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The Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing Your Novel
Written by
Stephanie Bond
January 2016
Written by
Stephanie Bond
January 2016

I've been writing for (yikes) 20 years now.  I traditionally published the first 50 or so novels I wrote, then I started a self-publishing venture to re-release a dozen books I'd written early in my career and had gotten the rights back to.  For a while, I had a foot in both traditional publishing and indie publishing.  Now I'm wholly indie-published, although I work with my former publisher to coordinate re-release of the many projects they still have the rights to.  Having walked a mile on both roads, here are some thoughts on self-publishing:

The pros of self-publishing your novel:

  • You don’t have to endure the protracted submission process to traditional publishers.
  • You will have total control over your content, cover, release date, and price.
  • You can release books as soon as and as often as you write them.
  • You can respond to reader feedback more quickly.
  • You can change/update your book and republish at any time.
  • You will receive the lion’s share of the royalties.
  • Your royalties are paid every month.
  • You retain all rights.
  • If your book sells well, you can still submit a proposal to an agent and/or publisher, with sales data to prove your book is being well-received by readers.

The cons of self-publishing your novel:

  • You won’t see your name on the book on a bookstore bookshelf. (Although you can make your book available in print through print-on-demand services, and some p-o-d companies distribute to book stores.)
  • You won’t receive an advance payment on your book.
  • You have total control of the content, cover, release date, and price—it’s all on you.
  • You will need some technical skills.  And lots of patience.
  • You will have to exercise subsidiary rights (audio, foreign language) on your own.
  • You will have to divide your time between writing, administrative tasks, marketing…and a thousand million other bits and pieces.  

While I publish/distribute books on every online retail platform, for beginners I recommend the KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) platform for its ease of use and CreateSpace print-on-demand services for the same reason.  Also, CreateSpace distributes to booksellers, so a customer can walk in to a Barnes & Noble brick-and-mortar store and order your self-published book.  And if your indie book hits big, bookstores can order stock for their shelves.

I personally believe every writer should self-publish some piece of writing for sale at some time during their career 1) to see how easy it is and 2) to see how hard it is.  Even if afterward you decide self-publishing isn't right for you/your project, you'll be much better informed about a sizable chunk of the industry. 

Did you know She Writes Press offers a third, "hybrid" way to publish your book? Learn more about the model that combines self-publishing and traditional publishing. 

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  • Kathryn Meyer Griffith

    Yes, self-publishing has become harder the last four years (I started self-publishing in 2012) but it's still more lucrative than legacy publishers. Even if you go with a publisher you will still need to market yourself with all that entails. Promote your books. All I know is that I could never make anywhere near a living with them but do now self-publishing. Truth matter which way you go, being a writer is a lot of hard work. It's a calling and you have to treat it as such. Your heart has to be all in. I look back over my 44 years of writing and it feels, at times, like it's only been minutes. I'm continually learning and I'm sure I will keep learning in the years to come.

  • Stephanie Bond

    Hi, Dawn!  Yes, in 2011/2012, I would've encouraged anyone to self-publish, with no caveats.  But now, it's harder to break in and sustain sales without knowing something about branding and marketing.  So I'm careful to warn writers how much business is involved and prepare them for a long, slow build, which seems counter to anecdotal success stories that get publicized.  The most successful writers in this business will be the most dedicated--the last ones standing, so to speak.  There have never been more options for writers, but with those options come more obligation on our end to make the best choice for us/our work, and to commit the necessary effort to follow-through.  The writing vocation has never been an easy path...and so it continues!

  • Dawn Quyle Landau

    Helpful, clear and straightforward advice... I appreciate your direct approach in both the piece and comments below. I think many of us who are still trying to "break in," think that self-publishing is an easier ride–– immediate gratification and all. There's a sense, that yes: you need to format, market yourself, etc, but it's easy to view that as much more doable than the challenges of trad. publishing. When you mention "distribution channels and marketing programs," I pause. We should all pause before hitting send. However we publish, it should be our best work, given the best effort. Thanks for spelling it out but preserving hope. 

  • Stephanie Bond

    Hi, Kathryn!  Yes, I keep hearing the same thing from formerly traditionally published authors--they love the control, and the royalties.  But it's harder now that it was 5 years ago--harder to break in, and harder to keep up with all the distribution channels and marketing programs.  So when new authors ask if they should self-publish, I always warn them they need to really be serious about it versus doing it on a whim.  And they have to enjoy the business side (I do).  There's a lot to learn, and it's not for sissies, as you know!

  • Kathryn Meyer Griffith

    I traditionally published for over 32 years with a variety of publishers and hated not having control and getting 4-18% royalties; no accountability, all my 22 novels and some short stories are self-published and I love it. I do all the formatting and submitting myself. I got all 22 novels done through ACX (Audible) and into audio books for the first time ever. Through Create Space I have them all in paperback. 32 years ago I got a whopping 14 cents for a mass market paperback and now I can get as high as $5-6 dollars each. It does take a lot of work but to get paid every month; paid well for a book and being able to see the royalties growing every day is a great feeling. I love the new publishing world.

  • Rossandra White

    Thanks Stephanie! It does help.

  • Stephanie Bond

    Hi, J! make me blush.  You know how much I LOVE this new frontier of publishing.  So glad to see you've embraced it so enthusiastically and to know you're doing so well with it.  It's empowering, isn't it?  Now if only we had more hours in a day....  

  • Stephanie Bond

    Hi, Pamela--I too, am thrilled authors have so many options these days.  I like to have a multi-pronged approach to my career:  with some of my books, I split/share rights with traditional publishers...with some of my books, I publish the ebooks and print books, but let my agent sell the sub rights....with other titles, I sell the sub rights.  There are still some things a big publisher can do for you (especially if they still have some of your backlist), but I think in general, the indie-publishing revolution has been a boon for readers, and for authors.  This is a fantastic time to be a content generator!  

  • Stephanie Bond

    Hi, Rossandra!  Yes, I've heard of Kindle Scout.  Here's my take:  There are some things big publishers can do better than indie-authors IF they get behind a book--marketing, publicity, merchandising support, pricing, etc.  A big publisher can push a lot of copies of your book out there if they're so inclined.  You might not make much on each copy, but their distribution can be wide.  That's why I think in some cases, it's smart to let a big publisher launch something for you--your first book, the first book in a series, etc., with the thought that they will put a lot of eyeballs on it...then you can follow up with something indie published to capitalize on your newfound readership with a book you'll make more money on.  SO I think Kindle Scout could be a great place to be launched...just mind what the contract says about what other works you might owe them. Could be a good strategic career move.  Does that help?

  • Rossandra White

    Have you heard of Kindle Scout? What do you think?

  • Pamela Olson

    I've done both now, and hands down, self-publishing was the more satisfying approach. Yeah, it was fun seeing my book in Barnes & Noble. That excitement lasted about a week. And it was nice getting an advance, but that's gone before you know it. The initial publicity campaign was exciting, but then it was crickets. And I have no control over pricing, cover design, back cover copy, or final edits to a piece of writing that means the world to me, and I'll probably never see another penny from that book (traditional royalties are a joke unless you sell 50,000 copies or more), which otherwise could have kicked me back at least $100 a month indefinitely. (I was frequently making over $300 a month from it before a traditional publisher took over.)

    If a publisher wants to offer me, say, $30k or more for a book it took me a year to write and promises a pretty awesome and sustained publicity campaign, I may consider it. But that's incredibly rare.

    I'm so glad self-publishing is such a viable option these days!

  • josiebrown

    TOTALLY agree, Stephanie. The financial and professional success of self-publishing outweighs the "joy" of being traditionally published. By doing so, I've gotten my books in the hands of tens of thousands of new readers who enthusiastically buy more. I'm now making the kind of money I used to only dream of.

    You were my original inspiration for moving beyond my New York publishers. I know you'll inspire others in community as well.