Self-publishing Pros and Cons

For years self and subsidy publishers have been considered the kiss of death for writers, but as most people know, things are changing–fast. Writers of all skill levels are reconsidering the self-publishing idea, but not every writer has the same needs and goals. What are the pros and cons of self-publishing?
Writing Tip for Today: The whole arena is becoming more complex, and e-readers such as the Kindle and Nook are making inroads into traditional publishing profits. I’m by no means an expert, but here are some things to consider:

  • Know Your Traditional Publishers. I define traditional as any publisher you don’t pay and who pays royalties on advance. PublishAmerica, now rebranding as Independent, used to get around the language by paying authors a one dollar advance and some royalties. Others pay royalties after you pay the initial costs. In my opinion, if you pay them any money to publish your work, it’s not a traditional publisher. Agents and editors don’t consider a self/subsidy published book a “real” publishing credit.
  • But It’s on Amazon! A publisher who, as a sales tool, says your book is listed on Amazon is missing an important point. There are millions of books on Amazon. How will the buyer find yours? Well you could tell a few hundred of your closest friends.
  • Distribution Counts. Along with Amazon, which doesn’t pay anything to list your book, who will carry your book? Some newer writers don’t realize that bookstores don’t automatically stock every book that is printed. The publisher must have an account with a major distributor, such as Ingram, in order for the bookseller to consider stocking your title. If it’s self-published or subsidy, chances are this crucial link in the supply chain is nonexistent. You’ll be stuck hauling your station wagon-ful of books around to every bookstore you can get to, and begging, cajoling or pressing the manager to stock your book.
  • But Some Self-pubs Have Landed Big Contracts! Yes, and some people win the Lottery. Your station wagon and garage will likely be where a lot of your books end up.


  • Age matters. If you are in your golden years, you understand the clock is ticking. Do you have the patience and longevity to go through endless rewrites, agent shopping and other frustrations of traditional publishing? If not, or if your goal is to “see your book in print” or to “leave a legacy,” then a reputable self-publisher might be a reasonable solution.
  • You Get to Keep the Money. Assuming you didn’t take out a 2nd mortgage to publish the book, you will get the profits/royalties, unless the company is crooked. For a depressing example of this, read about the guy who wrote The Shack.
  • E-books cost less to produce. If you decide to self-publish and only release an e-book, the initial costs are less.
  • You have a target audience, niche market or you do a lot of public speaking. If you are writing about how a certain garden technique changed your life, or you have a bold crusade for or against a social problem or cause, you may be able to self-publish and profit. There’s a local guy I know who has self-published his Oregon Hiking Guides for years–he speaks, travels and sells the guides.

No matter how you feel about the subject, it’s changing almost daily. Some subsidy houses have traditional publishing departments and vice versa. If you think you’re a good candidate for a self or subsidy publisher (examples are Lulu, Tate Publishing, and what used to be called iuniverse), the best advice is always to research the company, get testimonials from real writers who’ve used their services. Prepare a marketing plan in advance, set up a budget and consider your target audience. And read the fine print!

Try This!

Are you better off trying to land a traditional contract, or might you be a good candidate for self-publishing? List the pros and cons as you see them.

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

1 comment on “Self-publishing Pros and Cons

  1. Linda, I think you’ve done a pretty good job of laying out the pros and cons. I’m not a self-publishing fan, but others might find it’s right for them. As always, get as many of the facts as possible, then make a decision.

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