There was a time, not so long ago, if you’d written a book that you wanted to share with readers, you had one option—query agents, survive countless rejections, finally hook one; then wait for the agent to try selling your manuscript to publishers, survive more rejections, and with any luck, finally sign a contract. At least that’s what I hear. So far I haven’t gotten past the survive countless rejections part.
In today’s world, there is another option—self-publishing. You write, edit, design, and publish the book yourself, using the many online tools that are now available to you. Then you market the book—again by yourself. You skip the rejection part, but you also skip the professional support part.
So which option is best for you? I’ve recently been asking myself that question. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.
Self-publishing might be for you if…
- You want to see your book in print now. If your book is time-sensitive, you may want to self-publish. Traditional publishing can—and usually does—take years. In my case, I have written a book based on my mother’s life. My mother is 80 years old. I hope she has many years left on this earth, but if I want to ensure she sees the book in print, there’s not a lot of time to waste. On the other hand, she has read the manuscript, which means she has, in essence, read the book. It’s not essential that I publish for her. If my goal is to share her amazing story with others, that story is timeless and doesn’t require a rush to publishing.
- Your book appeals to a limited audience to which you have, or can gain, access. Remember, with self-publishing, you are in charge of not just publishing, but marketing the book as well. With a self-published book, you are unlikely to get on the shelves of Barnes & Noble or other large bookstores across the country. However, if your goal is to get your book in the hands of a targeted group of people that you can reasonably gain access to, self-publishing may be for you. In my case, having this book for my family, friends, and fellow bloggers would be nice. Sharing it with a larger audience would be better.
- You are an entrepreneur with the marketing skills and money to create and sell your book. Self-publishing is not an inexpensive task. I mentioned earlier that there are services available to help you edit, design, and publish your book. Those services aren’t cheap. Then you have to purchase the books and re-sell them yourself. Do you have the marketing skills and the tenacity to do that? In my case, I do have some funds available—not an endless supply, but hopefully enough to create a respectable product. I’m a professional communicator, so I could likely do some basic design work. I say likely, because designing book covers or laying out books isn’t something I’ve done before. Beyond that, I am definitely not a sales person. I can envision boxes of books languishing in my basement unread.
- You want to guarantee publication. Maybe the only thing sadder than boxes of books languishing in my basement is never creating the book at all. No matter how much time you have for publication, or how patient you are, you cannot guarantee that an agent, and then a publisher, will buy your book. Self-publishing is a guarantee that your book will go to print. Of course, you’re not committed to your initial decision for eternity. if you initially choose to seek traditional publication, and you aren’t getting any bites, there’s nothing to say you can’t change your mind down the road. In my case, I could decide to query 100 agents or try for one year, and then, if no one picks up my book, self-publish.
- You want to retain full creative control. This is a big one. As I understand it, once you sign a contract with a publisher, the book is no longer yours alone. You basically sign the rights over to the publisher, and an editor will ask you to make changes to your beloved story. In my case, that is definitely a consideration, but I also presume, by that point in time, the editor wants my book to be successful almost as much as I do, and said editor has more experience than I do. Perhaps I’m naive, but I like to think working together, we would make the book even better.
Traditional publishing might be for you if…
- You want to see your book on the shelves of stores across the country—or around the world! As mentioned under Self-publishing #1, unless you are already famous, or have key contacts in the business, this will be a tough sell if you don’t have the support of an agent and publishing house. In my case, the more people I can share my book with, the better. I think it’s a story worth sharing. Why else would I put myself through this? I want my book in front of the public.
- You want big media recognition. If you want to be on the New York Times Best Sellers list, see a movie made from your book, or make the talk show circuit, chances of that happening with a self-publication are slim—unless again you are already famous, in which case I’m surprised you’re reading this. I should be asking you for advice. In my case, I’d love to have media attention on my book, but it’s not a deal-breaker.
- You want someone else to finance the publication. With traditional publishing, there are no upfront costs and will likely be an advance on royalties. Chances are you won’t get rich off of your debut book, but at least you won’t go into debt either. In my case, money is not the primary motivator for publication. Would I like to make some spending money, you bet! Would I like to avoid spending more than I make on this project, most definitely.
- You want the guidance of professionals. If you want an experienced team to work with—if you need editing, design, marketing, or legal guidance, you may benefit from working with a traditional publisher with lots of resources at your disposal. In my case, because my book is based on true life events that I have fictionalized, events about real people with real families, I do have some questions about how to handle names, dates, other identifying features—protecting the innocent and even the not-so-innocent—but mostly protecting myself from them. And then also, as mentioned in Self-publishing #3, I don’t have any book publishing and marketing experience. This book is important to me, and I don’t want to mess up this opportunity to share it with the world. Which brings me to the final argument for traditional publishing.
- You want validation that the writing is good. How do you know if your book is ready for the world to read? If an agent and a publisher decide to invest in your book, you at least know that someone—someone that cares more about selling books than hurting your feelings—thinks it is ready. In my case, this is my debut novel and my first attempt at fiction. I truly have no idea if I’m any good at it. The last thing I want to do is self-publish a subpar version of the book too soon, ruining the opportunity to publish a better version that is ready for public consumption later.
To sum things up
Only you can decide whether traditional or self-publishing is right for you. For me, I’ve decided to devote some time and energy to seeking traditional publishing first. I am not ruling out the possibility of pursuing self-publication down the road, but my intuition and my research both point to the traditional path for now.
- If you are a published author, I’d love to hear what method of publication you used and what your experience was.
- If you are currently working on a book, have you considered what form of publication you will pursue?
- Have I missed any pros or cons for either mode of publication?