Why did you self-publish?


Why did you self-publish? This question comes up a lot, especially when people learn I chose to self-publish rather than do it as a last resort. The question is usually partnered with another, either direct or implied: why not try for a publishing deal?

Before I go any further, you need to know that I am not anti traditional publishing. This is not a rant about the ‘evils’ of the big 6 publishers or a diatribe against agents. I’ve read many blogs promoting self-publishing to the detriment of traditional publishing. Many are right to point out that the traditional publishing route is no panacea but as with anything in life what is right for one person is wrong for another. If your dream is to become a published author in the traditional sense then you should go for it. I wish you every success.

And to say that I didn’t try to gain representation would not be telling the whole truth. I did send out some queries – four in all – because it was what I was advised to do, but I soon realised this route wasn’t for me and here’s why:


For me, maintaining control over the whole process was the biggest single factor in my decision to self-publish. This is because the act of sending out your query means you become reliant on others over the success or failure of your publishing future. It took me a week into waiting to hear back on my submissions before I realised this wasn’t for me. I’ve never enjoyed being reliant on others (this is not to be confused with working with others, which I’ve always enjoyed) and this was no different. I am much happier being the master of my own destiny. The moment I decided to self-publish it felt as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders because I had taken back control over my writing future, and whatever happened next would be purely down to me.

Instant payback

I saw a conversation on twitter the other day where a person said they couldn’t understand why people chose self-publishing over traditional publishing because you have to invest your own money with no guarantee of a return. Let’s set aside for the moment that with the traditional route you can be writing and submitting books with no pay for years and have no guarantee of a return, and look at this further. To self-publish does cost money and the amount of return you get on that investment – at least initially – can be relatively small. However the costs of self-publishing are no way near as much as many people think. In order to publish my book I spent £30.43 ($45) for Scrivener – so I could write my manuscript and produce the .mobi file for my ebook and .pdf file for my paperback myself, £27 ($40) for an ebook cover and £47.62 ($70) for a createspace cover from goonwrite.com. Editing was free (from a friend who is a professional editor) in return for building him his website benjaminway.co.uk. While it is true that editing can be the largest single cost of the process, there are alternative options available.

With self-publishing you can generate an income almost instantly (thanks Mum and Dad), although you still have to wait 90 days to receive it as per Amazon’s standard terms. Don’t get me wrong, unless you are incredibly lucky this is no get-rich-quick scheme. Getting your book noticed from the millions already out there is difficult, and building a loyal readership takes time and a lot of effort. However for each book sold you receive some money. I managed to pay off the costs of creating Second Chance in e-book and paperback after the first month. After that, every copy sold delivered pure profit.

Lower threshold for success

To be seen as a success in traditional publishing you have to sell a lot of books. I understand this. Publishers invest a lot of money bringing a book to market and they expect a return. In the past, publishers would give authors two or three books to build an audience. However, as Hugh Howey points out in his post The New Top-Down Approach, publishers nowadays expect almost instant success. Of all the books released by new authors, only one or two become major hits. The rest either receive less marketing support (making it even harder to become a success) or are dropped.

With self-publishing you don’t need to sell huge volumes of books to make a living (or to supplement an existing income). There are tens of thousands of self-published authors who make a good income from self-publishing, many of whom you have never heard of. When I started writing my goal was never to become a famous author but to earn a living doing what I love (OK, this was a secondary goal. My first goal was to write something somebody , somewhere might like). I am a long way off that target as yet but I can see a path to get there. Keep writing, keep publishing book and gradually build an audience.

The low-risk career option

While this didn’t come into my thinking at the time, those of you who are still unsure about which route to take should know that deciding to self-publish does not automatically exclude you from the traditional publishing route. In reality, successfully building an audience through self-publishing makes you a more attractive option for traditional publishers because you have a ready-made readership. In the New Top Down approach, Hugh Howie takes it one step further by asking why anyone nowadays would want to try the traditional route as a first option? The chances of success are slim and if you try do eventually get published and for whatever reason your book isn’t a success, once dropped from one publisher it is very difficult to get a contract with another. He argues any savvy new writer would choose to self-publish and build an audience so that they could negotiate with a traditional publisher from a strong position.


While the answer for each writer will be different, the arguments to self-publish appear to be getting stronger by the day. So where do you stand? If you have self-published, what was behind your decision? If you are pursuing the traditional route, what are the attractions for you? Then there are those of you who are published by small, independent publishers. What has been your experience and would you recommend the route to others? I’d love to hear from you.



35 thoughts on “Why did you self-publish?

  1. I fell into self-publishing almost by accident.

    The publisher of an anthology that had accepted two of my stories decided they no longer wanted to proceed. Instead of canning the book, they asked if any of the contributors would be prepared to take over the project.

    As I had been considering author-publishing at some point anyway, I decided to take the risk; the other contributors all thought me doing it was a great idea, so I ended up going from submitting to publications to publishing my own in about a month.

    Fortunately it turned out I like typesetting and formatting eBooks, so get to enjoy my work.

      • It wasn’t something we discussed. Simon Cantan (my co-author on Greenstar) has author-published all his books too, and might even more into the flexibility to try new ways to sell books than I am.

        It is difficult to say what we would have thought had we discussed it. With hindsight, I think the delay of finding and working with a publisher might have slowed things down without adding something we couldn’t outsource ourselves. We might even have lost some things: an external publisher might not have been very happy with our plan to make one section a stand-alone game book.

        The big thing that looking for a publisher might have done is get us a huge advertising budget. However – while I think Greenstar is great – I am realistic enough not to expect it to be seen as the next Harry Potter, &c, so getting much more than a mention in a trade catalogue seems unlikely.

  2. For the stuff that I have self-published so far (a 12,000 futuristic noir crime thriller and a collection of short stories), I didn’t find many outlets in the conventional sense. Nobody would take a punt on something that isn’t novel length for a new writer it seems. And yes, control.

    When I finish my present novel I intend to explore conventional methods first though.

  3. I’m hesitant to do all the work on my own, and so I liked having a small press do it for me. But even with a publisher, whether a big or small one, the onus of marketing falls on the author. There are occasions where the publisher will promote your book, and that can help tremendously. But it doesn’t happen a huge amount, so one shouldn’t base their decision on which route to take based on that. I think it comes down to how much of the publishing work the author wants to do, and, as you point out, how much control they want to have.

    • I agree, Carrie, which is why I don’t think there is a ‘one size fits all’ approach to being published. I’d be interested to know, given everything you’ve learnt since your first book was published, whether you’re planning to do the same again for your second book?

  4. When I completed my first manuscript, I was only familiar with traditional publishing so I sent it in to an agent, waited six weeks just for an acknowledgement. During that time I discovered self publishing from an author at a local writer’s conference and knew immediately that was for me. And for all the above reasons you mention. I hired an editor, hired a graphic artist, etc. It does cost money to self publish but the effort is so much worth it. I have a finished product in the market and now it is up to me to promote and the readers to decide if it goes anywhere. I wouldn’t do it any other way. So far the results have been more than satisfactory.

    • It’s a very familiar story, yet many people still believe that the only authors who self-publish are those that have no other choice. It’s good to know that you don’t regret the decision. Thanks for your comment 🙂

  5. I’m a control freak, I guess. I wanted complete creative control too. Plus the first book in my series (The Place of Voices) is unusual. I never submitted traditionally at all. I’m a graphic designer, so the covers, layout, formatting, etc. were no problem for me. I met a great editor in my critique group and I also knew a good proofreader. The cost has been minimal, so very little risk involved. It just made sense to head down the indie path. I’ve always been a bit of a rebel anyway. Marketing is the only part I don’t enjoy, but I just commit to making a little effort each day and it adds up. It’s been a labor of love (no one could ever be more passionate about my book than me) and I haven’t regretted the decision at all. I would wholeheartedly recommend it to any self-motivated writer. (Just be sure to outsource any aspect you can’t to with excellence to a gifted professional.) Anyone willing to take a little risk can do this!! The resources available now make the process simple and cost-effective.

    • Yours is a great story, Lauren, and one to which I can relate (except the graphic artist part – my drawing skills are atrocious). I especially like your advice “Just be sure to outsource any aspect you can’t to with excellence to a gifted professional.” This is very important and you are right, there are som many resources out there to make the process cost-effective. Thanks for your comment 🙂

  6. Thanks for the great post! Like you, I sent queries because “that’s what you do,” then became disillusioned very quickly.

    I often say that all authors will be hybrid ones in the (near) future. One of my short stories has been published in a traditionally published anthology, and I’m publishing my first children’s book traditionally in Greece, but Indie on Amazon. This is because I kept all right, as I offered to cover the printing expenses out of my pocket. The publisher loved this, as it means it’s a risk-free endeavor for him, and I loved it because I give him a percentage similar to Amazon’s and stay in control.

    This deal was available to me because I had a strong sales record on my Indie book. As you point out, you are far more appealing to a publisher once you’ve proven your worth and – just as importantly – promotional abilities.

    • I agree with you, Nicholas. More authors will become hybrid, not just the headline authors we all know but many lesser known authors with smaller presses. It’s also good to see you were able to use your existing platform to negotiate a better deal for your children’s book. I wish you every success 🙂

  7. I’ve just completed the first draft of my novel (woo hoo for me!) As I begin revising, I believe my novel has potential. My goal is to transform it into a book that others will enjoy reading. I’m sad to say, but after a few bad experiences with self-published work, I tend to avoid these books. How do you get past the “stigma” of being self-published to actually sell your work?

    • First of all, many congratulations on completing your first draft. Many people never get that far, so well done 🙂 Coming back to your question, while there were some real problems in the past, I don’t believe self-published books has a stigma any more. It’s unlikely the majority of readers realise they are reading a self-published book because it is very difficult to tell them apart from those traditionally published without checking the listed publisher. That’s not to say there aren’t poor quality self-published books out there, but then again I’ve read some absolute tosh that was published traditionally. I’ve read over 20 self-published books in the last few months in order to Pay It Forward to my fellow authors. I chose the books not on recommendation, but because I had been in contact with the authors. Out of those I’ve read, there have only been two I’ve had a problem with in terms of quality, which is not bad from a random sample (I’m sure if I went around a book shop with my eyes closed and pulled out over 20 books, there would be a couple that I felt were poorly written as well).
      The hardest part of self-publishing isn’t about stigma but about getting yourself visible. The best way of doing this is to produce good quality work, have a good cover and blurb, and then to gain word-of-mouth recommendations. Unless you are lucky it’s a slow process – although there are ways of speeding it up – but those readers you do win over are your best advertisers.

  8. Your reasoning sounds much like mine. I paid a lot more than you did for editing, but my book also paid for its production costs quickly, and I think everything I spent on editing and cover art was a good investment. Much as I’d like to get an agent for foreign rights, etc (even the elusive paper-only deal, if they decide to try that again), I don’t see myself leaving self-publishing behind any time soon. It’s too rewarding, and the risks with traditional publishing are so great when you hand over all of your rights.

    Great post!

  9. I self-published partially out of frustration (I needed to get Book 1 out there in some form so that I could move on from it intellectually and emotionally) and partially for control, as you stated. For me, control was really necessary because I have a close relationship with the artist who does my covers and supplemental artwork, and I don’t want to have it mandated that I cut ties with her. Though I write epic fantasy and thus don’t have art within the text, we eventually want to co-produce some art-and-anthropology books related to my writing world — a sort of Jim Henson/Brian Froud collaboration. Thus any deal would need to involve both of us, which isn’t likely unless I have previous success and a strong position for bargaining.

    Anyway, it’s worked out well so far!

    • You’ve raised a really good point here, about control of the finished product. Many people don’t realise that most traditionally published authors get little to no say in their cover and are also often told to change their book’s title. In some cases this may be a good thing, but for yourself I can see why you would want to retain control. Thanks so much for your comment 🙂

  10. I am still in process of writing my first draft so I am still far away from this goal post. With a few exceptions all the books I read now are self published. Tradionally published books seem the same while the self published books are fresh unique ideas. There are as many well written self published books as there are not as well written books.

    • There is definitely more opportunity for writers to take risks when self-publishing. I don’t stick solely to self-published books myself as there are many traditionally published writers I admire and enjoy, but I would say between 60% & 70% of the books I now buy are self-published.

  11. As before Dylan, I find all you write here so very helpful and gives me a great deal of food for thought as I *still* bash away at my first draft…and I’m writing fearlessly again, ha!….so all of this I am storing away for future reference and gleaning all I can. Congratulations on all you’ve achieved so far and I will read your book, I promise. In fact I look forward to doing so 🙂

    • I’m so pleased you’re writing fearlessly again, Sherri. We all have our wobbles during the writing process, the key is to keep on going. I believe you when you say you’ll read my book at some point. It’s not a race. Regardless of whenever you get the chance, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. 🙂

  12. Another point in favor of self-publishing (and I’ve never been a proponent of self-publishing, but my opinion may be changing): Traditional publishers are even less willing to accept new author manuscripts than ever before, and they’re coming to expect new authors to self-publish, establish fan bases, and sell lots of books on their own before they consider offering a publishing contract. For those of us who still dream of signing a fat contract with a traditional publisher, it looks like the starting point is self-publishing.

    • That’s a very good point, Karen. What’s even more surprising are the number of authors who have made a success of self-publishing who are turning down contracts from publishers, or only accepting contacts for physical books and retaining the rights to ebooks themselves. The times, they are a’changing…

  13. These exchanges are unbelievably helpful Dylan (leaving aside I’m using Ben to proofread/edit just now, via you). I’ve thought about and toyed with (in the sense of sending a few letters to agents with mixed results (as in from the total silence to polite rejection)) the trad route but realised it is (a) a lot of a hassle with little to no guarantee it will work and (b) as one other comment makes clear, if I delay getting my first book out there I cannot move on to book two, then three etc. I hadn’t appreciated (in that I hadn’t really thought about it hard) how much control you give up and while I doubt I’ll market very effectively, I would begrudge others telling me what to do if it really didn’t suit what I have in mind. So indie/self publishing for me!

    • I’m so pleased they’ve proved helpful. One of the best things I’ve found about self-publishing is the amount of help and support that’s available. Instead of seeing you as a competitor, most indie authors see each other as fellow travellers and are happy to support one another.

Don't be shy, talk to me. I promise I won't bite.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s