Should you self-publish your book?
It’s not always an easy question to answer. Too many authors these days self-publish for the wrong reasons, and that sets them up for failure.
As a hybrid author—I’ve self-published 3 books and traditionally published 3 novels—I have some ideas about how you can increase the odds that your self-published book will succeed.
#1 Wrong Reason to Self-Publish Your Book
The number-one wrong reason to self-publish a book—and one many writers use to justify the move—is that you failed to get a traditional publishing contract.
It could be that you didn’t submit to enough publishers. Or maybe your book appeals to a very narrow audience.
But it could also be that you need to work harder at developing your storytelling skills. If the latter is true and you self-publish too soon, you could be setting yourself up for failure.
Too many writers are in a hurry to publish. You’ll create a much better foundation for yourself if you’re willing to spend some time in the trenches. Your work will have to compete with millions of other books published every year. Make sure you’re as ready for that as you can be.
#2 Wrong Reason to Self-Publish Your Book
Another reason many writers self-publish these days is that they think it’s a surefire way to get rich quick.
This is a naïve idea, as anyone familiar with the publishing world knows. Unfortunately, many so-called publishing gurus out there tell writers they can do this.
“There are people out there on the internet who will tell you it’s so easy to make money at this,” writes author and writing coach Tiffany Hawk. “Just throw a book together in a few weeks and make a ton of money. But what are they selling you? The odds of getting rich from a really good book are very low, and very arbitrary, and the odds of getting rich from a weak, slapdash book are almost nil.”
Yes, you can earn more per book when you self-publish vs. when you traditionally publish. But you still need a strong author platform (which typically takes years to build) and a lot of marketing savvy to make substantial earnings.
“Self-publishing careers typically take years—and four or five books—to gain traction and produce earnings that are meaningful,” writes publishing expert Jane Friedman.
#3 Wrong Reason to Self-Publish Your Book
Some writers think if they self-publish a book and it does well, the traditional publishers will come calling.
Be prepared to be disappointed if you go this route. Whatever you may have heard, self-publishing is not a good way to land a traditional publishing contract.
It happens, but it’s extremely rare. More likely, once you self-publish your book, you’ll no longer have the option to traditionally publish it.
Right Reasons to Self-Publish
Now let’s talk about the right reasons to self-publish.
1. You have an entrepreneurial spirit.
When you decide to publish your book yourself, you take on the role of publisher as well as author. That means you’re responsible for:
- Financing every aspect of producing the book and getting it onto the market.
- Shepherding the book through editing, copyediting, proofreading, cover design, interior design, printing, and distribution.
- Marketing the book. Yes, you need to do this as a traditionally published author too, but when you self-publish, you are on your own.
In truth, you’re starting a new business as a self-publisher, which is a large undertaking. All these tasks will require a significant amount of time, organization, and education. You’ll want to be sure you can fit it all into your schedule.
2. You have the budget for it.
How much money you put into your self-published book is up to you. Costs range depending on how much you do yourself. But keep in mind that your self-published book will be competing with all the traditionally published books out there as well as the other self-published ones, so it needs to be as high quality as you can make it.
That often means hiring a professional designer for the cover and possibly the interior, and hiring a developmental editor, copy editor, and proofreader as well.
Every book needs quality editing, and editing is by far the most expensive part of the process. Too many writers skimp on this to their own detriment. Don’t be one of them.
3. You have a ready audience for the book.
I chose to self-publish my nonfiction books for writers because I already had an audience for them. Subscribers to my Writing and Wellness newsletter were the ones that gave me the idea for each of my books in the first place.
If you already have an audience to sell to, you don’t need a publisher to help you reach readers. A traditional publisher could introduce you to a broader audience, but you may be able to do just as well selling your books to your audience as well as to attendees at your workshops and other speaking engagements.
4. You have definite ideas of what this book needs to succeed.
I knew exactly what my readers were looking for in my self-published books. I didn’t want to have a publisher tell me how I would have to change my books to suit what they thought would be best. I wanted to deliver what I knew my audience wanted.
If you have a similar situation, self-publishing can be very rewarding.
5. You are ready and willing to market like crazy.
No matter whether you traditionally publish or self-publish, you must market your book if you hope to reach readers. But when you self-publish, you have no help in doing that.
That means you’ll be responsible for whether your book cover design resonates with readers in your genre and whether the back cover copy sells. You’ll be responsible for choosing categories on Amazon, creating a book trailer (if you want), creating graphics for advertising purposes, promoting the book, pricing the book, managing giveaways, and much more.
How much you market is up to you, but the more you do, the more books you’ll sell.
Should You Self-Publish Your Book?
Self-publishing offers a lot of opportunities for writers these days. But it’s not the right choice in every situation. Before you invest all the time and money that’s required, make sure you’re making the decision for the right reasons, and you’ll likely be happy with the results.
*Traditional vs. self-publishing—which is the best for you?
*Mostly Free Tools for Your Self-Published Book
*Best Self-Publishing Companies for Novels
*Most of our Resident Writing Coaches offer editing, coaching and other services that help with traditional or self-publishing
*Colleen used these book designers: Damonza and Vellum
Colleen M. Story is a novelist, freelance writer, writing coach, and speaker with over 20 years in the creative writing industry. Her latest novel, The Beached Ones, released from CamCat Books on July 26, 2022. Her previous novel, Loreena’s Gift, was a Foreword Reviews’ INDIES Book of the Year Awards winner, among others.
Colleen has written three books to help writers succeed. Your Writing Matters is the most recent, and was a bronze medal winner in the Reader Views Literary Awards (2022). Writer Get Noticed! was a gold-medal winner in the Reader’s Favorite Book Awards and a first-place winner in the Reader Views Literary Awards (2019). Overwhelmed Writer Rescue was named Book by Book Publicity’s Best Writing/Publishing Book in 2018.
Colleen frequently serves as a workshop leader and motivational speaker, where she helps attendees remove mental and emotional blocks and tap into their unique creative powers.
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J R Tomlin says
Mostly I totally agree.
I semi-disagree with needing a developmental editor. I had one for my first three novels, but since then, I have not used one and have not felt the lack. So, if this is someone’s first novel, probably. Otherwise, possibly not. Copy editing and proofreading are another story. The writer who does not need those is rare indeed.
You are right that the self-published author who gets rich is rare. On the other hand, there are quite a few who make a living at it, but even that is neither easy nor quick.
Thanks for your thoughts, JR! Sounds like your writing is going well.
Raymond Walker says
Good post, thanks. Everything you say is correct. There is one other reason for self-publishing that you do not mention and as it was the reason I first self-published, I thought to mention it. At the time I was a magazine editor and had many short stories published in both my own cadre of mags and in others, comics, periodicals, newspapers, anthologies and the like but I had never written a novel. My wife told me that my attention span was not long enough and that, even though I was a good writer, I was limited.
I set out to prove her wrong. At around the same time one of my friends started to write a novel never expecting it to be good nor for it to be published. It was simply to see if they could do it. I did not wish my completed novel to interfere with my day job and my reputation as an excellent short story writer, I was not even convinced that my novel was good. My friend completed his novel a few months later (it was pretty bad). I had looked into self-publishing, a new thing just after the turn of the century and even vanity publishing. Using a pseudonym for me and my friend self-publishing under his own name, one drunken Friday night we self-published on lulu using generically created covers.
Anyway, this was a long story to say a small thing, “Sometimes it is just to prove we can do it”.
Oh, and my book sold all of twenty eight copies (my mother and wife accounted for the majority of those) my friends sold two copies. He still has both of them.
Ha ha. Great story, Raymond! Yes, sometimes we just have to prove to ourselves we can do it. It’s always easier the second time around. :O)
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
Love this. Probably one of the things I say more than anything else to writers is that publishing isn’t a race. Too many writers have the mindset that they have to keep up with everyone else, and so they try to force a book along. No one is great at writing a story out the gate, and those skills take time to build. Finding an agent, a publisher, etc. also takes time, if that’s a person’s path. Self-publishing takes time too, if a person wants to do it well.
I can’t think of anyone who has benefited from rushing their book to market before it was ready. Taking your time also allows a person to get into the proper mindset and make decisions for the right reasons, and that leads to a happier career.
Great points, Angela! And I agree–can’t think of anyone who benefited from racing to publish.
BECCA PUGLISI says
I love the pile of cash on the image for this post, lol. Thanks for dispelling some of the myths surrounding self-publishing so writers can make better decisions for their books.
Ha ha. Me too, Becca!
MINDY ALYSE WEISS says
Thanks for this helpful post, Colleen. 🙂