Traditional publishing or self-publishing? The harsh reality you don’t want to hear

Wondering if you should pursue traditional publishing or self-publishing for your book? The decision might not be yours to make.

I’m so frustrated.

I’ve discovered that articles written to help authors decide between traditional publishing or self-publishing focus on the pros and cons of each model without providing a very, very important detail.

None of the sites you recognize and trust (I’m not going to name and shame) are willing to tell you the truth.

“Should I use traditional publishing or self-publishing?”

My experience with online author groups reinforces the need for the reality check that nobody seems to be offering.

A common post in many of these groups goes something like this: “I’m trying to decide if I should go with a traditional publisher or self-publish. What do you think I should do?”

I see some variation of this nearly every week.

The person asking the question usually isn’t a professional writer, hasn’t published any articles or short stories, and hasn’t received writing awards or recognition.

It’s their first book.

Beware the hive mind

Invariably, group members offer some version of this advice:

  • “Don’t even think about traditional publishing. You’ll make more money self-publishing!”
  • “You should NEVER pay anyone money to publish your book.”
  • “I’ve heard so many horror stories about working with traditional publishers that I’d never go that route!”

Usually, this advice comes from people who don’t have traditional publishing experience.

There are also people who provide more informed input:

  • “If you want to go the traditional publishing route, you should get an agent.”
  • “If your book is nonfiction, you’re going to need an impressive platform.”
  • “Before you explore publishing options, be clear on what you want to accomplish with your book. That might determine what makes the most sense.”

The painful truth about traditional publishing or self-publishing

What I rarely see among responses and didn’t find in other articles about this is a sometimes painful truth: Today’s typical author-to-be won’t be offered a traditional publishing contract.


For most, self-publishing in some form is the only option.

I’m reluctant to share this reality because I feel like I’m bursting bubble after bubble after bubble.

And yet, here I am, writing about it.

I feel like I have to address it because nobody else has.

Publishers and contracts

There’s really no traditional vs. self-publishing debate. You can’t sign a contract with a traditional publisher that you aren’t offered.

In reality, publishers are increasingly selective about who they offer those coveted contracts to.

This is the case even for established professional writers with marketable book ideas. Many writers who might have gotten a contract 15 years ago are now turning to self-publishing, and not necessarily because they want to. It’s often because they have no choice.

There are a number of reasons why experienced fiction and nonfiction writers find it harder to snag traditional publishing deals today. The reasons are less important than the harsh reality that it’s not as simple as “Should I go with a traditional publisher or self-publish?”

Industry changes have created more publishing options

There’s good news, though. There are more publishing models today than ever before. And that’s where authors have real choices.

Book publishing insider Jane Friedman has recently updated her 2023-2024 Key Book Publishing Paths” infographic that clearly explains current publishing models. Studying this carefully should help you see what might work best for your writing project and budget.

current models for traditional publishing or self-publishing
Click on the image to see a larger version

Using this chart to get smart about the book publishing industry and where your book fits into it will better prepare you to ask for advice in online groups. And, when you do turn to a group for publishing input, give members specifics about you and your project that will help them provide informed guidance.

Here’s the type of information we need when you’re asking about which publishing model to use:

  • Whether your book fiction or nonfiction
  • The subject and category or genre
  • How much writing experience you have
  • Why you are the best person to write this book
  • For nonfiction in particular, information about your platform (that audience waiting to buy the book because of who you are or your reputation)

Be careful about who you listen to


You also want to be smart about who you select as your publishing advisors in online groups and elsewhere. The fact that we don’t know what we’re talking about doesn’t stop some of us from speaking with great authority.

And those who know the least often have the loudest voices.

Be smart about who you select as your publishing advisors in online groups. The fact that we don't know what we're talking about doesn’t stop some of us from speaking with great authority.Click to tweet

As a result, authors with a shot at a traditional publishing contract don’t try to get one, while those who aren’t good candidates waste time pursuing that unlikely option.

Be sure to check the profiles behind those offering advice, too. They often offer clues to credibility.

In addition, you can usually discount comments that are barely even a sentence – “Don’t bother.” – or emotional – “Only an idiot would go with a big publisher!” Focus instead on responses that are thoughtful and specific.

Write a great book

No matter which publishing model makes the most sense for your situation, never forget that you must write a great book. You’ll need to demonstrate that you can do that to get a publishing contract, but it’s also important when self-publishing. The reason is simple: Readers want good books.

Mediocre books rarely soar unless someone is gaming the system. And sure, a so-so book can become a momentary best-seller in a small niche Amazon category, but that doesn’t mean it reached a lot of people or became beloved or even recommended.

Mediocre books rarely soar unless someone is gaming the system.Click to tweet

Whether you’ve received a traditional publishing contract, opted for a hybrid approach, or have put together your own self-publishing team, it’s all about the book. The shortest route to publishing success is to write a high-quality book that people want to read.

Did you pursue a traditional publishing contract? Did you get one? Tell us about your experience in a comment!

(Editor’s note: This article was first published in September 2018. It has been updated and expanded.)

Like what you’re reading? Get it delivered to your inbox every week by subscribing to the free Build Book Buzz newsletter. You’ll also get my free “Top 5 Free Book Promotion Resources” cheat sheet immediately!


  1. LOVE THIS!!!! Very informative and I love the way you pull back the curtain. I have been a self published author for a long time. All my books are self published. I was convinced I never wanted to go the traditional route, but am seriously rethinking this with my upcoming memoir.

    However, I’m not naive to believe a traditional publisher will be knocking down my door to represent me. I am doing my homework.

    One thing I know to be true is that having a solid platform makes an author more appealing. I also know I will need to be involved in my own marketing. I fully understand that my ability to keynote and do speaking engagements will be appealing as will the hundreds of podcast and radio interviews I’ve done over the years.

    It saddens me when an author doesn’t educate themselves on what it takes to be successful. Granted, a well written book is essential but, as you pointed out in this outstanding post, there are so many other elements to consider.

    I highly recommend authors at any level of their career take your information to heart.

    1. Thank you for such a thoughtful and informed response, Kathleen! (So typical of you!) Public speaking is a key promotion tactic for memoirs in particular, so you could be well-positioned to go the traditional route with this one. I’ve got a few thoughts and will email you about that…but thank you for sharing your thoughts here. It’s so important to become informed before leaping into authorship and publishing.


  2. Sandy: Great topic. For nonfiction would-be authors, the all-important question these days is: Do you have an impressive platform? If not, your chances of getting published by a traditional publisher are rather small.
    Unfortunately, excellent writing skills and previous publications count for little.

  3. I did try to find an agent who’d take on my first novel, but had no luck, so I self-published – and actually enjoyed the experience hugely.

    Later, after that novel been shortlisted for a major literary prize, I did have some interest from agents and publishers. One agent explained to me that the previous lack of interest had probably been down to the fact that my novel had a number of Christian characters (portrayed with varying degrees of sympathy!) – that’s seen as too much of a risk in British publishing at the moment.

    I did then follow up on some of the inquiries I’d received, but found that I ended up in such a state of nervous stress waiting for people to get back to me that I was relieved when I learned that they couldn’t do anything with it, and it was back to self-publishing for me! It’s a useful lesson, though, and I’m glad I explored the options, because I’m sure I’d still have been wondering ‘what if…?’ otherwise.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Kathleen. A key piece of this is that your novel was essentially vetted for publishers when it was short-listed for that prize. What about your next novel? They now know you can write, so do you have any interest in writing something they think will be more marketable?


      1. Indeed. Yes, I did think about it quite hard, particularly since my next novel had the potential to be more commercial anyway, but ultimately I decided to stick with self-publishing. I found that I valued the freedom and control that came with it too much to want to give it up.

        However, the credibility that came with the shortlisting has meant that I’m able to promote the new book much more effectively – so yes, it is more marketable, but it’s still me doing the marketing.

        1. Kathleen, it will ALWAYS be you doing the marketing, no matter what publishing model you use.

          I love that you’ve got that credibility now and can leverage it with the next book. Please, though, when a publisher comes calling about book 3, hear them out, OK? ; )


  4. I do not see traditional publishing defined in this article. What is ‘traditional publishing’ as distinct from other publishing models current today? And how many other publishing models can you enumerate?

    1. Gregory, I didn’t get into those specifics because they’re all outlined in Jane Friedman’s excellent infographic. Click on the link in the text or click on the image itself to see how traditional publishing is defined and to learn about the other models.


  5. This article is absolutely accurate. I’ve been writing my entire life, and have sent out enough queries to wallpaper my home with little, if any, response. I’ve won writing competitions, and continued to plug away, growing and expanding. Eventually, I gave up on breaking into traditional publishing and decided to self publish without realizing how much that entails. Within a short period of time, I found a home with a hybrid publisher and February will see my first paperback on the shelves. As writers, we often think all that needs to be done is to write a book. In reality, that’s the easy part!

    1. And Tally? Even writing a book isn’t easy for many!

      Congratulations on finding the right path for you. Is your book fiction or nonfiction?


  6. For me, self-pub. I hired my own team, used my own creativity, my own marketing plan. I’m now a writer/publisher. Big plus: I control my book, its future. Besides, as an oldie, I had no choice. Another great post, Sandy.

  7. Sandy,

    Thanks for addressing this ongoing discussion/debate over traditional vs self-publishing. Let me add a few thoughts.

    1. Decades ago I co-authored language arts series for two different major publishers, a few years apart. Although I enjoyed most of the experience and the income while it lasted, when I retired from teaching and decided to write for the trade I quickly decided to self-publish, even though it was held in low regard at the time. Why? I wanted control over the process even though it meant managing all of the pieces on my own without any guarantees (there are no guarantees in traditional publishing either.)

    2. As a publishing coach, even when clients say they want to self-publish, I urge them to first seek an agent and pursue a traditional contract. I want them to experience the traditional publishing route so that self-publishing is an informed choice. Besides, writing a proposal and seeking a publisher is a good foundation for writing a book no matter which route you take. Best of all, sometimes they are offered a contract, perhaps not by one of the big 5, but perhaps by a small publisher eager to work closely with them.

    3. We all believe that writing a great book is most important, but no one can tell you in advance what a great book is. Traditional publishers think they can spot one, but they aren’t too much better at it than the rest of us. That’s why they prefer established names that ensure a certain level of sales. I don’t blame them. Publishing is a business.

    Only readers decide what is a great book. I remember reading scores of negative reviews of the wildly successful “50 Shades of Grey” that criticized it for being poorly written, amateurish, etc. but ended by saying, “…but I couldn’t put it down.”

    No matter the publishing route, most authors don’t make enough sales to fully support themselves. That’s why I believe that going after big bucks should not be an author’s primary motivation. Nor should it be a goal to write a great book. I suggest the best book is one with a message you feel compelled to share, written as best you know how, and polished for public consumption by a skilled editor. You’ll have to market it, of course, but from a place of authenticity and satisfaction. The sales will be gravy.

    End of rant.

  8. Excellent article. For my first book, I submitted a proposal to three publishers and after a long wait, received three rejections. I was encouraged to go ahead and write my book and publish it. I’m happy I did! I loved the entire process and went on to write and publish two more books. I just finished doing second editions of all three books and soon will think about starting a fourth book. If a book is in you, among the many publishing options, find a way to just do it!

    1. Thanks for such encouraging feedback and sharing your experiences, Judy! Sounds like you found the right path.


  9. Another spot-on article, Sandy. I also appreciate and agree with the points that Flora made in her thoughtful comment above.

    My first book was traditionally published, and I’m about to try for a second one.

    It seems to me that regardless of platform (I had next to nothing when I started), if you can get a literary agent to represent your book, then you have a real shot at getting published.

    Why? Because literary agents don’t take on books they don’t think they can sell.

    And by the way, although I put effort into writing a decent book, there was a ton of luck involved in getting plucked from the agency’s slush pile.

    1. Thanks, Tina. I’m still recommending your first book to people!

      The thing about getting an agent and then a publisher is that it’s a somewhat subjective process. It depends in part on personal tastes and preferences, connections, timing, and, sometimes, luck, as you point out. I know one nonfiction author who got a contract with no platform whatsoever because the topic resonated with a particular editor who believed the author was the right person to write that book.

      Good luck with that next one! I’m looking forward to hearing more about it.


  10. A hundred percent true. It’s pretty much *entirely* subjective, as you alluded to in your post. Not even the Big 5 can predict what will become popular.

    Thanks for the recommendations, btw. Much appreciated. 🙂

    1. Tina, I don’t think it’s easy to predict what will become popular, but I DO think it’s fairly easy to spot good writing. And that’s essential for traditional publishing. Even if you can’t write but have an amazing platform, you can hire a ghostwriter.

      Keep me posted on the next book, OK?


  11. After self-publishing my own book, I found myself being asked to work with other aspiring authors.

    Before I wrote my own book, I was a Series 3 commodities broker. Under National Futures Association regulations, I was obligated to emphasize the risks of trading and to urge prospective clients to trade no more money than they could afford to lose. If a prospect said anything to indicate that they had unrealistic expectations of profit or that they would be risking anything other than absolutely disposable assets, I was obligated to decline their business. I declined many such prospects.

    I have applied the same principles to considering book clients. I have “the talk” with both fiction and non-fiction writers and explain the time, effort, and expense it would take to promote and sell their book after it’s in print.

    I have had people insist that God would make their book a best-seller, that Hollywood would want to make it a film franchise, that they’d get a book deal when it sold 100 copies, that they were already sufficiently well-known, and of course, that I should work on their book for a percentage because it’s going to be huge. I declined them all as well as those who would have borrowed money or paid with any card other than AmEx.

    I have never made this my primary business but I have been happy to sell my services in editing and production at a flat rate to help people get their work in print without being exploited by predatory self-publishing companies. To market and promote their book, I refer them to as a starting point for planning.

    1. I’m glad you help people understand the realities, Dagny. No matter how you get published, it’s still work from beginning to end.

      And thanks for the referrals! I appreciate that!


  12. Hello Sandra,
    Next time you want to write on authors like me who follow the author-entrepreneur-publisher path. For instance my books are monographs that use academic approaches to solving industrial problems. There are no platforms to begin with and so one must be created by the author and the initial publishing undertaken by the author who also wishes to start a venture startup to develop same into a viable and vibrant Traditional Publishing Company. In that context monographs are written to seed the venture startup of a Traditional Publishing Company, and so far I have written 14 monographs with more coming. After the twentieth book then outside authors will begin to get invited to be published by the firm.

    Any more ideas on facilitating the growth process?


    1. Thanks, Opubo. Congratulations on your success. Regarding your question at the end, have you thought about turning any of your monographs into online courses?


      1. Well I have followed a path inadvertently from not having a public domain precedence to adopt as guide. My post, however, was for your guidance for others, who may choose the same the goal as I have, that would ease the journey for them. That is if possible. Thanks.

  13. Hi Sandra, I thoroughly enjoyed your article. And yes, self publishing is the only way to go for many authors. I too am such an author. I also toyed with the idea of seeking an agent or publisher when I started to write Historical Romance Novels last year. However, I did do my homework and joined a writer’s group after winning a writing competition in Texas. Texas Authors Short Story Competition. Here is what I discovered after joining this group. Three authors were traditionally published with not One single sale. They all chose small independent publishers… who wanted “them” to do all the work and advertising. Some of the other members remarked and cautioned that agents are also writers… who write under different alias’s with some having as much as fifty different names… and these agents need new story ideas all the time. They told me… do not send your story to any of them. And so, after hearing quite a few horror stories, I decided to self publish, where I have control over my books and marketing. In writing I have a particular style, and so I don’t need someone else to tell me what they like or do not like. Readers will make up their own mind. Anyway, after deciding to self publish I went to work again, and this is what I found out. To be a successful author like the top sellers on Amazon and kindle, most of these authors have over 100 books published, and ten years of writing invested. I know this for a fact, because I have a famous author living in my hometown, who also writes Historical Romance Novels. I emailed her and she responded. She has to date published 115 books. I would love to mention her name, but I cannot due to privacy issues. You cannot just write one book, unless of course you are Oprah, hoping to be successful. I am currently on my Eleventh Novel, and I advertise on Amazon. So far I am doing okay… I have sold quite a few books, and I expect to sell many more. I have a long way to go however, because I too want to have at least 100 books under my belt in 10 years time. Writing is after-all a business, and you must treat it as a business. Just my humble opinion.

  14. Hi Sandra, great article on publishing. And yes,for some authors self publishing is the only way to go, unless you are Oprah, or someone famous. Before I started to self-publish my books last year, I did a ton of research, and I found that most successful authors on Amazon or Kindle have been writing for 10 years or more, and each, have over 100 books published. Writing is a business and must be treated as such. Years ago, after winning a writing competition in Texas, I joined a writers group, and found that several traditional published authors were in that group. However, when asked, neither had sold a single copy. They were published by small publishers, who wanted them to do all the advertising and selling. After hearing that, I knew I was going to self publish and do my own thing, and I am glad I did. I am currently on my “Eleventh” Historical Romance Novel, and I advertise on Amazon. My sales have been good considering I only have eleven books under my belt… on the other hand, it takes time, and book reviews are hard to get. People it seems are much too busy to leave a review.

    1. Thanks, Theresia. Those small-press-published authors who hadn’t sold a single copy? Shame on them. Marketing is the author’s responsibility. This is the case with publishers of all sizes — not just small publishers. Small publishers, BTW, often do more marketing for their books than the big guys. In any case, those authors should have been working hard on their own marketing and promotion activities, so I wouldn’t blame their publishers for lack of sales. The publisher’s job is to manufacture a quality book and get it into distribution. The author’s job is to write a great book and then get the word out about it. As you said, this is a business, and you have to approach it as such.

      Congrats on having written 11 novels! Keep working on getting those reviews — and it IS work, unfortunately. What strategy do you use to secure them?


    2. I wholeheartedly agree about reviews. But I think the problem lies partly in the word. We all had to write book reviews at school, and they were supposed to be thoughtful and cover certain points, if my memory can go back that far. 🙂 So people are intimidated by the word. I prefer to ask for a ‘comment’on whether they liked the book or not, and what they liked or disliked about it.
      I’m not sure if this has brought me any more reviews, though!

      1. I agree with you on the term “reviews,” V.M. When I wrote about them here years ago, I referred to them as “comments” because they aren’t really what we think of as reviews. But I had to shift to using the same term as the rest of the industry so I wouldn’t confuse people.


  15. This is an excellent article, Sandy, with such clear insights. I have been extremely fortunate in my career as an author to be traditionally published more times than I can count (okay, 68 times)—and the key for me was discovering a hole in the travel market twelve years ago and pitching exactly the right publisher to fill it. I developed a strong relationship with that publisher that continues today.

    Would-be authors approach me regularly to ghostwrite, edit, and/or proofread their books, and we have lengthy discussions about whether they should self-publish or “use” a traditional publisher (their word). The fact that they think that traditional publishing is their choice always startles me—the concept that their book has to be accepted by a publisher seems to elude them, especially when I suggest that this is a decision based on marketability as well as writing quality. When I explain that they may wait months for their manuscript to rise to the top of the slush pile, that they are not likely to receive a massive advance, that they will do nearly all of their own marketing and PR, and that they may never see a dime in royalties, they usually choose to self-publish. Most of these people have had worthwhile experiences as self-published authors, with a book in hand that they can sell to clients or use to expand their businesses. These days, self-publishing makes sense for businesspeople in particular, especially if they have the wherewithal to do their own marketing.

    1. Exactly, Randi. The fact that some who want to write a book think it’s up to them to decide whether they “use” a traditional publisher shows they haven’t researched how the publishing industry works, and that’s not a good way to start out. It’s similar to a first-time store owner who would rent retail space without studying the region’s demographics, the site’s traffic, parking availability, etc.

      Authors are lucky there are ethical and INFORMED people like you out there to help them understand how it works and what path might be the best for them. I think the challenge for many has to be finding reliable sources of information about these topics. Groups can help, but as I noted in the article, you have to be careful about who you listen to. There are A LOT of posers out there!

      Thanks for weighing in with such a clear, helpful response. You’ve nailed it!


  16. Sandy, your article has garnered many excellent comments. I’ll be brief. I collected a shoe box full of rejections from agents before one took on my first book. He only wanted to deal with major publishers; as an unknown I knew my chances were slim. In time, I self published, won an award and got reviews. I still hope for an agent but meantime, I write, learn, help other writers, guest speak at book clubs, guest blog, and learn more. Along comes an article like yours that informs and encourages me. Thanks!

  17. After years of trying to get traditionally-published, I finally decided to take matters into my own hands and get it done myself. Aside from my blog, I’ve never had anything published. It’s not an easy decision to make. By self-publishing, the writer assumes most of the costs and responsibilities of the entire project. They have to ensure their novel has undergone a thorough edit; the copyright is secured; an ISBN is purchased; front and back covers are in place; and the e-version is formatted properly – among other things.

    Yet, despite the number of tasks involved and the stress that comes with slaving over a hot keyboard, I realize this is no longer just a hobby or a passion; it’s my career. I’m a freelance technical writer by profession – I seriously love to write most anything – but my ultimate goal is to be a published fiction writer.

    Thus, I consider the total enterprise an investment. It’s not just time and money I’m throwing into some hair-brained scheme and hoping for a monstrous payout. I’m investing in myself and my future. And, as with any investment, there are risks. I can’t be certain my book will become a best-seller. But NOT trying isn’t an option.

    1. Thank you, Alejandro. I was just talking about this with a colleague today — unrelated to this post. We were discussing how authors who truly want to succeed and reach people with their messages, stories, etc., view authorship as a business, not a hobby. It’s OK to be a hobbyist and to do everything on your own, as you find the time, etc. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s hard to soar if you don’t invest time and money in support services and educating yourself about things like marketing.

      Good luck with your fiction career. Sounds like you’re off to an excellent start.


  18. Hi Sandy,

    Around 2019, after my 4th self-pubbed book, I was overwhelmed with exactly the frustration you’re referring to: how little straight talk exists about self-publishing. (More now than back then.) Finding my own way had meant swimming hard upstream through massive hype about what and how the process works. Indeed, the very first false premise was that self-publishing was a ‘choice.’

    To vent my frustration, I wrote it all out and published, “Surviving Self-Publishing, or Why Ernest Hemingway Committed Suicide,” a manual unveiling the truth about this game. I used a pen name, Ava Greene, so as not to scream from the rooftops that I self-publish (due to the ‘choice’ mythology). But I comprehensively covered everything authors should and shouldn’t expect.

    I don’t market that book enough, but it needed to be written. Tough love. And the price remains super low so the info’s accessible to all. Like most authors, I came to the party with no clue how much work self-publishing entails… But there’s no other way!!

    1. Wendy, do you have any theories about why the top sites for author and publishing info. dance around this idea that most authors don’t have a shot at signing a contract with a traditional publisher? I’m stumped.

      Your book sounds like something I need to review here. I’m going to grab a copy and do that. In the meantime, check the Amazon description formatting — your paragraph breaks disappeared. (And let’s get you more reviews!)


      1. You da man.

        I think…a) most people, even self-pub bloggers, have an illusionary notion of traditional publishing—like it’s all about how good the book/writing is; b) if a blogger’s potential clients are all author/publishers, nobody wants to insult them by suggesting they don’t make the grade (cuz ‘trad pub = quality’); c) most people probably haven’t fully thought it through from the trad pub perspective—”hello, we gotta make money”; and d) the truth is quite sad, and all writers would rather not admit that it just ain’t what it used to be.

        But once you’re clear, it’s liberating. And I felt revitalized after airing my gripes.

        I did just tweak that paragraphing situation in my book description…may take a day or two. (In preview features, what you see isn’t always what you’ll get!)

        Thx so much for checking out the book! Love to get your spin on it! It’s a fast read. LMK if you have any questions about it or if there’s anything else I can share pertaining to it or the material. You’ve got my email address. <3

        1. Your explanation makes sense. I wonder if it also has to do with these sites not wanting to state what their audience doesn’t want to hear — a shoot the messenger type of thing. It just feels like the elephant in the room to me.

          I’m looking forward to reading your book! I’m glad you mentioned it. And yeah, I know how to reach you! ; )


  19. It is so refreshing to find a marketing expert tell it like it is regarding the so-called choice between traditional and self-publishing. I read these supposed gurus talk about it that way and shake my head, wondering, what in heck hesh is talking about. As if it’s so easy to get a traditional publisher. And those who flippantly suggest getting an agent, as though it’s merely a matter of deciding … That is terrible advice to any fledgling author, because it’s nearly impossible to do. For my first novel, I knew nothing; I mean, I was a total novice, and should have done some studying first. So I paid one of these self-publishing outfits, which gave me some excellent feedback that proved quite useful in later efforts. Second novel: I’m too embarrassed to mention how many agents I solicited, but I don’t think there were many, if any, left – until a noted New York agent almost accepted it, but for a flaw I found insurmountable (the book is a roman a clef; I couldn’t be too flexible). I then landed a small publisher, who turned out to be unscrupulous, so I and two others got out of our contracts, and I self-published a second edition that has received a lot of reviews and achieved the less-than-meaningful Amazon Kindle bestseller status in a small category for 15 weeks. (The crime it was based on is still under investigation, and possibly close to resolution.) Third novel: I really screwed up by failing to solicit that New York agent, because it’s a better read. But I got another small publisher, then self-published a second edition again after the short-lived contract expired. My reasoning with these second editions is that I can afford to spend more on marketing because I’m not sharing the profits with a publisher. And Sandra’s advice a while back that a book can still sell after years has proven to be so true. My main problem with marketing is the technical savvy it so often requires, which results in enormous frustration for me. I do better with selling on consignment at bookstores, personal appearances, and selling at art-and-craft festivals if I can get the presenter to waive the vendor fee, which I’ve been successful at, partly by promoting the event in my blog newsletter. But that kind of marketing diminishes my so-called platform for attracting publishers to my new, narrative nonfiction work.

  20. An excellent post. And the infographic is spot on.
    However, I’m with a hybrid publisher who does not ask for thousands of dollars, just a few hundred from the royalties. They also put in a lot of work in marketing, and have just opened their own online bookstore as well as having their books in physical stores, an on many online stores, too.
    I have 12 books published with them.

    1. I’m glad to hear that, V.M. “Hybrid” seems to be a fluid term. In recent years, “hybrid” has meant that both the author and publisher invest financially in the book so they both have some “skin in the game.” In some cases, it means that the publisher has editorial standards and is selective about the projects it takes on, while still sharing the expense with the author. Neither of these points are coming through in Jane’s chart, though. Why do you define your arrangement as hybrid?


  21. I wish I’d read this article when it was originally posted. My first book was published that same year. Fortunately, I was aware that, with no impressive platform, I had zero chance of traditional publishing and self-published a quality book.

    The point is well taken that many author groups dispense bad advice. And, sadly, many people fall for vanity presses that charge an arm and a leg for publishing a book and saddling authors with a garage full of overpriced copies of their books.

    Doing your homework and understanding current market conditions is key. Thanks for publishing information that is truthful and accurate.

    1. Your advice to do your homework and understand current market conditions is excellent, Sonia. So many authors leave out one of the most important steps: studying the book publishing industry and how it works. The best way to make a smart decision that will leave you with fewer regrets is to learn as much as you can about your options first.


  22. Great article. First, I’d like to suggest that the term self-publishing be banished from the lexicon. A self-published book is something you print at Kinkos. A much better term is independently published. Have you ever heard of a self-published film? I’m sure you’ve heard the term independent film. Lastly, no one has ever gone into a bookstore or on Amazon and looked for the next Random House book. People buy books because of the content.

    1. I understand your point on the term “self-publishing,” Emilio. It’s worth noting that on Amazon, “independently published” means the author published via KDP, and that’s not always the case with self-published books. Some authors prefer the term “indie,” but that is often used to describe small presses that operate like large, traditional publishers, just on a smaller scale. And “independent film” doesn’t mean the it was self-funded, which is the case with most self-published books (and most of those books involve no funding at all…it’s DIY all the way). There are often investors bankrolling it, in the same way that crowdfunding can also support the self-publishing process, so I’m not sure that’s a fair comparison.

      I think your issue with the term is that “self-publishing” often suggests “less than.” Unfortunately, most self-published books don’t meet traditional publishing standards because they don’t need to. There are no barriers to entry, no quality requirements. The fact that pretty much anyone can…and does… write and publish a book makes it hard for those who create exceptional content to avoid being lumped in with the “less thans.” That doesn’t make the term inaccurate, though.

      I agree that people buy books because of content. But they don’t go into a bookstore looking for a self-published book because there’s a really, really good chance they won’t find it there. Traditional publishers manufacture books that people seek out and get them into stores and libraries, so that’s what you’ll find there. Getting that kind of distribution for an “independently published” book means the author has to create the demand that stores and libraries want to see. That takes time, money, know-how, and a top quality book.



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