Thursday, April 14, 2011

Why I'm Scared (to self-publish)

I started this blog post today after pondering the sentiment many people have that “your days are numbered, agent. Why should I get a publisher or pay you 15% anyway when I can just put it up online myself and get a 70% royalty?!”

I wanted to show that no, really, agents are pretty much awesome. I mean, you can just read this and know that right?

Research commenced. I found out exactly how to self-pub:

“With Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) you can self-publish your books on the Amazon Kindle Store. It's free, fast, and easy. Books self-published through KDP can participate in the 70% royalty program and are available for purchase on Kindle devices and Kindle apps for iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, PC, Mac, Blackberry, and Android-based devices. With KDP, you can self-publish books in English, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian and specify pricing in US Dollars and Pounds Sterling.”


You just have to price your book between $2.99 and $9.99 to get that 70%; otherwise, you get 35%, which is the rate you will generally get (if not better) from a traditional indie pub.

If you want to be available on more than just the Kindle, you'll need to put your book onto a site like Smashwords.

Awesome. Know thy enemy and all that.

Then came the time to throw the wrench into this eeevil plan.

USA Today writes: “This January [Amanda Hocking] sold more than 450,000 copies of her nine titles…. Novelist J.A. Konrath…has sold more than 100,000 self-published e-books.”

Wait, what?

"The Beanie Baby Handbook by Lee and Sue Fox sold three million copies in two years and made #2 on the New York Time Bestseller list."

And on and on and on. There's even a self-published book on self-published hall-of-famers!

Boy. Self-publishing ebooks sure doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Sounds pretty lucrative, actually.

The biggest decision you seem to have to make is whether or not to protect your ebook with Digital Rights Management(which, by the way, isn't a clear option you have to do anyway, so it's probably not even something you would think about).

So what can I really say against it?

Nothing. Except that I would never do it.

At the end of the day, self-publishing is incredibly tempting: I have several unpublished manuscripts lying around. I have over 2,000 twitter followers. I’m sure if I priced the sucker at $.99 people would pay to see just what this agent’s got. So why the heck not?

Well. I suppose because there’s no guarantee. Yes, it could be some easy, quick cash; but that’s not the point of publishing, is it? Even Amanda Hocking ended up with a traditional publisher.


Part of it, I think, is because to make it in self-publishing, you have to constantly promote yourself. You become a business, and any business needs full dedication in order to succeed and grow. Sure, if you make enough money you can hire a promotional team, but you will constantly have to keep proving yourself, constantly have to be everywhere.

But most of it? The big, glaring elephant in the room that is why most writers are afraid (yeah, I said it) of self-publishing?

Because that means that you’re saying you’re good enough.

You’re saying you don’t need anyone else to tell you you belong on bookshelves; you don’t need a deadline or an editorial team backing your every word.

But like I said – there’s no guarantee. There’s no guarantee that even if you take the risk, decide you don’t need anyone else behind you but you, that you will succeed.

The USA Today article mentioned four authors doing the impossible. PublishAmerica boasts over 50,000 authors. Lulu boasts nearly 20,000 titles a month.

Hmm. Ok. Lulu's official stats claim 1.1 million authors, so...4...out of 1,150,000 is...well, ok, let's throw in the ones from the recent list, too, just to be fair, so...37 (heck, let's do 38) out of 1,150,000 is .000033%.

I’ve already spoken to the dangers of self-publishing if you don’t succeed; and honestly, though I love me a Cinderalla story and love me easy cash…I really, really don’t have the time, energy, or confidence, to take this risk.

So while I agree whole-heartedly that self-publishing is very tempting, and can be very lucrative if done well, and if done right, as an agent, it holds about the same pull to me as the million-dollar-jackpot.

Only this isn’t a dollar I'm gambling. It’s my career.


  1. If you write mostly short stories, ebooks are great for getting original and reprint short stories before readers at $0.99 each. They're making more money than sitting around in my filing cabinet.

    I recently put out a horror novella as an original ebook because that is a difficult length to publish in print. I had several ebook publishers accept my novella but backed out because they had acquired too much product to be able to publish. I decided to publish it on my own and collect all the profits for myself.

    I do have a first novel I'm revising that will go the traditional route of agent and publisher. If that doesn't pan out, I can always turn it into an ebook.

  2. Bless the cold hard math to make the arguments for me when I'm pestered by my friends on why I haven't just self published. Never mind they are only nagging so they can get the book for free anyway.

    I just don't know how people feel like they would want to go into this alone. Eventually sleeping, meals, the like have to make an appearance else the author has turned into a robot.

  3. I think it's fine to self-publish, if you have the time and dedication and don't expect big things. But I for one don't have the time to devote to promoting myself THAT MUCH. I have a full time job ;)

  4. I got half way through this and gave up. Why? 'Cause my brain doesn't work that way. As soon as we start talking about figures and projections, yadda, yadda, I go, 'whatever'. Reason one for agent.
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but the agent/writer relationship or any agent/talent relationship is built on many things, the first and foremost popping into mind is the word 'relationship' built on a common goal. Success for both parties. You know, win/win. Reason two.
    I don't think the realm of agents will ever die because there are many, like me, who like the idea of someone being in their corner, on the same page, and that far surpasses any desire for self gratification or the idea of scooping the cream. And besides, wouldn't anyone stand a better chance of making those dineros with someone who knows the go? Reason three.

  5. When they ask me what I am doing on the weekend and I explain that I am revising my query letter (again), my mom and friends always ask me why I don't just self-publish. I think it's for the reason you stated: because it means I'm saying I am good enough.

  6. I just know I'd fail if I self-published, because I wouldn't have the first clue how to sell the damn thing once I had it there. I want the agent/publisher relationship so I can use their expertise and guidance to get my book in front of the most people possible. Plus, I like the idea of working as team to do it rather than floundering around on my own.

  7. I love this. It inspired me to blog about the topic from my perspective.

    I have a feeling that for most debut authors (heck all authors), self promotion doesn't disappear when you get an agent :). To me it's about letting someone trusted into your creative vision and the exponential, positive result that evolves.

    I'll be watching carefully for Ms. Hocking's traditional route books to hit the shelves. I, for one, am hoping for a quality jump. Nothing against Ms. Hocking's books, but there is something magical that comes from true collaboration on a creative effort and the Kindle, as of yet, doesn't offer that.

  8. Great perspective. This is something I've thought a lot about lately, and for me it always comes back to some of the same things you mentioned.

    I used to work in marketing, and every client had at least three or four people assigned to their project. And they were name brands. I'm just one author who isn't a household name yet. My mind boggles when I try and wrap it around what kind of effort it would take to get my name out there on my own.

    That and if I just wanted to hear me say I was good enough, I'd say it and move on to the next shiny that caught my eye.

  9. Thanks for posting this. I have people asking me at least once a week why I don't just self-publish my books. I have many of the same concerns that you have expressed here. Personally, I will not feel like a successful author unless I have actual books in print and on shelves. It will take a lot of effort if I ever get to that point, but it will be worth it. "Instant" is not a word that should be in front of publishing. It belongs in front of other words, like "oatmeal" or "coffee." If I'm going to get published, I want to put forth effort to get to that point and not just do things the easy way. If someone doesn't have the same goals that I have, then perhaps self-publishing is an option for them--I don't want to judge anyone. I also applaud the Amanda Hockings of the world who were somehow able to make it in the self-publishing industry. It's just not for me. The traditional market is NOT dying, as some would like to believe, and I am going to keep working towards my goals. Thanks again for this post!

  10. That's how I feel for the most part. Self-publishing is great for those who can do it, but I don't have the gumption in that way. Plus, I've got a real respect for the traditional model and am interested in watching it change and grow.

  11. Natalie, I agree with you to a certain extent. I think we all have confidence in ourselves and our books or we wouldn't send them to agents/publishers. For me, I like the 'glamor' of having an agent and going the traditional publishing route. If that doesn't happen for me, then I may consider self-publishing. But I've also heard from other writers that even with a traditional publisher, you have to promote yourself a lot these days. It's not the same as it was years ago when the agent or the publisher marketed and promoted you like crazy. Even the big houses will promote so long until the 'next big thing' comes along. What is your take on this? Are authors having to still bend over backward and do a lot of the leg work themselves? Are we going to have to set up our own book signings at local stores? One of my writer friends out of the UK signed a deal with a traditional publisher not too long ago, but she had to make the trip to London to get her ITIN number. I've stumbled upon some publisher didn't do this for her.

    I've also stumbled upon some agents and publishers that are very particular about not having any part of an ms published anywhere, even if it's a 1st chapter online on your blog. Is this true?

    And how important is creating a platform, especially if authors go the traditional route? Is platforming more for those who wish to self-pub?

    Sorry for all the questions. Great post!!! I'm off to get coffee now. I think I'll go for vanilla this fine, sunny Florida morning. :-)

  12. Wow, I should know not to post before the coffee drip is installed. I meant to say "I can't believe the publisher didn't do this for her."

    Ahhh, coffee is flowing now. Life is good. :)

  13. Love, love, love this post... but I have to disagree about one major point. To me, going the self-publishing route isn't saying that you are good enough; to me, you are saying:

    I'm NOT good enough to snag a traditional agent and be published by traditional means.

    I tell my clients that self-publishing is a last resort, not a first choice. I believe that if I'm not good enough for an agent/publisher to want me, then maybe I need to go back to the drawing board. That's how I look at it.

    Thanks, Natalie. I'm going to send this as a link to our membership.

  14. Thanks for this post! For me, self-pub is a last resort. It's not necessarily because of those awesome stats you posted, but because of the opportunity to work with a team of professionals. That "next level" of criticism from those, like yourself, that know and understand story elements and writing better than I could on my own (being so close to it). I'd love to learn in a "professional" environment.

    With self-pubbing, I really feel it revolves around what your expectations are as a writer. I write because I love to write and can't stop--nor can I get my fictional friends out of my head (which I'm sure is true for most). So, if I'm not fortunate in finding that "professional" representation, I'll probably use self-pubbing. I'm grateful for that option, though my first choice, hands down, is to work with a team of experts.

  15. This was a great post! Now when someone asks me why I don't just self-publish already, I'll point them here. This is pretty much EXACTLY why I don't. I want to spend my time writing, not promoting (though I'm more than willing to do that as well WITH the publisher as a partner. :D )

  16. I found it interesting that at the same time Amanda Hocking signed her monster deal with a traditional publisher, big-time author Barry Eisler decided to self-pub his future work(s).

    Personally, I don't have the savvy to take care of all the details required for self-publishing, and I'm grateful to have a publisher and a lovely agent to help me out ;)

  17. Such good info about the confusing world of self-pub world. And I thought about being an agent, but out on the west coast it seems harder wih fewer opportunities. Good to hear it isn't dead : )

  18. Awesome post. It's hard for me to gamble with a I think I will try to build my career the traditional way.

  19. Tempting at times? Yes. But mainly from the frustration of trying to dig out of the slush pile. I already have two full-time jobs. Writing/editing/querying and that other one that pays the bills. Right now, another full-time job in marketing would leave zero minutes left for eating, sleeping, and going to the bathroom!

  20. Gah I'm not good at self promoting on So I KNOW I would not be good at all with self-publishing. (or should I say? Self-punishing? lol)I actually have a life outside of writing. I cannot see myself juggling being a high school teacher and plus self-published author. I guess if all else fails with publishing my books in other options. I'll do self-publishing one day. Perhaps, when I'm retired or something and need to keep busy.

    I'm glad you posted this blog! It has opened my eyes to both options of publishing.

  21. I've been asked by a couple of people who know I'm a dedicated writer why I haven't self-published my work just to get my name out there. The biggest reason, to me, is because it feels like cheating. Like doing a color-by-numbers and calling myself an artist. I have spent years honing my craft and I have taken a lot of abuse in rejection letters, harsh reviews of my stories, and when I get published I want it to be because an agent, a publishing house, and editor and a billion other people who know more than me say it's good. That they want it seen. I could sell a million books through Amazon or Smashwords and still feel like a fraud. Also, I have three jobs. I'm a student, a writer, plus that annoying one I have to keep to pay the bills. I don't have time to sell myself on top of everything else. Yes, self-publishing may be what's right for others but it's not a part of my dream.

  22. I have four commercially pubbed nonfiction books and, no doubt, will have more. This certainly means that others think my writing is good enough.

    But, I also choose to self-publish other titles, both in print and electronically - six non-fiction works and three photo portfolios. I welcome this option to earn more from my writing, as well as get more visibility for certain categories.

  23. I don't have the time to self-publish since I'm in school and barely have time to keep querying people...and I feel afraid to jump into something I've only read about and have no real experience dealing with. Therefore, I don't care how long it takes me to get an agent, I'll wait.

  24. Agents in the movie industry are the worst, especially in the UK. They're lazy and feckless.

  25. I totally agree. And yes self-publishing suits the needs of some. Like the commenter at the top but most don't feel like taking that risk. Personally, yay for agents! (And this coming from someone who is still looking for one) That Konrath fellow actually blogged about how those who pursue traditional publishing routes are IDIOTS. I'll admit it kind of put me off. And I blogged about it---

    The link to his article is there too. I thought that might interest you.

  26. I guess I will against the grain a bit here. I think there is huge potential for non-fiction writers for one thing. Sure, celebrity authors and those writing for a broad commercial audience and doing it well can still go the traditional route with success. But, there are tons of non-fiction topics that have such a small market that they would never see the light of day without a self-publishing option. I think the academic, university and small indie presses can cover some of those works in any given year, but there are bound to be loads of books written that never reach their small but interested audience. Could those books also benefit from the collaborative editing and marketing offered by traditional publishing? Absolutely. But, is it better to reach a small but vital audience with a self-published book or to have it languish in a computer file somewhere?

    I also am reminded of the phrase "never say never" in reading the above comments. I think the industry will be undergoing some major shifts in the coming years, and while the current climate still favors traditional publishing routes for *most novelists,* I do think it's a trend that should be watched closely. It will be important in my mind for authors to have the flexibility to respond to changing conditions.

  27. I like reading all these comments. You brought up a great point and backed your opinion really well. I've never considered self publishing and I don't think I would any time soon, for many reasons. It may be for some people but I don't think it's for me. Thanks for the post.

  28. I still crave the validation that traditional publishing offers, so self-publishing isn't on my horizon any time soon. Of course, it's a trend that's here to stay, I think. And the years will only give it momentum... I guess we'll see! Thanks for a great post on the subject from an agent's perspective.

  29. Self-publishing works well for some. The key step is to make sure you have a finished product that IS good enough. I don't crave validation from publishing authorities, but, I would look to traditionally publish my first book because I'm entering a world where I don't know what I don't know. It would be better to have someone guide you through it.
    If you do know what you're doing, then great, self-publishing is clever way to get your book out there and selling.
    Wagging Tales - Blog for Writers

  30. I'm probably going to self-pub my short stories since I can't seem to sell them. They usually run too long for most magazines. But my novels I'm going to try the traditional route first. I don't know if I'll ultimately self-publish or not. But for my shorts and my novellas, I'm seriously contemplating self-publishing.

    One other thing...I gave you an award!

  31. WTG Natalie! All I can say is "What she said."

  32. I think you hit the nail on the head when you say part of self-promotion is that *you* are saying you're good enough. (That said, I've seen plenty of authors with bigger publishers doing the rounds on blogs and review sites recently, doing the exact same thing). To toot one's own horn, one has to be able to read music. And I can't...which is why I write books :P

    I think self-publishing is still a decent option for those writing erotica, where certain, ahem, "categories" aren't supported by the epubs who tend to produce erotic romance. People are making decent money there with very little self-promotion because their market has *always* had to search the more shadowy corners of the internet for this kind of stuff (I'm making it sound like the stories are really dodgy; they're more "taboo" than child porn).

  33. Thank you so much for this wonderful post. I totally agree about your comments. I know my family and friends all think I should go the self-pub route (and of course, none of them work in publishing!) and none of them can understand why I'm holding out to go the more "traditional" route. But I have a dream I'm working hard on and I'm not willing to give that up. But self-publishing doesn't appeal to me for my work, and I doubt it ever will. Some people self-pub and are happy they've done it. Kudos to them.

  34. I just don't like the idea of making 14.9% royalties on ebooks, specifically, when it's all said and done. If I self-publish I'll earn 70%. It just doesn't make any real sense to me to accept the lowest royalties on the totem pole. I mean, I am the writer. I am the creator of the content. Without me there is no publishing industry (because there wouldn't be anything to publish without writers). That is the bottom line. I shouldn't be earning less than everybody else in the industry.

    These legendary editing skills traditional publishing houses brag about are great! But I don't want to pay a lifetime commission for those skills for each book I produce. A flat rate sounds better (I pay someone a flat rate to edit my book, pay 'em, and call it a day). Also, I'm not really sure how realistic some commentors here are in regards to traditional publishing. It seems like it's in a strange place right now. Stephenie Meyer is held up to god-like status in the book industry. So my advice to those seeking traditional publishing is to study her books and her writing style to best improve your chances at catching the eye of these publishers. If not then, I guess according to your own words, she's a better writer than you are. She's good enough and you're not, since "she" got published so easily and you're still being rejected. You have to accept that and admit to yourselves that she's a better writer than you because a publisher thought her work was worth publishing. End of story.

    PS good luck in your hunt for a publisher and remeber my advice about Meyer! Study ALL her work and you might learn something.

  35. I feel it's a bit too early for self-publishing, it doesn't seem like the solid path. I'm a bit of a futurist and I can see self-publishing becoming a standard, maybe even this century, but there needs to be a proper database which has up-to-date ratings for all material, so as to maintain a sense of quality. Right now however, self-publishing is mainly for the few who are priviliged and can use their existing power to market themselves in a worthwhile manner. In other words it's too scary still for new writers to take on, they're better off trying the game of monopoly first and winning in it.

  36. Good and another post from you admin :)