Why Self-Publish — Part 2

In case you missed it, tap here to read Why Self-Publish — Part 1.

In my last blog, I talked about traditional publishing and what I see as some of the pros and cons of going down that path. In this blog, I will focus on the primary alternative — self publishing.

In my next blog I will talk about the third way – ‘vanity press’ or ‘subsidy publishing’.


Self-publishing works a bit differently from traditional publishing. While traditional publishers manage and cover the costs of the entire publishing process, from editing to illustrations to cover design and typesetting, as a self-publisher, you will be responsible for doing all of the work yourself. This does not mean that you have to draw your own illustrations, edit your own book, or design your own cover. In fact, you need to be very careful before you think about doing those things on your own. 

Some self-publishers pay others to do all of those things, shopping around on the internet or elsewhere for the best deals to keep costs within reasonable bounds. There are some very good providers of these services in the marketplace, some expensive but very good ones, some outrageously expensive ones, many that are cheap, and some that are both moderately priced and who produce excellent outcomes. A bit of research and checking in with writers’ associations or writers’ groups will help you separate the wheat from the chaff and find someone you can work with — and that you can afford.

Other self-publishers will do some of those things themselves and only pay others to work on the aspects they feel are beyond their skillset.

A smaller number still will do all of it themselves, with quite a considerable cost-saving.

It is quite easy to self-publish a book without incurring any costs at all.

The real issue is achieving sales. The quality of what you publish will have a big part to play in whether your book sells. While many aspects of quality will be determined by the amount of care and effort you put into preparing your manuscript for publication, some, such as cover design, require very specific skills. 

Once again, you can produce a good cover for no cost at all. There are a number of sites on the internet which will help you achieve this free of charge. Really good covers, however, come at a cost — anywhere from a few hundred dollars up to around $1500. And covers play an absolutely vital role in achieving sales. As a self-publisher, it is your call how far you go down this track. That decision will depend on your goals for your publication and on your appetite and capacity to invest some dollars in achieving a high-quality end-product.

These issues will be discussed in more detail in a future blog. Suffice to say at this point, getting tasks that are normally done by professionals done by others (or doing it yourself) will often reduce costs but with the risk of lowering the quality of the final publication. Most of us have limited budgets, however. The trick is to work out how far you can reduce costs without impacting too greatly on quality.

Regardless of the above, one of the major benefits of self-publishing is that it can happen fairly quickly — easily within a few months and potentially even much quicker than that. With a good deal of experience under my belt, I can now publish some of my books within a week, or even a few days. I know just which tasks I need to get underway before I finish my manuscript to achieve that.

A second and arguably more important benefit is that you will retain all of the rights to your own work, as well as control over the whole publishing process from beginning to end.

Finally, none of this is hard to do. It requires a bit of knowledge — hopefully my blogs will provide you with most of that — and it requires a bit of time and effort, but nothing that is not manageable.

As I have noted above, if you end up publishing more manuscripts down the track, it will get even easier still — and you’ll be quicker at it.

Pros of Self-Publishing:

  • You retain total control over your work.
  • All royalties go to you.
  • You can easily self-publish within a few months of completing your manuscript. If you get good advice, have done it before, or go for a cut-down approach, it can happen in much less time than that.
  • You retain total control over marketing decisions.
  • Through print-on-demand services, such as Amazon KDP, you can easily access author copies at a very low cost. You can then use these to give away to friends, sell yourself, use in local marketing opportunities, and so on.
  • You can still get your books into bricks-and-mortar bookstores, but it takes a bit of effort and time.
  • You can get editing, layout and cover design done quite cheaply depending on your own abilities and time available. There will often, however, be a trade-off between financial outlay and quality.
  • Profits are just as hard to achieve as they are with a traditional publisher, but control of marketing and promotion lies with you.
  • If you are looking at writing as a long-term objective, building up a portfolio of self-published works (assuming you focus on good quality end-product) may help you break down the barriers to the big publishing houses. Only a small number of authors achieve this, but nonetheless, there is a growing number of authors who started out self-publishing and have now hit the ‘big-time’ with a deal with one of the major publishing houses. Here are just a few:
  • Andy Weir — author of The Martian which was self-published in 2011. Crown Publishing purchased the rights to the book in 2014. It has now been made into a major film.
  • E.L. James — author of Fifty Shades of Grey, self-published the first book before it took off and achieved worldwide recognition.
  • Libbie Hawker — author of the how-to-plot book, Take Off Your Pants, self-publishes her various series but lets her imprint publish her standalones. As you might imagine, this means Libbie is quite prolific. She was on her sixth self-published book when a publisher first approached her. She now has 37 books to her name.
  • Michael J Sullivan — author of The Riyria Chronicles, self-published several fantasy novels before being picked up by Orbit.

     Cons of Self-Publishing:

  • Harder to get your book into bricks-and-mortar bookstores (though they only deliver good sales figures if accompanied by good marketing) but, as noted above, you can still achieve this as a self-published author
  • You have to pay for editing, layout and book cover design but, as noted above, there are many ways to reduce these costs substantially.

In my next blog: The third option — Vanity Press or Subsidy Publishing.

In the meantime, if you want to know more about self-publishing, and get some easy-to-follow advice on how to do it, why not have a look at my publication: Self-Publishing: A Step-by-Step Guide.

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