To Publish or To Self-Publish…That is the Question

To Publish or To Self-Publish…That is the Question


The rise of the self-publishing industry, also known as self-pub and independent or indie publishing, has made several aspiring as well as published authors wonder – to publish or self-publish? Being in the publishing business, we understand the scenario and attempt to provide a satisfactory answer.

As both methods have their own advantages and disadvantages, there doesn’t seem to be a conclusive answer to this million-dollar question. And it doesn’t help that several professionals from publishing and self-publishing are at loggerheads. Many authors who have been traditionally published refuse to accept indie publishers as real authors and consider self-publishing as a short cut.

Writer David Vinjamuri covers this in his article on – Publishing Is Broken, We’re Drowning In Indie Books – And That’s A Good Thing*. David has included the views of mainstream authors such as Brad Thor and Sue Grafton as well as self-published successes such as Hugh Howey, to understand both points of view. He explains in his article how due to self-publishing, readers have to go through several low-quality books in order to finally find a few books worth reading. David talks about the factors that have led to the evolution of the entire publishing industry and offers us insights into the future.

Indie Publishing

Writers reading such articles are tossed around on the horns of dilemma, especially since there are so many cost-effective and faster ways of publishing your work. The number of choices seems to be directly proportional to the bewilderment felt. Platforms such as Kindle Direct Publishing, Smashwords, Lulu, and ePub let anyone publish their work – no judgment passed. On the upside, you can self-publish your work within a day or two and the Print on Demand (POD) option lets you to print books upon order, ensuring that your books do not literally gather dust on bookshelves. But on the downside, you have to bear all the editing, designing, proofreading, printing, distribution, and marketing costs, which could cost thousands of dollars.

This is a risky investment, as there is no guarantee that your book will be a hit. According to the Author Earnings Report 2014 compiled by best-selling author Hugh Howey, self-published books represent 31% of e-book sales on Amazon’s Kindle Store. That’s a lot of competition on just one platform, which means you will have to spend a substantial fee for marketing and rely on the very fickle Lady Luck.

Traditional Publishing

Trying to publish your masterpiece via the traditional route requires a lot of time and infinite patience. Major publishers can take anywhere between six months to a year to get back to you, leaving you to twiddle your thumbs, bite your nails, and simply hope for the best. Publishers take such a long time to get back to you not because they are sadistic, but because their primary role is to painstakingly sift through thousands of manuscripts they receive, and separate the chaff from the wheat.

Once your manuscript is received, professional editors might ask you to rewrite certain portions of your book or even tweak the plot – this is a bitter pill many writers cannot swallow. Receiving criticism for your precious work, while not easy, is quite necessary to publish a high-quality book.

Mutants of Publishing

A certain breed of authors is on the rise in the world of publishing – hybrid or as we like to call them, mutant authors. These authors are all-embracing and tech savvy; they self-publish as well as get published. They leave no stone unturned, as they rely on word-of-mouth marketing, offer their books on demand, promote their work persistently on social media channels, as well as approach major publishers. Some best-selling indie authors, like Amanda Hocking, John Locke, and E.L James, are approached by major publishers and offered noteworthy contracts.

The Million-Dollar Answer

The answer, to be honest, absolutely depends on your book. Do your research well to understand whether you have a wide target audience or not. If it’s a niche book that is too low in potential profit for traditional publishers, then you can consider self-publishing and offering your book on demand. But not all niche books have a small target audience. If you’re planning to write on a niche topic that is trending, then you should consider approaching traditional publishers.

If you’ve written a book for a segment that’s doing well, say Romance, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Thriller, or Mystery, then turn to an experienced agent who will guide you. Don’t give up if one agent or publishing house denounces your work; after all, J.K Rowling was rejected several times before Harry Potter was published by Bloomsbury, and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was rejected 20 times. Give traditional publishing plenty of time, minimum 3 years and maximum 5 years, and then self-publish your book. If you think you can’t wait at all, then indie publishing is the way to go.

Major publishers such as Penguin and Random House themselves offer self-publishing services, which could increase the visibility of your book being seen. No matter which route you choose, make sure you research the company well to avoid getting duped.

So what’s it going to be – publishing or self-publishing? Let us know in the comments below!

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