Author’s Note: Self Publishing and Publishing: pros and cons

Is it that time already? Past that time? …This year is going by way too fast.


One of the things people frequently ask me are varying questions on publishing versus self publishing. (Often, the question specifically is, “Why don’t you self-publish?”) So, in an attempt to make my own life easier, let’s talk about publishing vs self-pub.

There’s pros and cons to both, and really it just comes down to deciding which pros outweigh which cons in your particular case. I’m going to make this as easy as possible. List format it is!


  1. Publishers have a built-in audience. There are people already watching the shelves/their website to see what’s going to come out next.
  2. Publishers market. They advertise like crazy, first for your book, and then when your book is old, for themselves and their new books. Initial marketing will sell your book; subsequent marketing will bring people to their website, get them browsing, and consequently sell your book.
  3. Publishers have ins. Sony, Barnes and Noble, iTunes, Borders, independent bookstores and so on are all far more willing to sign contracts with established publishers. (And flat-out won’t sign with anyone else.)
  4. Editors. I mean proper editors who actually work with you to increase your writing abilities and make your book better, not the “editors” who might run spellcheck for you when you self-pub.
  5. Royalties. Which really is just to say, you don’t have to pay anyone to do anything.
  6. Cover art. Which is done for you. For free. Whee!


  1. Rejection. After all, you’re FAR more likely to get rejected than not.
  2. The length of time it takes a publisher to get back to you, after you send a query letter. In fact…
  3. Query letters. Agh. Nuff said.
  4. Editors. Some are good. Some are not. It’s a roll of the dice, and they make you cry. In general, the better they are, the more you cry. Unless they’re terrible, and then you cry from frustration.
  5. Writing for the masses. You’re less likely to be able to publish anything fringe, as publishers want sure sales.
  6. If you’re offered an advance, you won’t see royalties until that advance is paid off. However…
  7. You won’t be offered an advance unless the publisher thinks you have a best seller, so you’ll probably need to keep your day job for a while.


  1. No rejection. This is always nice.
  2. No query letters. Bliss!
  3. You can publish your fringe stuff to your heart’s content.
  4. With things like ebooks, and specifically Amazon’s .99 cent self-pub deals, it’s becoming easier to make a profit.
  5. You can hire your own artist to make a cover exactly like what you imagine.
  6. You can create an ebook pretty easily by making it a .pdf file, which can be done with GoogleDocs, and then Amazon will take it. I don’t know what their fee is for selling it, but it’s out there with no publishing costs!


  1. There is no built in audience. People don’t tend to browse self-pub sites for books.
  2. The only marketing is the marketing you do. No one is looking for it or browsing your publisher’s website. No one’s going to come across it until you point it out to them. Unlike in fanfic, people don’t tend to post rec lists for original works, and review sites aren’t nearly as well read as we’d hope. To do your own marketing, you need to give away free copies to review sites, buy advertising, and get friends and family to put it on their Facebook. This will get a tiny fraction of the number of people that publishers get with the hundreds or thousands of dollars they put into marketing every month.
  3. The only reliable places that will carry your book are the company you go with, and Amazon. Even most privately owned bookstores won’t carry it, and all the big booksellers are out.
  4. There’s still a stigma against self-pub books; that the story within wouldn’t be published by a big publisher, so the author “had” to self-publish, and therefore it’s probably not good. I realize there are plenty of excellent self-pubbed books, but that’s the stigma.
  5. Most self-pubbed books never break even, costing more than they paid. (Which means you never get royalties.)
  6. And speaking of money, if you want a cover or editing (more than the spellchecking that some self-pub editors do), you’re probably going to have to pay for it.
  7. There’s no chance of an advance.
  8. If you do decide to submit to publishers after having self-published, you can’t use those self-published books in your resume unless they really took off — and I mean, made news. Otherwise, it only carries as much weight as fanfic (which doesn’t carry any), and because of the stigma attached, can hurt your cause.

So, there you have it. Sometimes it’s worth self-publishing to get a fringe book out there that wouldn’t otherwise be published, or to see your name in print, or to sell ebooks through Amazon. Sometimes it’s better to bite the bullet and find a publisher.

Personally, the marketing and the bigger sales sites being willing to stock my book if I go through a publisher far outweighs any other pros and cons for me. FAR. I might someday send a fringe book to a self-pub site and attempt the Amazon .99 cent sales… maybe. I’m just as likely to publish it for free on my website and use it for promotion, though. On the other hand, I know quite a few authors who self-published and loved it. It’s really a matter of figuring out what you want, what risks you think give you better odds, and going for it.

After all, writing is, in the end, about going for it!

JB is a published author and former BNF fanfic author, and spends entirely too much time writing about herself in the third person. You can see her write about herself in the first person at or

Posted on March 8, 2012 at 21:20 by JB McDonald · Permalink
In: Books, Columns, Columns, The Written Word