imagesPeople keep telling me to self-publish.  It seems everyone has a friend, relative, or both that has self-published.  Let’s discuss the facts:


TP=traditional publishing

This applies to fiction.  Nonfiction is another world, and not discussed here.


1-Upfront costs

SP-$100 or more, depending on the outlet choice.  It can be in the thousands.  If the writer chooses to use Amazon or similar, it can be very small indeed.  But there’s a great deal to consider: cover art, internal art, professional editing, etc.  I’ll discuss these below.  In the meantime, here is an article on such matters.

TP-under $100.  Although you can always include the costs of writers’ conferences, etc, these costs are the same no matter your choice of publication, and are not included here.  The costs of marketing will be discussed below.

2-Payment and theft

SP-You don’t get paid until someone buys the book.  And the public’s access to your book is limited entirely by your knowledge of the book world.  Your returns per book can be higher in SP than through TP, but the numbers sold through TP more than make up that difference.  SP is almost entirely ebook.  Ebooks are notorious for theft, and many TP books are not available in that format until after their first year or more out.  Some never are available, just for that reason.  Here’s more info on that topic.  Oh, and Kindle books are increasingly decreasing in price.  Much like the casual video game, you get what you pay for.  Just as players aren’t willing to pay for a cheesy video game, readers aren’t willing to pay for a book that hasn’t been fully finished.  (Finishing includes professional editing and writing).

TP-Your book does go to a library, aiding those who cannot or will not pay for your book.  Your book is sold at yard sales, loaned or given to friends and neighbors, a task more difficult to do with ebooks.  Your ebook sales, if applicable, increase your profit and physical sales.  But, you get paid some amount whether your book sells or not, and you are not limited to your knowledge of the book world.  You are limited by your agent’s and the entire staff of your publisher’s knowledge of the book world.  You then get royalties.  Furthermore, if your book is stolen to a large enough extent, your publisher will probably be the one to instigate a lawsuit, not you.  You also have the teams of whatever guild you affiliate with to aid in your troubles.

3-Work involved

SP-You do it ALL.  If you want it to sell, you’ll hire pros for both editing and cover art, unless you are also a talented artist.  You have to figure out the format you want your book in and somehow get it right.  You have to line up your cover image just right.  You have to look up or know all the terms and what is meant by each.  And you do 100% of the marketing yourself.  People judge a book by its cover, especially me.  And it works.  If a book has a cheesy half-attempt at the cover, the book has a cheesy half-attempting writer.  You can return ebooks if you don’t like them.  If you don’t hire an editor, your book will probably be less than it could (or should) be.  This can cause readers to return what they’ve already paid for.

TP-You have a lot of work involved, but you have guidance.  You don’t pay the editor, the publisher, or the illustrator.  You don’t find them either.  Your agent does, or you publisher supplies the other two for you.  You go on book signings, library and school appearances, conferences.  You will probably want to do some of your own marketing, such as sample chapters to libraries and bookmarks and such, but nothing compared to SP.


SP-When you tell another writer that you’re an author, they assume you mean TP.  Otherwise, you would have said “SP author” or “writer”.  If they find out you are only SP later, you will be scoffed.  You pretty much just lied to people.  A SP writer is not an author.  They are a SP author.  If you are upfront and say so, you will be respected as a writer, not an author.  But at least you will be respected.  SP used to be done by “vanity presses”, and still are to a smaller degree.  The name says it all.  “Vanity”.  (In looking back at my rejection letters for Bub the Tooth years ago, I found where a vanity press had propositioned me for “publication”.  It was embarrassing to think how amateurish I must have come across at the time to be propositioned like that.  I can only hope my queries are more professional now.)

TP-You’ve made it!  Your work is good enough to back and sell.  You can now officially call yourself an author.

5-But SP is a great launching pad while I’m waiting to get published, right?

SP-The chances of you becoming a successful SP author are very slim.  Here’s some more info about the truths of SP.  Stories of people making it are rare and often inflated.  SP should be your last resort.  However, if you don’t care about reputation, having a career as a writer, or making any money, than by all means, SP.  Enjoy yourself.  I know many writers who do.  They do it for fun.  It’s what they enjoy.  There’s certainly nothing wrong with it.  I just want you to know the truths behind it and not have the wrong expectations.

TP-When querying agents and editors, you are asked to include past publications.  You can NOT include SP titles.  So please don’t.  Do not assume you can sell some of a work SP and then query an agent and get representation for that work, hoping to get it TP.  It won’t work.  The only way that can work is if you’re the top Amazon book for a long enough time, and I don’t know what that time is.  It’s a very hard lottery to win.  Don’t try.  (Again, nonfiction is different).

6-In conclusion

To really see what a difference having a team of TP behind you, check out this.  Maze Runner was published by a previously published author.  But now the original writer of the book, a SP author, is staking claim.  He even formed his own publishing company to sell it.  But the TP version went to theaters.  The SP was never known.