Why You Shouldn’t Self-Publish

It’s been noted that I can be somewhat negative. I’m not a negative person, but I play one on the internet. I write a lot about publishing in general, and self-publishing specifically, so I thought I’d be really negative about it for this post. So are you thinking about self-publishing? Here’s why you shouldn’t (edit: and here’s why you should, lest you think I am one sided):

You’re not writing, you’re publishing. All that skill you have as a writer? It means exactly jack when it comes to publishing. Publishing is a business, and business is about money. Artists are notoriously bad at business. You want to get your art, your story, out there? Good for you. But if that’s your object, you probably shouldn’t self-publish because it probably won’t get out there.

You have to do everything. Find an editor, cover artist, proofreaders, everyone. You have to market it, and sift through the litany of snake oil that is out there about how you should market your book (mostly in the form of “BUY THIS BOOK AND YOU WILL SELL A MILLION BOOKS”). Like point No. 1 up there, you have way less time to write because you have to do all that crap and/or pay someone else to do it for you. All the stuff you hear (and say) about having full editorial and artistic control becomes a giant chore.

Hugh Howey lucked into success and it will piss you off: Seriously. Him and every other story you hear about how someone makes like six figures a month because of their book that really isn’t that good and they did dick for marketing. You will pull your hair out and scream “that guy is a HACK how is he selling at all, my book is way better why isn’t it selling” over and over.

You’re doing it wrong. Even if you’re doing it right. “Tweet about your book over and over! Don’t forget hashtags!” “Don’t spam your followers, they will get annoyed and leave!” “You have to be always on!” “SEO!” “Social Media!” “Word of mouth!” “Keep writing!” “Offer it for free!”

Everyone else on the planet has a book out. A third grader self-published a book. This is your competition. Not the third grader per se, but every other jackass who has written a string of words in the last ten years. Somehow (this assumes you are a serious writer and don’t just have some half-assed MS*) readers have to find your book(s) among that pile, read it, love it and tell someone else to read it. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack**.

You are now a self-published author. This is conversational shorthand for ‘not a real author’. Even if you are making six figures a month at it.

(if this sounds super bitter, I will follow up with why you should self-publish)

-DESR

*If you had to look up what MS stood for, I have some bad news for you.

**Good for the little girl and all, but seriously?

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28 Comments

  1. Negative, yes. But you raise some good points about self-publishing. It’s a ton of work. I’m getting ready to release a self published work myself… And all the work that entails. To be honest, I’d rather be editing than marketing. But I figure it’s worth a shot, it can’t hurt.

    On a different note: I picked up a copy of your book with that “Buy for a Tweet” promo. I’m still in the middle of reading it but so far I’m enjoying it. I’m a sucker for sci-fi. When I’ve finished reading I’ll be jumping onto Amazon and Goodreads to leave a review for you. Great job, Dean.

    Reply
    • Thanks, man! If I can help in any way, or you want to talk out anything, drop me an email (@gmail). It’s a lot of work, but I have really enjoyed it. This is my semi-humorous way of sharing the challenges, some anticipated, some not.

      Glad you’re enjoying it! That means a lot, thank you so much!

      Reply
      • It’s a great post. There are things involved with self publishing that I wasn’t expecting. But after close to two decades of working at traditional publishing, and not getting too far, doing it on my own seems a good shot. I’ll drop you an email, I do have a few questions (well maybe just curiosity ) that I’d like to run by you.

        Thanks in advance, hehe.

      • Always happy to help. I really do want to be as much of a help to the self-pub community, and improve it, as much as I can

  2. I like the objectiveness of it and I’d like to see that follow up you spoke on. Negativity is for those who live in the realm of relativity. It’s not negative, its just information. Thank you.

    Reply
  3. Folks, get over it. Come on in, the water’s fine. Indie publishing is a great thing and, who knows, you might learn a bit about the publishing business, too. Commerce isn’t a contagious disease.

    Reply
    • Uhm, I’m not sure what your point is. Obviously I endorse self/indie publishing, and arrived there by doing my homework about publishing. There are a lot of people who are unprepared for it, and think that sticking a MS on KDP is the key to instant wealth.

      Reply
      • NOWAI DEAN, publishing can TOTALLY support millions of books a year…….. even if most of us can only read about .015% – .02% of newly-published books per year, if we read like speed demons. The average person only reads .0015% of new books published yearly, assuming that everything they read WAS published that year, which is not even usually the case. But hey, yeah. Commerce.

  4. All interesting arguments about the ‘cons’ of self-publishing, but from someone like myself, who has sold nearly 1,000 books this month – ‘all by myself’, these points don’t all apply. My social medial networking and awesome fans who have mastered the art of word of mouth is working well for me. One thing you forgot to consider is the perseverance of the TRUE Indie – one in it for the long haul. ;)

    Reply
    • I didn’t forget to consider it, I think a lot of people go into it unprepared for it. If you can go down this list and say “Nope, I have a plan for that” and “I can deal with that”, you’re gonna be OK.

      Reply
      • I’m not sure many CAN prepare for the reality of self-publishing, lol. There is no one holding your hand when you choose to do it yourself. Which is part of the problem. What’s important to remember, is all writers are different, no matter how they choose to publish. The readers are the ones that matter – if they buy a book and love it, the author is doing something right. Even if it’s just for a small group of readers. ;)

      • Yep, very true. That’s kind of the idea behind this list- ‘hey, this is gonna take some work, and sometimes you’re gonna be frustrated’

  5. You left something important off the list: You’ve got to be your own worst critic. You’re the final judge of what is “good enough” for print. That goes for the cover, the promos, the blurb. You can’t lay it on your editor or beta readers. If you’re not prepared for that responsibility, forget it.

    Reply
    • That is so very true, and something too few people think about. It’s hard, too, because it’s your baby, even if it’s horrible.

      Reply
  6. Jack

     /  July 23, 2013

    All good points, but I don’t care for your using Hugh Howey’s name that way. Even if you just mean him as an example of someone people could resent for his success. Maybe more “scare” quotes would help. Or just choose a different name. Or maybe the follow up post on Why You Should Self-Publish will list him as someone to emulate.

    Reply
  7. Although I respect your opinion, there should be a flipside to this coin because there are so many reasons TO self-publish. If you do independent film, are you not a true filmmaker? What if you create your own music and post on iTunes without a record company? Because it’s done without a record company, does that mean he or she is not a true musician? Some people have an entrepreneurial spirit and want overall control–finding a cover designer, editor, printer, marketing, distribution, etc. Why discourage that? As with any business venture, when done right, self-publishing and independent publishing–there’s a difference–can be very lucrative. I know plenty of authors who aren’t selling tons of books per month like Hugh Howey, but are still doing very well, making $500 – $2500 a month. Traditional and DIY publishing have their pros and cons, but no matter what route you take, the author is primarily responsible for marketing the book–unless the author is among the top 5% (like Stephen King, John Grisham, etc).

    Reply
  8. I think Carolyn’s got the best negative–you have to judge your own work. I agree that far too many writers taking the self-publishing route aren’t ready to be published. At the very least they need to hire a good editor.

    That being said, I take exception to the comment “Artists are notoriously bad at business.” Whether you self-publish or use traditional publishing, writers MUST learn business, or they will be taken advantage of and are likely to fail. A creative talent is no excuse. You are your own business; learn the business side, ESPECIALLY the part about what you are selling–your rights via copyright. (North American, world, foreign language, film, audio, etc.). Don’t simply trust that a publishing house is going to take care of all that awful nasty business stuff so that you can write. I know too many writers who have paid dearly for that mistake.

    Reply
  9. I can’t tell you how much I laughed at this post. I really can’t. Favorite post ever.

    Reply
  10. good post….the window that has opened now for people to self-publ. can be a great oppt’y OR it can be a treacherous road…fortunately for me, my self-publ. journey has been terrific and profitable…to me, it was rather simple and my work would NEVER have seen the light of day NOR my wallet received the proceeds if I had waited for normal publishing route…. don’t forget that any new writer, should they even be fortunate to GET a publishing deal (which is looooong odds) still needs to be a wiz at self-promo, book tours, soc. media, etc. b/cs the publishers can ill afford to provide $ support for marketing and support…. which, in the end, is exactly what us self-publ’d folks have to do also

    Reply
  11. Amber

     /  July 27, 2013

    Perhaps you should remove them all and just say:

    “Don’t self-publish if you’re lazy or if you think your novel isn’t any good. You won’t make any money.”

    Reply
    • The problem is that everyone thinks their novel is good. Most aren’t. And I don’t just mean self-published books, either . . . traditional publishers put out some lackluster material of their own. A large majority of books just … *shrug* aren’t great, but people take their not-great books, KDP them, and compare themselves to Neil Gaiman. There’s a disconnect there.

      Reply
      • I agree 100%. One of the reasons I waited so long to publish- via any method- was I wasn’t comfortable putting it out there. People read stuff of mine and told me to- people who knew what they were talking about, but internally, I knew it wasn’t good enough.

        None of that is to say I am Gaiman or anyone, but authors need to take a good, hard look at their work and be honest with themselves (or ask others to be honest with them, and then listen).

        And be willing to trash some manuscripts. That’s one of the problems with that ability to publish instantly- like going from film cameras to digital, you don’t have to put as much thought into it.

  1. Why You Should Self-Publish | deanfortythree
  2. Traditional v Self Publishing, fin | deanfortythree

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