Why Should I Self-Publish?

When it comes to deciding whether or not to self-publish, a writer must ask themselves a number of questions as to what’s most important to them.

It’s a game of literary would you rather.

  • Would you rather see your book on a bookstore shelf, or make a substantial amount more per book?
  • Would you rather see your book published in a year or more, or in six months?
  • Would you rather subject your book’s marketing to those who may not fully understand your audience (or even know where to find them), or subject your marketing to your own inclinations?
  • Would you rather release one book in your lifetime, or ten?

These are but a few of the questions a would-be self-publisher should consider. I’d like to know what other “would you rather” questions you think authors must ask themselves. Comment below and let me know. As for the questions above, let’s consider six reasons why you should consider self-publishing your next book.

CC Image • kennysarmy on Flickr

CC Image (Adapted) • kennysarmy on Flickr

Time to Market

The benefit of releasing a book within six months, as opposed to a year or longer, is what initially attracted me to self-publishing.

I had a firm release date set in mind for my book, The Gospel According to Breaking Bad. I wanted the book release to coincide with the first episode of the last season of the show. Since the idea for the book occurred to me only seven months before I wanted to release it, finding a willing publisher seemed like a vain effort.

Though I was in talks with a digital publisher who may have been able to release the book on my preferred launch day, it would have been impossible for a traditional publisher to meet my release schedule. Had I pitched and queried and proposed for those seven months instead of working on the book, I would never have been able to launch on the day I wanted to launch. I would have missed out on six months of free marketing and sales during the show’s apex in terms of cultural awareness. I knew the show would be talked about by nearly everyone, and I definitely wanted to capitalize on that kind of free advertising.

There are other reasons that a faster time to market is beneficial too. Releasing a book within six months allows you to release another book in another six months, then even another one after that, in the same amount of time that you may have released a book with a traditional publisher.


When you self-publish, you own the full rights to your work.

When you traditionally publish, you’re selling the rights to your own book for the duration of your life PLUS 70 years, (unless you have a good agent who fights for you).

When you own the rights to your book, you can turn it into an ebook, an audiobook, offer foreign translations, sell movie rights, etc. While some of these issues would likely demand that you hire a lawyer to best negotiate on your behalf, the basics of turning your book into multiple products can be handled by the self-publisher.

By self-publishing, that book that has your name on it is actually yours.

Marketing Experimentation

When you self-publish, you become the de facto marketer for your book. You must champion your own work without being egotistical. You must find your audience, build your platform, and learn as much about book marketing as you can. While this can sometimes take herculean effort, especially for writers who just want to write, it’s a necessity for the self-publisher.

While I shuddered to think about how I would market my own book, I eventually became enamored (though admittedly overwhelmed too) at the sheer number of options presented to a self-publisher in regards to marketing their own book:

  • Should I offer my book for free? If so, how many days?
  • Should I do a 99-cent sale? If so, how long?
  • Who can I get to endorse my book?
  • Where can I guest blog about my book? Where can I post an excerpt of my book?
  • Will a podcaster interview me about my book?
  • Who can I contact in the media to help spread the word about my book?
  • Should I do a book giveaway?
  • Should I buy Facebook ads or Google ads?

This is just the beginning. If you own your book, you can do as much (or as little) as you choose when it comes to marketing your book. Even better, you can experiment with your prices as often as you want. The experimentation becomes even more fun as you release more books into the market, since you can then use your first book as a loss leader to help people discover your new book.

Earning potential

Blame Amazon if you must, but their willingness to offer 70% royalties to authors who price their books between $2.99 and $9.99 (without an advance that the author must earn back before accruing their royalties, by the way) has enticed many a writer to self-publish. At the very least, this royalty split offers 40% more earnings to self-published authors. While writing for profit is only one reason to write a book, earning more per each book definitely helps, especially if your writing addiction sometimes sequesters you from other important aspects of your life.

Erik Fisher and Jim Woods on the Beyond the To-Do List podcast relate this relevant anecdote from author and blogger Jon Acuff :

One of my favorite moments from my Quitter conference was when a man raised his hand asked, ‘How do I get my wife to support my dream?’ Jenny didn’t miss a beat, responding,

’Income is good.’

While the line itself is funny, it’s also one of the smartest pieces of advice I’ve ever heard: Work hard and show that you’re not trying to bankrupt your spouse with your dream. Man or woman, we all want to feel safe in our relationships, and that means going after your dreams with purpose, not recklessness.” — Jon Acuff

A Writing Career

Self-publishing offers the opportunity of creating a writing career for yourself. It may mean working a day job and writing in the margins of your life for at least a few years. It may mean publishing multiple books before leaping into writing full-time. It may mean an immense amount of work all-around, but self-publishing is a verifiable means of earning a living.

On the other hand …

This sad story from The Guardian, “From bestseller to bust: is this the end of an author’s life?” paints a tragic picture of traditionally published authors facing drastic life changes because the literary landscape has been severely altered in the last few years. Commenter OrnaRoss, who describes herself as “a refugee from trade publishing,” echoes my surprise after reading the article: “I can’t believe anyone can write an entire article about writers’ incomes in 2014 and not even mention self-publishing. Hello?”

She goes on to make a great case for pursuing self-publishing:

The digital age offers … a different mode of earning. Many of the mid-list authors who have taken their rights back from their publishers to self-publish their own work are now making more money, enjoying more creative freedom, controlling their own destiny and getting closer to their readers. With a global audience, no out-of-print clauses, monthly payment and direct and effortless distribution, it really is worth a try, folks.”

Because You Can

Lastly, if none of the motivations above cause your writing heart to leap for joy, maybe you should self-publish for the sheer fact that you can. The opportunity to tell your own story and have it printed and bound in a real, live book only came into existence a few years ago. Before then, it would have cost you thousands of dollars, or years of hard work and possible acceptance by the powers-that-be, to see your words in an official book.

Now, with your typed words, a little attained knowledge, and some time, you can have your book printed for next to nothing. If you only want to recount your grandparents’ love story to present to them on their 50th wedding anniversary—you can do that! Self-publishing doesn’t always have to be about a career or making money. It can be as simple as the basics of why we write: to tell good stories to those we love.

What would you add to this list?

If you have or are considering self-publishing, why?


  • http://www.chrismorriswrites.com/ Chris Morris

    You have a lot more freedom to creatively market your book. For example, I am going to send copies of my book about chronic illness to the local hospitals, asking them to consider adding it to their on-site libraries. I know of another self-published book targeting business leaders that was sold to Hudson’s Books (the airport bookstores), because that is the only bookstore business leaders frequent. Both would be more difficult to manage within the traditional book publishing market, I believe.

    • http://www.blakeatwood.com/ Blake Atwood

      Great points Chris, and you offer a good example of getting creative with finding your audience. Very smart, and helpful to your readers too.