Self-Publishing: Yes or No?

by Erin Brown


Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2009

Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2009

Okay, okay, let me back up for a second and give this concept of self-publishing a fair shake. Let’s consider the scenarios in which self-publishing would be a wonderful option (I’ve made a vow in my life to start seeing the glass as half full):  

1.)           You’ve written a book that you love, no agent has bitten, you want to pay a company to print it and package it, and then you will give it to family members as gifts.

2.)           You’ve written a book that you love, no agent has bitten, you want to pay a company to print it and package it, and then you will give it away or sell a few copies at writers’ conferences, on your personal Web site, or through your company (if it’s relatable to your business).

3.)           You’ve always wanted to have your book appear on Amazon, even if no one else besides you, your friends, and your family will ever see it there.

4.)           You know Oprah personally (as in you’ve had a girls’ weekend with her and Gayle, walked her dogs, and/or eaten brunch in her home kitchen), you are already booked on her show for next month, and you don’t have a publishing contract at a major house. 

These are the instances in which self-publishing is a very good idea. And there are a few major companies that would do a good packaging job, as long as you provide the moolah and leg work. However, unless you have locked into scenario #4 (and if so, call me, I will be your agent!), self-publishing will probably not lead to literary success, riches, or a contract with a major publishing house. But you can end up with a nice, bound copy of your life’s work, which is certainly a great thing to show off to friends and family. And it will give you a certain sense of accomplishment. 

Sure, out of the hundreds of thousands of books that are self-published, perhaps one will make a splash and you will read about it and let that story propel you through the next few years as you burn lots of cash. There are many authors whose visions of riches and glory following in the footsteps of such books as The Celestine Prophecy sustain them and lead them towards self-publishingThat book is a legitimate self-publishing success story, but Redfield did an incredible amount of self-promotion and honestly, this is a one in a million shot. But it did happen. It’s the same as panning for gold in your backyard stream or entering the PowerBall lottery. It could happen, but it probably won’t.  

However, if you want a nicely packaged keepsake of your work, then by all means, go for it. But do not fall for these folks who try to convince you that tons of famous authors and bestselling books throughout history have gone the self-publishing route. Untrue. These people full of unrealistic promises are scammers who are trying to take your money. They will not be able to publicize your book effectively enough to make an impact in terms of significant sales, they will not be able to get you reviews, and they will not be able to distribute the way a publishing house can—even a teeny, tiny, wee little house.  

Hold it, you say! Books look so professional now when authors go the self-publishing route! And I am a great self-promoter. And I know at least sixty people who said that they would totally read my book! Well, this is a reality check. You will most probably only sell a copy to those sixty people. And probably, out of those sixty, thirty won’t end up forking over the cash. Even if you’re on Amazon, even if you have a good cover, and even if the book is fantastic, you will probably not get the attention of a legitimate publishing house, unless you sell thousands of copies, which may sound possible until you realize that only Uncle Moe, your best friend Larry, and members of your bowling team are going to buy the book. And let’s be honest: if your novel, after sending it out to a gazillion agents, still hasn’t found any interest, there’s probably some work that needs to be done—either starting over on something new or revamping the original. It’s not the agents; it’s the work that’s just not catching an eye.  

So let’s recap—self-publishing is great if you know that it’s simply a way to see your manuscript in book form and possibly sell a hundred or so copies (which is a perfectly legitimate dream) or if you’re booked on Oprah next week or if you really, truly have an awesome novel and you hate agents and publishing houses on principle (what that principle might be, I have no idea) and you can take off work for a year to work your booty off self-promoting. If any of these scenarios fits the bill, then by all means, take out your wallet and go for it! Just be realistic about what self-publishing means and don’t fall for the snake oil salesmen’s pitch. Unless you are doing research for a book on snake oil salesmen. Then it would be frickin’ perfect!

Erin Brown worked as an editor in New York City for over eight years. She recently left Manhattan to start her own freelance editorial business. To learn more about Erin, visit her website at

Erin BrownComment