. You'll still get one, I'm sure, but the ceiling is generally a bit lower for self-publishers.

            It's slow going. From what I understand self-publishing starts out uber slow and grows exponentially. Meaning your first week you'll probably be lucky to sell 50 copies. But the next week you'll sell more, and the next week more. It takes a while to gain an audience.

            Other writers may look down on you- This is honestly a big one. It shouldn't be, but it probably is the biggest reason a lot of writers don't consider self-publishing. If a publisher, of any size, signs you, it means an industry professional decided your work was great and was worth putting money into. All of the sudden you rise to the ranks of a published author. As a self-published author you might be utterly terrible. I mean, you might be amazing, but who knows? Because there are no gate-keepers of self-publishing, you will never gain that prestige. Even once you start selling well, for the most part you are still considered a second class writer. Your only chance of getting that stigma off is by: winning awards (I assume this would help, but don't know for sure) or get a publishing contract with a real publisher (it can be for one or more of your self-published books, or for a completely separate book. Doesn't matter) Some kind of industry professional has to give you the nod before you're ever considered a professional yourself.

Reading this book has made me feel more comfortable with the idea of self-publishing (even a little excited at the thought). It takes real, true, commitment. But if you're willing to put in the work, you really can be successful.

One of the things I've realized is that you can't go half way. Sure, you can self-publish one book and try to traditionally publish another, but if you want to do well as a self-published author you need to commit to it. You have to treat it like a business. Usually this means having more than one, or even two, books for sale.

If I do decide to go this route, I'll have at least three books ready to publish within the first 6 months. I won't make the announcement until all three are written and polished (but probably not professionally edited). 

If anyone has any questions or comments feel free to hit me up! If you are a self-published author, I'd love to hear from you. I've heard that the indie author community is pretty spectacular, I'd love to hear about it!


  1. What an interesting post!

    You've brought up some good points. I think there's certainly more money on a per book sold basis in self publishing but then it needs to be weighed up against quantity sold. I'd be interested to see the difference in small press vs self publishing because the statistics there are vastly different to traditional.

    I agree 100% that people who self publish need to commit and treat it like a business. If you treat it like a hobby, you'll reap the rewards of a hobby not a business.

  2. I agree with almost every point you've made. And I was considering self-publishing my first two novels if I didn't find a home for them. My agent quest failed but I found a small press fairly quickly. Don't write off the small presses out of hand; you might want to consider them before you leap into self-publishing. :)

    Anyway, the thing I don't agree with is the idea that you can't do both. You definitely need to take your self-publishing seriously and spend some $$ on it to make sure you do it right. But (especially if you're a prolific writer), that doesn't have to be the end of it. Have you heard of Chuck Wendig? He's a massive blogger on writing, and he does both. Here's his most recent post on the subject:

    (Warning: he does like to swear, you know, a LOT!)

  3. Thanks guys.

    I will definitely consider small presses as another option, I have a list of amazing publishers who accept unagented submission that I plan on trying first if the agent-hunt doesn't work out. Stacey, I'll see if I can find some stats on small presses and make a new post on them in the future. This post mostly came out of the information I read in the book about self-publishing. I think small presses are kind of the in-betweeners. You get a better royalty than big publishers (40% on ebooks, I think I saw for one press in particular. I suppose if you choose to, you both can correct me on this. No pressure ;-) and no advance, but you don't have to invest any money (cover art and edits are covered by the publisher) So they can be a pretty good compromise. But remember that a lot of small presses pop up all the time, just to fail a few years later. Be careful who you choose publish you! (This is said mostly for other reading this comment, not you two)

  4. Oh! and I forgot to mention that I didn't mean that you can't do both, just that you have to plan accordingly. Self-publishing one book then letting it sit for 2 years while you try to find an agent for the next isn't a good idea. I wouldn't suggest self-publishing until you have a few back-list books to publish, then work on others for traditional publishing. Commit to it.

  5. Hi, Stacey,

    Michael/Blinded passion here. I am SO GLAD you left me that message and CONGRATS on your success in the contest! I wish you all the best!

    I will have some free time next month to critique so let me know if that is good for you. I am really looking forward to reading you novel. The TONE and intensity is eerily similar. LOVE THE VOICE!!

    Great to meet you and good luck in the rest of the contest!


  6. Interesting post. And one on Many writers minds these days.
    Especially those seeing Hugh Howey's and others success with self-publishing.
    But having met him, and seeing how dynamic and outgoing he is, it is easy to see how different he is from most writers I know. [Published or unpublished]
    [including me]

    You might want to check out the great book by Arielle Eckstut and her writer husband David Henry Sterry, also known as The Book Doctors...
    They have a great book to help writers.
    From traditional to self-publish, ebook, etc... they cover pretty much all aspects, and tell you how to go about things, and things to think on, keep in mind. No matter what you choose.
    [I have post-notes and marks All thro' my copy! and when they had recent special on their ebook form of it, bought that one too! One book I don't want to lose.]

    If you have ever managed to catch one of their Pitchapalooza events you'll see how dynamic they are. [think they have some videos out there]
    Having them at the James River Writers Conference in Richmond, Va. for a few years now - including coming up in Oct. I believe -- I can tell you they are also Very savvy and smart!

    Check out their book if nothing else, think you'll find it helpful.

    And no, I'm not related to them, or getting paid by them.
    But using their info' gathered. ;)

    Thanks for the post. And the reminder to do a post on my own blogs ... will be sure to reference yours in them! Thanks! ;)