Thursday, September 3, 2009

Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing

If you’re considering self-publishing, you need to make sure you understand the differences between that and traditional publishing. Here are some pros and cons to self-publishing:

  • It’s hard to break in to traditional publishers but anybody can hire a self-publishing company. These used to be called “vanity publishers” because anyone who simply wanted to see their name on the cover of a book could hire one—and they’d publish whatever you sent them: typos, goofs, bad information, bad grammar and all. Today, most self-publishing companies are better than that and self-published books are overcoming that stigma, but you still need to know what you’re doing before you publish your own book if you want to end up with a quality product that you can sell.
  • Some traditional publishers only accept book proposals from agents but you never need an agent to get your foot in the door of an independent publishing company.

  • With traditional publishers, authors may make little in royalties. Authors who self-publish stand to make a lot more. You price the book. You find out what each unit (copy of the book) is going to cost you to produce. You keep the difference. You’ve paid the bills and you keep all the proceeds. (Note: Some publishers are “subsidy publishers” which means you pay part of the costs and they pay part, then you get part of the proceeds and they keep part of the proceeds. How much each party gets is negotiated up front.)

  • Traditional publishers often do little to promote the book—it’s pretty much all up to the author to sell every last copy. Self-publishing companies might help to varying degrees. If they say they will help you promote your book, you should find out exactly what they will do because some consider listing it on as fulfilling that part of your agreement. Simply listing your book on or in a catalog or on their web site is not going to do much to sell your book. In all of these cases, a prospective buyer/reader still needs to know about your book before they know to go to or a catalog or a web site to order it. Again, know what you’re getting into before you get into it. (I hope this blog is helping. That’s why I’m writing it!)

  • Traditional publishers today often expect the author to spend the advance given on promoting the book. If you’re publishing independently, you didn’t get an advance. But you’re still going to have to dig in your pocket to come up with any promotional money you’re going to spend. It’s best to include this, and a specific promotion plan, in your budget from the get-go.

  • You have to pay all expenses to publish the book, but you have complete control and you keep all the profits (if any).

  • You won’t have the professional book publishing people in a traditional publishing house to help you, but your self-publishing company should provide the same professional services, such as:
    - editing your book, including editing for content as well as for grammar;
    - designing your cover;
    - making your book pretty on the inside—fonts, headers, page numbers, etc.;
    - help with the “back cover copy.” (The information printed on the back cover of the book.)
    - Help with the title? Traditional publishers work on titles, but you’ll have to ask your self-publishing company about that.
    - Marketing help to help you sell the book after it’s published. Different packages are probably available for different prices, so ask. Packages might include setting up interviews on radio, TV, blog tours, book signings and more. Any expenses will be yours.

  • A traditional publisher will be able to get your book into the distributors, which makes it available to bookstores nationwide. A good self-publishing company will also have access to distributors.

  • Some self-publishing companies go to trade shows, others do not. You should find out if you’ll be able to attend those shows you wish to before you sign with a company.

  • Some authors see having professionals design their book cover as a con because the author usually has no input or right of refusal for the book cover. When you self-publish you have complete control. Your self-publishing company will work with you, but you may not have marketing/sales professionals behind you directing, so you’ll need to make sure you have professionals helping make sure you end up with a cover that will be attractive. Buyer/readers really do judge a book by its cover.

  • Dittos the above with your title.

  • Self-publishing gives you complete control over design, pricing, and every detail of your book, but make sure you have professionals helping you create a high quality product that will sell.

  • Sometimes traditional publishers will also foot the bill for advertisements in print publications or on radio. You’re self-publishing, so you’re on your own.

  • Traditional publishers will get your book to book reviewers. Check with your self-publishing company to see if they do the same.

  • Traditional publishers will take 12 to 24 months from contract to get your book published. You can have your self-published book in your hands in a couple months, or even quicker.


JFBookman said...

Dianne, thanks for a thoughtful article. Can't emphasize this one too much:

>make sure you have professionals helping you
>create a high quality product that will sell.

The "self" in publisher means that you are both the author and the publisher, it doesn't mean "I have to do everything myself." Savvy self-publishers have known for a long time that their books must meet the same standards of those put out by the "big guys" to compete in the marketplace.

You might also add that going into self-publishing means you are starting a business, since many don't realize this until much later. (not sure if that's a "pro" or a "con").

Joel Friedlander

Dianne E. Butts said...

Thanks for your comment, Joel. My friend Jo Hardesty (, who is helping me "self"-publish this book, insists that I stop calling it "self-publishing" because we don't do it by ourselves, we have lots of people helping us (including, for Christians, having the Lord involved, helping us). She wants to call it "independent publishing" because we are, in fact, opening our own independent publishing company.

I only continue to use the term "self-publishing" at times because I think more people understand that term and immediately know what it means. "Independent publishing" is less immediate in knowing what it means, I think, and people Googling for information will most likely use the self-publishing term, so I want them to find me.

But you are right--a wise self- or independent-publisher doesn't go it alone but hires the professionals (editors, cover design, interior design, and more) needed to create a professional end product that can compete with the traditional publisher's products.

And YES, self/independently publishing a book IS starting a small business. I think authoring a book, even if it's traditionally published, is starting a business because of the marketing and all that is involved in then SELLING the book.

If you guys haven't heard this from me, listen to Joel! He knows what he's talking about.