Weighing the Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing: Should I Do It?

Table of Contents


Should I self-publish my book? This is a prevailing question many wannabe authors ask.

This write-up aims to explore the pros and cons of self-publishing and help you decide if self-publishing your book is the right choice for you. There are many factors to consider when weighing traditional publishing against self-publishing, and the best path forward will depend on your specific goals and circumstances as an author.

Self-publishing is when an author independently publishes their book without the involvement of a traditional publisher. Instead of signing with a publishing house, the author handles all aspects of the publishing process, from editing and design to printing and distribution.

With the rise of print-on-demand technology and online retail platforms, self-publishing has exploded in popularity over the last decade as more writers realize they can share their work directly with readers.

The pros and cons of self-publishing

Throughout this article, we’ll define what self-publishing entails, look at the pros and cons of self-publishing, compare it to traditional publishing, and discuss key considerations to keep in mind. We’ll also look at real-life examples of successful self-publishing endeavors. By the end, you should have a clearer sense of whether self-publishing aligns with your writing aspirations and abilities.

Let’s dive in.

What is Self-Publishing?

Self-publishing refers to an author taking full responsibility for the entire publishing process, from editing and design to printing, distribution, and marketing. Unlike traditional publishing, where an author partners with a publishing house, self-published authors handle everything themselves or contract freelancers for certain tasks.

While self-publishing has existed for centuries in limited forms, the advent of digital publishing and print-on-demand technology in the early 2000s allowed self-publishing to explode in popularity. Today, self-publishing makes up a significant portion of the book market, with over 1 million titles self-published each year in the US alone.

The self-publishing process typically involves the following key steps:

  • Editing and proofreading the manuscript
  • Hiring a book designer for layout and cover design
  • Obtaining an ISBN and barcode
  • Converting the manuscript into print and e-book formats
  • Uploading to self-publishing platforms for distribution
  • Marketing and promoting the book through various channels

While self-publishing involves more work for the author than traditional publishing, it offers total creative control and ownership of the finished product. Self-published authors also retain all rights and earn much higher royalty rates, typically between 40%-70% of sales compared to around 10%-15% from traditional publishing deals.

The History of Self-Publishing

While self-publishing has boomed in the digital age, it has existed for centuries in limited forms. In the 18th and 19th centuries, authors like Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, and Beatrix Potter self-published some of their most famous works.

Other landmark moments in the history of self-publishing include:

  • The emergence of “vanity presses” in the early 1900s allowed authors to pay for printing services.
  • The creation of print-on-demand technology in the 1960s-70s.
  • The rise of the Internet in the 1990s expanded self-publishing options.
  • The launch of Amazon’s self-publishing platform Kindle Direct Publishing in 2007.

While often stigmatized in the past, self-publishing has become widely accepted and even celebrated in recent decades. Several self-published books like The Martian and Fifty Shades of Grey have become major bestsellers and movies.

The Popularity of Self-Publishing Today

Thanks to accessible digital tools and shifting attitudes, self-publishing has become popular in the 21st century. Some key stats about self-publishing today include:

  • Over 1 million books are self-published annually in the US alone.
  • Self-published books account for nearly 50% of all e-book sales on Amazon.
  • Nearly 90% of traditionally published authors also self-publish some works.
  • Self-publishing is projected to keep growing at over 20% per year.

For many authors today, self-publishing offers an appealing alternative path with more control and potential profit. While self-publishing does involve more work, it puts the author fully in charge of the process and final product.

The Advantages of Self-Publishing

One of the biggest advantages of self-publishing is the creative control and freedom it gives authors. Unlike traditional publishing, self-published authors have complete control over their entire process – from editing and design to pricing and distribution.

There’s no need to change to please a publisher or fit a particular genre mold. Self-publishing allows authors to retain their original vision and publish the book exactly as intended.

Self-publishing also means keeping control over rights. With a traditional publisher, authors usually have to hand over certain rights like translations or adaptations of their work. With self-publishing, the author retains full rights and can sell subsidiary rights.

In addition, self-publishing can be extremely lucrative if done well. While royalty rates in traditional publishing typically range from 10%-15%, self-published authors can earn up to 70% royalties on each sale.

More earning potential exists, especially if an author can build a loyal readership. Self-publishing also provides access to global distribution through online retailers like Amazon, allowing authors to tap into massive potential markets.

Some other financial benefits of self-publishing include:

  • No need to pay agent fees or give a cut of advances/royalties to a publisher
  • Lower production costs compared to traditional publishing
  • Ability to set own price points and run promotions/sales
  • Ongoing passive income from book sales

While self-publishing does require an upfront investment from the author, the long-term earning potential can be well worth it. Overall, the control and financial benefits make self-publishing an extremely attractive option for many authors.

The Disadvantages of Self-Publishing

One of the biggest challenges faced by authors who choose to self-publish is getting their books into the hands of readers. Without the distribution networks of major publishing houses, self-published authors must find ways to market and distribute their books. This can be extremely difficult and time-consuming, requiring a significant investment of time and money with no guarantee of success.

Most self-published books receive little promotion beyond what the author can do themselves through social media, appearances at local bookstores, and other grassroots efforts. As a result, many excellent self-published books languish in obscurity simply because readers don’t know they exist. Even getting books into bookstores can be a challenge without the established industry connections of a major publisher.

Self-publishing also carries a stigma in some circles. Some readers assume self-published books are of lower quality because they haven’t gone through the vetting process of being accepted by a traditional publisher. While this perception is changing, it can still impact how receptive the reading public is to purchasing a self-published book. This stigma can also influence reviewers and literary prizes/awards, making it difficult for self-published books to get noticed and gain traction.

The lack of marketing, distribution, and industry connections can make it difficult for self-published authors to reach a wide audience or take their work seriously. While these challenges are not impossible to overcome, authors should go into self-publishing with realistic expectations of the significant effort and persistence required to succeed.

Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing

When evaluating the pros and cons of self-publishing, it’s important to understand the key differences between the two options. Both have their unique processes, pros, and cons that authors should weigh carefully.

The Traditional Publishing Process

Authors submit book proposals or completed manuscripts to publishing houses through traditional publishing. If a publisher is interested, they will offer the author to publish their work.

The publisher will provide editing, design, printing, marketing, and distribution services. Authors receive advances and royalties on book sales. The publisher retains the rights to the book and controls major decisions about the final product.

The Self-Publishing Process

With self-publishing, the author handles all aspects of publishing themselves or hires freelancers to provide services. The author retains full creative control and rights over their work.

Self-published books can be distributed through online retailers like Amazon or sold directly by authors. However, the author must also undertake all marketing efforts on their own.

When Each Option Might Be Best

For authors who value creative control and want to retain rights over their work, self-publishing can be a great choice. It may also suit authors who want to build an audience within a niche genre. However, traditional publishing is likely the better path for authors who want wider distribution and industry validation.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Aspiring authors should reflect on their goals, resources, and risk tolerance when deciding between self-publishing and traditional publishing.

Considerations Before Choosing to Self-Publish

Deciding whether to say yes to your question, “should I self-publish my book?” is a big task for any author. Before taking the plunge into self-publishing, consider some important factors carefully.

Assess Your Goals as an Author

First, think about what your goals are for your book. Are you writing for personal fulfillment or hoping to reach a wide audience? Do you care more about creative control or maximizing exposure and sales? Self-publishing offers independence but requires more work on marketing and distribution. Traditional publishing generally provides greater distribution reach but less control.

Evaluate Your Available Resources

Self-publishing requires a significant upfront investment. You’ll need funding for professional editing, cover design, formatting, and printing physical copies. Expect to spend thousands for quality self-publishing. You’ll also need time and effort for marketing, promotion, and distribution. If your resources are limited, traditional publishing may be a better fit.

Be Ready to Market Your Book Extensively

Without a publishing house’s marketing team, you’ll have to promote your book tirelessly on your own as a self-published author. That means booking speaking engagements, securing reviews, engaging on social media, and more. If you don’t have the time, skills, or desire for extensive marketing, traditional publishing may be a wiser path.

Consider Your Genre and Target Audience

Some genres like science fiction, romance, and Young Adult (YA) tend to do well in self-publishing. Niche topics with a dedicated audience are also a good fit. If your book has mass market appeal, traditional publishing may make more sense to reach a wider readership.

Weigh the Potential Stigma of Self-Publishing

Unfortunately, self-publishing still carries a stigma in some circles. Even quality self-published books are sometimes viewed as less credible. If maximizing legitimacy is crucial, traditional publishing may be preferable. However, the stigma has diminished significantly in recent years as self-publishing gains respectability.

The choice between self-publishing and traditional publishing has no single answer. By carefully assessing your goals and circumstances as an author, you can determine which path is right for your book.

Real-Life Examples of Successful Self-Publishing

Self-publishing has allowed many talented authors to share their work with the world, even when traditional publishers initially rejected them. Here are some inspiring examples of writers who found success through self-publishing:

Amanda Hocking

Amanda Hocking originally self-published her paranormal romance novels as ebooks in 2010. She quickly gained a massive following, selling over 1 million copies and earning over $2 million in her first year. After becoming a self-publishing phenomenon, she signed a major book deal with St. Martin’s Press.

EL James

EL James first published her erotic romance novel 50 Shades of Grey on a small Australian virtual publisher in 2011. The books went viral, selling millions of copies. Vintage Books later picked up the series. The 50 Shades trilogy has sold over 150 million copies worldwide, showing that self-publishing can lead to major commercial success.

Andy Weir

Andy Weir self-published his sci-fi novel The Martian on his blog for free in 2011. It gained a loyal following and was later published by Crown Publishing. The book became a bestseller and was adapted into a blockbuster film. Weir’s story demonstrates how giving away content for free can paradoxically boost sales and popularity.

These examples show how self-publishing allowed these authors to get their work into the world. They could build an audience independently and eventually transition into traditional publishing deals by taking control of the publishing process. For other writers considering self-publishing, these success stories offer inspiration and practical lessons on marketing and building a fanbase.


After weighing the pros and cons, it’s clear that self-publishing offers authors more control and higher earning potential but also requires significantly more work in marketing, distribution, and overcoming stigma.

Ultimately, whether or not to self-publish depends on each author’s specific goals, resources, and willingness to take on the extra responsibilities of self-publishing.

For authors who highly value creative freedom and financial return, self-publishing can be an excellent choice. The ability to retain rights and set your price allows motivated authors to profit from their work fully. However, authors need to have realistic expectations about the demands of self-promotion and be ready to put in the hard work required to connect with readers independently.

Those hoping for wider distribution and more mainstream success may still find traditional publishing a better fit. While traditional publishing means giving up some rights and royalties, publishers can provide editing services, marketing reach, and critical industry connections that most self-published authors struggle to achieve alone. Authors who want to focus more on writing than promotion and sales might prefer handing over publishing tasks to a traditional publisher.

There’s no one correct answer to the self-publishing question. Aspiring authors should reflect carefully on their goals, resources, and risk tolerance before deciding which publishing path is right for their book. With realistic assessments and thorough research, authors can determine if self-publishing or traditional publishing best supports their vision and needs.

So, What’s Next After Studying the Pros and Cons of Self-publishing?

If, after reading this post, you’re feeling tempted by the potential benefits of self-publishing, don’t rush into anything just yet. While self-publishing can be immensely rewarding for some authors, it also comes with substantial challenges and risks that require careful consideration.

Before making any final decisions, take some time to thoroughly research self-publishing and weigh up whether it’s the right choice for your book and circumstances. Speak to authors who have self-published and learn from their experiences. Seek advice from publishing professionals or consider hiring an editor, designer, or marketing consultant to help guide you.

Most importantly, be realistic about what self-publishing entails. Understand that you must invest significant time, effort and often money into producing, distributing and marketing your book. Make sure you are willing and able to take this on.

If, after assessing all the factors, you still feel self-publishing is the best path for you, then move forward with passion and commitment. With hard work and perseverance, many independent authors have found great success and satisfaction through self-publishing.

I hope the information in this blog post has helped provide a balanced perspective on self-publishing. Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. And best of luck with your publishing endeavors!

5 thoughts on “Weighing the Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing: Should I Do It?”

Leave a comment