Should You Self-Publish If You Want to Get Published Traditionally?

Should You Self-Publish If You Want to Get Published Traditionally?

This is a question that people ask a lot in general, and which I, in particular, have been asked quite a few times in the privacy of my inbox: should you self-publish if you care about traditional publishing?

Usually, the question is posed a little less gracefully than that, i.e. Holy shit I’m so proud of you for your recent book but ah mah gah aaaaah aren’t you worried that you’ve ruined your chances of a book deal FOREEEEVVEEEERRRRRR??!

And the truth is: Yes. Sometimes I worry about that.

Sometimes I also worry about tsunamis (I live on the coast) and amoebas (I live in the tropics) and death in childbed (I doubt this will happen and am not planning to have any more children but I worry about it).

But worrying doesn’t make something true. So I try to look at the question objectively. I thought I would bring that objectivity to you today. To that end, let’s answer the question of “Should you self-publish?” with a little pro-con list.

Should You Self-Publish? The Pros

The upsides of self-publishing are many:

  1. You get to have books out in the world, and it’s an amazing feeling.
  2. You get to work toward your goal and see it come to life before starting on the next goal, rather than endlessly reworking a manuscript or piling up drafts that go nowhere.
  3. You make money. Real money.
  4. You don’t have to worry about your next book getting picked up. You’ll pick it up. 😉
  5. The publishing cycle is a lot shorter.
  6. Cover artists are amazing and affordable these days. I pay Archangel Ink $449 for professionally formatted ebook and paperback covers, as well as a variety of online promotional collateral.
  7. Self-publishing brings in money faster, so you can write that next book sooner and leave your day job in far less time (if you’re successful).
  8. You have creative control over everything.
  9. You keep more of the royalties.
  10. You own all the rights.
  11. Your book never goes out of print unless you want it to.
  12. You can still pay for audiobooks, which means you nab profits from one of the most lucrative publishing platforms on the market today.

To me, this list is HUGE. Obviously, it’s been worth it to me, and I have started to self-publish regularly.

Should You Self-Publish? The Cons

Of course, there are a number of cons as well. They include:

  1. There is a lack of the prestige associated with traditional publishing, and in fact, real stigma still attached to self-publishing.
  2. You pay for everything yourself, which means you have to come up with the funds for a cover, editing, and a marketing plan.
  3. You don’t have access to the high-caliber teams that big publishing houses can afford.
  4. You don’t have the big names backing your book, which is definitely helpful with marketing.
  5. You almost certainly will not get movie deals or foreign sales, unless you translate your books yourself.

If You Decide to Self-Publish, Are Your Traditional Chances Dead?

But back to the initial question: Do I worry that self-publishing means I can never land a traditional book deal?

Well, not really. Here’s why: It’s nigh impossible to get past the gatekeepers at publishing companies anyway. If you can get an agent to sign you on, you can’t guarantee it will work out. (I know, because I had an agent at one point, and I got so frustrated with her that I left. Sad story.) Even if your agent is highly committed to you, they can’t always guarantee a sale. Meanwhile, you can’t push forward with another book/agent/publisher because of exclusivity requirements and, even if you get a contract, the extreeeeeeeemly slooooooooow nature of the traditional publishing cycle.

That means that while you’re waiting on a “better” form of publishing, your career is almost certainly languishing. For years. Just talk to any hopeful author, and you’ll see what I mean. I know exactly three people who have landed professional book deals: one who got one at a small press, one who was a local newspaper superstar first (and is doing quite well) and one who got a book deal, then was told her sales were too low to get another one.

The Dangers of Traditional Publishing

This last person is a cautionary tale. If you do land a traditional book deal, your chances of ever getting another depend on sales of the previous book. If those sales aren’t high enough, you are probably done. Scary, right?

On the other hand, if you self-publish first and are successful enough to have high sales, you might get a traditional contract. It’s rare, but it happens. Personally, I prefer the idea of self-publishing until I’m big enough for a contract, if ever, rather than waiting and waiting only to get one book deal and done. To me, that’s not a writing life well lived.

Moreover, your sales depend on you even with a traditional publishing contract. Unless you pay a marketing company or are named Stephen King, you will have to hustle your ass off … to receive around 30% royalties. Compare that to Amazon, where you’ll receive 70% royalties for the same hustling. The question becomes, how much do you care about prestige? If the answer is “a lot,” then wait. If the answer is, “Meh, I just want to be decently reviewed and make real money,” then it’s my considered opinion – from talking with dozens of happy self-published authors – that you should go for it.

So, should you self-publish? In the end, that’s up to you. If you want that prestige, then I believe you should wait for it. Your dream matters and you have to run with it. But if what you’re really looking for is a business plan that works, I’d say go for boutique publishing and figure out the rest later.

In the meantime, I’m happy to help you learn to write fo free! Go check out the Free Resource Library to learn more today.

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