So you want to self-publish your book.
You’ve probably already scoured the Internet for the truth about self-publishing, and I’m willing to bet the information you found is unclear and inconsistent.
As an aspiring author, this is a frustrating obstacle to encounter.
How can you make an informed publishing decision if the information at your disposal is so inconclusive?
This is why I’m not here to sell you on self-publishing—or any publishing decision, for that matter.
My goal is to help you look at self-publishing through an objective lens.
I’ll answer your most pressing self-publishing questions, go over the pros and cons, and help you consider where you are as an author.
If self-publishing is worth it for you, you’ll know by the end of this evaluation.
Let’s get started.
Is Self-Publishing Worth It?
Truthfully, I can’t answer this question for you. The “right” publishing method is different for every book—what works for one author may fail another.
The question I can help you answer is: is self-publishing worth it for you?
You might consider self-publishing if:
- You want complete creative control. Self-published books don’t require the approval of a third party before publication.
- You’re on a tight deadline. Self-publishing often involves fewer moving parts resulting in shorter timelines.
- You want to retain the rights and royalties to your book. Though you won’t keep every penny, self-publishing has much higher royalty rates across the board.
You might want to avoid self-publishing if:
- You’re on a budget. Self-publishers take on the full financial burden of the publication process (editors, illustrators, publication platform, etc.).
- You lack self-marketing skills. Self-publishers are responsible for the marketing and sales of their own books—and selling doesn’t happen without marketing. You’ll have to become a serious self-marketer if you want the “bestseller” title.
- You want the “traditional publisher” status. Some authors simply want the security and notability that comes with being traditionally published.
- You don’t have the time. The self-publishing effort is a time-consuming one. Not to mention a financial gamble. You’ll want a flexible schedule in order to give yourself the best shot at success (and a return on your investment).
How to Know if Self-Publishing Will Be Worth It: Your Questions Answered
Self-publishing is the process of independently publishing your book. You act as your manuscript’s author and publisher without the approval or assistance of a publishing house.
Self-publishing could be the final push a book needs to land on the shelf. But just like any other publishing method, there are pros and cons that suit some authors better than others.
The 5 Main Self-Publishing Benefits
1. You Make the Publication Decision
All you need to self-publish today is the intention and a budget.
Traditional publishers are picky with the books they represent—and rejection doesn’t always mean your book is objectively bad.
There are lots of factors that go into traditional publishing decision-making: genre, length, whether or not you have an audience, the time of year you submit your books, etc.
And this is only if you manage to win over a decent agent with wide connections.
In self-publishing, you make the final publishing decision. As long as you have the sources to support the process, you’re only at the mercy of your own limitations.
2. Creative Control
There are always compromises to make in traditional publishing. From developmental edits to book covers and marketing campaigns, your publisher will do what they can to guarantee a return on investment.
This means selling to the audience they choose.
There are no third-party opinions in self-publishing (unless you pay for them). You determine every creative aspect of your book from start to finish.
3. Shorter Timelines
Traditional publishers can take up to three years to get your book to the market. Why?
Publishers have their own internal priorities that can—and often do—affect the publication process. Working with a publishing house means sharing that publishing house with other authors, and your book won’t always be the prerogative.
Self-publishing can put your book on the shelf in months. You craft the deadlines, the process, and most importantly: the only book you have to worry about publishing is your own.
4. Retain More Royalties
Most authors who dream of publishing traditionally are enticed by the upfront advance.
When you sign a book deal, your publishing house will conduct a profit/loss statement to determine sales projections for your book. Based on that number, they’ll give you an advance (the minimum amount in royalties they expect your book to make).
The advance can be anywhere from four-to-six (very rarely) figures.
But here’s the problem: most authors never see another payment after the advance. In order to start earning royalties, you have to earn out, which means your book has to make enough in sales to cover the advance cost completely.
This is how publishers get a return on their investment.
But even if you do earn out, the royalty rates for traditionally published books average at about 10% for hard covers, 6-8% for paper copies, and 25% for e-books. That’s not a lot.
You won’t receive an advance for self-publishing, but you will retain more royalties. The standard royalty rate for self-publishing is about 70% depending on the platform you choose.
5. Keep Your Book Rights
Possibly the biggest benefit of self-publishing: you retain the rights to your book.
But what does this mean? Owning the rights to your book is more than just owning the copyright or trademark; it’s not always obvious what you’re giving up when you sign a book deal.
There are subsidiary rights, which allow you to adapt your book into other formats (movies, television, graphic novels, etc.). There are also reprint rights—the right to republish your book at any given time—merchandising rights, and many other negotiable clauses.
The 4 Main Self-Publishing Cons
1. Upfront Costs
Self-publishing involves taking on the financial risk of the publication process. This may include hiring contractors, investments in marketing, delivery fees, and other subsequent costs associated with publishing your book.
And there’s no advance to tide you over until royalties come in.
2. The Hunt for Resources
If you’re self-publishing independently (i.e. without the help of a hybrid publisher), you’ll likely acquire your resources separately—and some may be more difficult to find than others.
This also means separate costs, separate contractors, and additional ends to monitor throughout the process. Independent self-publishers must be vigilant in the resource hunt without the professional aid of a traditional publisher.
3. Print Distribution
It can be difficult to secure print distribution in bookstores. As a self-publisher, you’ll have to front the costs for a run of print books, then do the heavy lifting to have them distributed.
It’s risky and takes a fair amount of guesswork to determine how many books you can sell.
Most self-publishers use a print-on-demand service to distribute their books. These online shops print books per order rather than in bulk, which allows authors to distribute books based on demand rather than estimations.
We’ll cover print-on-demand services in detail later.
4. No Agent Support
Finding a good agent in traditional publishing is half the battle. They do most of the legwork to put your manuscript in front of publishers, and their insider knowledge on the publishing industry can be helpful to navigate the process.
You won’t have to hunt down a publisher in self-publishing. Still, agent support is enticing—and sometimes a dealbreaker—for many authors. You’ll have to be your book’s biggest advocate without one.
How Much Does It Cost to Self-Publish a Book?
The cost of self-publishing is different for every self-publisher. You decide how much you want to outsource, which resources you want to use, etc.
On average, self-publishing can range anywhere from $0-$5,000 with a median of $1,000 to $2,000. This can include tasks from editing to graphic design—whatever combination of services you decide are important for your novel.
How Long Does It Take to Self-Publish a Book?
Self-publishing generally follows a much shorter timeline than traditional publishing. Because the deadlines are up to you and your publication schedule, the process can take as little as a few months to complete.
It just depends on your team’s workflow and the amount of effort you put into your novel.
Is Self-Publishing on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing Worth It?
Kindle Direct Publishing is a print-on-demand service that allows authors to self-publish and distribute their books online for free.
Let’s take a look at the pros and cons for self-publishers:
- KDP is free for authors—any additional fees come out of your royalties
- Anyone can use KDP with an author account
- Higher royalty rates than traditional publishers—up to 70%
- No risky distribution investments
- Delivery and print fees come out of your royalties
- The larger your manuscript, the larger the fees
- You pay a flat delivery fee with a 70% royalty rate
- Printing costs can outweigh the royalties you make
In summary: though KDP comes at no cost to you for use, you’ll pay additional printing and delivery fees with your royalties. But you will have the ability to distribute to massive online audiences with little financial risk.
Read more on KDP author royalties here.
What Are Your Publishing Goals?
I can’t tell you if self-publishing is a worthy endeavor for your manuscript. Only you can determine the answer to that, and the truth lies in your publishing goals.
- Do you want full creative control of your novel?
- Do you want a short publication timeline?
- Do you have the time and resources to dedicate to self-publishing?
If your answer to any of these questions is yes, self-publishing might be worth your while.
Quick Tip: A hybrid publisher can be beneficial to authors who aren’t in an ideal situation to self-publish (you pay a third party to handle the brunt of the publishing process, but you retain the rights and royalties to your book).
Either way, it’s time to figure out what’s important to you and your publishing journey.
And if you need an additional resource, my Wall Street Journal bestseller, Publish. Promote. Profit. helps you effectively launch and market that book you’ve been wanting to publish.
Ready to get started?