Traditional publishing VS self publishing – Do you have an opinion?

June 18, 2007

When I started writing my first manuscript several years ago, it was a career changing decision. I knew I’d approach becoming a long-term career author through the traditional route of finding the appropriate agent who would represent my work and sell me to a big name publishing house. Two mss later (I’m working on number three), though I haven’t hooked an agent yet, I’m polishing, submitting, and continuing to create new work with the positive attitude that it will happen. One day, I will see my books in print.

Interestingly enough, as I’ve traveled to conferences to sharpen my writing skills, I’ve met many people who’ve asked if I’d ever consider self publishing? I haven’t, but is it an option I should explore? Would it help build a readership? Would it assist me in cementing my BRAND – The heart of change is the change of heart? Does self-publishing benefit or hurt a writer’s reputation? I’m curious, what are the pros and cons of each method?

If you have an opinion, I’d love to hear it. Please, post your comments and get the discussion started.

Here are a few other questions to consider responding to as well. As a reader, do you care what publishing house published the book you are reading? What draws you to buy a specific book? What is the maximum amount you would spend on a paperback novel? How about on a hardcover? Do you have anything else to propose for discussion?

I look forward to an exciting and informative debate.

Happy Monday — Christine.


• Posted in Uncategorized • |  11 Comments

11 thoughts on “Traditional publishing VS self publishing – Do you have an opinion?

  1. I don’t think self-publishing hurts a writer’s career, but I don’t think it helps either. You’re getting your name out there, so that’s always a good thing.

    For me, personally, I’d never do it. When I see how much it costs to self-publish, I’d rather go with an e-pub or a small publisher and use the cash toward promoting my book. Not only that, you open yourself up to the editing experience, which is invaluable as a writer. Sure, you could do the same with self-publishing, but still, that’s more money that didn’t go toward promotion.

    So that’s my 2.17494 cents. 🙂

  2. Hi Christine,

    I think this is an interesting topic. I am writing my first manuscript, so don’t have any experience to share, but am interested in this topic on many different levels. My boyfriend is an independent music artist and I have been helping him answer this same topic, but from a music point of view.

    In the music industry, the popular thing right now is to be independent and press your own album. Instead of having a contract with a big name record label, artists are contracting their own studio time and mastering and pressing their albums using independent companies like DiscMakers. If these artists do contract themselves with a record company it is for a distribution deal. Def Jam Records is an example of a big name independent label. Artists like Eminem and I believe Prince (to go non-rap for a second) have created their own independent labels and are contracting new talent.

    My boyfriend has decided to start off independent. He recorded his album in an independent studio and has shipped his files off to be mastered and pressed by DiscMakers. He has ordererd 1000 copies of the album (he had to provide the artwork and text for the album cover and label) and flyers. Honestly, he considers this part the easy part, it is the selling it yourself that is hard. The worst thing is to have invested in all the copies and then have them sitting in your closet unsold.

    I don’t know if you could learn anything from how my boyfriend plans on selling the copies of his album, but I will share a little bit just in case. He has friends who know a lot of people that like rap and are willing to sell albums for him. They are going to give him the money up front ($5 each) and then sell them for a profit ($7-8 each). This way Matt doesn’t get screwed if they take the albums and split. He is also going to sell them at performances and consign them to record stores like Newbury Comics that are independent artist friendly. He is going to put a flyer up in the window so people know the album exists. He also has a MySpace page and spends at least an hour (sometimes 2-3) researching new “friends” so he has a marketbase to target.

    Here are the two things I would take away from what my boyfriend is experiencing:

    1. Do you have the upfront money to invest in publishing your own book? How much of a financial hit would it be if you didn’t recoop any of your investment?

    2. How do you plan on marketing and selling your book? Consigning to local bookstores? How are people going to know that your book exists? MySpace page?

    I hope this has been helpful. I have learned a lot while supporting my boyfriend in his dream of being a lyricist (rapper).

  3. To self-publish or not?

    It depends on your goals.

    I could care less who publishes a book. I never look anyway. I buy books because they are recommended by someone whose opinion I value and it offers me something I want. I sometimes buy books from AMAZON that are recommended because others who share my interests bought it too.

    Since a self published book can be recommended by anyone and sold easily on AMAZON for about $30/year, then nothing can stop you.

    Plus when you self-publish, particularly fiction, it’s not like you need any of the “perceived” credibility that those who want to make money off you (agents/publishers, etc.) claim to deliver. You don’t have to be a subject matter expert… Dr. Know-it-all… just be your creative self!

    Secondly, if you self-publish you get to put out what YOU want… YOUR passion… YOUR message and don’t have some so-called “expert” watering down or diluting your finished product. How many big time artists were told by “experts” that they couldn’t sing or act… Ever heard the story of Sylvester Stallone trying to sell the screenplay for Rocky?

  4. Hi Christine!
    I saw your post on the PRO loop and decided to come on over. Talk about serendipity! I posted on Saturday to my personal blog about self-publishing, and publication in general. You can read my post at:

    I’m sorry to say that I have yet to see/read a self-published novel that had the same quality (in either writing or production) as a commercially published novel. Granted, maybe there are some out there, since I admit I haven’t read very many, but I’ve never seen them.

    Self-publishing may be the best option for some writers on a particular book, but I don’t believe it will ever be the best option for me!

  5. Hi Christine! This is an interesting topic, I think. For those folks (and I’m one of them) who have gone the self-pub route, we are treated like second class citizens (“if you can’t get a traditional publisher to pick you up, doesn’t that tell you something?”). For my part, I am of two minds on the subject. #1: I recently released a book via Lulu because, after more than 100 rejections, I was done with it. Ready to let it go. But I had family and friends who wanted a copy, so it seemed an easy way to make one available to them. It provided me with a sense of closure and the most amazing thing, more than just friends and family found it good enough to buy and to read! I do realize it wasn’t strong enough for the mainstream so I’m not unhappy that an agent/publisher didn’t pick it up. There wasn’t really anything more I could do with it. Ok, but on to point #2: Some folks are of the opinion that self-pubbing might be a step into the mainstream. If you can prove you have a market there, traditional publishers will take a second look and it gets you out of the slush pile. I wouldn’t do it with that in mind, but it is something to think about. I just read a quote recently where someone (was it Beatrix Potter?) couldn’t sell, so she self-pubbed, and look where she is today!

    At the end of the day, I would continue plugging away (am still plugging away) to get published the traditional route. I have a third manuscript completed that I’m trying to market now and am working on writing the fourth. I don’t think most of us write for the goal of being rich and famous, we do it because it’s a part of our personality – who we are. So I think trying to go the traditional route gives you more credibility, but if your WIP is dead in the water, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with self-pubbing to at least get it off your “to-do” list. As I said earlier, if nothing else, it gives you sense of closure and lets you move on to the next project (which will surely be much better and be worthy of traditional publishers!)

    (I’m sure there are other who will strongly disagree with my opinion, but that’s what this open forum is for, eh?)

  6. HI Christine-
    Have enjoyed reading the responses/comments on your site here. I have a “professional” piece that my co-author and I are trying to get an agent to accept. But, as everyone notes, the big step is to get the agen to accetp it and then move it forward from there.

    So the option of self-pub is one we are seriously considering. We know that it is often considered a cop-out, but there is an audience and a market that has been languishing for entries. We are probably going to try a few more agents before we cave in and get it published ourselves. With the packages we are looking at, marketing should be included.

    So, we’ll see. Maybe we are just to anxious and impatient… but we know that our material will get even more dated (and need more revisions) if we don’t get it out to the reading public soon.

    Will let you know what happens.

  7. Self-publishing is a good option for niche markets in NON-fiction, where the author has a built-in audience, e.g., where the author speaks on a topic and can sell the books from the back of the room. And that’s the market that most of the self-publishing gurus address.

    Self-publishing is generally not a good option for fiction of any kind, unless the author is a good sales person and is willing to devote, full-time, a year or more of her life to hand-selling the book (instead of writing the next book). And even then, the odds are heavily stacked against success.

    Most writers I’ve met are NOT sales people. They would rather write six more novels than do one cold call or walk up to a stranger and ask him to buy the book. Also, individuals simply don’t have the distribution channels that major (and even smaller) publishers have. Individuals CANNOT get their books stocked at Wal-Mart or with distributors like Ingrams. Sure, you can get them on Amazon and B&, but on-line sales of books account for less than 10% of all book sales, and out of that 10%, the vast majority (I’ve forgotten the exact number) are books that are also available in stores, so the percentage of self-published books that are sold, compared to all books, is excruciatingly small.

    Even if your goal is not money, which is what a lot of authors say, the goal is usually to be read, and the two go hand in hand. If you’re not making any money, you’re not selling any copies, and no one is reading the book. (Well, exaggerating here. I believe the average sales of a self-published book is under 100 copies. Print runs for even small publishers run in the thousands.)

    Think about how your book is going to stand out from all the other books on the market. Someone who, as noted above, has a niche non-fiction book because she’s an expert and has written the ONLY book in that little niche, has a built-in market — people who are interested in that little niche — and all she has to do is find that market, e.g., through speaking engagements or writing articles for magazines. Someone who is telling a story has a broader potential market — anyone who likes fiction, or perhaps more narrowly, anyone who likes the particular genre. But she also has much, much, much more overwhelming competition and no significant way to get attention paid to her book. Even if the reader happens to hear about it, why should a reader buy this self-published book, when there are a couple hundred other books coming onto the market every week or two, many of which are by authors they’ve at least heard of and are backed by companies (publishers) they’ve heard of?

    Also ask yourself — when was the last time you, personally, purchased a self-published fiction book by someone who wasn’t a relative or close friend?

  8. Admittedly, I know very little, if anything at all, about the pros and cons of self-publishing Vs traditional publishing. I have read the comments posted and find merits to both arguments. However, after many conversations with a certain aspiring author, I agree with the posting of being true to yourself. The idea of “butchering” your “baby” to satisfy the requirements of a publisher just doesn’t seem right. He/she was not in your head when you conceived your story. Revisions that end up changing characters, story lines, etc no longer make it YOUR story. Just thought I’d add my two pennies worth. Keep up the good work.

  9. Ahh, the question every writer must answer for themselves, and never an easy one. I do believe Grisham, and my memory may be faulty here but I think I’m correct, frustrated with rejection after rejection, chose the self-publishing route. After selling some fifty thousand or some other tremendous number of books on his own, a publisher took notice and picked him up. We all know where he is today. However, as GIN so astutely pointed out, few of us are sales people. If your dream is to see your book in print and you’ve tried every other avenue, maybe self publishing is for you. I believe it would be a very difficult road. There’s the expense, mucho grande, and the self promotion, an all comsuming job in itself. Then, the very real possibility, let me rephrase and say probability if you want to go by the stats, that your sales will be, well, pitiful. Sorry, but we need to be realistic when making such a monumental decision. If you’ve done your homework and know how overwhelming the odds and you still want to do it, then all I can say if follow you heart, or your dream, or whatever it is that drives you.
    Personally, self publishing isn’t a choice I would make. But that is just for me. I think each person needs to be honest with themself about what they really want. Why are they writing. For me, I write bcause I don’t seem to have any choice. At times, when I haven’t written for days or weeks because I’m in a major funk or life has barrelled into my fictional world and taken over, I feel off balance. I begin to panic. I worry I may never be able to write again. Sound familar to anyone out there?
    The writing settles me. It is integral to who I am. I write, simply because I have to.
    Yes, I would love to get published, and for me that would be going the traditional route. As pitiful as it may seem, I want that validation, even though my husband and my mom have already told me I’m the best writer they’ve ever read. So go figure some publisher hasn’t jumped at the chance to pick me up.
    It is not a question easily answered.
    Thanks to all who have contributed, I have enjoyed reading your comments. Thanks, Christine, for prompting us all.

  10. Wow, awesome comments, thanks for contributing.
    You’ve all given me a lot to think about, but as several of you have suggested (strongly) — traditional publishing is still the way to go. I’ve always followed my heart and will continue to do so, telling my stories and polishing them until that perfect agent calls to say, “I love your work and want to represent it.”

    For now, it’s back to my WIP, Mystical Connections, with a break to pack for Nationals.

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