Publish VS Self-Publish

You write a book. You have options. Most people categorize those options as either finding someone to publish their book for them or doing it themselves. But, if we unravel the mystery of publishing in 2016, it’s much more complex.

Anyone can learn to write using MS Word or Scrivener. And anyone can learn to format and create ebooks and order printed copies, which means anyone can publish you. We should be talking in terms of a continuum of publication options between the two tired standards of publishing past.


1. Traditional Publishing

Convince an agent to represent your book to one of the major publishers who will love it, create it and distribute it if it ever finds its way to the top of their slushpile. Although this sounds like a fool proof plan for fame and fortune to some, the vast and expansive majority of first time authors who are published by the few major publishers are not able to support themselves from one book. But, the professionalism of their finished product is high and the bragging rights last a lifetime.

It’s something to think about for most writers.

2. 100% Self-Publishing

You take your files and turn them into ebook files. It’s quite simple. If you can save your work as a word document or a PDF, you can upload it into a file converter. I don’t mean you can make it look good with a file converter, but you can create ebook files with minimal button clicking involved. To get more professional, get writers find apps like Sigil, and make great friends with all their features.

You edit. You format. You make the cover. You ask each person you meet individually if they will read it. If you have no money to invest in developing your work, this may be the only way to start, but your weakness in design or marketing or whatever area will show.

3. Small Press

I’ve met quite a few people who believe that all self-published books earn less than 100 USD. And that may be true for the writers who couldn’t find a publisher and decided to self-publish as a second option. BECAUSE… if you want someone else to publish you, you will find someone to publish you, UNLESS your work is to the readers what gum on the bottom of a shoe is to a pterodactyl.

A small press is any press operating with a budget less than 50 million USD annually. That can be a retiree at his home computer in the country working on dial-up or a successful and growing business that turns out quality niche works.

4. Somewhat Self-Publishing

100% Self-Publishing sounds romantic and all rebel against the system, but DO NOT think for one minute that readers do not judge your book by its cover. Unless they LIKE the cover or hear something good about it from someone they trust, the book IS the cover.

And if you’re like me, who uploaded and formatted a draft of my first book without noticing, who may need a professional editor or at least, a professional proofreader. Or you may need help with marketing and website design. Somewhat Self-Publishing is when you have learned your strengths and weakness and decided to pay other people to ensure your work reaches a professional standard.

It is my firm belief that no one should self-publish, because they failed to find a publisher.

And in the end, there is only one true path to success as a writer no matter what route you choose.
Write! Write! Write! 

Like every successful businessman, any writer with enough determination will eventually be able to connect a product to the people who want to pay them for it.

I’ve personally never submitted my novels for publication by a small press or a major publisher. I considered it, but the thought decreased my passion for writing. I want to self-publish just as my grandfather did the year I was born. He bought an old printing press and made copies of his writing by setting each letter of each page by hand.

It is a romantic ideal for me, but I also have aspirations to publish other people’s work. I dream of thermal binders and a warehouse of shelving to stock an inventory of warm comfortable escapist scifi.

Yes, it’s good to dream, but it’s even better when you have a plan to go with it.

2 Replies to “Publish VS Self-Publish

  1. So very nicely said, Carrie. The image of your grandfather setting his book letter by letter is captivating. There’s a column on Writer Unboxed by Dave King, editor for hire, warning the WU readers that self-publishing has its risks: a writer will believe their work is ready to publish when it is not. I assume that working with an editor for hire will help them better prepare their work. I sure hope so, because I am one of those editors. But I don’t blow smoke at my clients by telling them their only goal is to win that agent and that contract with a press. That confuses the creativity with the commerce of writing.

    You make a better point. When considering the prospect of becoming an agented writer, seeking publishing deals, you are now less motivated to write. Me too. The allegory I use these days is the film business. Lots of indie movies out there, crafted with love on a low budget. If everybody who made a film had to take a film degree (MFA!) or get picked up at Sundance (an agent!) we wouldn’t have some movies to watch we truly love. A warm, comfortable, escapist SciFi novel: what a treasure.

    1. I looked into how many of the top selling writers over the past 20 years studied for an MFA and the answer was zero. That sort of clued me in. There are a small number of people who study English who have been successful, but more often popular authors have other fields or personal experience to draw on to appeal to readers. I think the idea that there is a right way or one way to do something only holds us back.

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