Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Should You Self-Publish? Ten Questions to Ask Yourself

Now that it's so easy to self-publish and you hear about success stories, many authors are wondering whether they should go through the possibly multi-year hopefully-finding-an-agent-and-then-hopefully-a-publisher process or instead just make a deal with a self-publisher, start printing books, and see what happens.

Let me first start by saying that every book is different and no blog post that is going to offer generalized advice about something as broad and varied as whether to self-publish is going to cover every eventuality. Bear that in mind as you decide upon the right path for your own book.

I thought the best way to organize this post would be with a series of questions that someone who is considering self-publishing should answer.

Here goes.

1. Have you taken the time to research both the traditional publishing process and the self-publishing process?

This is your book we're talking about here! You probably took a year or more to write it - why rush into a decision about its fate? Why take the next step without really knowing what you're doing?

Too often people rush off to self-publish out of frustration with the traditional publishing industry and treat it as a way of sticking it to The Publishing Man - this is so extremely misguided. Don't let frustration cloud your judgment. Any decision about how you're going to proceed should be based strictly about what is best for your book and your career, not about proving someone wrong.

Research your options. Figure out some of the different self-publishing models. Familiarize yourself with both processes and determine which one you want to pursue.

As they say on Friday Night Lights: Clear Eyes, Full Heart, Can't Lose.

Some great resources for people considering self-publishing include Writer Beware, the Self-Publishing Review, and Absolute Write, and if people with a self-publishing background could also provide some of their favorite resources in the comments section that would be great as well.

2. Does your book appeal to a broad audience or is it intended for a specialized group?

Be honest. While everyone has dreams of their book catching on like Snuggies, some books have a limited audience, whether because they will appeal mainly to a certain region, they're experimental, they're very specialized, they're geared toward a subculture, or the audience is otherwise constrained.

This is not a bad thing!! No value judgment at all. However, the traditional publishing industry is geared toward books with a mass audience. Yes, there are some regional books published by major publishers and yes, there are experimental books and other exceptions. But increasingly, specialized publishers and self-publishers are the ones who reach niche audiences.

If you have a niche project you probably don't need an agent and can either approach specialty houses directly or simply proceed with self-publishing.

3. If you tried first to find an agent and/or publisher and didn't find one, are you sure you don't want to write another book and try again?

These days, with the major publishers publishing fewer titles and mid-tier houses disappearing, great books are absolutely falling through the cracks, especially books that are literary or idiosyncratic or are in genres that the industry does not perceive as currently selling well. Some of these are being picked up by small presses, others languish.

On the other hand, there are so many books that fail to find an agent and/or publisher because the author just isn't ready. Take it from someone who wrote a first novel that failed to find an agent and/or publisher: while it's painful to put a manuscript in a drawer, in retrospect you may very well be glad you let it go if your next book ends up working out.

How can you tell whether yours is really good and will find an audience or whether you're not actually ready? Admittedly this is very difficult to answer. If you have the confidence of an agent or industry professional who is encouraging you to self-publish I'd listen carefully. If you're not really that worried about finding a major publisher down the line and just want to have your book out there for people to find I'd listen to yourself. There's no shame in that!

If, however, you want to self-publish because you're hoping for easy DIY bestsellerdom: proooooobably not the best reason to self-publish. You might instead try to continue to hone your craft and land an agent/publisher for your next book. But only you can decide for sure.

4. Do you know which self-publishing model you want to pursue?

There are many, many different ways to self-publish and zillions of companies who will be willing to offer you their services.

Print self-publishing options break down roughly across a spectrum of choices depending on your up-front investment: options where the author funds the print run and receives most or all of the revenue from sales to no upfront fee where the self-publishing company keeping most of the revenue from sales.

Or do you want to dip a self-publishing toe in the water and just e-publish for now and gauge the response? You could do that as well, though be sure and be very careful that you retain all control over your work and can pull it at any time.

Also, remember that there are also lots and lots and lots of self-publishing scams and bad deals out there. Writer Beware.

5. Can you afford to lose any money you plan to spend self-publishing?

No book is worth going broke. It's really, really not.

Books are about as likely to lead to riches as casinos, lottery tickets, and staring at the sky and waiting for a million dollars to spontaneously land on your head.

Please don't bankrupt yourself self-publishing. Please. Only spend it if you can afford to lose it.

6. Do you have a plan for copyediting, interior design, cover design, ISBNs, and all those other nuts and bolts elements that go into making a book?

There's wayyyyyyyyyyyyy more to making a book than writing it. As you will soon know all-too-well if you decide to self-publish.

7. Do you have a marketing plan?

Bookstores do not generally stock self-published books. Selling your book in a brick-and-mortar store will only happen if you're able to pound the pavement and make it happen.

Luckily you are still able to reach audiences via online bookselling. But how are you going to make people aware of your book? How will you make them interested? How can you find your audience?

It's not enough to simply have your book selling on Amazon - whether it's a blog, Twitter presence, marketing campaign, book trailer or all of the above: you'll need to get out there to make people want to buy it.

8. Do you have a plan for your next book?

If you're hoping to use your self-published book as a jumping-off point for future books or finding an agent/traditional publisher you have quite a challenge ahead. Not only will you have to invest enough time in your self-published book that it generates good reviews and healthy sales (usually in the thousands), you're also going to want to be working hard on your next project.

As I've posted before, it might not be your self-published book but rather your next book that attracts an agent or publisher. And if you're looking to make The Leap to a traditional publisher with your next project, it's almost always better if it's not a sequel.

How do people have time to both pound the pavement and write their next book? I have no idea. But people find a way.

9. Do you have a healthy amount of self-esteem and an entrepreneurial spirit?

Even with the self-publishing success stories there is still somewhat of a lingering stigma against self-publishing. It's important to understand that even if your self-published book is really really good, the vast majority of self-published books are not very good and some people are inevitably going to lump you in with those books. You're probably going to be greeted with a certain degree of skepticism as you try to convince people that yours is one of the good ones.

You will need to be the type of person who doesn't mind long odds, can deal with frustration and hearing people say no, and has a can-do spirit in the face of adversity.

Actually that last paragraph goes for anybody who writes a book. But especially self-publishers. Much like pimpin': self-publishing ain't easy.

10. Are we having fun yet?

Do the last nine questions strike fear into your heart or do they make you giddy with excitement? Can you self-publish while still abiding by the 10 Commandments of Happy Writers?

It's not worth it if you're not going to enjoy it.


Moira Young said...

... yeeeaaaaah. Gonna stick with traditional publishing, for now. ^__^

Ed Miracle said...

Nathan, seems you are assuming paper-bound self-publishing here. Ransom Stephens self-published his novel The God Patent on ScribD at basically no cost, sold 13,000 copies there, and with that track record, then sold the book to a small press publisher. There's more than one way to skin a DIY kitty.

Linnea said...

Good post Nathan. Self-publishing can look mighty inviting and it's important for writers to know what they're getting into if they decide to take that route.

Nathan Bransford said...


I tackled dipping the e-publishing toe in the water in #4.

Jacqueline Windh said...

Thanks for this great discussion, Nathan. I think now is definitely the time for authors to be looking at these options - there are more openings than ever for those who want to self-publish. But, as you said, there is a lot more to creating a book beyond the writing of it. And even far beyond the editing and design and printing. Marketing, warehousing, distributing, taking orders and invoicing... they all take a lot of time.

I've had two books published through a publisher here in Canada, and I am really happy with our working relationship. I also marketed and distributed another book here - I did not self-publish it, but it was published in Germany in 2005 and never available here in Canada, so I decided last year to import, market, and distribute it myself. I knew that it would take a lot of my time, and I have a pretty good business head. It took about 3 times longer than I thought to do all of that. I had a good marketing plan, I had experience and contacts through my previous book tours (organized through my publisher) and I really like talking to the media and doing interviews. I think the whole thing was a success and I ma really glad that I did it... but, that said, I have barely written anything new until just the last month or two.

I think self-publishing is getting to be more and more of a viable (and respected) option for authors. But you definitely need to know what you are getting into and do a lot of research about that beforehand. If you value your writing time, and are keen to move straight on to your next project, it may not be the right thing.

Thanks for all of your great advice.

worstwriterever said...

Thank you so much for this entry paying attention to a real (although much mocked) method of publishing.

It is appreciated. The questions are great. And I love the million dollars falling onto the head analogy.

That analogy applies to both publishing models I'd imagine obviously with exceptions.

Ed Miracle said...

Love your 10 Commandments, BTW. Now if I can just get you-know-who to follow them.

Cyndy Aleo-Carreira said...

It's downright frustrating the number of people who ask if I'm going to epub "if your book doesn't sell." No, but I'll probably toss it out there on a blog or something else. I know a lot of people who go right to epub and think that their few hundred blog readers are going to enough to make their book the next Twilight or something, but to me, it's like trying to market AS that needle in a haystack.

Bane of Anubis said...

Landry's still around, huh? Talk about stick2itness -- too bad everything can't always work out like the shows.

Renee Miller said...

I recently posted a blog about the same question. Excellent points. I think the biggest mistake many authors make when deciding to self publish not taking the time to really consider all of their options.

Myself, I'm willing to wait it out and go traditional. I've submitted that first book and struck out. I moved on to the second, third and fourth while working on improving my writing before trying to find an agent. Now I'm venturing once more into the land of rejection letters and tears. I've waited this long and worked hard for what I've got, I can wait a while longer.

Vegas Linda Lou said...

Nathan, what a fantastic post--so balanced and informative. I love that you also say "great books are absolutely falling through the cracks"--I like to believe Bastard Husband: A Love Story is one of them!

Once I decided to self-publish, I knew in my heart it was the right thing to do; you have to have the right ingredients in place, and a it turns out, I think I did. And you're right--it's waaaaaay more involved than people tend to imagine. But every email I get from from a person who's been inspired by my story or says it made them laugh out loud reinforces that it was all worth it.

Currently I'm co-authoring a how-to guide on preparing for your first open mic comedy gig. Since the structure is in place, and because of the niche market, this one will be a self-published project, too.

Matthew Rush said...

AS usual Nathan, you rock. Thanks for everything you do.

MJR said...

I work for a POD printer and I'd have to agree with this post--at least regarding printed books and not e-books. People who self-publish nonfiction books on specialized topics sometimes do well, and we might reprint their titles on a steady basis (but they have to hustle to sell copies). Same with poets because they go to poetry readings and sell a few copies here and there. We did have one outstanding fiction success, but this guy quite literally pushed his books on the streets of NYC and got the attention of a major publisher and ended up with a multi-book deal (and we lost him as a client!). Warehousing isn't an issue anymore. You can print on demand--ie just print a few and reprint when you need more.

Josin L. McQuein said...

I hate when people drag out the "list" of successful authors who supposedly started with self-publishing.

They usually list:

Louis L'Amour - who didn't self publish his westerns, which is the only thing he was ever commercially successful at.

Mark Twain - who again, didn't have success with anything self-published.

and the "big" one -- Christopher Paolini - who they conveniently neglect to mention wasn't self-published, but published by his family's press which had the connections to get him into a real book store. They almost went broke pushing Eragon, and it was pure chance that an editor's son happened to be in the shop when Paolini was there (in costume) and bought the book. If he'd been self-published, like most people self-publish, he'd never have gotten a book on the shelves in that shop.

If Stephen King can't make a sustainable profit self-publishing (his experiment with "The Plant"), I wouldn't want to start from a place with no notoriety at all.

Sure, it works for some, but I'm not one of those some.

maybeimamazed02 said...

Oh my--you quoted Friday Night Lights AND showed Coach Taylor! I think I'm in love...

Don't think self-publishing's my bag, but this was a very interesting and informative post. Thanks!

Mary McDonald said...

Love the FNL clip! Coach Taylor rocks. I even wrote a blogpost in the voice of Coach, but I think only three people *got*

Ahem, back to the topic at hand. I've thought about e-publishing, and it may still be an option, however, before going that route, I'm revising my manuscript, query, polishing and will query some more. I don't have anything to lose and if I don't get any takers, I can still epublish. There's no rush because e-publishing isn't going anywhere. It'll be there waiting.

Warren Baldwin said...

What is ScribD? Where can I read more about it?

Melissa said...

I agree with most of the article.

Self-publishing is a much tougher way to go than traditional publishing.

Although trad. houses are marketing their authors less and less, they at least have the name behind them.

For indies, the writing, putting together, marketing and accounting is left entirely up to them. That's no small undertaking.

On top of that finding stores that will put indie books on the shelves (while improving) is very difficult.

Sadly, many buy books based on name rather than on talent. and we all know that backfires.

I have heard people say that the only people that self-publish are those that have written such horrible books, they aren't worth the paper they are printed on. Let's just say I STRONGLY DISAGREE.

While yes, there are some bad indie books out there, there are just as many bad big name books out there.

Bookstore featuring indies and small pub houses

Karen Lange said...

Great breakdown and advice. Thanks.
Have a great weekend! said...

I do think it's worth mentioning that most of the stigma of self-publishing comes from those "in the know." I self-pubbed my first novel, and the book clubs hosting me always asked, "How did you get your book published?" When I explained, they were always surprised, having just figured one nice-looking book from Amazon or the local bookstore was like any other.

I do agree it's more work to get the sucker out there. Once I was in the black I eased off so I could get back to writing. But if you have a little platform to sell to, I urge you to go for it! It's just too fun to see your work in people's hands.

Christine Macdonald said...

"Don't let frustration cloud your judgment". So true.

I have friends SP'ing on but I just don't feel that route is for me. This post just confirmed it.

Thanks, NB. As always, your insight and experience is always appreciated.

Anonymous said...

"3. If you tried first to find an agent and/or publisher and didn't find one, are you sure you don't want to write another book and try again?"

Yes, I want to keep writing new books and trying to snag an agent and/or paying publisher. However... there any reason why I shouldn't self-publish the novels I've already written? I love them. All my critters loved them. I put hours and hours into polishing them to perfection. I see no reason to shelve them just because the market's not good for them.

I really have no interest in marketing them or spending any or hardly any money on them at all. I'm thinking of just ePublishing and linking to them from my blog as free downloads.

I would not consider myself a published author and I would not mention the self-epubbed books in query letters.

Donna Hole said...

Awesome questions Nathan. A lot of those I've considered myself; and lately, its the "limited audience" aspect that has me thinking self publishing. I'm doing some rewriting to see if I can broaden the audience.

But I'm really not the self-promoting type either. I care about the writing, not about how a book gets sold.

Well, maybe the next book will be a better attraction for a agent now that I've learned some writing skills from the first. I've come to agree that the first novel is practice for the true marketable novel.

Can't you just wave a wand for me and make everything quicker?????????

Thanks for the info. It will be a great resource in making publishing decisions for me.


Ishta Mercurio said...

Snuggies caught on?

Seriously, though, this was (as always) a great post, and it is very timely for me. I've been deliberating about the "future of publishing" with respect to the growing number of ways that people can self-produce film and self-publish books, and how I will fit into that whole picture.

Is self-producing an internet TV series and putting it on YouTube a bad thing for a future career? Is self-publishing a book and getting it into a few stores while still continuing to write larger works and look for a publisher a bad thing? And do I want to do all the extra legwork involved in those things? Is is better to have something (of quality) out there than nothing at all?

Mira said...

Okay, this is why. Posts like this.

You're wonderful, Nathan.

Thank you.

Ishta Mercurio said...

Snuggies caught on?

Seriously, though, this was (as always) a great post, and it is very timely for me. I've been deliberating about the "future of publishing" with respect to the growing number of ways that people can self-produce film and self-publish books, and how I will fit into that whole picture.

Is self-producing an internet TV series and putting it on YouTube a bad thing for a future career? Is self-publishing a book and getting it into a few stores while still continuing to write larger works and look for a publisher a bad thing? And do I want to do all the extra legwork involved in those things? Is is better to have something (of quality) out there than nothing at all?

Thermocline said...

This post is a prime example of why I love your blog. You remain upbeat the entire way through about a topic that would mean the end of your career if everyone did it. You take a stand but you don't get all snarky about it or the people who want to go in that direction.

Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith said...

As usual, Nathan tells it the way it is. Excellent blog. I also like the comment of Vegas Lind Lou.
I studied the industry carefully over a period of time, and decided for me, now, to publish with our family publishing company - we have been doing text books for years. We had more skills than we realized, among us, when I looked at the whole market.
Back to the Homeplace is available now.. will be on Amazon shortly... lost of networking and pavement pounding ahead.
Thanks, again, Nathan, for great advice... every word!

Be sure to see the video book trailer...

Bill ;-)

William Leverne Smith

Maggie Dana said...

A true self-publisher is someone who controls every aspect of the process and reaps all the profits. This post, and others like it on How Publishing Really Works, helps clear up a few myths and hard truths.

John Jack said...

One of my lifetime self-publishing goals is to take a project all the way literaly from the ground up to finished product. Starting with handmade paper fabricated from raw cotton, color serigraph printing, and hand stitched book blocks and handbound casecover jackets. The content will be natural art plates of seaside flora al la John James Audobon.

I'm not naive in any of the required disciplines. I've done them all for one publishing project or another, only never in concert. Right now, having a plan of operation and business plan, I know I don't have the resources to move forward on my own. Some day remains to be seen.

I've asked and answered more than ten questions. It's not a project for traditional publishing.

Ann Marie Wraight said...

Hi Nathan! I've just recently become one of your followers. I'd REALLY appreciate it if you could answer my 'query'... I'm a Brit. who has lived and worked in Greece for the last 20 years (I teach English). I write mainly Young Adult and will be ready to query in the summer.Just how realistic am I being trying to find an American agent? Would an American agent write me off as soon as they see where I am based? How 'handicapped' am I due to my postal address? It's virtually impossible to get something published here in English unless you go the road of self-publishing, which is not where I want to head... Ideas or comments PLEASE?

Katherine said...

Nathan, thank you for the inspirational post. I've been actively pursuing the novelist life for the past year and plan B included self-publishing for a while. Everyone opined about how easy that is...but, I'd rather spend money improving my craft than paying to print off a work for friends and family that needed more fine-tuning and ultimately dies out because of that.

My mantra: If the book is written well, it will find a home.

Clear Eyes, Full Heart, Can't Lose...LOVE THIS!!!

Here's my take on that phrase:

Clear eyes - stay focused, make your writing great, and then, edit, edit, edit, and edit some more.

Full Heart - be true to what you want to be. See the goal. Be the writer; ignore the naysayers and stay the course for your writing.

Can't lose - In the long run, great writing and great stories will stand up to the test of time. So, I'm not chasing the trends, just staying focused on writing well so I can't lose.

Again, thank you for addressing this topic.

Now, on to the NCAA tournament, go Washington Huskies!!!!!!!!!!!!

Art Edwards said...

"Great books are absolutely falling through the cracks, especially books that are literary or idiosyncratic or are in genres that the industry does not perceive as currently selling well."

For this reason alone, writers should respect the self-publishing path. It could be you someday.


Scott said...

Nathan, it feels like you wrote this post just for me. I'm in the middle of all these things: seeking specialty houses, building a social network, and trying to build an online world around my book that will have enough gravity to draw interested parties.

I've got a lot I'm doing, so if you like, I'll try and update here or in the forum as I go along if you think it might help those interested--or driven--to self-publishing.

CS said...

nathan, you may have answered this before but as someone who put a manuscript in a drawer and started a new one- how did you come out the other side of that experience still feeling like you were capable of writing a good book? i ask because i feel that if it were my book i'd probably be so disheartened that i'd want to keep all future writing to myself!

Nathan Bransford said...


It wasn't easy to fight those doubts and I battled the am-I-crazies something fierce. But my wife really really believed in it and I had so much fun writing the new book I just decided to keep at it. I'm very glad I did!

It's kind of like first love. After you break up with your first love you think the world is come crashing down, but then it doesn't and you realize there are more fish in the sea and you eventually see all the flaws in that first relationship. Same with writing another book. It's tough to give up on that first book, but then you realize that you can always write more and they'll probably also be much better.

The Red Angel said...

Great post! I actually self-published for free last year with CreateSpace (NaNoWriMo winning prize), and it's been going well. So far I haven't gotten any sales, but it's great being able to put my work out there. I hope to advertise more within the next few months when I graduate from high school. :]

I plan on self-publishing more in the future, and your tips have inspired me and definitely will help me to prepare for that future!

Caledonia Lass said...

I've considered self publishing... once. XD
Nah, I think I will stick to traditional, thanks. ;)

Renee Miller said...


If you aren't interested in marketing then you'll have trouble no matter what. Whether you self publish or go traditionally, you have to market. If you want sales that is. Whether that's ebooks or paperback, sales depend on marketing.

Of course, if you're simply publishing because you want to share your work and you don't care if it sells, that's another story.

K.L. Brady said...

This is my favorite topic, especially today. I will first say Nathan's offered some EXCELLENT advice. It takes A LOT of work to be successful at self-publishing. I've had success only because I'm near insane and have an MBA which gave me a better understanding of the business aspects. It is NOT for everyone.

With that said, I published my novel 5 months ago. My intent was to use this book to build my audience so that I could try the traditional route more successfully with my next novel. I was loving every bit of self publishing just because everything I accomplished was due to my hard work.

I've sold a few hundred paperbacks, got it stocked in B&N, but my Kindle sales really TOOK OFF, sold nearly 1000 in one month alone and stayed in the top 100 African American books on Amazon for the last three months or so, usually in the top 25-50. Still getting great reviews.

To my surprise,I received an email from an acquisition editor a couple weeks ago. We spoke. They're interested in my book. And I got an agent. Why? If I can do this much SPing on my own, I just think of how far I can go with a major publisher's name behind me. It makes a difference. And I personally KNOW the difference!
I can do the same things trad. pub. authors can do, but it's a lot harder takes 5 times the effort.

Just go in with your eyes open and make sure you're ready to work. I have a blog about my POD SPing experience. I hope it's okay to share.

Grimmster24 said...

Heck yeah, Coach Taylor! Heck yeah Friday Night Lights!

Heck NO Snuggies!

haha. Excellent post, Nathan. Thanks for the info!

CS said...

that's such a great approach nathan. i hope i can be as positive when i inevitably get rejected! :)

Bernard Madsen said...

Dear Nathan,

Very interesting subject. I have a bit of personal experience in this, given that my mother is a self publisher here in Costa Rica. She is a filologist, historian, publisher and a teacher. She actually decided to tackle the job of publishing her books by herself given the specific topic of her works. (such as the effects of the second socialist revolution by the working forces of Russia in the present day latin america) I have to say, the ten questions you posted are sooooo true. my mother has dedicated like crazy to that, it takes time, patience and loads of money. But she once told me: the reward of seeing your book in a bookstore and knowing that you were there every single step of the way has no measure.

In my opinion, if one is a very specific and isolated type of writer, it might even be a more enticing process to self publish, if one is willing to endure loads of work.

Calista Taylor said...

As always, a fantastic post. Thank you!

I've heard that if you self publish and you don't have great sales numbers, then you may actually be hurting your chances of getting published with a traditional publisher in the future. Do you think this is true?

I personally would rather shelve my work and move onto the next manuscript. I'm always writing anyway, so if it's not this book, then maybe it'll be the next, or the one after that.

Nichole Giles said...

Thanks for the valuable advice. As well as the video. Love that clip.

D. G. Hudson said...

Thanks for the information on self-publishing. It's not something I've considered before, but I have discussed the pros and cons with an author friend who self-published a couple of books, before landing an editor.

I prefer to try pitching my work first with agents. After that, who can tell?

Anonymous said...

"Still Alice" "was a book that people already identified with and [Simon & Schuster] saw the book's potential in a very real way."

It's amazing how quickly opinions in NYC change once a market has been identified that they in their myopia couldn't see. Seems as though it's happening more and more. And I'm not just talking about books that sell well...I'm talking mega best sellers that the "experts" missed.

BTW -- Earagon --- More than 130 talks were given at schools, libraries and bookshops with the teenage author often dressed up in medieval costume.

Funny how "chance meetings" favour those who work hard.

reader said...

Can I add another question to your list of what to consider?

Q: How many self-published books did you read last year?

One? None? Because, guess what, THAT is the audience for YOUR self-pubbbed book. It's amazing to me that writers who choose self-publishing don't stop and think that even THEY don't read self-pubbed books. Yet they expect sales and industry frenzy?

Nathan Bransford said...


It's possible that poor sales could be a factor in a future agent's or publisher's decision, yes. How much will it factor in? It's really tough to say and depends on a lot of variables and the particular author and project.

BOB BOYLE said...

Coach Taylor's got it right.
"Clear eyes, full heart."
As with anything in life, you need focus and passion. And if you aren't enjoying the journey, why take the trip! It's an easy thing to lose sight of.
Thanks for the reminder!

Nathan Bransford said...


How is it demonstrating publishing myopia if they pick up a self-published book that is doing well or was overlooked for some reason?

Myopia would be if publishers were completely opposed to picking up self-published books. But they're not.

M Clement Hall said...

Nathan was too polite to say this, but I believe in most cases a self publication is seen as a statement that the author was unable to find a traditional publisher and fell back on this route as his last alternative. Yes, there have been exceptions where the author is an expert salesman, but not usually for fiction.
There is a purpose I think not described -- it's possible after one has written a book or two or three to focus too much on fine tuning them to whatever the last polite rejecter said needed to be done, instead of getting on with further writing. If the author finally concludes "nobody wants my book" (s)he can either put it in a drawer or for about ten bucks and some instructive personal effort can get it published by Lulu (I'm sure there are others equally good).
No, it won't sell. But, yes, it's now a finished product and you can turn your efforts to other projects.

The Daring Novelist said...

I'm doing an experiment in Kindle publishing, but only with a set of books that don't fit with my main writing goals....

One thing that I wonder about, though, is whether ebook publishing (as opposed to POD) will become like small press magazines used to be - a place for people to learn and gain experience.

I do think we're going to see a flood of self-publishing, whether it's wise or not, because publishing an ebook is cheap.

Cheryl Pickett said...

You asked for some resources and I'd like to let you know about the one I put together.

When I decided to go from freelance writer to author a few years ago I found deciphering the different publishing options to be quite a task. There's plenty of info out there, it's just hard to find it in one place and some of it contradicts other parts.

Once I distilled and made sense of it all, I independently self-pubbed (not using a company) Publishing Possibilities: Eight Steps to Understanding Your Options & Choosing the Best Path for Your Book.

It's workbook style and it helps each author make his/her own decision based on a variety of factors. It's available at my site or Amazon etc.

As others have said, thanks for covering the topic in a positive way rather than just condemning everyone who doesn't go traditional.

Cheryl Pickett

Haste yee back ;-) said...

Color is coming to e books... I'd be interested in your opinion for those who can illustrate their own book(s), provide the cover and all around design... plus have access to a crackin' great editor?

Haste yee back ;-)

Nathan Bransford said...

haste yee back-

It's an exciting possibility! It's going to be interesting to see how companies adapt to the iPad - I'm sure there are going to be more opportunities than ever.

Susan Quinn said...

Thanks, Coach Bransford!

"But increasingly, specialized publishers and self-publishers are the ones who reach niche audiences. If you have a niche project you probably don't need an agent and can either approach specialty houses directly or simply proceed with self-publishing..."

I think the small presses, and I include e-publishers in that, are going to be an increasingly important avenue for writers to reach their audiences, not least because of the ease of publishing small print runs with POD, or going all e-pub. These avenues are NOT the same as self-publishing, because there are many of the same editorial controls, but there doesn't seem to be much information out there about them - it's either "traditional" or "self" publishing.

These smaller presses are a natural fit for niche projects. But I wonder if they will become increasingly important for non-niche books, as a way for writers that don't want to DIY everything and have a built-in audience already (because the "niche" may be in platform, rather than in content).

I wonder how the rise of e-readers and e-books will change the balance of these three: traditional vs. small press vs. self-publishing. Will e-retailers rise to meet e-book demand (beyond just amazon)? Will traditional publishers shift focus to primarily e-book for some titles? Will small presses dominate the e-market, with traditional publishers dominating the print market? Is this already true, to some extent?

It's a very interesting time to watch.

Anonymous said...

I want to start a publishing company, so that I sell my short fiction directly to the Kindle, Nook, and iPad. I don't think there is a good, traditional market for short fiction.

Mick Rooney said...

[...]One of Curtis Brown's literary agents, Nathan Bransford has written an illuminating piece on guidance for authors considering self-publishing with Should You self-Publish? Ten Questions to Ask Yourself. There is a lot of advice dished out to authors about self-publishing, but in my opinion, though much of it is well-meaning and sincere, it comes from individuals from various facets of the publishing industry with either loaded agendas, or those adopting hand-me-down information which gets twisted and confused and presented in an entirely misguided way.[...]

Anonymous said...

This reads like a list of questions from an Agent desperate to prove that Agents are still a viable concern in a changing publishing model and not a sincere effort at discussing the potential advantages to authors of 'Going it Alone'.

The truth is that publishers aren't buying like they were and that leaves a lot of authors with a book that they can't sell -- or more correctly a book that Agents are too stuck in the 80's to figure out how to sell -- and self publishing in the Kindle, nook, iPad era is a VERY real and potentially lucrative option.

Ask yourself this -- which would you rather get for your novel: Nothing or $20,000.00.

At $4.99 the average Kindle published novel will bring in close to $20k on 5,000 sales. Or a more realistic number... $5,000.00 from 1500 sales.

Many big genre publishers are not even offering advances as high as $5,0000.00.

I think it is important for authors to continue to chase the Submit > Agent > Publisher > Millionaire dream, but when you have sent out a book a few dozen times and you aren't getting a nibble, it is silly to let it sit on the shelf.

Adopt a pen name and sell it yourself. You might even find that you are making more money than going the traditional route.

After all, some money is always more than no money.

Anonymous said...

How is it myopic to jump on a bandwagon that's rolling along after you've previously rejected the idea as unsalable? Surely, sir, you jest!

But since you asked…the public gets nice warm fuzzies out of rags-to-riches stories i.e. JK Rowling’s story of rejection by 4 or 5 publishers prior to getting an agent…and then that agent’s year-long journey to sell the manuscript that was “too long for children” (at 85,000 words). I suppose that’s not myopic either? Those were perhaps just “not the right home” or those publishers “just didn’t love the manuscript enough”? I say NAY! Those decision makers should not only be fired, they should be publicly tarred, feathered, guillotined and then blackballed from ever making another publishing decision again. And not because they missed the sale of the lifetime…because, in their haste to classify, genre-fy, look important and boil everything down into the lowest common price point, they missed the magic of the prose and the brilliance of the storytelling!

How dare they?!?!

I know this rant strays somewhat from the theme of this blog (which I mostly agree with), but I say NAY to your #1. In fact….move that to the bottom of the list and if, after writing a few novels you’ve had READERS (true readers not mommy or children) praise your book but NYC continues to politely spurn your work, I say “get mad as hell” and self publish! Be as greedy as those in the tall towers of publishing and maybe you’ll sell enough to make yours the next Celestine Prophesy or Lace Reader or Earagon or Time to Kill or Chicken Soup for the Soul or Still Alice.

I’m sorry to have railed on the people you do business with—those you are unable to hold accountable for their mistakes, but they’re not doing a very good job. They lose money on most of their choices. They reject things that shouldn’t be rejected. They hype up projects that are crap. Got Twilight? There is a revolution brewing. People are unhappy. Readers are unhappy. Writers are unhappy. Yes even Literary Agents (who aren’t blogging) are unhappy! Traditional publishing is failing…then again, they did foist upon us “Lost Symbol,” “Under the Dome,” “Reliable Wife” and about 15 “James Patterson” books last year. And then they wonder why we’d just as soon watch 6 different iterations of CSI….

Audrey Beth Stein said...

All good questions, Nathan, and definitely ones I considered as part of my own decision-making.

I self-published my memoir Map this past October. It was the right decision for this book, which is a coming-of-age story about a time when it was easier to admit that you were in love with another girl than that you'd met someone on the internet, and Map was just named a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award.

Sales have been slower than I'd hoped (though they seem to be picking up again with the Lammy announcement), but one thing I'd like to add to the discussion is that I've found when you self-publish, you learn to appreciate sales differently. So far I've sold twice as many copies in person than online, and each individual sale is a thrill -- a friend or acquaintance or stranger choosing to spend their time (and money) on MY story. Readers are truly individuals, and kind words and word-of-mouth recommendations resonate each time. It is personal, and it matters, and I am grateful to have that reminder, which also fuels me as I continue writing new.

Audrey Beth Stein

Nathan Bransford said...

anon #1-

Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.

anon #2-

So let me get this straight. Publishers who passed on HARRY POTTER should be guillotined and yet you're down on TWILIGHT? Which is it? Should publishers make commercial decisions or not? Can I at least get a straight message here?

Look - I get that you're frustrated. But spite ain't gonna get you far. It is very very easy to spot a bestseller in retrospect. Not so easy when they're loose pages and no one can see the future. The fact that publishers pick up self-published books and make bigger successes out of them does not prove your point - it just shows that they end up getting it right in the end.

Anonymous said...

If Stephen King can't make a sustainable profit self-publishing (his experiment with "The Plant"), I wouldn't want to start from a place with no notoriety at all.

This is a falicy, or almost an outright lie. King made something in the area of $150,000.00 in profit from The Plant. And that was in an era where there was no Kindle, no nook and no iPhone/iPad.

King's big lie was that he would continue the story if people were paying for it. This was a lie because The Plant was not a new story. King had previously published The Plant as little 'Christmas Card' chapbooks that he gave out to friends. When he ran out of story, he lied and said that he was stopping the story because people were not paying for the story -- when the truth was that he ran out of prevously published text and didn't want to take time away from his $3 Million per book deal to write and sell a The Plant for $150k.

King lied and placed his lack of new content on the heads of the buyers when the truth is that it was a huge success. They made $150,000.00 profit on top of all the money they spent on advertising.

You might call it one of the best examples of why people should consider self publishing and not an example of a self publishing failure.

Anonymous said...

"Q: How many self-published books did you read last year?

One? None? Because, guess what, THAT is the audience for YOUR self-pubbbed book"

Uh, that is changing in a big hurry because of Amazon. I didn't read self-published books in the past because Barnes and Noble don't put them on their shelves.

Guess what? I read 10 self-published novels this past month because I now have access (Kindle store on Amazon) to these titles. Some of them are very, very good!

And I'm also a self-published author with two titles on Kindle store. I sold 807 copies in February, and I'm on track to sell over 950 (two titles) in March. I expect to sell 11-12,000 between those two titles in 2010. That's not bad for midlist books.

I'm making money, and in this economic environment it beats having manuscripts sitting in the drawer. I have kids in college, and that income is helping my family.

Anonymous said...

It is very very easy to spot a bestseller in retrospect. Not so easy when they're loose pages and no one can see the future.

I respectfully disagree. It isn't hard at all if you are looking.

As a reader, I have to make my purchasing decisions the same way Agents make their decisions -- I look at a few lines of description on and decide if the book is 'for me'.

I seldom (never?) buy a bad book. I find great books that suit my reading tastes all the time and often those books are also best sellers (Raw Shark Texts, House of Leaves, Red Claw, etc.).

If you were not so focused on 'what will sell' and more focused on 'what is good' you would find best sellers all the time.

It is lack of imagination and lack of respect for great books that is killing the industry right now.

ryan field said...

I think #5 is very important to consider. All writers can recover from rejection, bad reviews, and everything else that comes along with getting published. But I wouldn't want to spend the next ten years of my life rebuilding my credit.

Anonymous said...

I expect to sell 11-12,000 between those two titles in 2010. That's not bad for midlist books.

At 4.99 each, that is $41,000.00 after's 30% cut.

Kudos to you!

Nathan Bransford said...

Ohhhhh anon, anon, anon. You can't decry massively commercial and profitable bestsellers and think publishers are failing at their jobs at the same time. Those are the most profitable books! Those are the ones that are the wild successes! You may not like them and they may not be your books of choice, but they pay the bills.

I love that you think spotting a bestseller is as easy as one two three. I want to pat you on the head and say, "Aw, honey....."

Nathan Bransford said...


Also don't forget the results of the Agent for a Day contest. None of the actually published books in that competition were in the top five most requested.

Zoe Winters said...

Book and resource recommendations for those wanting to learn more about self-publishing (My "s" key keeps sticking and I keep typing elf-publishing):

"Print-on-Demand Book Publishing" by: Morris Rosenthal. He also has an excellent blog at

Anything by Tom and Marilynn Ross

The Well-Fed Self-publisher by Peter Bowerman (this book is geared toward nonfiction and offset print runs but I still learned a lot from it.)

Aiming For Amazon by Aaron Shepard and POD for Profit by Aaron Shepard (he outlines the model I personally favor of using print-on-demand through Lightning Source)

Michael Stackpole talks a lot about digital self publishing on his site

Perfect Pages by Aaron Shepard will help you format your book. (I really recommend learning to do your own interior layout. It's not "that" hard, it will save you a lot of money, and your formatting will end up looking better because if something just doesn't work right you can always rewrite a sentence or two to "make" it look right. Or you can combine two paragraphs if that works, or split a long paragraph up. You also catch more gremlins the more you interact with your own text.)

"Become a Real Self-Publisher" by Michael N. Marcus

A good online resource is

Another one:

(Full disclosure I'm involved with Publetariat and I blog at Indie Reader)

By the time you get through all this, you're likely to find plenty more resources. If you choose to self-pub you'll have to decide whether to epub-only, use offset printing, or print-on-demand.

My personal suggestion is to start with E, it's very low risk, and a good way to test market. Then you can branch out. POD is probably your most financially sound option after that, but I recommend learning about Lightning Source , not using an author services company.

There are some circumstances where an offset print run is best, but not usually on your first book if you don't have a platform already built and a way to get orders to customers.

And also, you have to have a certain brain wiring to self-publishing. I'm not saying you have to be magical or special but it really helps if you see DIY publishing a "fun" and "exciting." If you see it as drudgery, you won't be happy. But it can be really fun and there are a lot of cool indie authors out there you'll meet and learn from.

It's also not either/or. If you'd like to experiment with self-pub you can always self-pub one thing while seeking trad pub for another project.

Zoe Winters said...

And sorry for the typos in my post. Ugh.

Nathan Bransford said...

Thanks for those resources, Zoe!

rjkeller said...

Nathan, thanks for a balanced, informative post. VERY appreciated.

Anonymous said...

I love that you think spotting a bestseller is as easy as one two three. I want to pat you on the head and say, "Aw, honey....."

I could if I was spending more than 60 seconds reading a query letter and hitting delete like a certain Agent who writes this blog who blew through 400 submissions in only a few hours.

It is easy to see why you can't find a best seller. Please don't attribute your personal failure to anyone else.

Nathan Bransford said...


There's only one solution then. Become an agent! You're missing your calling. Show us how it's done.

And yes, working fourteen hour days in order to catch up with 400 queries. Shame on me indeed.

rjkeller said...

Also meant to say I enjoyed your comments today at SPR.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nathan Bransford said...


I'm all for reaprtee and honest dialogue but I can see from the unprofessional nature of your last comment that's not really what you're after. I'd again ask that you take your frustrations out elsewhere and similar comments henceforth will be deleted.

Yo22er said...

In a piece that appeared in the New York Review earlier this month, Jason Epstein wrote:

"The unprecedented ability of this new technology to offer a vast new multi-lingual marketplace a practically limitless choice of titles will displace the Gutenberg system with or without the cooperation of its current executives".

Prior to this comment, he spent much time explaining the revolution that the Gutenberg Press spawned, and the thrust of his article is that, as many aspects of this revolution were unforeseeable, so are the consequences of the e-revolution.

Whichever the 'Anon' was the one who wants to start a publishing business based solely on e-technology, would you please hurry it along!

Anonymous said...

Fact is, is doesn't much matter what you do until you're published. You can go POD, e-book, whatever, but until a pub pays you cash for a book, it don't matter all that much. that's right, I don't always use proper grammer. What of it?

Anyway, the big advantage of being unsigned isyou can do whatever the heck you want, whenever you want. Once you're signed, you can no longer do that. You'll have non-compete clauses and other people owning your rights, telling you what kind of book they'll buy from you, etc.

Enjoy the freedom while it lasts.

holly said...

traditional publishing is better, in my opinion.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

THINGS PUBLISHERS FEAR... as mentioned on DGLM'S blog by Michael Bourret.

IMHO, This is a must read.

Hope the link works, if not, get over to DGLM'S blog!

Haste yee back ;-)

Anonymous said...

As a writer of books not under long-term contract, it's reasonable to adopt a book-by-book approach to publishing. Each time you write a book, WHILE you begin work on the next book, begin trying to place the finished book in 1 of the 3 broad publishing tiers:

1) lit-agent-->Big 6 track
2) direct sell to advance-paying, offset printing indie publisher
3) POD/e-book route

You start with 1, give it a good amount of time, say a full year (while writing the next book). If after a year you still have no serious prosepcts for signing with anyone, then go to #2. Give # 2 6 months. If after 6 months you still ahve no serious prospects for signing a deal, decide whether you still want to pubish this book that no one else wants. If you still do, then it's time for #3. Within #3, decide how to go about it ala Nathan's post.

Meanwhile, you're still writing new books, and it's almost time to start the process for #2.

Good luck!

Marilyn Peake said...

This is a wonderfully thoughtful post. Rather than expressing the two extreme opposite views toward self-publishing – basically, "Booo! Hisss!" and "Ra! Ra!" – your post today is a very helpful guide to the world of self-publishing. I also love your Ten Commandments for the Happy Writer, as well as Coach Taylor’s Clear Eyes, Full Heart, Can’t Lose from Friday Night Lights!

I started out by self-publishing the first two novels in a trilogy. A year later, after my sales were good for self-published books, the entire trilogy was picked up by a small press. I now also have numerous short stories published in small press anthologies, two short stories published with their own book covers by small press, and I’ve edited several small press books. My books are now available for the Kindle, the Nook, and through the Sony Reader Store, and an audio book version of the first novel in my trilogy is available at It’s been great fun seeing all this happen! It’s also been incredibly rewarding receiving positive reviews and winning awards. Recently, Twisted Tails IV: Fantastic Flights of Fantasy, an urban fantasy anthology in which I have a short story published, was named Finalist in the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards, in the same category as an anthology edited by Peter Straub and several anthologies of short stories written by well-known authors: Anthologies category, 2009 ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards. That Finalist placement all by itself has been worth all the hard work it took to get to this point. Currently editing, under the guidance of Alan Rinzler, a science fiction novel I recently wrote, I hope to sign with an agent and publish that novel through a traditional publisher. Whatever happens, though, I’ve had a fascinating experience with the publishing world after first dipping my toe into its waters through self-publishing.

Anonymous said...

Publishers have outright said that if book sales continue to decline that they are going to have LESS money to spend on new authors.

With that in mind... how can anyone who has been turned down by Agents or Publishers fail to consider self publishing?

You don't need to ask yourself 10 questions. You only have to ask yourself one:

1. Have you been rejected?

If "Yes." consider self publishing.

If "No." you are already published.

Anon 2:30 and 5:11 only! said...

"Which is it? Should publishers make commercial decisions or not? Can I at least get a straight message here?"

A straight message? Let me see if I properly understand your question. You're saying that dozens of publishers passing on Harry Potter—making that writer’s life hell for years while she was told she wasn’t “doing it right, honey” (the same way many of us are being told that both directly from publishers and indirectly from agent blogs) justifies the publishing industry's 80-something percent failure rate? Are you claiming that "Twilight" would have gained the same commercial success had it not been for a MASSIVE marketing campaign to get it to the attention of 14 year old girls everywhere? How many other new novelists got that type of publicity? Are you saying that was the best-written story out there in that genre? Are you saying that Twilight coming on the heels of Harry Potter was coincidence or was it the most unique story that NYC had to offer? Are you serious? Could you maybe admit to how it was a copycat? So now what are they giving us, not creative unique stories that thrill and entertain us, they give us copycat crap that they know they can foist on us. Both in new authors and in trotting out the “names” as much as they can.

And if you, sir put Twilight (or the other crap books that were foisted on us last year with massive marketing programs and front table placement in bookstores) in the same literary category as Harry Potter, a quality series that spread by word of mouth because of the unique nature of the story and dedication to the craft, you deserve to work with the incompetents of NYC. But don’t take that from me....take it from the most successful novelist of all time:

“Both Rowling and Meyer, they’re speaking directly to young people. … The real difference is that Jo Rowling is a terrific writer and Stephenie Meyer can’t write worth a darn. She’s not very good.” – Stephen King

You want a straight message? Here’s the message: These folks in high towers pretend to be professionals. They lecture at conferences on “what it takes” and poke fun at writers who “don’t do it right.” They pretend to have all the answers when summarily rejecting work as "not for them" with barely the slightest research on the author, the marketplace or the quality of the work (other than their own subjective opinion)...but then they don’t admit when they make MASSIVE errors of judgment (like rejecting Harry Potter) the whole time hiding their dismal record when it comes to successful projects? And we’re told not to be angry, not to prove them wrong by self publishing, just go back and write another novel, honey. And you don't see the HYPOCRICY in that?

Just once I’d like to see a blog post where you tell the truth about your interactions with idiotic some of their decisions many fantastic projects get rejected or take years to sell...but then you pick up a novel by that same publisher and it’s utter crap! Or you could write how much more editing you as the agent you have to do because editors are too lazy and incompetent and uncaring. How much more marketing your authors have to do because these publishing houses won’t support new what exactly are we paying these publishers for? To sprinkle “holy water” on projects that they are willing to grace with three or four readings? You’d be blackballed as an agent and a writer if you admitted that they’ve got almost the same chance at being right about a project as if they picked randomly (given equal marketing efforts). And you don't see the HYPOCRICY in that?

If so, then go put on your party dress for the guillotine party, honey. I'm sick of eating YOUR "cake."

Marilyn Peake said...

Relevant to your blog topic today, I have a writer friend who recently decided to try offering one of her novels as a free download from a website specifically designed for free downloads. In slightly over one month, there were 3,200 downloads of her book! Pretty cool experiment, I think. :)

A.M. Kuska said...

I posted my first novel on a noveling blog was a first novel. The plot is sound, the story is good, the writing is polished. There's really nothing wrong with it. It's just not up to my standards. I can go back to my short stories and still smile with pride because they're up to par. Sure there's a word I'd change here or there now, but it's not anything that would make me want to slink under the table.

My current novel is one that I feel will make it to par. It's an exciting story, with tension on every page. I love writing it, and I can't wait to open it each morning. ^^ It's a great thing.

G said...

Been there and done that. Major lesson learned that while it make work for some people who have that tenacity, for others like myself, it really wasn't worth it.

Great advice all the way around. Too bad I didn't listen to it the first time around.

Lived and (expensive) lesson learned, so we are now trying it the semi-hard way of traditional publishing.

Joanna van der Gracht de Rosado said...

Thank you Nathan for another GREAT post.

I self published a memoir/how-to book two years ago and sold out in eight months. (1,000 copies) I think that was pretty cool as I live very, very far from a major market.

Would I do it again? Definitely. I will reprint this year (maybe 5,000 this time)

I've also finished a novel that I'm currently editing. I want to see if it will be successful by means of the traditional route but if it isn't I will self publish it as well.

Going solo is a lot of work... more than you can ever imagine before you take it on. But I learned a lot and when I do it again, I'm sure it will be easier.

Advice for first time self publishers? Don't be in a rush. Be sure you have the time, energy and yes, $$$ to do it right.

What bothered me about self publishing my book? The snide remarks from traditionally published authors about my book not being "real" because it was not published by a house were hurtful. But I quickly got over that once hundreds of positive emails started coming in from my readers.

As I've commented before on this blog... writing, publishing and promotion are all part of the job. You have to do what you have to do.

Joanna van der Gracht de Rosado

Myrna Foster said...

Thanks, Nathan! I have no desire to self-publish. I watched my grandpa go that route.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Anon 2:30...5:11 and 6:53 should use more of the day working on his/her project rather than chewing out Mr. Bransford?

Anon 8:47

Jude Hardin said...

I personally would rather shelve my work and move onto the next manuscript. I'm always writing anyway, so if it's not this book, then maybe it'll be the next, or the one after that.

That's the perfect attitude toward publishing, IMO. Thanks, Calista.

Bethany said...

While I appreciate the optimism of people taken by the success stories of singular people in a sea of failure stories (we can say that, right? If you're not a success, you're a ...) - I guess I don't know how to finish that sentence.

BookSlinger said...

As a bookstore owner I am approached by several self-published authors a month. I live in a mid-size town where we also have a B&N (in addition to Costco, Target, etc.).

It never fails to amaze me when a self-published author walks into my store (always without an appointment) with freshly printed books in hand that he/she wants me to stock on my shelves--and the following phrase comes from their lips: “This is a nice store; I’ve never been in here before.” I’ve finally made the decision that if a local “author” doesn’t have the wherewithal to discover, know and support their local independent bookstore(s), then I have no interest in discovering, knowing and supporting that author. Most of these authors request that I carry their book and host an event in support of the book. My policy now is that unless that author has visited the store before then, no, we will not expend the time and money involved in hosting an event. We *may* take the book on consignment. As far as I’m concerned there is no excuse for a local writer to not have visited a local bookstore; you’re a “writer,” how can you NOT know who your indies are?

From my store’s freshly minted policy on stocking self-published titles: If locally owned, independent bookstores are to promote the work of local writers, those bookstores need the support of those local writers. Please give careful consideration to where you purchase your books.

I'm all for people trying to sell their books in a variety of venues; I begrudge no one the opportunity of selling their work at indie stores as well as chains, box stores and online. But good god, use some common sense and tact when shopping your book to local bookstores.

Zoe Winters said...

No problem!

And, I see you had a heckler, LOL

Why don't they heckle the mean agents and leave you alone?

Anonymous said...

I don't like the word self-publishing. I think if you want to put your work out on your own than you should start your own publishing company. This way you have to get your feet dirty.

I still think traditional publishing makes sense for novel length works, but for short fiction, I prefer the: create electronic publishing company, pay for editing and/or copyediting, pay for graphic design for the covers, learn to typeset, and put the work on Kindle, Nook, and iPad/iPhone/iTouch.

However, I don't want to spend the time typesetting a four hundred page novel. So traditional publishing works for me. Though, given the current economic climate, I would prefer to sell my work to Random House. I like their wait and see approach with Apple.

Simon Haynes said...

Good stuff - just added a link from my article on Self-Publishing:

Claire Dawn said...

I've always thought of it as the difference between traditional employment and entrepreneurship. I know I wouldn't work as hard as I should if I was my own boss, and would go broke in a minute.

Hence, if I self-publish, it would take a cosmic miracle for the world to discover it on it's own, since I'd probably be bored of marketing it pretty quickly.

Like entrepreneurship, it's only for certain people.

Elliot Grace said...

...above and beyond how critics on either side of the publishing spectrum feel, from the research I've done, it's the amount of investment used toward marketing, or lack thereof, that causes many self-published authors to stumble in sales. "Twilight" is the perfect example of an eye-rolling, hum-drum job of writing...still making millions because of a massive marketing campaign. As a writer, whether you only suck a little, or a lot, the trick is getting your name out there, and having the deep pockets, or sales team to pull it off.

Steven Crandell said...

Thank you, Nathan for your post and your patience in replying to comments. For me, the story and the writing comes first. The method of publication,distribution and sales follow on from what has been created. And we need not take the same approach for all our books simply because they all have the same author.A book about my father, "Silver Tongue -- Secrets of Mr. Santa Barbara", was a natural, very high quality self-publishing effort -- with all profits going to charity. I used a very different approach for a fictional work with a wider readership and an unusual approach, my serial novella "A is for Amy & Adonis" . I decided I wanted to roll out the novella week by week as a serial romance. So Huffpost was perfect. I think the publication of books can reflect their content, the goals of the author and the best opportunities to provide a good reading experience.

Kate Evangelista said...

What a great post! But, there's something about self publishing that scares the heck out of me. I'm stick to querying.

Anne Lyken-Garner said...

I always read your posts, but never leave a comment any more because I don't know if you read them once they get past a certain point.

This comment, for example, will probably get lost in your blog's slush pile.
Anywho... Just wanted to say thanks for this post. You've given me a lot to think about.
Also, you have a typo: 'all-to-well' instead of 'all-too-well.'
I gets me pleasures editing agents. :-)

Derek Gentry said...

Thanks for this post, Nathan--a very even-handed presentation of a topic that seems to get people all fired-up!

I'm in the process of self-publishing my novel Here Comes Your Man, using Lightning Source as my printer. I got my first proof from them this week, and I'm really impressed with how far POD has come, quality-wise, while remaining a very economical option.

I pursued traditional publishing for several years, first with an earlier novel, and then with this one. I ultimately decided to self-publish Here Comes Your Man because I think there's an audience who will enjoy it--maybe just not large enough to interest a big house.

Something unexpected I discovered in this process: in addition to being a lot of work, self-publishing is actually a lot of fun!

insidethewritersstudio said...

As an "indie" writer (so far), I kind of wanted to click on the post and find a bunch of questions that would make me want to argue and defend myself. Instead, I thought they were all great questions and I was pleased with my answers to them.

Thanks for a good post, Nathan. Those really are questions that should be given serious consideration before deciding which way to go.

SphinxnihpS of Aker-Ruti said...

Interesting post.

I have a trio of fantasy novels (all set in the same world) that I am going to self-pub as ebooks. Maybe print.

I chose this because of advice I saw in this blog and others that speaks against writing sequels or planning a series when you are unpublished. There are other reasons too. 1) I don't want to lose my vision or creative control over my series. Nor do I just want to toss these novels just because 2) they are part of a series and 3) I haven't seen anything like them out in the bookstore. Another reason is that 4) ebook rights that traditional publishers grant are in such a flux right now, and that uncertainty just frustates the heck out of me. I'm not sure I want to try the traditional route until it stabilizes some.

Anyway, those are the "negative" reasons. I have positive reasons. 1) I believe in these novels. 2) I constantly return to these novels with a desire to finish them (I don't because of negative reasons #1-3). And 3) I have a clear vision of what I want with these novels, and I want to give myself a chance to make it possible.

So, I cut out the wishy-washing and decided self-pub is the only way to go.


Olleymae said...

wow...anonymous needs to chill! Nathan, thanks for your blog and all your time and patience. We'd be hopeless without awesome agents blogging advice and insights for free. Please don't get jaded by people with terrible anonymous manners.

Fawn Neun said...

It really does depend on what kind of work you're trying to publish and what your goals are. I think self-publishing is a great idea for specialty stuff, particularly non-fiction/instructional. And self-epublishing is the bomb.

Respect for admitting this in public, Nathan. :)

word verification "paying". *rofl*

Mary McDonald said...

I don't have anything more to add. I just came back to watch Coach Taylor again. :-) However, I think the speech from 'State' would have been even better for this topic.

"This game is not over; this battle is not over..."

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:53 seems to forget that "good" and "crap" are subjective. They just are. Yeah, I think Twilight is poorly written. Embarassingly so. But my 14 year-old niece (who hated reading), read all four, and now reads lots and lots of other books. To her, at 14, they are good. At twenty-five or thirty, she'll more than likely look back on them and laugh. But so what?

I sympathize, and actually agree that most agents and editors don't have a huge amount of foresight into what will sell "BIG" (I'm talking new authors, not established ones). If they did, EVERY one of their books would be bestsellers. But they do know what excites "them." Those books with the broadest appeal get hype and money for marketing.

And now I will quote The Godfather (lame book, excellent movie)...

It's not personal, it's business.

Dan Holloway said...

Nathan, I'm going to enjoy going through the comments. I'm a self-publisher and VERY happy with it, but I wrote an article last year on when not to self-publish making very similar points

I think if anything you don't go far enough. I think self-publishing is better than traditional publishing for some books - I think it's 2 different models for 2 types of books (and authors, as you say) - and I think anyone who self-publishes because they want an agent/publisher is barking up the wrong tree for that reason - as you say, way the best answer isn't to self-publish the book but write another one.

And self-publishing isn't about selling teh NEXT book. it's about selling the next 10 books - it's about building a career over a course of novels, slowly building a loyal fanbase with each. It's about the long haul. Anyone who thinks it's about writing a book then selling it will be disapoointed

M Clement Hall said...

Some of the silly and abusive anonymous comments raise once more the question, "Should an anonymous comment be published?"
I repeat my own opinion, they should not be.
Anyone who lacks the courage to put his mame to his opinion should not have the vehicle to make it public.

Ink said...

Self-publishing must've been in the water yesterday, as I put up an interview on my blog with a self-published author. If you're interested in self-publishing you might want to check in and see what her experience was like. Satisfactions and frustrations...

Anonymous said...

I don't know. I always thought self-publishing was a lot like opening up a small coffee shop two blocks away from Starbucks. If you look at it closely, I don't see how it's possible to compete. I know there are a few success stories. But just a few.

K.L. Brady said...

@Derek G. I totally agree. Self publishing really is a lot of fun. I worked hard, often into the wee hours of the night, but it never felt like work to me. One day, between promotions and editing, I went a 16-hour day and didn't even feel it. That's when you know you're doing something that you love. If you don't have that attitude going in, it's not for you. Stay the traditional route.

@Dan - so true. I literally started building my readership one reader at a time. And in self-publishing you are at the ground level. There's no "house" between you and the audience (which can be good or bad). For me, it's been all good. And no matter where my career takes me, I will make sure my audience knows they can reach out to me and I'll respond with personal notes and emails like I do today.

JTShea said...

'Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.' A famous quote from a famous writer who famously nearly went bust self-publishing his own books, even though he was already one of the world's best selling authors!
Most 'self-publishing success stories' so far are really stories of conventional publishing success, where the author uses self-publishing as an expensive and laborious means of submission to conventional publishers. When and if any self-published edition of a novel sells over 100,000 copies in a year I'll be impressed.
There are other definitions of 'success' of course. Like ELF-publishing! For ELF-help books perhaps? Thanks, Nathan and Zoe Winters.

Thaddeus Glapp said...

I 'self published' my own book and it has proved to be a great decision. I took great pains to work with a reputable editor, hire a top-notch artist for the cover, and did an off-set run that produced a much higher quality book than LSI or any POD service is capable of.

And of course the best part is that by going that route, I'm able to make enough money on book sales to continue writing (fiction). That's something that some traditionally published authors can't claim.

A close friend was recently dropped from his (major) publishing house due to a lack of sales even though they were in the tens of thousands. My feeling is that if you sell that many books and lose money, your business model needs adjustment.

So his next book will likely be published independently. Much like the music business, being dropped from your label and having to go the independent route can be a great thing for your career.

(also, the word verification for this comment is "brests" and that makes me happy)

Melissa said...

I think another aspect is support.

I put together a store that sells indie and small publisher books. There are some GREAT books listed on there.

I commented to an indie author that they should check out another book (same genre as theirs) and their comment was:

"on it was self-published?"

Struck me odd as they were also self-published. Is there a self-hating thing going on here?

If indies can't support each other, how do they expect everyone else to come around?


Jenny said...

I've done it both ways. I succeeded in self-publishing back in the days before there was e-stuff and got my self-pubbed books onto shelves in Borders and Barnes & Noble stores. I was quoted as an expert in one edition of the Ross's guide.

But I held on to my novels for years until I finally sold them to a mass market publisher (HarperCollins/Avon). Here's why: Between the point where I thought my first novel was wonderful and the point where it went into ARCs it went through four complete rounds of revision. And when I say revision I mean I wrote quite a few new scenes, made big cuts, and tweaked the voice.

Those revisions, suggested or requested by accomplished critique partners, including Nathan's brilliant author, Lisa Brackmann, my agent, and my editor at Avon, turned an okay book into something a lot stronger. Every professional author I know has a similar story to tell.

Very few novelists can get far enough away from their books to see what they need to make them good. Paying a supposedly professional editor usually gives a would be author a copyedit, not the kind of edit you need to make your novel compelling.

Beyond that, the techniques that work very well when selling nonfiction wont' work for a novel. Google isn't going to bring you the 100K web site visitors a month it takes to fuel a decent self-publishing sale.

One last word. Mr. Glapp's comments make it clear he's never seen an LSI printed book. I've used a major Michegan book press and LSI (Lightning Source). The quality of the LSI book is, if anything, higher than that of the book press product. And when a customer of mine, in Israel, complained she had received a defective copy--purchased from Amazon, LSI expressed her a replacement three days later at their expense. You can't beat that for service--and you won't get that kind of service from a book press.

Angelia Almos said...

I'm one of those that self-pubbed and then got a publisher to pick it up. Your questions are right on. You need to know what you are getting yourself in for. It always amazes me the number of people that I meet that self-pub, they have their website, it's on Amazon, and they want to know why their book isn't selling. I'll go through the short (abbreviated) list of stuff that I did to market my book so it actually sold and they get that glazed expression. They don't want to have to work that hard at getting their book sold. On a side note, it was nonfiction which is generally considered easier to jump from self-pub to traditional if you put the work in. I think nonfiction is just easier to target market than fiction.

Mira said...

Can I just add that video is incredible?

Who wrote that?

I hope they get an Emmy. That was wonderful.

wordsrmylife said...

Excellent, excellent post. I'm an editor/copyeditor working with a self-publishing author, and he has the process nailed (in addition to me, he's hired a book designer/layout person and a proofreader and he knows exactly what his niche markets are and how to reach them).

As a pre-published writer, however, I'm staying the traditional course because I want to reach a wider audience and I want to write more books.

Sue Collier said...

Yeah! An accurate portrayal of self-publishing. Thank you!

One thing though: If authors who are self-publishing do it right--purchase their own ISBN, publish under their own imprint, and put out a quality book both in content and design--bookstores (or anyone else for that matter) should have no idea a book is "self-published." Distribution channels are available to "indie" publishers, though of course it is up to them to create the demand for their books.

Eric Rohr said...

I self-published my first novel after shopping it to about 30 agents (including NB, who rejected it) and it's been a great experience. I've sold a few books (to strangers even!) made relationships with bookstores and generally learned a lot about the process. Do I want to repeat it? Sure--if my next novel doesn't find a traditional home. And why not?

I hold zero animosity toward the publishing industry for rejecting my book. I didn't self-publish to prove a point, but to come full circle on a project and to learn how to market a book. Drawing on my skills as a career graphic designer and communicator, I built a strong website, updated the content to include interviews, bonus info, Q&As, readings and sample chapters, and made use of social media to boost sales. The experience has been a great dry run for a traditionally published book and a demonstration of what I can bring to the table. Whether agents see it the same way when I begin shopping my next novel is another matter.

Moses said...

This was a really fair run-down, Nathan. Great job.

I mentioned this post and one of your others on my blog today.

Jaleh D said...

I'm not entirely sure why your hecklers are so up in arms about your list of questions. These are just the writer's equivalent to becoming an entreprenuer. I haven't investigated self-pubbing, since I'm still working on finishing a manuscript, but I have studied what it would take to start my own business with my crafting.

Your list is very similar to the questions I have to ask myself of whether I have what it takes to run a business. It's a lot of work to be your own boss. And it's not for everyone. I still haven't decided if it's for me, but while I think about it, I keep working on my stories.

Mayowa said...

Thank you for such a great post Mr. Bransford. This post is very open-minded and optimistic compared to the usual "perils of self publishing" posts on many agent blogs.

For me the main issue with traditional publishing is not breaking into it (I will endure) but that the entire model places a higher value on "distribution" than on the writers work itself (which explains division of profits, time cycles, any of the other issues with the industry).

More about an author's current place in the status quo here Pens With Cojones

Jenny Keller Ford said...

Great post, Nathan! This question has been debated endlessly on several writer's sites I'm a member of and the lines are drawn - some are for, others are against. What I'd like to know is what agents and publishers feel about self-published books. We hear all sorts of bad news out there that agents and publishers don't take self-published authors seriously - ever. What about you? Would you take on a novel that was self-published and if so, how many copies would it need to have sold before you would consider it 'worth the risk'?

Anonymous said...

I am looking for a literary agent to promo and sell my latest work, 'The Lupine Effect" a man to wolf to werewolf to man story. There is a vampire as well, but it also has a romantic edge too.If you have an agent friend that is interested in the horror/romance genre could you whisper in his or her ear? Ken K. Chartrand e-mail

Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot said...

It's great that writers do have the opportunity to take control of their own destinies these days and usually get paid more by self-publishing too. I think the role of publishers, writers and agents is changing and I'm exicited about it. I hope you are too:)

PS. Sorry I haven't been here for a while - too busy writing and building up my blog subscribers (0ver 1000 now) in the hope an agent/publisher will get interested in me:) Lol.... Great to see you're still here ands doing a brilliant job for the writers. Thanks!

Vivian De Winter said...

Thank you for pointing out all of the steps involved with self-publishing.

As one commenter already mentioned, self-publishing appeals to writers with an entrepreneurial spirit and above all else, a willingness to learn. Life is all about learning. Every single day. My sister and I started up our own company, but we had to close it down a year later, for lack of customers. I learned a thing or two from that experience. Do your research first, then make an informed decision. Has the experience crushed my spirit to try new things? No!

Later last year, once I finished my manuscript, I decided to go the traditional route by querying agents. Seven months later, I have not been able to secure representation.

Living in Canada, we only have a handful of agents to choose from: approximately 20 (that I've been able to research so far). A few of those are not taking on any new writers and others are focusing on non-fiction, children's books, poetry or screenplay writers. That left me with less than ten agents. Three have turned me down so far. Two of those agencies were kind enough to state that my writing had compelling elements and a smart endearing style, but my novel didn't fit in their list/too busy to take on new clients.

I'm still waiting on the others. It's been seven months. I haven't heard a single peep from two of them, so I'm taking that as a 'No thank you. Not interested.'

My story does not fit under a specific genre. It's a crossover of young adult, women's, literary and mainstream fiction. I did not begin my writing, thinking I would touch on all of those genres with one single novel, it just sort of happened. Maybe that's a strike against my book. From a business perspective, I always thought diversity was supposed to be a good thing.

There are a couple more agents I will approach, and after that, when the dust settles, I've made the decision to try self-publishing - ebook format, just to see how readers respond to it.

As writers, I've read this time and time again: we are supposed to research the authors within our genre and find out who their agents are. Those are the agents to query.

My question to you is this:
If you were handed one of the best manuscripts you've ever read, but you couldn't fit it in "your particular list" would you take on the project? If your answer is 'no,' why not?

If agents (and publishers) base their "lists" on what they've sold in the past or what's currently hot, how can writers break through the barriers when their work is meant to stand out?

It must be a difficult decision for agents and publishers to make: trying to figure out what readers will respond to (and I don't mean throwing tons of money in their general direction via advertising to try and grab their attention).

Perhaps the time has come for self-published ebooks. I'd like to think of it as the next best thing to gazing into a crystal ball--a means to get a feel for the market with little to no expense upfront.

It has become an alternative for us writers who have done the work, improved our craft and want to take it to the next level. I've spent countless hours on my novels and I'm not prepared to just quietly place them in a drawer and let them disappear.

Thank you for sharing an open mind and launching such an interesting discussion!

Olivia said...

Dear Nathan. Thank you for your insight! I’ve also read your post on Self-Publishing and Your Writing Career. I have a somewhat interesting situation for you. I went out to query with my fiction novel last year. I received 8 offers of representation from top agents in NY. I chose one (not the shark, I didn’t want to be a number…silly me). Still my agent was a powerhouse (just not a YA powerhouse). We went out to publishers and got a lot of interest but no takers. I have since written another YA novel that I am going out to query with (new agent because of personal reasons, not because I don’t love my current agent who is wonderful). But what do I do about the first novel? Self-publish or put it in a drawer? I find myself wanting to get my work out there – it’s not vanity or frustration. I just want readers to enjoy it and I don’t want to wait for a 3 year cycle to get it published – 1 to query, 2 to book on shelf. What do you think? Is this a mistake? Should I give the new agent a chance to sell that one too?

Todd said...

Great post, Nathan.

Full disclosure: I'm biased, as the self-pubbed author of Justice For All, a mystery/suspense novel.

It seems to me that the question these days isn't so much traditional vs. self-published, but rather, "How hard are you willing to work to market your book?"

Traditional publishers often expect their writers to take on much of the marketing burden themselves...especially unproven newbies. Yes, they can open the doors to brick-and-mortar stores, but with the growth of Kindle and e-books, that's less and less of a benefit. So if you're going to be responsible for marketing anyway...why not keep more of the proceeds of your work?

If a self-pubbed author is willing to take the marketing ball and run with it, they can do as well financially as they would with a publisher, since they're keeping more of the purchase price.

So the question is more about how well the book is marketed than how it got into print (or pixels).

Jaime Cundy said...

Thank you. This was probably the best advice that I could have received right now. Struggling to find an agent, and debating the self publish. I am going to take your advice and take my time to do the research. I don't need to rush into anything as you said.

It's difficult to find advice into an industry that not many people have knowledge!

I am not sure I can express my gratitude enough!!

beth said...

Great, honest, and unbiased advice without bashing anyone side!!!

The best solution I found was, who will try to help you get traditionally published, or self published.

SweetMarie83 said...

Reading this makes me excited and nervous at the same time. I've been looking into self-publishing and getting pretty excited about it, but I just worry about the stigma and taboo still attached to it. I don't want to be lumped in with the bad writers, since after all, anyone can self-publish, regardless of quality. And it's not that I don't believe that with a lot of hard work, I could be published traditionally, it's just I know how long that could take, while in the meantime, my self-published book could be on Kindle overnight and people could be reading it. Great questions to ask though, definitely lots to think about.

LFS11 said...

Loved the post Nathan. Appreciate your credibility and unbiased opinion.

I'm still a little confused. I've read that if a publisher picks up my book I'm responsible for marketing it. Marketing was the main benefit I originally saw to having a publisher. Can you please explain the benefits of traditional publishing?


Anonymous said...

Thank you for stark reminders and balanced questioning. Found it very thought provoking.

Michael A. Lewis said...

In Santa Cruz, California (population 50,000), we have two successful indpendant book stores, both of which accept books by local self-published authors and feature them prominently in a Local Authors section, as well as in their categories on the main shelves.

These book stores understand the appeal of local authors writing about what they know best, their local community. It's a plus for the book stores, for local authors and the local economy.

That's good enough for me!

Marie Gilbert said...

I always enjoy your informative posts and you seem to post them at the same time that I have so many questions. Thank you for the heads up.

Aaron McMenamy said...

Hi Nathan,

Great article. Self-Publishing can be either great or completely dreadful, depending upon so many different factors.

As someone who works in self-publishing, I very much appreciate your emphasis on marketing, as well as the importance of having adequate funding for such an undertaking. I have seen entirely too many authors incur substantial debt to self publish, and it is truly heart breaking when they don't find the success that they were so convinced they would achieve.

Additionally, with so many book published, per year, the emphasis on marketing cannot be strong enough. The best book in the world will not sell if people do not know that it exists. Find a way to reach your audience. With a quality book, your chances for success just increased exponentially.

Honestly, I feel the biggest determining factor for any author considering self-publishing should be finding a company with some values and transparency. Read the contract. If it's not available, thorough, and understandable ... walk away. There are some fantastic companies out there, but you really need to do your research and understand what you are getting into in order to have a chance at success.

Again, great article. Thanks for shedding some light on an all too murky subject for aspiring authors.


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