Saturday, March 26, 2011

Reasons Why You Should Not Self-Publish

These are the reasons why I've heard you should not self-publish. (And my answers to them.)

Reason: You'll publish crap. You'll get a reputation for bad writing and no one will buy your books.

Answer: Don't publish crap. Seriously, it's that easy. You have total control over this aspect.

Reason: But writers are too close to their work to realize they can't write worth a darn. It takes years of submitting and getting rejection letters to figure out you need to improve. 

Answer: Don't use agents and publishers as your sounding board. Join a critique group. Get specific advice from veteran writers. Critique others, you'll see what isn't working in other work more easily than your own.  Pick up some books on the craft of writing fiction, and study them. Take the time to do it right. There's nothing magical about getting rejection letters that makes you a better writer. That's just silly.

Reason: Self-published books are riddled with typos and errors.  Do you really want to be lumped in with those?

Answer: Don't publish a book that is riddled with typos and errors. If your book is clean, no one will lump it in with the ones full of errors. Hire an editor. Utilize beta readers. Get as many eyes on the book as you can before you click to publish. And if (heaven forbid) you find an error after you publish, fix it and upload the file again.

Reason: You'll never sell any books, and you'll die in obscurity.

Answer: Why would you not sell any books? If you really believe your book isn't good enough to sell, you probably shouldn't self-publish, or even query agents. There are plenty of other authors selling well on the Kindle/Nook. You literally have millions of potential customers who can purchase your book with one click. And as more ereaders sell, the potential audience increases.

Reason: But ebooks are only 8%* of the market. (*Or substitute whatever % is currently being used.)

Answer: Which traditionally published author sells to 100% of the market? There are over 8 million Kindles out there, not to mention the Nook and all of the other ereaders, or the people reading ebooks on their phones and ipads. If you sold to 1% of just the Kindle owners, you'd sell 80,000 books. In fact, I just crossed that mark. Believe me, if that's all you ever sold, that will be more than a lot of traditionally published authors.

Reason: You won't earn enough to make a living.

Answer: Some indie authors are actually earning a living on their books.  Some are not.  The same can be said for traditionally published authors. I took an unscientific poll over on Kindleboards and asked how many indies were earning a living on their self-published works. 110 people took the pole. 19 of those people said they were earning a living. That's 17.3%. Here's what's even more encouraging. 12 more people said they were almost earning a living. That equals 28.2% who are either earning a living or almost earning a living. And on average ebook sales continue to grow. Plus writers usually are working on more novels to put up for sale.  These percentages will only get better as time goes on.

Reason: If you self-publish, you give up your first rights.

Answer: If you traditionally publish, you give up your first rights too. The question is, which way will actually bring in more money? At the end of this month, I'll have made over $30,000 on one 99 cent book. And that's not the end of the road. I can sell my book for years to come. Does giving up your first rights mean you won't ever be able to sell your book to a traditional publisher if that's what you want? No. Just look at DB Henson, Michael Sullivan, Boyd Morrison, and all the other authors who have sold their books after self-publishing.

Reason: If your book doesn't sell, you'll have ruined your chances for traditional publishing.

Answer: First off, why do you keep insisting the book won't sell? If it's not good enough to sell, go back to the beginning of this post and read about making your book better. If the book is good, I mean really good, but it's still not selling then get some advice about the cover/blurb/price. Does the cover fit the genre? Does it look like other covers from the traditional market? Does the blurb pull you in, and make you want to read more? Is the price too high? The best thing about self-publishing an ebook is you have total control over these things. And if all of these things are perfect, maybe you're not marketing the book in an effective way. How many book bloggers have reviewed the book? Have you done blog interviews? Are you active on social media websites? Even if your book languishes in a trickle of sales for months, that doesn't mean it has to stay that way forever. Just one person posting that they enjoyed your book on their blog could spur a floodgate of sales. And if you sell well, you could get a traditional publishing contract, like the authors mentioned above.

Reason: You'll spend money on hiring a cover artist and an editor that you won't ever make back.

Answer: Forever is a long time to sell something. If you spent $500 on cover art and an editor, you'll have to sell 1,429 books at 99 cents each to earn that money back. If you sell your book for a year, that equals roughly 4 sales a day. If you sell it for two years, that's only 2 sales a day. And most books are selling more and more each month. Honestly this one goes back to believing in the sales potential of your book again.

Reason: You'll never get the recognition that you deserve if you self-publish.

Answer: Do you want recognition or sales/income? (By the way, I'm not so sure that assumption is correct. I made the USA Today and the NYT's best seller lists with my self-published ebook. That was pretty good recognition for me. And I've seen other self-published books crop up on there too.)

Reason: There's no prestige with self-publishing.

Answer: There's no prestige with cleaning toilets either, but I did that for a while to pay the bills.

Reason: You never addressed the fact that if you jump the gun and publish crap you'll ruin your name.

Answer: Okay, I admit, some self-published books need work. However, most of them don't sell well. How does selling a few copies a month of your book ruin your name? No one knows who you are and no one knows you published a poorly written book. And if for some reason you sell four million copies of your utter garbage, and everyone knows you as a hack, you just became a millionaire. You can afford to take time off and learn to write better, and publish future books under a pen name.

After having said all that, I will add that I don't think traditional publishing is bad. There are great reasons why someone would go that route. If you have an offer from a publisher, you have choices and that's fantastic. The more choices you have the better off you are. But 99% of the writers out there won't have the choice to traditionally publish. Their choice is to query agents and publishers for years and gather up piles of rejections, or self-publish. (Or pay a lot of money to vanity publish, but we won't go into that today.) The hard truth is there are just too many good books out there to all find homes with agents and publishers. So I'm not against traditional publishing. I'm for taking your future into your own hands and making something of yourself.



  1. I am in agreement with everything you have said. :) Great (honest) post.

  2. Very good post, Vicki. I think a lot of us are getting a little tired of hearing those arguments ad nauseum. By the way, where is you tweet gadget? Don't you have one on your blog?

  3. Thanks! Uh... there's a tweet gadget? Oh, I'm so behind the times. :P I'll go look it up. :)

  4. Great post. It really is encouraging and nice to read :)

  5. "...publish future books under a pen name."

    This is a point that I think gets overlooked. It is entirely possible to publish something that you think is wonderful at the time, but that is actually pretty bad. It's not always easy to be objective about your own work. But if you make that sort of error, so what? You have NOT ruined your writing career forever. All you have to do is rebrand your future, better books under a different pen name. Telling authors "if you publish crap, your writing career is over!" is just a scare tactic, as far as I'm concerned.

  6. Ha! Good stuff! I am in a little bit of a conundrum myself. I'm writing a book that I think is very well done, called Enura (

    Everything's going dandy (with over 60% of my book written), and then like an idiot, I accept a writer's challenge from a fellow member of my critique group to write a book with the word YUMMY! in the title; thus, a romantic zombie comedy entitled YUMMY! The Crusty Englishman is born (

    Now, I was only half serious (or sane) when I accepted this challenge, and really didn't expect these gals to hold me to my word. I toss out a few ideas, and then all the sudden they start prodding me about the zombie novel (forget about Enura altogether). These gals are so crazy (Make the man sexy! Make the sex scenes wild!). Uh, sex scenes? Really! Oh God, what have I gotten myself into?

    Just to get these women off my back, I crafted a truly hideous chapter with a SOB of a main character. "Now I've really shown them! Now they'll never want to read another word," I try to fool myself.

    And then something funny happened. They absolutely loved it.

    "Give us more, give us more!" They foam at the mouth like a ravenous zombie mod. Now I can't write it fast enough. They've vowed to publicly set my ball on fire if I leave them hanging for too long.

    Is this "good prose?" Would it classify as a good novel? Most likely not. Ok, most definitely not. But guess what? For some strange reason, this is what my readership wants to read.

    So, good or bad, I'm going to write it for them. I'll make sure I write it as good (or bad) as I can. I'd love to say that I'm worried about ruining my reputation, but I've got the feeling that comedy can give you a lot of lattitude that other genres can't. That's why I'm willing to take the risk.

    That, and I'd like to avoid the whole "chestnuts roasting on an open fire" routine.

  7. Ha! There's nothing wrong with publishing something goofy, if it's funny and makes people want to read it. If you're worried it will taint your more serious work, just publish under two different names. ;o)

  8. Fantastic post! Refreshing to hear frank answers about self publishing. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

  9. It's funny, Victorine. I kept telling people how much I loved your cover (can't get those blue eyes out of my head), but never actually purchased your novel.

    Well, I just fixed that!

    Your writing is excellent; very tight and clean. A great example of what indies are capable of.

  10. Great post, Vicki! I haven't been at this as long as others, but I'm surprised at how often I've heard these arguments already.

    I do have to say that for me, personally, I'm sort of anti-critique groups. Got three books published traditionally without them, and I don't see me changing that. I hate having my work criticized. LOL It doesn't bother me when my editor does it though, for some reason.

    I also sat in a class with an author that I admired, and she repeatedly told us not to get into critique groups - that other authors would try to "correct" our voice and our voice is what would sell. Too many chefs, and all that. I think that sort of stuck in my mind.

  11. A critique group really taught me a lot, but I understand they're not for everyone. I did like the fact that I could get a lot of advice, and take what is helpful and leave the rest. And after a while I found a few crit partners who I trusted and valued their opinions, probably like you trusted and valued your editor's opinion. I've never had anyone try to correct my voice, but every critique group is made up of different people, and I can see that maybe happening.

    I, personally, am a huge fan of critique groups, but if you don't use one my advice would be to at least have some beta readers who know a bit about writing take a peek at it. And definitely use an editor. :)

  12. I couldn't agree more with this post. The key to selling a book is to have a well written book in the first place. You've really put some common sense up against these old anti self-publishing arguments. Refreshing indeed.

  13. Critique groups are great, if you realize that their opinion is just that. But, sometimes they point out something that, after reading it, you say AHA! and it becomes better. But YOU have to be the final judge. You should never change your work solely based on a critique.

  14. Amen! I love your focus on the author's ability to control so much of the equation (in relation to the book itself).

  15. Interesting. One other point, if people have an option to take a chance on a $5.99 book or a $0.99 book, normally they'd spend the $0.99 and take a chance on your book. If you're good, they'll like it and buy others of yours. Especially in this economy. Plus, what about published authors such as myself? I've already given up several rights, and might like to retain others in the future. I'm still debating which way to go for my new novels so I really liked this article! Thanks.

  16. Just wanted to say, great article! I won't attempt to add any meaningful insight to the subject, as I'm too befuddled with lack of coffee at the moment.

  17. Blogger lost my first draft of this I apologise if this is a little too er, summarized.

    1. Great post.
    2. pole --> poll
    3. Don't understand the doublethink that means some authors think that their book is too brilliant for the gatekeepers of the industry AND that the job of editors is to make their mss readable. Your manuscript is either brilliant OR unreadable. Pick one.
    4. Being careful about readability & marketing is especially important in self-publishing, because people go to design/marketing/art/editing school for a reason, and you may not have the resources to pay high fees, so instead you have to be smart.
    5. My own background, FYI, is that my publisher is a small indie strictly trade house, run by a terribly awesome lady who thinks I should be consulted about the things that go into publishing my own book. Not like a Big 6 experience, from what I've heard.

  18. Loved the post, especially answers the first few lines to the beginning questions. "Just do it" basically. Sometimes it's best to think about all that stuff afterwards.

  19. Victorine, thanks for this post. It's full of practical, encouraging advice :) As a NY published author who couldn't sell her next, and next, and next, and so on... book, it's been very hard to break down the barriers in my mind. I was told once to be bold, be brave :) Your post reiterates that.

    Mimir says, "Just do it". Soon. Yea!!!

  20. Great article! I've been considering the self-publishing option, and this helps put another check in the "pro" list. Thank you.

  21. Alice - Thanks for catching that! I need an editor for my blog posts. Ha. :D

  22. I hear this stuff a lot. Right up there with 'Good authors get agents. Bad ones self publish.'
    Then why do an ever-increasing amount of indies get agents? Many of which were initially rejected?
    For a slow month, I'm doing pretty well for a brand new indie. I don't regret it at all.

  23. These are some great things to think about! I do think that many authors have trouble selling their own work, which is my biggest concern with self-publishing, although authors who have trouble selling their own work may fail in a traditional market as well.

    From the reader point of view, we like the comfort of knowing someone likes/recommends/believes in this book. Having used a small press to publish my books (traditionally), I noticed some doors closed to me simply because I didn't have a big name behind me. Many more reviewers refused to look at self-published books. So how do you get the word out? And if self-publishing takes off, won't the reviewers willing to recommend these books sort of take the place of the more traditional agent/publisher rejection/acceptance? Or would they serve a slightly different role because they don't have to try to predict the commercial viability of a book?

  24. Christine,

    I think when it comes to reviews you have to be willing to spread your name as far and wide as you possibly can.

    With my novel, Mercy (I'd link it here, but I don't want to be rude) I sent out something like 80 emails to different bloggers and authors, asking them if they wanted to look at the book.

    In the end, I got 21 emails from folks willing to blurb, review, or blog about the book. That’s about a 25% return rate. To get one that high, I made very sure to check review policies for everyone I queried. If they didn’t take e-books, I didn’t bother.

    Not all my reviews are complete yet, and my book just came out. So I can’t put out any final data on whether my time was well spent.

    I will conclude, however, by noting that I got blurbs from two different authors, both traditionally published, and all I had to do was ask nicely.

    I mean, I’m not going to get into the New York Times book review section, no, but if blogger with 200 readers likes my book, I’m sure to get a few sales. And if they like the book…

  25. Okay I really am "rolling on the floor" - well - maybe just a good hard chuckle - but a hard one. Really.

    I was attracted to read this because all of my friends tell me I need to write my own book on #AmericanPies - and here comes the devil's advocate! Or not.

    Thanks for building my confidence! I'm a great writer, networker, and social media person. (i.e. communicator)

    People hire me to write for them.
    Love what I write.

    Heck I get "retweeted" by big names even. So WHY NOT publish my own book - for me?

    Thanks again,

  26. An encouraging, empowering post. Thanks.
    I believe in my product. I know my books aren't crap. My concern is (as others have commented) not my ability/time/interest to write, but to market effectively. I also understand that I would face that challenge even with the traditional publishing model. I guess I'll just have to get brave and go for it!

  27. Thanks for this post. I've been debating with myself for a few weeks now about whether to self-publish or not. I think if I get one more rejection will make up my mind for me. In the meantime, I've been researching it and like that I see and read. As Shannon above said, it's a matter of getting brave and going for it!

  28. Excellent and encouraging post. I'm really glad I read this tonight.

  29. Wonderful post! The more information like this gets out there, the more the old ideas and stigmas will fall away.

  30. You forgot to mention the endless self-promotion that goes into self-publishing. And yes, you still need to do that when you go the traditional route, but it's not as intensive.

    Or did you miss why Amanda Hocking has sold to a traditional publisher this time around?

  31. I'm new to your blog, just found it today. I love your view on self publishing. It is very refreshing to read a straight forward and honest point of view. I look forward to reading more and acquiring your book. Thank you for this wonderful Q&A.

  32. Great post. I have a book out as a hardcover through a small-press publisher. "Angel in the Shadows, Book 1" is selling well and getting great publicity. However, I think I will sell it as an ebook myself (I kept all rights). I like the idea that I can sell it forever.:)

  33. Just discovered your blog because somebody told me to check it out... I have to say... I'm impressed with your take on the whole thing... I love discussing all these points... it's such an exciting time to be a writer.

  34. What a splendid encouragement. Someone else said 'empowering' and I heartily agree.

  35. Nice work, Vicki. I've been following several fiction writing blogs, and the bias (and misinformation) against self-publishing is truly mind-blowing. I'm probably biased a little too much against traditional publishing myself at this point, but I'm sure glad to see someone else trying to fight the FUD factor stirred up by "the traditionalists."

    In truth, I think a lot of it is really just the fact that things have changed dramatically in the last couple of years, and many of the old arguments against self publishing are just no longer valid. At the same time, new arguments against traditional publishing have emerged.

  36. Great post. You're right, I've read some self-published stuff that was crap, but I've also read some traditional published books that were so loaded with typos and bad grammar I was totally surprised. I use a very good editor (a super writer in her own right) and cover artist. But I'm also getting started and they'll probably be with me till I reach room temperature.

  37. A HUGE factor in my decision to direct publish was quality... not indie quality, but big-name-NY-quality.

    I have seen very, very well known authors with very, very poorly edited books. I was reading a best seller from one of the most noted names in fantasy last night-- errors on every fifth page or so. HUGE name in NY publishing.

    At least I can fix mine.

    Victorine, you are my new hero!

  38. To me, self-publishing was I think the best choice to make. I am a first-time author so no one knows me, yet. And the self-publishing route means no rejection; which sounds good. So instead of running into frustration trying to find someone to publish my book, just go ahead and self-publish and move on to writing my next masterpiece is what I say.
    (Of course if a big publishing house sees my work and wants to make me an offer I'm not opposed to that either).

  39. Lovely post and very affirming. Thanks for giving us all powerful rebuttals to all those arguments the initiated (the folks who sweated their way to traditional publication) and the keepers of the kingdom (the publishers and agents) keep making.


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