Pros and Cons of Self Publishing

As advances shrink and publishers scale back on acquisitions, many writers are considering self-publishing. After all, Amanda Hocking can become a millionaire by selling her novels on the Kindle platform, why not me?

I self-published an ebook last year, and while it didn’t make me a millionaire, it certainly gave me an inside look at the world of self-publishing. Here are some pros and cons to consider before self-publishing.

1.    You’re in charge.
I’ve heard author friends kvetch about editors who’ve mangled their manuscript, agents who pressure them to change the title, book publicists who just don’t get them. Self-publishing allows authors to bypass traditional marketing channels and enjoy complete creative control. You decide when and how to market the book, you choose the cover design, you pick the title.
2.    You earn what you sell.
When you sign a book contract with a publisher, you’re splitting sales with the publisher, your agent, the retailer, and so on. Often you may never earn out your advance and collect royalties. But with self-publishing, you get to keep almost all of the money from the books you sell. There are some costs involved with print on demand (or POD), but ebooks are almost pure profit because digital goods don’t incur costs from shipping, storing, printing, and so on.
3.    Lower barriers to entry.
As interest in self-publishing grows, so do the number of tools available to indie authors and article writers. There are tons of websites offering tips on self-publishing, inexpensive tools to help format your book, and more. Plus, you don’t have to wait months or even years to hold your book as you might with a traditional publisher. Of course, while these self-publishing tools help authors who might be overlooked by larger publishers, they also help authors who haven’t taken the time to polish their manuscript.

1.    You’re in charge.
Since they don’t have the resources of a publishing house to help you, self-published authors have to be entrepreneurial, not just writing the book, but also getting it edited and formatted, creating a marketing plan, and choosing distribution channels. Some of those tasks can be outsourced (for instance, I hired a graphic designer to create my cover and a proofreader to polish my manuscript), but ultimately, it’s up to you to make things happen.
2.    Uncertain income.
With self-publishing, there are no advances, however meager. You might spend weeks or months writing and researching a book and earn no money if it doesn’t sell. That’s why I think it’s really important to study the market and figure out where you book fits in and how you’ll promote it. Of course, if you have an unsold novel manuscript gathering dust on your hard drive, then what do you have to lose?
3.    Less prestige.
Self-publishing isn’t as taboo as it was a few years ago, but there’s still a certain cache to signing with a major publisher. Savvy self-publishers like Hocking have been able to make a name for themselves, but a major publisher can help pave the way for major media coverage and other opportunities. In fact, Hocking signed a four-book deal with St. Martin so she could focus on writing instead of all the other tasks associated with self-publishing.

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About Susan Johnston

Susan Johnston is a Boston-based freelance writer whose work appears in, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor,, Parade Magazine, and SELF, among other places. She is the author of The Urban Muse Guide to Online Writing Markets and blogs at The Urban Muse.