Publishing: Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing


Pros and Cons 
of Self-Publishing

I discussed an overview of the main types of publishing and warned about looking for services versus a vanity publisher (see here), then the pros and cons of traditional publishing (here), and last week small presses (here). Today, we conclude this series by focusing on self-publishing. Remember, there is no "best" path as it depends on the author's preferences when it comes to money they want/can invest, the control they desire, and their goals for their novels. 

Self-publishing—an author publishes a book by themselves

Pros: You have complete control over every decision with the book which is the most hailed benefit among self-published authors. You get the highest royalty rate (around 70-85% depending on platform's cut--Amazon, I've been told only takes 30%) since not sharing with an agent of publishing company. There are few limitations on what you write about, preferences for book length, or expectations. These days it has become a simple setup process and can publish as quickly as author wants--no waiting, no querying to agents or publishers. It can be free if you are qualified or learn to edit, create covers, and format (or sharing your story overrides professionalism--no judgment, it depends on goal).

Cons: There is quality control stigma (addressed below in red). The higher royalty percent depends on distributor, and pricing is still mildly controlled (ex. Amazon must be between $2.99-9.99 to get 70%, otherwise only get 35%). Self-published books are difficult to get into a bookstore and contracts can be POD (print on demand) only and limited to one distributor (there are ways around it). You are responsible for all marketing and finding reviewers/reviewing services. If you want or need an editor, book cover designer, help formatting, you must find and hire them: all upfront costs are all on you. Aspiring authors are often shocked at the costs that go into a book, but you must be fair to someone who works hard helping your book shine. The largest overlooked drawback: no legal protection. This means if someone pirates your book, plagiarizes and uses your writing to make money, slanders you, give you fake reviews out of spite, etc. you have to sue with your own money.

In short, highest royalties and control, but little help (or must hire it) for publishing process; can be free but can become costly

My experience with self-publishing is limited. Personally, it was never a path I was going to take, ruled out because my job. In academia, self-publishing is not considered a "publication" because technically "anyone can do it," so there is no validation from professionals, no vetting process for quality. This gives this path an unfair stigma since there are many quality books through this path. The problem without a clear vetting system is that one bad apple can spoil the bunch for some readers. 

The second reason is monetary. You'd think I could easily self-publish a book myself for free--I'm an English Lecturer who teaches grammar, but rarely can anyone catch all her mistakes; even professionals like editors hire editors. I also am no book cover designer--even with an artist husband, we have limited computer graphics knowledge. And the list goes on. Can I write and edit pretty decently? Yes, but I would never assume I was good enough to go at it completely alone.

So what experience do I have? I've learned a lot--all the hows--through my writing group who are mostly self-published. They end up with quality books because they critique each others work, pay professional editors and book cover designers, or spend long hours learning the craft of each step and becoming professionals in their own right. They care about quality and work hard to produce amazing books--no matter the cost, time, and effort. It is admirable to see authors who can do everything I do and what my publishers do. In this way, self-published authors are amazing.

The takeaway: quality is important and easily attainable with help.