Should I self-publish my book? That’s the question I’m asked by authors, more than any other. So, let me answer it definitively, by saying…
Just because modern technology has made it possible for you to self-publish a book, doesn’t mean you should self-publish a book.
In fact, you probably shouldn’t self-publish a book.
I could watch TV all day long, but I don’t. I could buy a new motorcycle and go 150+ mph — like I used to when I was young and reckless — but I won’t (I have a friend who lost his leg doing that). And, I could eat lots of junk food… but I don’t want to buy bigger pants (seriously).
You might think that isn’t a fair comparison, but I think it’s spot-on. Instead of asking yourself, “Should I self-publish my book?” ask yourself:
Do I want someone to pay me for the privilege of publishing my books (traditional publishing)… or, do I want to pay someone else for the privilege of getting my books published (self-publishing)?
Because that’s what it boils down to…
CAUTION: If it costs you any money (up front, out of your pocket) to get a copy of your book(s) in your hands, it’s self-publishing.
Now, let me tell you exactly why you probably don’t want to self-publish a book.
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Should I Self-Publish My Book –
10 Reasons to Get a “Traditional” Publisher
1. Advance – Should I Self Publish My Book
Why self-publish a book (pay money out of your pocket) when a traditional publisher will pay for you? Why self-publish a book when someone like Random House will take all the financial risk… and pay you a cash advance for the privilege?
2. Credibility – Should I Self-Publish My Book
Just because you self-publish a book doesn’t mean it’s going to be taken seriously. Just because you self-publish a book doesn’t mean you’re to be viewed as a credible expert. Book buyers in bookstores, consumers, and the media understand that anyone can self-publish a book (get an ISBN number and pay a printer). If you self-publish a book it can actually hurt you (because lots of people are going to think: “Gee, why he did he/she self-publish a book… I guess he/she couldn’t get a real publisher”). If, however, you’re published by a traditional publisher… book buyers, consumers, and the media are more likely to trust that you and your book(s) are legitimate and valuable.
3. Editing – Should I Self-Publish My Book
You might not think you need an editor, but it probably wouldn’t hurt. So, why self-publish a book when you can have a highly-skilled professional in-house editor, making insightful observations and suggestions (things you can’t see alone, because you don’t have the benefit of their experience)?
4. Cover Design – Should I Self-Publish My Book
Ask anyone in publishing and they’ll tell you… covers sell books. If you self-publish a book (unless you’re a professional book cover designer, or hire one), you’re likely going to undermine your content with an inferior cover. When you self-publish a book (and design your own cover), there’s a real good chance you’re going to miss at least one or two important required elements… that will turn off buyers and/or keep you out of bookstores.
5. Reviews – Should I Self-Publish My Book
It’s not fair… but newspapers, magazines, and other media are much more inclined to review books published by traditional publishers (instead of by people who self-publish a book). In fact, many publications now have policies stating that they will not accept self-published books for review. Yes, I know, traditional publishers also produce some books that aren’t great, but their success percentage is much higher than that of people who self-publish a book. Editors and journalists don’t have time to take that many chances. And they don’t.
6. Sales & Marketing – Should I Self-Publish My Book
Just because you can self-publish a book doesn’t mean you can sell it. Unless you’ve spent most of your professional life in book sales (and you have a large sales team working for you), a traditional publisher is going to be more effective getting book buyers to purchase your book (especially in large quantities). They know what to say, how to say it, and when to say it. Timing is everything. If you self-publish a book, you need to be aware of the book-buying “seasons.” If you self-publish a book, you need to be aware of other authors’ book releases. And, if you self-publish a book, you need to know about world events and other industry events that might impact your sales.
7. Distribution – Should I Self-Publish My Book
When I was a literary agent I had the pleasure of getting agent commission checks (as a matter of fact, I’m still collecting them), thanks to some publishers’ creative distribution (thank you, Peter Workman). I’m not talking Borders and Barnes and Noble, but places like supermarkets; car washes; department stores; wholesale clubs like Costco; and retailers like Bed, Bath & Beyond. If you self-publish a book, you aren’t going to get that kind of placement. Also, if you self-publish a book, what are you going to do if you suddenly get lots of publicity? If you self-publish a book and Oprah starts talking about you… will you have enough copies of your book(s) in print to meet the sudden demand? If you self-publish a book and get that kind of exposure, will you have the money to quickly print tens of thousands (or hundreds of thousands) more copies?
8. Publicity – Should I Self-Publish My Book
Traditional publishers have connections with major media outlets, and they have staff to help coordinate book tours and things like “satellite radio tours.” If you self-publish a book you’ll be all alone. If you self-publish a book, you might not know the best “hooks” to present to the media so you’ll get booked (no pun intended). If you self-publish a book, you might spend all your time trying to get publicity… instead of actually doing interviews, and other things, like (I don’t know) writing more books!
9. Licensing & Merchandising – Should I Self-Publish My Book
If you want to self-publish a book, you might not be aware of licensing and merchandising opportunities (or how to pursue them). In other words, Paramount Pictures might want to option your book for feature film; a famous playwright might want to convert your story into a play; an actor might want to turn your book into a television series; Andrews McMeel might want to use your content to create a calendar; and other traditional publishers around the world might want to produce foreign-language editions of your book(s). I’ve had all of those things happen for my clients as a literary agent, all the result of the licensing departments at traditional publishing houses hustling. And, yes, you would get most (or a significant portion) of the financial proceeds from any such licensing and merchandising deals. If you self-publish a book, these things are a lot less likely to happen.
10. Bestseller List – Should I Self-Publish My Book
You might not know this, but it’s virtually impossible to get on any real bestseller list if you self-publish a book. In most cases, you need at least 50,000 books printed and distributed all at once, during your first printing, to have a chance at making a major bestseller list like the NY Times. If you self-publish a book, you might be able to sell 100 books in one day and become an Amazon bestseller (in your category). Great. Then what?
In my opinion, it’s okay to self-publish… as a last resort. In other words, if you’ve exhausted all efforts to get a literary agent and a traditional publisher (which might mean you’ve also worked with a coach or consultant to drastically increase your chances).
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Should I Self-Publish My Book?
If you self-publish a book after doing the above…
But why self-publish a book (or even think about it)
before giving yourself a legitimate shot at the big time?
Why settle, before you know what’s really possible for you and your book?
So, why not make getting a traditional publisher (with the help of a literary agent),
your primary goal?
And click here to read one more article
about whether you should self-publish a book.
Your “Undercover” Agent
P.S. If you’ve already self-published, it’s not too late to get a traditional publisher
(ask me about your specific situation below).
P.P.S. There are a few rare instances when self-publishing is a good idea
(I’ll tell you about those another time).