Then If That Fails, I’ll Self Publish

I have a few strong opinions about the self-publishing vs. traditional publishing thing going on right now since I’ve traveled a little bit down both roads. I usually try to avoid hot posts like this that are following a trend. I hate following trends. Still, I get sucked in sometimes, and since I have heard many writers – in person – admit they are considering self-publishing, I’ve got to say some things here that weigh heavily on my little heart. So here are my two cents.

Also, none of this is aimed at anybody. It’s just my opinion, pure and simple.

(1) self-publishing as a last resort isn’t smart

You’ll end up sorely disappointed in everything. Your book. Your sales. Yourself. LAST RESORT means it was a LAST RESORT. Think about that. You’ll always have that other resort – the BIG dream you had hanging over your head. Those big dreams don’t just vanish when you click the “publish now” button in CreateSpace or wherever you decide to take your book. Go read this post and decide if you still want to publish as a last resort. In it I give my one main piece of advice to anyone considering self-publishing.

addendum: I just want to say here that some writers do publish their work as a last resort, and that it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Why? Because some work simply doesn’t fit into the market, and querying or going on submission made that very clear for that piece of work. Period. Still, I think an author should be certain about this before they make their decision.

(2) you will not end up with a two-million dollar contract

Repeat that to yourself. Over. And over. Your chances at ending up in the same boat as Amanda Hocking? Yeah, close to nil. That’s like you ending up like J.K. Rowling with traditional publishing. Shooting for the stars is great, but stay realistic or you’re never going to be happy with where you end up.

(3) you will probably not end up with any contract

It could happen, yes. It’s true. I ended up with a contract for Cinders (to be published as part of an omnibus), but that was after I secured a contract with my other novel through the traditional route of submitting a manuscript and having it accepted. Yes, your amazing under-appreciated novel could catch the eye of a publisher, but considering how often this happens compared to the percentage of those who self-publish, it’s unlikely. I’m just saying don’t count on it.

(4) self-publishing – to do it professionally – costs moneyΒ 

That’s right. MONEY. The grand total I have spent on Cinders: $1,400. Yep. You got that right. I didn’t have to spend that much. I didn’t plan on spending that much, but between giving away free print books, book tour gifts, printing bookmarks, business cards, postage (postage is ridiculous), cover art expenses, release party expenses, etc., it adds up. You might think you can do it for free, and maybe you’re smarter than me and you can, but publishing is a business. Businesses cost money to start. Why people think self-publishing (and being professional about it ) should be any different is beyond me.

Even if you stick with e-book only, you’ll still have costs. I highly suggest hiring a professional editor. I also highly suggest paying for a service to convert your book to digital format if you’re not familiar with such things. Plus, you’ll still need a cover, and most writers I know are not artistically inclined enough to design their own professional cover. I did all these things myself, but if I was going to self-publish as a career, you bet I’d be paying for these services.

(5) self-publishing because you’re angry or because it’s a hot trend, isn’t the wisest course of action

If you’re deciding to self-publish your book because deep down you want to stick it to the traditional publishing industry, or because you’re upset that nobody gets you or your writing, or because you see everyone else doing it (mainly huge traditionally-published authors who already have a following and back list), you’re doing it all for the wrong reasons.

Why did I self-publish Cinders? Because I knew it was right for that book. Period. I wrote it to self-publish it. I had no idea I’d write two more novellas at the time. I hadn’t ever tried to traditionally publish or query or seriously get an agent at the time, either. I did it for the pure love of the craft.

I think I’ve said all this stuff before. I loved self-publishing my novella, but it was a lot of freaking hard work. Notice I’m not self-publishing my other two novellas now that I have a traditional publisher. This is not because I don’t like self-publishing, nor because I think traditionally publishing is inherently better than self-publishing. It’s simply because I could not do both without going crazy and killing myself with the stress and work. If that doesn’t tell you something, I’m not sure what will.

I feel like it’s important that writers don’t delude themselves about why they would pick self-publishing over traditional publishing. Both are something to take seriously, and both are something you can’t do well without a lot of hard work and talent and sacrifice.

How do you feel about all this recent squabbling back and forth between which is better? Do you think it’s purely a personal decision? Are you considering the self-publishing route?

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle


Jake Henegan

I probably wouldn't self-publish, even if I got rejected a thousand times. (Or maybe because of it)This doesn't mean that I think self-publishing is for the birds or anything like that. I am neither objective enough, nor know anyone objective enough with knowledge of the publishing business to know when my story is ready.By self-publishing, you sort of cut out the last line of defence the world has against your book. An agent or publisher can tell you whether your book is good.Although not everyone will like your story, and famous authors have had their famous works rejected, the point is that there are a lot of publishers, so the chances are good that if your story is worth publishing, one in a thousand will agree.Then again, Amanda Hocking or Eisler said something about the fact that publishers don't always have your best interests at heart (for example, marketing wise)The fact remains, self-publishing can be good, as long as you don't do it because no one wants to accept your manuscript.But maybe that's just me. Anyway, thanks for sharing this. And sorry for the long comment.

Stephanie McGee

I've thought about it lately as regards my poetry, but I don't have the time or resources to devote to it right now so it remains a flight of fancy.

Krista D. Ball

I believe self-publishing should move to a project-based option and not a last resort/first resort option.I am currently writing a project to self-publish. On purpose. Why? The project – from length, to genre, to setting – will work best, I believe, self-published.Likewise, I preferred to have a small publisher for my SF (which will be out in Nov). I want a publisher for my fantasy series (which is out in submissions).I have a project in the research phase which I'd like to sell to a bigger publisher.Oh, and yeah, I have another self-publishing SF project planned for next year.If there is one thing that drives me up the wall is the non-business sense that so many writers have. Maybe it's because I've worked for big business and I was a manager at one time. I see things on that side of the fence.

I think we all need to move away from the us vs them mentality.Neither path is better than the other – they're just different. Neither path is less hard work than the other – they're just different. With the vast changes overwhelming the publishing industry at the moment, we're poised in the perfect position to decide for ourselves how we go forward into the industry's future. Do we start a war between self vs traditionally published authors? Or can we as writers be mature enough to accept that what's right for us is not necessarily right for others? And that respect for another writer's choices and effort is critical if we, as a collective industry, are to move forward in a positive energetic way. What a waste of energy if we become so bogged down in trying to force "the other side" to admit that "our side" of the publishing path is better. Let the books speak for themselves: a good book will be recognised as such by the readers no matter how it's published. As always, an honest and thought provoking post Michelle!Judy (South Africa)

Sorry, I had a bit of rant there myself Michelle! :OJudy (South Africa)

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Jake: Thank you for thoughts today. An agent or publisher can tell you whether or not your book is good, but I don't think that means they are always right. Publishing is a business, and they're looking at your book purely from a marketing standpoint. That's always something to keep in mind when you're hanging all your validation on them.I think you have great points here about publishers not always having your best interests in mind. That's very true, but many writers won't ever be happy without that validation. That's perfectly fine. It's really important to know what you want.Stephanie: I've thought of doing a collection of short stories in the future, but not for awhile. I love the idea of still putting something out all by myself. There's something very satisfying about it.Krista: Ohhh, I love what you say! Because that's exactly how I feel. I've always felt this way. It's why I did Cinders self-published but wouldn't ever consider doing Monarch self-published. What's right for one book isn't right for another, especially since I write varied genres. I will probably write more thrillers, more fantasies, more literary novels, and more young adult novels. Who knows! Keeping our options open is good.Your projects sound fantastic, by the way. πŸ™‚Judy: I welcome rants. :)I like what you say here. I agree that we should move forward without a breech between the two, and simply say it's different for everyone. πŸ™‚

You know I've given this issue a lot of consideration…when I started out thinking about publishing, I didn't know about all the options. I simply assumed that traditional publishing was the way to go, and I pursued that.I had no aspirations of making it big, making it a career. I honestly have never cared for fame or fortune. I simply wanted an audience, even just a small one. If friends or family were curious and wanted to read my novels, I didn't want to have to print them a copy, lol.That said, I feel a strong need to follow through on the 'traditional' path I've set out on. I will see it through, because that is my nature, but if I end up self-publishing, I won't feel as if I have settled. I will simply feel happy to have achieved my goal of publication!

Domey Malasarn

I agree strongly with Judy. I'm almost at a place where I don't want to say if my books are traditionally published or self published. I want to make the books available, and I want readers to be able to preview what's inside of them before they decide whether or not to buy them. Then, they can decide for themselves.I think the most important thing you bring up here, Michelle, is that self-publishing should be separated from negative emotions and not driven by them. I think almost anything done in negativity will end up taking a lot of one's energy and wear them out.

Good post, Michelle, because you point out that self-publishing means opening a business. I think a lot of hobbyists think it might be a quick and easy way to make some money without too much work. Not so. When you self-publish, you just effectively opened a publishing house.That said… I self-published and will continue to self-publish because 1) I think the traditional publishing model is broken and doesn't always have the interests of the author in mind, 2) I've run a business before and I really like that side of things, 3) I think I'll make more money in the long run as an independent author, and 4) I like the creative control I have.But… Traditional publication is still right for a lot of people. And unlike some, I honestly don't think it's going anywhere anytime soon. It will have to change as a whole to remain competitive, but the big publishers and the agents will still be around for a long time.This is all part of my new zen outlook… I'm trying this on for size… πŸ™‚

Aaargh … Blogger ate my looooong comment. I'll be back.

Susan Kaye Quinn

Honestly, I'm glad the discussion is happening and that people realize there are no easy paths, just paths, and you need to pick the one that's right for you.

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Bridget: I think it's important that you consider all options, yes. It's so important to know what you want. That's where everything should stem from. Also, each book is different, in my opinion. I think your "shipwreck" book (because I know you haven't picked a final title yet) might do really well with a small publisher – maybe even a bigger one!Davin: Yeah, I know Linda Cassidy Lewis has come to the conclusion that she's an author, period. It doesn't matter how her work was published. I've made a big deal about my journey with self-publishing because part of the journey was to learn about self-publishing and share it with others.I think, absolutely, that self-publishing should be separated from negative emotions.modicum: Yes, it is a business. Although, I must admit, that I didn't self-publish my novella Cinders with a business in mind because I knew it would probably be one of my only self-published books. Everybody's path is different. I think some writers do self-publish as a last resort and it's not a BAD thing. Some work just doesn't fit into the traditional market at all.I don't think traditional publishing is going anywhere. It's adapting and changing, but not going anywhere.Linda: I will be here. I also just added an addendum to the post under the last resort section.

Thank you for this post, Michelle. This is a briefer version of the post I wrote and lost.I'm very new to self-publishing. In fact, the print version is not even available yet. But I'm already sick of this War of the Authors, this "us vs. them mentality." If there's one thing that raises my ire it's the variation on the theme, "If you self-published it's only because your work isn't good enough for traditional publishing." Yes, mine is! It's just not what the big boys are clamoring to buy right now.As for the costs of self-publishing, I estimate I will spend about one tenth what you did. Right now, I've spent $112, but I haven't bought any print copies for myself yet.I designed my interior and exterior, doing the cover painting myself, and did all the conversions and uploading. My book can stand proudly next to anything coming out of New York. I don't have the beautiful swag you do, because, at this point, I can't afford it. But I'll market the best I can in other ways. I don't write poetry or short stories for publication. I write novels. I made the decision to self-publish this novel because I needed the personal validation. I am not a self-published author. I'm an Author, plain and simple. Could we all just sheath our swords, please?

Jake Henegan

I'm going to go out on a limb here and post a second comment. *gasp*It is true that publishers will probably look at the book from a marketing standpoint, but a part of writing is a business. With this, I mean, let's say you want to publish a vampire story. (Now I'm not a publishing expert, so I'm taking a wild guess here) A publisher will tell you that it won't sell – because of the influx of vampire stories since Twilight. If you know this, you could stall your book for a time until the vampire flux fades away.Though publishers want to make money, they do share a goal with you – wanting the maximum amount of readers to read (and appreciate/like) the book. They may not always be right, but they have to most of the time, right?Plus, if you self-publish, you'll have to weigh the same marketing considerations that a publisher will, I'd expect.I hope all, or at least some, of this made sense. And sorry for arguing so much. πŸ™‚

I'll add that I am not a die-hard self-publisher. As Michelle says, it's a LOT of work when you take on all the aspects of publishing yourself. All that work cuts into your writing time, and we are writers first and foremost.For the next book, I will consider all my options again.

Sorry to take up so much space on your blog today, Michelle, but I'd like to respond to something Jake just said.No, I don't have to "weigh the same marketing decisions" the big publishers do. I have no overhead compared to them. I can take "risks" they can't.Over and above that though, I don't believe the big guys are really in touch with what the reading public wants. They know, or think they know, what they can market successfully. Sensationalism sells, but is that all the reading public wants to read? Of course not. But would the big guys pass up a good solid novel for a tell-all on Charlie Sheen right now? You betcha!

Susan Kaye Quinn

Here's a post on publishing options ya'll might be interested in:

C. N. Nevets

Thanks for this post, Michelle. As someone who strongly supports his self-published friends, I've had a lot of these thoughts in my head when reading some of the dialogue about the SP option. I think self publishing is viable, valuable route on its own terms, and should be entered into as such, understanding its merits and its challenges.But, not being published yet myself, I've felt like my words would be hollow. Thanks for saying this, and I hope everyone takes this post in the right spirit.

Dee DeTarsio

Great post, Michelle! Thanks for sharing! Though I think there is still a stigma about self-publishing to some, I believe that is changing–yay! Writers need to do their best (no matter what the path) and readers will respond!

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Susan: I think it's wonderful, too! I just get tired things becoming too hot of a topic that it becomes a trend, is all.Linda: Blogger seems to be eating a lot of comments lately. Gah!Yeah, the war doesn't go away, either, I'll let you know that right now. I'm with a small publisher, and well, there's a war there too between big publishers and small publishes and having an agent and not having an agent. It's something that I feel will never, ever go away. Even if it I made it to a big publisher, I think there would be a war between being on the top rung and being on the bottom rung. The only conclusion I can come to is to be happy with my decisions, my writing, and where I'm at. It's a nice peaceful place. My happy place.Yeah, doing print copies can cost you a fair bit. You'll soon see why many authors go just e-book. Also, that $2400 has accrued over the course of 10 months. Jake: Yay for second comments! Whee! I don't mind your arguing. I think this opens doors and interesting for everyone. On one hand, I agree with you wholeheartedly. On the other hand, I think you're wrong. Like Linda points out, she doesn't have the same overhead, but more than that, you really have to consider the reasons why some people self-publish. NOT EVERY PUBLISHED AUTHOR WANTS TO BE BIG.That may be a fact that shocks many of us, but it's true! I've met authors who want a quiet little side job, and self-publishing gives them that. They don't want to be huge. They don't want to sell a million copies. They're happy with the journey and the end product and they move on. Maybe they love their day job and they don't want to be a full-time author. This means, of course, that those authors aren't really looking at self-publishing their work from the same marketing standpoint as the big boys. So, to make this already long comment longer, I think it completely depends on what the author wants. Knowing what you want is everything.Thanks again for stopping by!Susan: I saw that post earlier today, and although I don't think the stats are very accurate, he makes some excellent points in that post!Dee: Oh, I agree. I think there will always be a stigma, but I hope it shifts. Thanks for coming by today. πŸ™‚

Krista D. Ball

re:NOT EVERY PUBLISHED AUTHOR WANTS TO BE BIG.I will not be happy until I am a household name in at least 100 countries πŸ˜‰

Jake Henegan

(I'll keep it short, I promise)I didn't even think of the cost difference of self-publishers and uh, regular publishers (thus influencing the willingness to publish). I must say that I agree with your last statement, Linda. Publishers rather go after what sells than what people want.As for what you said, Michelle, it puts things in perspective.Publishing method should depend on what goals you want for the book. Thus, as some others have said, it depends on the book, not the author. This was very informative, thanks Michelle and Linda.


The reason I won't self publish is primarily because I would like some assurance from a 'higher' authority that my book is worth publishing. Perhaps this displays a lack of self-confidence in my own abilities but I would rather have that scenario than the one where I humiliate myself and it's there for everyone to see for eternity.

Anne R. Allen

As you know, I've posted on a similar subject this week. (And thanks for your thoughtful comment.) I'm addressing people who jump into self-publishing too soon, but your advice applies: self-publishers need to be just as professional as trad. publishers. They also need to know what they're getting into.But I'm not sure it has to be an either/or proposition. Some books appeal to a broad audience and some don't. If you have a niche book, most publishers won't be interested (although some small presses might.) As trends dominate the marketplace more and more, many of us will find ourselves marginalized into niches. That when it will benefit us to self-pub.

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Krista: Heheh! πŸ™‚Jake: Thanks for all your thoughts today!Charmed: Hey, you know what you want and what will work for you, and I think that's wonderful. Some writers need that validation. I do to an extent. I pushed past it for a little time. It did make me stronger, but I know exactly what you mean. πŸ™‚Anne: Oh, I agree. I think every book can be different, as well as ever author, of course. It's really nice that we have this option open to us to do everything ourselves. Thanks for your great post, too!

Michael Offutt

Thanks for revealing your expense on your self-publishing experience Michelle. Nothing like cold hard numbers to drive the nail home. And I can pretty much say that you are way talented than I will ever be so if I were to go that way…easy double that expense to do the same amount of work with an unknown payoff. Lots of food for thought in this post.

Martin Willoughby

The market's changing and self-publishing doesn't have the stigma it used to have, partly because of the print-on-demand sites and epublishing.What hasn't changed is marketing. Self-publishing has to be a choice and you have to be realistic about it.I self-published an ebook on kindle that contained four already published short stories and I treated it as a learning experience. It was a choice. If it makes me a multi-squillionaire, great, but that's not why I did it.I self-published because I wanted to try and open up a market for myself, but I knew that advertising it would be the biggest challenge. It still is and I'm learning all the time. The next step is make this a project with my writer's group and see if we can brainstorm some ideas.

I guess I've missed the posts on the argument. Honestly, I'm seriously considering self-publishing because I have no desire to be famous. I want my books to be read, which is why I'm considering going with an actual publishing house (if they'll have me, of course!) because most likely more people will get to read them then. Fortunately, I'm not to the point of publishing anything so I can argue with myself awhile longer.

February Grace

This is an amazing (and very helpful) post, Michelle, thank you for it. Watching your experiences, with self publishing and beyond, has been so educational for me, and will help me decide if I ever want to try it myself (and I think knowing my temperament that it would be one of the very few ways to go…besides the Dickinson route :~) you know that's my favorite so far!).I would definitely not want to view it as 'last resort' but in my case, it would be a definite decision.Thank you so much for sharing your hard work, and your hard won experiences, with us all. I'm grateful and I know others are too.xoxobru

Catherine Stine

I am traditionally published, and I would like to continue in that vein. However, I would also like to indie pub one of my novels. For various reasons… I feel as it doesn't have to be strictly one or the other–but both.

India Drummond

Fabulous post! I would just add the thought that indie is NOT a short-cut. It's more work, more stress… but IMO it's good stress because you're in control.Very good points you've brought up here, and I think everyone who's considering going indie should at least think about these things.India Drummond

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Michael: You're welcome, and yeah, I've been sharing numbers since the beginning of Cinders mainly because part of self-publishing it was to share the information with everyone. I don't think you can positively say I'm more talented than you, by the way. I think that's a matter of perspective. πŸ™‚Martin: I had no idea you had self-published something! Yeah, you need to market that wider so I can find out about it. πŸ˜‰ Nisa: I completely understand your reasoning. I felt that way before I did Cinders, and I feel that way even now, in a way. My distribution and readership with Cinders is pretty narrow at the moment.Bru: You're welcome, and thank you for stopping by today! I sometimes want to take the Dickinson route, but I think it's much too late for that now, lol. I hope whatever route you take that you never lose that passion you have. It's inspiring. πŸ™‚Catherine: I love that there is a growing mentality that different books can need different publishing methods. I wish you the best of luck with indie publishing. It's actually a lot of fun. India: Yeah, thinking of self-publishing as a short cut is a Bad Idea. Haha. It's a lot more work on so many levels, even emotionally. Thanks for coming by!

I don't have an opinion on which is better, but I think the most important thing is making sure it's the right thing for you and your story. Great post.

I'm not sure I'm ready to take on self publishing for all the reasons you stated. I know from seeing others do it that it is not something to do on a whim. I have nothing but respect for you and others who do it deliberately and do it well!!

It's a personal decision that needs to be thought out extensively. It's your name out there for good or ill. Would I do it, maybe. When I'm ready. I love that we (the aspiring) have options. great post!

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Shari: I don't think one is inherently better than the other, yeah. It completely depends on the author and what they want.Candice: You're so sweet, thanks! Yes, it's not something to do on a whim. That's where the stigma might come from, I'm afraid – the authors who do it on a whim.E: Having options is fantastic, I agree!

[…] Then If That Fails, I’ll Self PublishΒ (a post with my thoughts on self-publishing for the wrong reasons) […]

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