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Why I Will NOT Self-Publish My Novel

April 2, 2014

Recently, I’d been thinking about how I’d like to publish the novel I’m currently working on. Such thoughts, admittedly, are premature: I only finished the first draft quite recently, after all. Even so, I’ve found myself going over the matter repeatedly, and I think it’s high time I shared my thoughts on the issue.

Independent publishing is now seen by many as a legitimate alternative to the more traditional path – a status that will surely get even better with time, if the music and games industries are anything to go by. Independent authors cite a variety of reasons for ditching the old model: an increased flexibility of pricing, the market-driven nature of big publishers and a wish to retain rights over work are but a small fraction of the arguments I’ve seen.

Personally, I remain unconvinced. In fact, where my novel is concerned, my current thoughts are pretty clear:

My novel will either be published traditionally, or not at all.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’ve read and enjoyed indie books in the past, and I can see why the indie route would work well for certain people. Furthermore, I would NOT rule out self-publication as a way to sell shorter material. I just feel that for the particular project I’m working on now, traditional publishing is the way to go.

I have several reasons for this, but one in particular stands above the others: essentially, I see this as a matter of personal pride. Merely self-publishing a novel is not particularly remarkable in my view, since anyone can do it at absolutely any time. Traditional publication, on the other hand, would require industry professionals to believe in my novel’s quality (or at least its ability to sell), which is something I could immediately feel immensely proud of.

Plus, I would REALLY love to be able to see my book in a bookstore one day – something only possible if I manage to go the traditional route.

St Ives Main Image

The counterpoints to the above are obvious enough. Numerous good books are forever being turned down, while bad books get traditionally published on a regular basis. Plus, self-publishing a novel can easily become a great achievement if it is handled in a competent and professional way.

In fact, success at independent publication could easily be argued to be a greater achievement than equivalent success via the traditional route, since the former must be done without a publisher at one’s back. This, however, could be rephrased thus: success at independent publishing is harder than success via the traditional route. Given the toughness of traditional route, that really is saying something.

Much of this added difficulty comes from the associated costs. Editors need hiring, as do cover artists and formatters in many cases, and  a marketing budget will also be necessary. The total expense, needless to say, is far from cheap. I can’t claim to have researched this in great detail, but I’ll assume here that Amber Skye Forbes’ estimate of $1000 is more-or-less accurate.

Now, I don’t know about you, but $1000 strikes me as a lot of money. Could I scrape that much money together? Well, yes, actually, but I wouldn’t want to. Why? Because it would almost certainly be a waste. With the ebook market as swollen as it is, the chances of breaking even would be virtually non-existent – particularly since I lack the skills necessary to truly be my own publisher.

Self-publishing well basically requires an author to be an entrepreneur. I am decidedly NOT an entrepreneur, nor will I ever be: that would require a good head for business and excellent organisational skills, both of which I distinctly lack. And to be frank, I don’t particularly want to be an entrepreneur. Besides anything else, I’d like to think my novel deserves better than that.

To me, it makes far more sense to leave the business side of things to the people who actually know what they’re doing – namely, the professionals within a traditional publishing firm.

Agree? Disagree? Any personal experiences you’d like to share? Feel free to comment down below.

See Also

An Open Letter To A Frightened Man – A good post on the merits of self-publishing, though the post that prompted this has sadly been lost.

Agents. Qualified Literary Gatekeepers? – Similar to the above, though this one wasn’t prompted by anything in particular

A Word To Traditional Publishers and the Self Published – Another good post on self-publishing; I’d particularly recommend this one if you’ve already decided on this route.

An Argument For Self-Publishing – And a particularly balanced one at that; well worth reading

On Self-Publishing and the Importance of Drafting – One of my own posts, mostly aimed at those hoping to self-pub for the first time.

Why People Who Self-Publish are Very Privileged – In case you missed this link in the above article 😉



From → Writing

  1. I agree with you 100%. Whenever I am ready to publish my work it will get publsihed the usual way or not at all.
    I don’t know much about self-publishing but whenever I see an author in a bookstore trying to promote his novel I avoid them. For some reason it takes away my interest in their book. They remind me of a used car salesman.

    • Glad to see I’m not alone in this :). Hope it goes well, when the time comes.

      Although, I get the impression that most authors who sign/promote in bookstores are traditionally published. Not all, certainly, but most.

      • You as well!

        Could be, I have only seen self published authors but that could be mostly where I live. Not a lot of bookstore signings around here.

  2. The key to any decision (especially entrepreneurial ones) is to understand what success is for you. You’ve clearly articulated that here. So hat off. 

    What I also (always) see you do is reflect on what you are good at. It’s true that self publishing (successfully) does take a lot of work and a lot of it is the exact opposite to the creative aspect of writing. 

    Personally I’m really looking forward to the challenges that self publishing (I prefer to call it self authoring) will bring. I know it won’t be easy, but success for me is about readers and ultimately it being a way to sustain a living. Traditional publishing seems (that word would be in italics if I could format in wordpress!) to rely on luck. Self authoring allows me to create my own luck (but totally accept there is still an element of luck involved).

    Very well thought out reasoning mate. Thoroughly enjoy reading things likes this. Make me think when they are articulated this well. 

    • Agreed: a lot of necessary steps of (good) self-publishing are things I just know I’d be lousy at – which, incidentally, is why I have so much respect for the people who actually manage to pull it off.

      I like the phrase “self-authoring”, I must say – really emphasizes the fact that the writer is in charge of every single step of the procedure. I think both types of publishing enable one to “steer” their luck to a certain degree, but I can also see that luck is always going to be an issue.

      And thanks! Glad you liked it. I’m pretty sure it is possible to include italics in a comment, though 😛

  3. I enjoyed your article and thanks for mentioning my blog “An Argument for Self Publishing.” Please be aware that unless you have connections or someone who truly is ready to go to bat for you at the publishing house, it will be difficult to get in, and most likely, you will have to be an entrepreneur for your own book.

    Publishing through a big name publishing house (not a scam small one) is tough, but can be done. I wish you luck. Go for it. Also, those authors sitting at tables in bookstores are from the publishing houses, although if you self publish you can get into bookstores…if you want to.

    Follow your dream, but keep your eyes open and consider learning about the business side of things…for your own good.

    • From what I gather, getting into a bookstore would indeed be possible but would also be very expensive, due to printing costs etc, making it a poor investment. I think if I WERE to self-publish, I’d stick to ebooks and then find a publisher to deal with the hard copies if the ebook somehow became ultra-successful (hey, I can dream, right? :P)

      That said, I think you’re right about learning the business side of things: besides anything else, I imagine that would be help for all kinds of publishing. Think I’ll look into that a little further down the line.

      PS: since you yourself have been an indie for a while, what sort of budget do you tend to work with for a book? Would be great to hear a figure from someone who’s doing it.

      • I made a commitment when I started that I would only use the “book” money. I was lucky since my first cover was only $100 (and one of my best) because my daughter’s boyfriend was very talented and eager to get into designing covers as a side job. So that’s what I started with. Also a bought a few books for signings and as proofs.

        Once that was published, the royalties paid for an editor and cover for the second, and so forth. Again, I was very careful how I went about it and selected people eager to get into the business that I knew and who also weren’t that expensive. (and trustworthy)

        This is how I have been doing it. Granted, I might be selling more if I threw more money at marketing. I also have been putting a lot of work and time into learning how to do the business and format my own books. Luckily, Amazon is very lenient with do overs.

        I recently pulled money out of my book account and paid an editor to go over book number one. Found a few mistakes and got them corrected. I am scheduled to do two books a year because I work with a writers group that critiques my work two chapters every two weeks. Forty chapters…you figure it. Their input is invaluable, but it makes for a long production schedule, but a better book. Many Indie authors are forming co-ops to barter the various aspects of publishing. That also saves money, but draws things out. Still, most legacy publishers can take two years to get a book from acceptance to shelf.

        I have been very wary of any publishers who want a lot of money up front or who take a large portion of the royalties. I am in this for the long tail and I am thrilled to see my books in print and as ebooks. I’m now working on book 7 in the series. Check me out.

  4. I’m with you on this one. Finishing a novel is phenomenal in its own right, but I’d like to think it’s good enough that someone will invest a bunch of money in it to get it on the shelves. Besides, $1000 equals two months’ salary for me at the current exchange rate.

    • I’m in a similar boat here: until I’m done with my PhD studies (which won’t be for years), $1000 is about 1.5 months worth of stipend – certainly possible to spend on publishing a book, but VERY risky.

      Thanks for stopping over 🙂

  5. I work in publishing and had a nightmare that I’d self-published a book the other night. I kept thinking that my colleagues would never take me seriously again 🙂

    • Not your average nightmare, certainly. I guess self-publishing isn’t viewed highly where you work?

      • Nope, no quality filter and no peer review process. But their daughter thinks it’s great!

  6. SarahClare permalink

    I have a lot of respect for people that seriously take on self-publishing as a way to reach their goals. And like you, I have read and enjoyed a lot of indie books.

    But it’s not for me either. I mean, I’m not going to shut it down as an option, because you can’t predict the market, or the agent, or the publisher, and sometimes Lady Luck just won’t roll your way. It’s nice to think that if all else fails, I can still get my stories out there.

    I’m in it for the top tier of this cake. Signed, sealed and delivered to a shelf in my favourite bookstore. *nods*

    Just gotta keep plugging at it. 🙂

    • Good point: I guess it doesn’t make sense to rule out indie publishing completely. Still, by the sound of things we have very similar targets; best of luck to you 🙂

  7. I think your reasoning is spot on. If you’re not willing to think like an entrepreneur then your chances of being successful as an indie are small. For me, the thought of sending query letters and waiting for weeks, months…years just to get an agent and then going through the whole process again for a publisher? So not how I want to spend my life.
    Good luck.

    • So I gather; hence, my current plans. Can’t say I’m looking forward to the querying stage, but I think it’ll still feel good to have gone through it (or to have tried to, at any rate).

      Although, as I’ve said elsewhere, I wouldn’t mind learning a bit of business sense at some point, since I reckon that would help for all kinds of publishing (and other things besides).

      Thanks for commenting :). How goes the plotting, by the way?

      Also: since you’ve got two books out now, what kind of budget do you tend to work with? I wouldn’t mind amending this article with figures given to me by indie authors at some point.

  8. Oh man, that means I’ve gotta wait even longer for your book to come out now ey? lol

  9. I’m completely with you on this 🙂 for all the reasons you give, especially the validation that comes from someone else enthusiastically putting their money where my mouth is. The rejections along the way are bruising, especially the near misses, but invaluable too. Thank heavens my early mss were rejected!

    • Glad to hear, Bobbie :). I’m actually quite looking forward to recieving my novel’s first rejection; I’d seriously consider framing the first non-generic one I recieve.

      Incidentally, quite a few people have mentioned manuscript rejections in these comments; think I might make that the subject of my next blog post…

  10. I’ve been thinking, and saying this for a while now. Though not as well as you just did. I have zero experience marketing a book, nor can I afford to spend the time it would require to really do all the leg work myself. Also, and I’m loathe to admit this on the Internet, I’ve owned one e reader and I hated it. It’s not a platform I use, or know anything about. Why would I choose to publish that way?

    • Very good point. Ebooks are pretty much THE reason that indie publishing is at all viable nowadays; if you don’t know that market, then you’re definitely going to struggle. Mind you, I read a lot of ebooks and I STILL don’t know anything about the platform from a business standpoint.

      Best of luck finding a publisher when the time comes 🙂

  11. I agree with your reasoning here. I self-published my first two novels and after a great deal of consideration I have decided to seek a traditional publisher. For what it’s worth, I have found that some publishers refuse to consider previously self-published works, but many others consider it a plus that I already have a body of readers.

    I would like to point out, though, that being self-published will not keep your book from being carried in book stores, it is possible to get self-published works listed in the main catalogs. Nor is being traditionally published any guarantee that bookstores will stock a book, or keep it on the shelves for any length of time if they do stock it.

    • To be honest, I really can’t see how your self-publishing history could be anything other than helpful when fishing around for a publisher. You have clear social media presence and quite a few good reviews – all sounds good from where I’m sitting, anyway.

      Out of interest: what are your plans for The Worms of Heaven? Is that the one you’ll be attempting to have published traditionally, or do you have another project in the works? I wish you best of luck with this, in either case.

      Also: good point with regards to book stores. The reason I wrote that is that I can’t see such a thing being viable from a business perspective: printing those books would be a huge investment that I would almost certainly never see back. If I WERE to self-publish, then I think I would stick to ebooks.

      • I am looking to have the first two re-issued by a traditional publisher, and then follow them with Worms Of Heaven. So I would pull the first ones from publication if and when I get accepted.

      • Ah, right, cool. Well, here’s hoping it goes well, then 🙂

  12. It should be noted that some authors, such as Ian Sales, manage to be recognized for their self-published works. He had originally been published in some print forms, but one of his novellas was nominated for the BSFA — the British Science Fiction Award. So, some works aren’t picked up by the major presses that do in deed deserve bigger audience. But yes, overall, I agree with your assessment. One of my major issues with self-published works seems, on the surface, rather trivial. But, EDITING! Most novels, even by the best authors, need an editor to correct errors and reign in tangents etc.

    • Still need to read something by Ian Sales; he sounds like quite the guy. I’ve had one of his shorter pieces sitting on my kindle for a while now, but I’ve never got around to actually reading it.

      And yeah, I completely agree. Far too many first-time indies don’t understand the importance of careful drafting and editing – a fine way to waste good ideas, if I do say so myself.

  13. Personally, the formatting/marketing is half the fun. It forces indie authors to look beyond their stories and think how well a project will sell in a specific niche marketplace. I do agree that self-publishing is just as if not more rewarding than going the traditional route, something I’ve never attempted.

    In terms of formatting, I believe it’s entirely in the power of anyone to do as long as they have a basic familiarity with word processors. The cover art is a different challenge, one I’m working out as we speak. I wouldn’t call self-publishing a “non-option,” however, because what happens if your manuscript is denied for the next 10 years? Then no one will have a chance at reading it, all the hard work amounted to nothing, and your name/brand isn’t any more prevalent.

    • Good point regarding the formatting: I wrestle with computers a lot as part of my day job, so I reckon I could indeed do the formatting if I had to. I’d definitely hire outside help for the cover art, though; if I didn’t, I’d end up being featured on Lousy Book Covers for sure.

      My (not really researched) plan for dealing with repeated rejections is pretty straightforward: send the queries in batches and make additional edits and adjustments in between each batch. If worst comes to worst, I’ll probably just switch to a new project and try again with this one if/when I get another book published. I’ll have still learned a lot from writing and editing this particular book, after all, so I’d hardly call it a waste of time in the long run 😉

  14. A reviewer said to me that with traditional publishing an unknown author has 1 chance in 10,000 of getting noticed and read and with indie publishing it’s 2 in 10,000. So it’s very hard either way. I tried about 150 agents and a couple of dozen publishers with my novel “A Weaver’s Web”. One agent compared it to John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” but still couldn’t take it. I knew it was time to self-publish. I’m glad it’s a hobby for me and that I like writing.

    • “150 agents and a couple of dozen publishers” — if that’s really the case one can’t help but wonder if the problem isn’t the market, but rather the actual quality of your writing….

    • It’s certainly very unlikely to get noticed right well – that’s part of the challenge so far as I’m concerned (though, we’ll see if I’m still saying that in 5-10 years time…). Hope the indie route works out for you 🙂

  15. Good for you on your decision. You have sound reasons for your choice, and a firm stance on it too. I wish you the best of luck as you continue revising your novel – and any others you write in the future.

    Personally, I’m not opposed to self-publishing – but I’d like to use that platform as a last resort. My plan is to take the big leap of faith and try going for literary agents and traditional publishing once my book is ready. Which may not be for a couple years, but that’s OK.

    That said, I agree with a couple other people here in that it’s a good idea to educate yourself on the business side of publishing. I’ve heard that even big publishing houses are investing less money in book promotion, so sometimes authors need to take initiative and do some of the promo themselves (think blog tours, guest blog posts, teaching writing courses in person or online, etc.). There’s a class on all this and more that I want to take in Boston, once I start shopping my manuscript to agents. That way, no matter which way my novel gets published, I’ll be more prepared for the business aspects of being an author.

    Just an idea regarding funds for self-publishing: I haven’t seen many writers take advantage of crowdfunding campaigns to help with costs, but that’s always an idea.

    • Thanks; best of luck to you, too :). Sounds to me like you have a good plan, particularly with regards to timescale: rushing is a mistake that far too many writers seem to be making nowadays, so it’s great to see you’re not going to be one of them.

      And yeah, I think I’m definitely going to have to learn about promotion at some point, since I know next to nothing about it right now. I gather publishers will often give advice in this regard but, like you’ve said, I also gather they don’t tend ot budget much money towards it unless the author is already known.

      I imagine crowdfunding could work quite well, actually, assuming the author had good cover and pitch already prepared. I can’t help but wonder why more people haven’t tried it, come to think of it.

  16. I’ve kind of flip-flopped back and forth between the two ideas, but I have to say, I definitely agree with this. Being as young as I am, I worry that I wouldn’t have the experience (or, really, the money) to do self-publishing that’s worth anything. On the other hand, there is a chance traditional publishers won’t take me seriously because of my age, but I think that might be a better risk to take.

    That said, I haven’t completely made up my mind, and I probably won’t for a while. I don’t really need to, anyway, not until I have something to publish.

    • Wouldn’t have thought age would be an issue with publishers, myself, though obviously I’ve never researched such things. On the other hand, money is almost certainly going to be an issue with self-publishing at this point, as you’ve said,

      But yeah, like you also said, you’re probably not going to need to decide on this for some time yet :). How goes the writing as of late, by the way?

      • I haven’t done any research on that, per se, so I don’t know realistically if that’s a problem, I just worry about it sometimes. Yes, money is probably the biggest problem currently, I think, with that for me.

        Yeah. Well…. kind of crazy. My concentration is…non-existant. I’ve been flip-flopping back and forth between three or so projects. Hopefully I’ll be able to concentrate later, but I think life’s too stressful and crazy to really have that much attention-span with any particular project.

  17. I have read some great indie authors too, and am really happy for those who make it big this way. I on the other hand do not have the money right now to self publish so it’s not an option for me. If you don’t have an editor and great book cover it’s not even worth trying. I read that Amanda Hocking ended up going the traditional way after her huge indie success because she had to spend so much of her time marketing her books etc that she hardly had time to actually write her books!
    I don’t think self publishing is for me, but hey, never say never, right?

    • So I gather; essentially, if a self-published book actually LOOKS self-published in any way then it’s pretty much doomed to fail. Surprised to hear about Amanda Hocking, though; I was under the impression successful indies always ended up sticking to that route.

      But yeah, never say never indeed. Best of luck to you, either way 🙂

  18. Great post! I agree self-publishing is not the same nor as prestigious as traditional publishing, and it is definitely not a professional milestone like having your work published by a reputable publishing house. To me it isn’t much different than being rejected from a degree program and then creating your own University to earn one…how can you expect it to have any credibility when it doesn’t conform to accepted standards and lacks any kind of peer review?

    I wrote a big rant awhile back about the evils of vanity publishing and since then I’ve softened my stance slightly because I think most of the arguments against it stem from the total lack of “gatekeepers” like editors, agents, etc. On sites like Amazon and Barnes and Noble, the most frustrating part for me and many of my friends is not having any filters to weed out the good ones (and there are many) in what has become a giant sea of mediocrity. Indie publishing could be an excellent option for authors who find it preferable to dealing with a “middle person” and/or don’t care about massive marketing campaigns or book advances, but until there is some kind of vetting process, I don’t see it ever gaining the kind of respectability or mainstream acceptance from readers. Without a set of standards, self-publishers have no right to expect this.

    If companies like Amazon were smart, and I suspect they are, then it’s just a matter of time before they realize they’re losing credibility too by not holding their “vendors” to a higher standard. Why can’t they have different tiers at Amazon Digital? Why can’t authors have the option to pay to have a book edited and vetted through some kind of quality control process that gives them some kind of ranking to distinguish them traditionally published books, and also those where there’s no confirmation any kind of editing or review has been done? Just my .02!

    • hear hear

    • I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing some sort of quality control put in place on Amazon. I suppose it could be kinda like how Steam deals with indie games right now: not particularly stringent, but there simply to ensure (in theory…) that a minimum benchmark of quality is present. Maybe the best ones could even have some kind of “seal of quality” added to them, though of course this would be enormously subjective.

      I imagine the bad self-publishers would simply declare Amazon to be a new gatekeeper and move onto other avenues. Readers, on the other hand, would benefit enormously from such a development – as would all the good indie authors out there :).

      Also, I love the degree comparison you’ve come up with; I think it fits very well!

  19. I approached about 150 agents and publishers over a number of years with my historical novel “A Weaver’s Web”. I got some promising comments from some of them. At least one agent came very close to taking it: “You are clearly a talented writer but, after much consideration …” They sent it to a reader and had it for about a year. Most agents just give you a standard reply such as not being passionate enough about the book or it doesn’t suit their list or they are not really taking on anything new.

    When an agent compared my book to John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”, which appears in several lists of top 10 novels of the 20th century, but still couldn’t take it, I figured it was time to take the indie path. So far, I’m glad I did. The book has a star average of 4.7 at Amazon and has been compared to the writing of Dickens, Fitzgerald and Dos Passos. One reviewer gave it book of the year.

    A reviewer a few months ago said a writer has a 1 in 10,000 chance of doing well via the traditional path and 2 chances in 10,000 via the indie path. But I’m happy with the indie path. At least, the important people are reading it: the readers. I reckon try a couple of dozen agents and if it doesn’t look promising, consider the indie path.

    • A lot of agents, that; how long did the process take, out of interest? Sounds the indie route is working out well for you, so hats off to you.

      By the way, I noticed over on indiehousebooks that you’ve got some notes concerning a potential novel set in the near future. I’m assuming that’ll be a science fiction piece? How’s it going at the moment?

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  1. So, why Self Publish? | The parasite guy
  2. Traditional Publishing – For Bragging Rights Alone? | The parasite guy

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