What Do You Really Think About Self-Publishing?

A few years ago, I belonged to a local writers group. I’d just completed my first novel a few months prior and knew little nothing about the publishing process. The group was a mix of fiction and non-fiction writers, with a few writers who had self-published, a few writers who were in the midst of working on a novel, and a few folks who were just thinking about writing some day. There was one author who had recently signed with a moderate-sized independent publisher after self-publishing four books. When the group leader asked him about self-publishing, he said, “Self-publishing is the only viable option for everyone sitting in this room.”

Well, I immediately disagreed. Not out loud, of course. “Self-publish? No way would I even consider self-publishing. This guy doesn’t get it. My book is good. I’m going to land an agent and get a big huge publishing contract and possibly a movie deal.”

For me, self-publishing wasn’t a last resort–it wasn’t even a possibility. As many of you know, I have self-published two books. How did I go from “hell no, it’s not going to happen” to pushing that “publish” button on KDP? Well, the journey wasn’t easy.

When I finished my first book, I had crazy starry-eyed dreams of agents and movie deals. When I thought about self-publishing, I conjured up the image of some crazy woman selling poorly printed memoirs out of her garage. There are some people (authors and readers) who still view self-publishing this way. Admittedly, there are some books out there that “give publishing a bad name.” But to be quite honest, the main reason I changed my opinion about self-publishing and the authors who choose to publish their own books is because I’ve seen some exceptional books out there that are every bit as good (or better) than some of the books the Big Publishers are cranking out.

Obviously, my opinion about self-publishing has changed over the years. I think there’s been an overall shift in the way the publishing industry looks at self-publishing. I’ve heard of authors who have decided to ditch their traditional publisher in favor of going it alone. There are some authors out there who immediately choose the self-publishing route because they like the freedom of having creative control. There are other authors who wouldn’t rather leave their manuscript sitting in a drawer for all eternity than even consider self-publishing. And, that’s fine. Every author is different. Every book is different. We all have different goals. But, self-publishing is NOT a bad thing. It took me a while to figure that out. 

I’d really like to hear from authors and readers out there. How do you feel about self-publishing? Do you think there’s still a bias against those who choose to take this route? Have you self-published a book, or have you considered doing so? What are some of the negative and positive things you’ve heard about self-publishing?

37 thoughts on “What Do You Really Think About Self-Publishing?

  1. The only thing that a publisher can do that the average writer can’t do is get their authors exposure. A priori, having a publisher is better than going it alone because, a priori they can open doors. Unfortuantely, many small publishers don’t do any of the leg work at all, and dump absolutely all of the promotion on the shoulders of their authors. If your publisher isn’t going to fix up signings, instore promotions, blog tours, reveiws, enter your book for awards, then I’m afraid I don’t see what function they fulfil.

    As you say, there are some tremendous books by self-published writers, and there are established authors who ditch their publishers so they can keep all of the royalties. The latter can do what they like as they’ve already made their name. For the rest of us, it’s an uphill struggle. If your publisher isn’t going to make it easier, why give them half your royalties?


    • I absolutely agree. If the publisher isn’t going to help promote the book (which is the most difficult part of the process) then they’re just a middleman who is taking a cut from profits that should be yours.


    • Totally agree too, in fact it’s worse than that as most publishers take far more than half your royalties. For every £8.99 book I sold, I only received less than 45p!!!! Waterstones take an automatic 40% cut to have the books in their stores, but the publisher takes the rest…yes, yes, they have expenses to cover, ISBN’s, printing costs etc., but ISBN’s are cheap and POD publishing is much cheaper than offset. Unless you have a decent publisher, it’s a complete swindle with the author as the loser. My ex-publisher’s did nothing, no promotion (unless you count a maximum of 2 tweets a month), no instore promotions, no blog tours, no signings, nothing. I had to do everything, which I did, including organising a Waterstones book signing tour, then having to fork out for the petrol and parking to get there and provide my own promotional materials as I had nothing from them other than a crappy A4 thing they did themselves on the computer. Dreadful. I was left utterly exhausted, bullied, out of pocket and demoralised by the whole thing, and with all the burden of promotion and marketing on my shoulders alone, I had no time to write! What made it even worse, apart from the fact that they were horrid people, was seeing my beloved book that had taken me years to write, butchered by poor and inconsistent editing, the cheapest production values, an awful amateurish cover, a font so small no-one could read it, and a blurb that looked like a child had written it!!!

      It’s amazing that I sold as many books as I did. Thankfully I’m free from the self-proclaimed ‘Grammar Nazi’s’, such a joke if you knew how dreadful their understanding of grammar actually is. So now I’m going to self-publish my novel, with better grammar, better editing, full page illustrations you can actually see, a better cover, a font size you can read and high quality production values and take the lion’s share of the royalties for myself. 😀


      • Sadly, these horror stories are all too common. You know the old adage, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” This is very true in the world of publishing. Though there are some excellent publishers out there, authors do give up a lot when they sign a contract. They give up control over their book cover, formatting, and editing. Some publishers don’t allow the author to see the finished product until it’s already on sale. I hope you have a better experience with your book this time around–I can’t wait to see your self-published product.


  2. I had two different publishers for my books, but ended up self-publishing. It’s not easy to self-publish, but I don’t have any regrets. I’ll be publishing my second book in April, and my third in August/September.


  3. I think self publishing has come a long way but there’s still a stigma attached to it. I’m self publishing at the moment and enjoying having control over the process, but if a trad publisher came knocking offering an advance, I doubt I’d say No. 🙂


    • You’re right, if a decent traditional publisher knocked at my door, I would probably go with them, but there is a vast difference between proper traditional publishers and all these pop-up POD indie publishers who don’t give any advances, give low percentages and offer no professional services, experience, expertise or promotion/marketing. Self-publishing is a FAR better option than being ripped off and seeing your work butchered by incompetent delusionists, believe me!


  4. I love the idea of self-publishing — I’ve self-published one book, with more on the way 🙂 I initially was like you were — starry-eyed dreams of six figure advances and my book translated into 20 foreign languages. But when that didn’t happen, I tried out self-publishing instead … and even though I haven’t been exactly successful, it’s been SO fun. I love how much control you get, how you don’t have to answer to anyone except yourself … it’s the best feeling in the world 🙂


    • I’m glad I’m not the only one who had dreams of the six-figure advance and never having to work again (except to write). The fact is, most authors who sign with a big publisher don’t get the six-figure advance. Many of them are in the same boat we are–working a day job and struggling to market their book. My favorite aspect of self-publishing is the freedom to work on my own timeline. I don’t have to wait a year or two for someone else to release my book. I edit when I’m ready, release when I’m ready. Total control of the process really is a huge advantage.


  5. In 2009 when people (on Authonomy.com) were first talking about ‘going kindle,’ I was intreged. There were a couple of incidences of unprofessional behavior (see #QueryFail) on the part of agencies. I watched these things unfold utterly aghast and dismayed.

    That was when I decided I’d rather self-publish rather than go through an agent.

    August of 2010 I published my first novel – “Let’s Do Lunch” not knowing what to expect. I sold a few copies and worked on my next book.

    December of 2011 the novel did well in the UK. I was on the top 25 bestselling Romantic Suspense for most of the month. The next year I did well with Kindle Select free days.

    I think that self-publishing, if approached in a business-like manner, is a very good way to get started as a professional writer. I look at each book as an investment. I have them out in paper back and on every e-vending site. “Let’s Do Lunch” paid for itself and for the next novel “Swallow the Moon” – and while I make a little more $10 a month, this is something that I’ve always wanted to do.

    My one word of caution is to be sure to get a really good cover for your books. I’ve had quite a bit of trouble getting covers that worked for my books. Replacing covers is expensive.


    • I remember you from the days of authonomy! I read Swallow the Moon (great book). I’m glad you’re doing what you’ve always wanted to do. I agree with you that self-publishing can be a very solid step in your career if done correctly. I also agree with you in regards to covers.


      • Finding the right cover is NOT easy. I had a half-dozen covers for “Let’s Do Lunch” and I just paid for the 3rd professional cover for “Swallow the Moon” – the chalice and hands cover is gorgeous. (if anyone would like to see the two covers they are on my blog: http://katjordan.wordpress.com/the-dark-harbor-series/ )

        Authonomy was a great place to get feedback. I think of it as a pre-launch site for new authors. I so many books there. Did I read one of your books? I’m glad you liked “Swallow the Moon” – the feedback from Authonomy readers was critical.

        Now that Create Space prints books in the UK and Europe, that market has opened up for indie paperbacks. I strongly recommend any author who wants to self-publish finds a good way to get her book into paperback. I spend my weekends at local events, selling my books. I may not sell many paper books, but it helps my e-book sales. Local readers are so important!

        The thing is, any publisher is going to expect the author to promote their own book and to build their own ‘platform’ using Facebook and Twitter. You also have to organize your own book signings…all things I do now.

        It is all part of the business now. So no matter which way an author goes, the skill sets are the same.


        • Even mainstream publishers expect authors to do a majority of marketing. I’m really bad at the marketing aspect. Really bad. It’s something I need to work on as a self-published author. I’m glad you brought up the point about how scheduling book signings and other events falls on the author in most cases. Unless you’re a huge author (which is less than 1% of authors pubbed by a large publisher), you should expect to market your book.


          • I find that libraries are very helpful. I donated a couple of books, and they asked me to come do a talk/reading/signing.

            Craft fairs and festivals are great for getting a little bit of buzz going on a local level. One doesn’t have to be worried about being pushy, readers love writers.


  6. As you know, I, too, am self-published and I do believe that there is still those who think who self-publish is second class. I have a guy who did my business cards to help me out all he could with getting the word out about my book and help me sell them. He already knew that I was self-published and he contacted two local news papers to do an article about my book. One never returned his call and the other said that since I was self-published and because of that, the editor said that ‘her boss would not likely publish the article in the paper because I didn’t have a main stream publisher backing my book.’ She told the guy to tell me that she would try her best to do some sort of an article about me and the book. In the end, she was able to set up the interview with me and the article was done.


    • The media, other authors, and sometimes readers have a bias against self-published authors. There are so many of us, they can’t interview us all. I’m glad you made it into the local paper. I’m so proud of you.


  7. I used to work for an aquisitive Borg of a company which bought every competitor in its path. Two things happened.

    1. As it got bigger, its overheads grew and it needed to make more and more percentage profit on each product to break even.
    2. It took less chances. Because with the percentage profits it required, it couldn’t afford to.

    So I assumed publishing was the same. I write humorous science fiction fantasy, I know it’s a gamble at best. Coupled to that, I know my sales skills are piss poor. So how do I sell myself to jaded gatekeepers with oxbridge degrees in English Literature who think that fantasy is not ‘proper’ literature and comedy is for plebs. I did try to get an agent. It took me a WHOLE YEAR to get polite nos from 5 of them.

    It was kind of a no brainer, I guess. I wanted to see my books in print before I die.




  8. I was the same, had dreams of a six figure advance and a big traditional publishing contract! But once rejected by all 3 😀 publishers in teensy old New Zealand I was at a loss as to how to submit overseas. I did spend hours trawling agents and publishing sites. This was around 4 years ago and most of them still preferred snail mail submissions, which would have cost me a small fortune. I submitted to a few electronic ones, but nothing came of it. The book got left for a year or so while I concentrated on fertility issues, then in January last year a friend passed away aged only 38 from cancer and I thought ‘stuff this, it’s up to me to make my dreams happen!’. My husband had also just bought me a kindle and I realised that anyone can do it. So I published three books last year and will publish another one soon. Sales have been up and down, reviews have been wonderful. I love the fact that my books are out there now, and that I am in control. I don’t really know how to go about marketing myself, but if I know if I don’t nothing will happen. I have a blog and a facebook page, and I’m on twitter but pretty clueless how to use it. Through publishing I’ve made friends with a few fellow authors, some with publishers and I realised so many of them are under a great deal of pressure to do their own promotional work. I’d always thought that was why you got a publisher!


    • I’m glad you decided to publish. Obviously, people love Charlie and Pearl. It was one of the most popular books on Authonomy.

      I’m sorry about your friend. That’s so young. I’m sure your friend would be proud of you for taking the plunge and self-publishing. Now there’s no stopping you.

      Marketing… that’s always a struggle. The reason I went with a small publisher with my first book is because I didn’t want to get stuck doing all the marketing. Guess what? I still had to do all my own marketing which seems to be a trend in publishing these days.


  9. I think there is less of a bias than there used to be among online communities but when you get offline and out into the “real world” it;s still just as snidey as it was. I recently had a conversation with a woman at a ham radio club meeting and we discussed our jobs. I mentioned making book covers and about the conflicts that sometimes arise with authors who don;t do any research into how to publish, or how book covers work, or who don;t even take the time to check my site and I commented that I wondered if they took the time to edit. and the lady replied, “or if they’re even published!” I explained, “most are self-published” and immediately her nose curled and she said, “Ah, yes.” then launched into a story about a friend from California who has written an amazing book but of course was too good to self publish and so got a contract through this tiny publisher who only has four clients and… I didn’t have the heart to tell her that that was basically the same thing, except she ran the risk of never getting her royalties.


    • Tiny publishers are the ones to watch out for. They frequently go under and leave the author in the lurch. You’re absolutely right about the risk of never getting royalties. I hope one day the self-publishing stigma goes away. Indie authors have a hard enough time without having to deal with snobbery. When it comes from readers, I can understand because most readers don’t know about all the hard work that goes into self-publishing. I really hate it when we’re faced with snobbery from other authors, especially ones who chose to sign with a small publisher. There’s also snobbery among book bloggers, many of whom state in their policies that they will not accept review requests from self-published authors. Authors need to support each other. We all have our reasons for choosing our publishing routes, whether that is self-publishing, signing with a small press, or waiting to catch the eye of an agent. We’re all authors.


  10. I think it’s a good route if you’re willing to go the distance and put in the work to make it worthwhile, but really, it depends on your goals as a writer. Some writers would be better off with trade publishing, others with self-publishing. It’s a case by case thing, a personal decision based on your particular situation. Publishing is certainly not a one size fits all scenario.

    I just self-published my first novel, and I’m interested to watch how my first year goes with it. It’s been a good experience so far, and I’ve gotten a lot of support from my fellow indies and those first few brave readers. At this point, I have no clue what the future holds for my books, but for now, I’m planning to continue the self-publishing journey.

    Obviously, there’s still a bit of a stigma associated with self-publishing, but building a good reputation can help overcome that. Takes a lot of work, but there are many who do reasonably well with self-publishing, usually after several years of effort.


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