The Pros and Cons of Self-publishing
(Updated for 2019)
The Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing – Audio version
The number of books being published on Amazon is rocketing (over 350,000 in the last 30 days). And Amazon, being 90% of books sales, has changed the publishing landscape. The increase is predominantly down to self-published authors.
But is it worth becoming one – or still going the traditional publisher route?
It’s one of the most common questions I get asked. So to clear the muddy waters, here’s what you need to know.
PRO – Having 100% Creative Control
If you’re with a publisher, they have the ultimate say over everything to do with your book: The words, ideas, jacket and book quality. They have editors and proof-checkers directing you to make changes, potentially compromising your voice and creativity.
CON – You will pay for everything
This is editing, proofing, formatting, printing, jacket design (and some marketing). This can cost thousands of pounds to do a professional job. It’s the reason many self-published authors skimp, or not get them done at all. This effects the quality of the writing and book design, hitherto, sales and chances of success. Publishers foot this bill.
PRO – You get 100% royalties with self-publishing
Publishers return around 15% royalties for books sold, and you receive a cheque twice a year. If self-published, you receive it all. Although don’t forget to factor in storage and p&p.
CON – You have no protection from a publisher
Publishers provide a certain level of protection in the event of a lawsuit or copyright challenge (although this isn’t guaranteed for everything). If you’re self-published, look into the legal side of publishing for your own protection. You also need public liability and professional indemnity insurances.
PRO – You don’t have a contract to worry about
You will sign a contract with a publisher, usually for more than one book, within a certain time frame. Failing to do so could render you liable to financial penalties.
CON – No marketing contacts and distribution
Good publishers have a list of contacts and distribution channels they call on for a given genre. When you self-publish, you’re unlikely to have any of these, and so must rely on creating them yourself. Having said that, even with a publisher, don’t expect your books to appear on the shelves in Waterstones, or get reviews in the Sunday Times. There are a lot of authors you’re competing with, and the lion’s share of a publisher’s marketing time and budget go to established authors. Even with a publisher, be prepared to fund some of your own marketing.
PRO – 100% return for your marketing efforts
Whether you’re with a publisher or self-published, you’ll be doing the SAME LEVEL OF MARKETING. Many publishers, before signing you up, assess your online presence and estimated popularity. They factor this alongside the quality and marketability of your writing. The days of mysterious, closet writers are long gone. To put it another way, sales from your marketing time spent, adds 85% to the publisher’s bottom line, and 15% (your royalty) to yours. Whereas if you self-publish, you get it all.
CON – Not getting an advance
This is often the most attractive feature of being with a publisher. They may give you an upfront advance, which may be substantial, although these are now rare. An advance is a kind of loan the publisher forwards to you for writing your book. For each sale they make, they reduce the amount advanced by your royalty. When the advance reduces to zero, you then get paid your royalty share per sale. Unlike a loan though, if not enough sales happen to reduce the advance to zero, you don’t have to pay the rest back.
PRO – It’s to your timescale
You have the choice WHEN your book is published. If you want to take a break for a month (or a year!) then you can. A publisher will give you a deadline and you better meet it unless you want to suffer penalties on your royalties, or be dropped altogether and have to return the advance. Deadlines are often tighter than you’d like, and can create considerable stress.
CON – You’ll make fewer sales
Books one, two and maybe three, will sell in 10’s then 100’s, depending on your marketing skills, budget and time spent. Publishers will move more (remember you’ll only get a small royalty per sale, though).
PRO – You don’t have to ‘get accepted’
It will take months, and often years before you’re accepted by a publisher (although, to be honest, most writers give up trying long before that). It takes a LOT of time and effort to land a publisher – and most authors don’t manage it.
CON – Credibility
It’s true to say that having a publisher helps with opportunities for speaking, consulting, signings etc. It can open doors for your business too. But the gap is now closing with ever-increasing numbers of established traditional authors going the self-publishing route.
PRO – Self-Publishing is faster
From edited manuscript to publication, with a publisher, on average takes 24 months before bookshelves see your book. You will still be pushed for your deadline, but generating your book is queued, and you have to wait. It may even be deferred. If you self-publish, your book is in print in six months. Less if the editing goes well.
PRO/CON? – You can publish a terrible book
“Well, even if it’s bad, it’s out there with my name on it, and I can call myself an author!”
I’ll let you decide if that’s a positive.
Traditional publishing isn’t what it once was, and your experience probably won’t be what you envision.
If you’re serious about being an author, you’ll need to master and work as hard at marketing as writing.
It’s a job, a career, and it takes effort to be a success. You’ll need to produce your highest quality of work and product, either way.
If you self-publish, you’re less likely to make a living from publishing one, two or three books, but with the right marketing platform and hard work – often book four onwards. Be prepared to financially and mentally survive that period.
With a publisher or self-published, your chances are challenging of making it a success. And in this business, you’re only a good as your last book, and publishers will drop you if sales flop. Self-publishing will return you more income, if you can survive the early years.
But either way, if you’re a born writer, that won’t stop you. And if you’re successful – well – you’re going to be someone who loves doing their wonderful job.
And that’s why people take the risk and put in the hard work…
I find writing is as challenging as it is highly rewarding.
Good luck with your choice. Please let me know below which option worked, or not worked, for you.
Miles changed careers in 2008 from Senior Systems Designer in aviation to become a self-published fantasy author. His first book hit No 1 on Amazon for Epic Fantasy and knocked The Hunger Games from the top slot in Waterstones. In 2010 he started a self-publishing business, and began creative writing meet-ups in Kent called NAGS which have been running bi-weekly for four years.
He now writes, runs NAGS, and teaches a range of frank and honest courses for new authors on creative writing, self-publishing and book marketing, including for the Canterbury Christchurch University and North Kent College.
“It was great having Miles teaching to us today.
It’s given me some fantastic things to
think about – a very inspiring speaker,
thank you for a brilliant session.”
Emily Dorsett Beard
Sign-up for free best practice, useful tips, interviews and news about writing and self-publishing sent straight to your inbox.