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.
The upsides of self-publishing are many:
To me, this list is HUGE. Obviously, it’s been worth it to me, and I have started to self-publish regularly.
Of course, there are a number of cons as well. They include:
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.
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.
This site may occasionally contain affiliate links. We only recommend products we love, use and would tell our friends about. Thank you for understanding and supporting New Leaf Writing!