Self-publishing’s bottom line (pun intended)

March 30, 2011

My RSS feed has been awash lately with blog posts on self-publishing. Author Amanda Hocking makes a ton of money self-publishing but then signs a book deal. Another author, Joe Konrath, writes again and again about how self-publishing is the way to go. Yet another author, Barry Eisler, turns down a mega book deal to self-publish. Then literary agent Nathan Bransford does his own calculations to figure out which publishing route is more lucrative, and Penelope Trunk says the promise of a book is more important nowadays than the title.

It’s enough to make your head spin.

Or, if you’re a reporter like me, it’s enough to make you want to synthesize all the information, draw conclusions, then write about it and let people talk.

So here’s my take on all of this self-publishing craziness:

1. If you can land a deal with a major publisher, you’re still better off going with them. You’ll make more money, have that publisher’s (diminishing) support for promotion and lack the (diminishing but persistent) stigma that still surrounds self-publishing.

But if you’re deciding between a small publisher (that pays small advances) and self-publishing, it’s a toss-up as to where you’ll make more money and see more success.

2. No matter which route you choose, you have to be entrepreneurial about your book. If you want to land a deal with a traditional publisher, you have to build an audience online who will buy that book, to convince a house to publish it. And if you choose self-publishing, you still have to build an audience online who will buy your book, even though they’re buying it directly from you.

To succeed in this competitive book business, you need an awesome platform no matter how you plan to publish your book.


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    12 Replies to “Self-publishing’s bottom line (pun intended)”

    • Teresa Coates says:

      Like you, I have been flowing this with curiosity. Steve Almond self-published a year or so ago and that piqued my interest. It is an intriguing question and I think there are definite benefits to both sides. Still pondering which I will eventually pursue.

    • I am sad about the decline in traditional publishing. Even though more opportunities are available to writers, I want the satisfaction of signing with a major publisher. The market is so competitive and it might not ever happen. But I think many of us dream of seeing our hard cover books lining the shelves of Barnes and Noble. I don’t know, I might change my opinion if I feel that I’ve exhausted all my options. But right now I’m determined to send out a second round of queries and jump the hurdles to become *really* published. It’s an accomplishment to break down the doors to that impenetrable castle, known as the publishing industry. With self publishing, it’s not even necessary to go through them. But you’re right, a platform is necessary either way. For some authors, the pride of getting picked up by a major publisher might be worth more than the monetary gain of self publishing

    • Andrea James says:

      This part made me laugh!

      “Or, if you’re a reporter like me, it’s enough to make you want to synthesize all the information, draw conclusions, then write about it and let people talk.”

    • Tia Nevitt says:

      I write fiction, having sold my first story in the past year to an e-imprint of a major publisher. But point number 2 was still very true for me. I did extensive blog tours when my book first came out, and I still do them, but more occasionally. I also host authors to bring in new readers–it works both ways!

    • Jesse Koepke says:

      The common denominator in the discussion between the traditional and self-publishing seems to be the desire for more money. Though a legitimate question when making writing a career, I personally kind of hesitate at making any decision based on what will make me richer. It seems like the better way of deciding would be to write your story and choose the option that works best for you and helps you get your story out there. Letting money be the driving factor removes the fun and joy from writing. In my opinion, at least.

      • Alexis Grant says:

        Good points. If you write for fun, no need to worry about money. But a lot of us have to make a living from our writing, and in that case, I think it’s smart to think about where you’ll get the most for your work.

    • Kim Kircher says:

      Another consideration, of course, is the cost of self-publishing. A traditional publisher covers all the distribution, cover art, copy-editing, etc. in the saga of getting a book to print. Check out Editor Lynn Price’s explanation of self-publishing versus traditional at

    • Joanne says:

      Platform. Brand. Both can make my head spin. Great post. Nice to meet you by the way. We both are represented by Rachelle. Does that make us WordServe sisters!? :O)

    • Marianne says:

      Since I know you like us to talk Lexi, I shall talk.

      I think it’s worth throwing ‘fulfilling childhood dreams’ into the mix here – it probably shouldn’t be a deciding factor, but for me it is certainly a contributing factor in my decision to go down the traditional publishing route at least with my first book.

      I also think the choice becomes quite different as your platform grows. Some really well placed online writers (like Danielle La Porte and Chris Guillebeau) have been able to first produce well marketed, and well-received self-published works and then follow them up with really good deals in the traditional publishing arena. Others who have success with traditional publishing – like Eisler – have moved successfully the other way. In both cases your second point applies – these writers have taken an entrepreneurial approach to their writing.

      I don’t see entrepreneurship as being entirely about money, it’s also about audience. I want my writing to reach the widest possible audience of people who may be served by it. And I’m ready and willing to be my own publicity officer, sales and marketing rep and – if need be – publisher to make that happen.

    • Prime says:

      I’ve been reading about indie publishing lately because I’m taking that route when it comes to my travel memoirs. In my case, the choice is easy because I don’t intend to make a living from my book. I just want to fulfill my childhood dream of being a travel writer. (besides, no one can make a living being a book author in the Philippines)
      Having said that, I don’t think this an either/or thing. A writer can be both traditionally/self-published, but whatever route a writer takes, it’s still his/her responsibility to market the book, to connect to the readers, to sell his/her “brand” as an author.

      Blogging for one is a marketing strategy. But if you are an author, would you let someone else blog for you?

    • ang6470 says:

      In my opinion, these days self publishing is the way to go. I’m not going to wait and wait and wait for an agent and publisher to make my book a reality, I’m simply doing it myself. I’m hiring editors help me with the copy, and a professional design firm to do my cover and artwork.

      In the end, my book will be side-by-side all those other books in Amazon.

      I want to own my work. And in self publishing I’ll make much more money per book, since an agent and publisher aren’t taking their portion of my sales. I don’t need to sell 200,000 books to make money, I can sell 5,000 and see my own profits immediately.

      The days of depending on publishers and agents are fading away, although they will be the last to admit it.

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