7 Good Reasons to Self-Publish

I have mentioned before on this site (here and, most recently, here) that aspiring writers often shoot their publishing futures in the foot, so to speak, by self-publishing a book (or books). I won’t repeat myself again (see what I did there?).

Instead, I will talk briefly about the good reasons to self-publish. There are many bad reasons to do so, of course (because no agents or editors seem to recognize your genius, you’re frustrated and impatient, etc.), but there are also some good reasons. These include:

  1. You have money and time on your hands

Okay, I’m being facetious. Just a little. But, seriously, self-publishing done well is an expensive and laborious process. It requires that you have not only writing skills but also extensive editing, design, and marketing skills—or that you hire the services of those who do. 

  1. You want a family keepsake

Biographies, memoirs, and cookbooks are a tough sell. But coming (as I do) from Amish ancestors, I place a high value on family records and histories (shoot, I even coauthored—with a distant cousin—two historical novels based on our family’s history). So I can understand and encourage someone who self-publishes a book expressly for family—children, grandchildren, and others. Such information might otherwise be lost to future generations.

  1. Your book must be released soon

Suppose your topic is time-sensitive, and it really needs to be released soon (say, for the hundredth anniversary of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s abdication in November 1918). If you signed a traditional book contract today, it would normally take at least eighteen months for your book to be released. So if your book can’t wait, self-publishing might be the best option.

  1. You have an amazing platform

If you pastor a church of thousands, host a popular radio/television/YouTube show, or present seminars to thousands of people every year, you may do well to self-publish something for your audience to take home from an event or pass on to others. Of course, that is also a pretty fair indication that your platform might attract a traditional publisher, so you might want to pursue that possibility first.

  1. You have a marketing and distribution strategy that will sell thousands of copies—or more

 In recent years, an average of 700,000 books a year were independently published.[1] I was never great at math, but that seems like a lot. When you self-publish, the task of getting your book noticed and bought (and, often, shipped and/or stocked) is up to you. But if you have those skills and can move a lot of books, then your sales success as a self-published author could work for you in pursuing traditional publishing deals in the future. 

  1. You plan for your self-published book(s) to create synergy for your traditionally published books, and vice versa

I have friends (don’t snicker, they’re real) who release a top-quality ebook as a prequel to a new release, as a premium for pre-orders, or a giveaway in exchange for signing up on a website or mailing list. In such cases, of course, the self-published book is every bit as good as their traditionally-published products, but is carefully designed and its release timed to interest specific kinds of readers for a strategic purpose.  

  1. Your traditionally-published book has gone out of print

If you had a successful book that a traditional publisher has stopped producing, but you have good reasons to believe it still has legs, you may want to self-publish. In fact, you may be able to obtain the digital files from your former publisher. It’s worth it to ask, and can save you trouble and expense.

I’m sure there are other good reasons to self-publish (including: your Aunt Fiona has promised to buy 10,000 copies for her knitting circle), but these are what I could jot down with very little thought and effort.  Maybe I should write a book.

[1] http://media.bowker.com/documents/bowker-selfpublishing-report2016.pdf

42 Responses to 7 Good Reasons to Self-Publish

  1. Brennan McPherson February 21, 2018 at 5:18 am #

    Great article! Reason #6 is an especially good one. I spent one week writing a short-story prequel to my current series, and have since used it to gain 2,100 email subscribers in less than two years (half organic, half through advertising). It was absolutely the best $50 investment that I’ve ever made, and was the reason I was able to launch my second book with some strength. Roughly 15-20% of those who purchase my second book now sign up to my email list to get that short story (because it’s promoted at the beginning and end of the book with a direct link like brennanmcpherson.com/free-e-book). If you’re not capturing leads with an enticing giveaway, you should consider turning off Twitter and Facebook until you figure out a way to. After people enter their email, they’re automatically given an auto-responder sequence that sells the backlist (hah, one additional book), entices them to subscribe to my blog, and then asks for a review on the new book 8 weeks after they sign up. I set it up once, and it works every day on auto-pilot. If you can’t tell, I’m a fan of email marketing. Another tip is that it’s easier to get a busy author to endorse a short story than a novel. Tosca Lee endorsed the prequel with the following, “Brilliant, erudite, and breathtaking.” That helped massively with conversion in advertising. Thanks again, Bob for the thoughtful article!

    • Bob Hostetler February 21, 2018 at 6:43 am #

      Brennan, I love things that work on auto-pilot! And I love brilliant, erudite, and breathtaking comments too.

      • Brennan McPherson February 21, 2018 at 9:35 am #

        Stop, Bob. . . I’m blushing. Ok, keep going.

        Kidding, of course. . . kindof.

    • Karen Sargent February 21, 2018 at 7:38 am #

      Brennan, thanks for sharing the details of how #6 worked for you. I have a mom blog I need to convert into an e-book to attract my target audience. My blog followers went social media crazy when my debut launched, and they are still my best promoters, so there’s a strong connection between my blog followers and my target audience. I like the idea of the auto-pilot sequence of emails. The reminder to leave a review is a new one for me.

      • Brennan McPherson February 21, 2018 at 9:31 am #

        That sounds like it might work, Karen, though I wonder if the relationship between your blog and your book might go one direction only. Might be more effective to have two separate lists, one where you use the non-fiction giveaway to entice your blog readers to sign up, and another where you use a fiction giveaway in your book to entice fiction readers to sign up, and you can cross-pollinate with the auto-responder sequence. Sounds like you know your readers though!

  2. Vanessa Burton February 21, 2018 at 6:19 am #

    I suppose each person will have to find what’s the best route for them; whether to self-publish or not! Thank you for a different side of the choices to think about!

    • Bob Hostetler February 21, 2018 at 6:49 am #

      Yes, Vanessa. Self-publishing or not-self-publishing should be a carefully considered decision.

  3. James Scott Bell February 21, 2018 at 6:24 am #

    8. You want to see your book published the moment it’s ready, not a year or 18 months later.

    9. You would rather keep 70% of the revenue from your work, than roughly 18%, especially considering the publisher will put most of the marketing onus on you.

    10. Your prefer being paid each month.

    11. You want the freedom to price a book so it actually sells.

    12. You want to keep the rights to your own work in the absence of a reversion clause tied to minimum royalty-period income with four digits before the decimal point.

    13. You understand that the main publisher advantage–distribution to physical bookstores–is evaporating as fast as Barnes & Noble is shuttering stores.

    14. You dig personal autonomy, responsibility, risk and reward.

    15. You enjoy posting comments like this on agent blogs.

    • Bob Hostetler February 21, 2018 at 6:44 am #

      That James Scott Bell guy sounds like he knows what he’s talking about. But really, Jim, more than double my list? Bad form, dude. Bad form.

      • Bob Hostetler February 21, 2018 at 6:48 am #

        People already know you’re smarter than me. Why you gotta rub it in?

    • Bob Hostetler February 21, 2018 at 7:16 am #

      Of course, to be fair, your #8 is my #3….and your 9, 10, and 11 generally depend on my #5 but still….you’re the smart one.

      • Judith Robl February 21, 2018 at 7:25 am #

        Okay, when do I get to book the two of you, James Scott Bell and Bob Hostetler, on a you-tube video of me hosting your discussion that will go viral and give me the platform I need as an editor? (Tongue firmly implanted in cheek).

        • Bob Hostetler February 21, 2018 at 8:00 am #

          Oh no, no way. I may not be smart, but I’m too smart to do that.

    • Christy February 22, 2018 at 10:16 am #

      Mic drop.

    • Teddi Deppner February 26, 2018 at 5:07 pm #

      Thank you, Mr. Bell. I was tempted to write something along these lines, since Bob’s list had a decidedly biased viewpoint. But you did it far better than I, and with a lot more credibility!

      Bob, thank you for putting this together, though. Not everybody is comfortable with the risk and responsibility of self-publishing, and your list helps them sort through some reasons even a very cautious, conservative writer might choose to self-publish.

      As for myself, I’m with Jim!

    • Donna Stanley February 27, 2018 at 3:25 pm #

      YESS!!!! All of the above!

      I self pub’d for most of the reasons above. Then looked into co-pub and went that direction (kind of seemed like best of both worlds to me). Then I wanted to get OUT of that contract once I realized how little I was making and how much I’d make if I had self-pub’d. Now my book has been optioned for a movie and possibly a tv series, and I’m writing a sequel. And I in NO way want to be traditionally published, unless someone can come up with SOME argument otherwise. I’d have never even been able to have 100% movie rights (to do with as I pleased) if I had gone traditional (I also have all rights to any profits made from the franchise).
      So many authors whined and complained once the WERE traditionally published, and so that made me wary of it.
      I will say that I DID hire a promotion company/publicist. Best investment I ever made. They did a better job at promoting my book than any traditional publisher I’ve heard of.

  4. Shirley Brosius February 21, 2018 at 6:26 am #

    I have the digital files of a self-published book, and now I want to reprint with another publisher. Do I own those digital files? Can I just use them or do I need a written release from my original publisher?

    • Bob Hostetler February 21, 2018 at 6:46 am #

      If it was self-published, you are the “self,” right? Which means you own them.

      • Bob Hostetler February 21, 2018 at 6:47 am #

        Well, I should say, look back at your original agreement with whoever created the digital files. That should tell you under what circumstances they are yours.

        • Shirley G Brosius February 21, 2018 at 7:45 am #

          Thank you, Bob. Will check. Yes, I am the “self.”

  5. Candy Nichols February 21, 2018 at 7:00 am #

    I have owned a Candy Shop for fourteen years but I have two books I have written that has nothing to do with it. I needed a platform. So I took true stories from this little shop of mine, tweeked them, then placed them into a children’s book called,
    “Miss Candy and the Red Berry Candy Shop” then self published it last fall.
    It was for the enjoyment of my customers and tourists where they could not only read a story but able to walk into a real setting of the book. In response I have been asked to speak at libraries, schools and more.
    I did attend writing seminars like Write-to-Publish, taking classes to help me produce a book that I would be proud of. And so now my read-to-me series have blessed not only me…but have widely opened doors.
    Oh and it was who you told me about Book Baby. They were not only wonderful to work with, but produced a impressive product.

    • Bob Hostetler February 21, 2018 at 7:13 am #

      Me? I said something helpful? Well, I’ll be….

  6. Loretta Eidson February 21, 2018 at 7:14 am #

    I prefer a traditional publisher regardless the percentages. It’s my desire to partner with others to reach my publishing goals. Having more hands and eyes on a project helps make sure everything is done correctly and with less chance of errors.

  7. Richard Mabry February 21, 2018 at 7:44 am #

    Bob, good reasons. And I”d pay (almost) to hear you and Jim Bell discuss this further. I have to agree with some of the points he makes. Indie-publishing (and here I have to make the distinction with vanity publishing) is often what authors go to when they no longer receive offers from traditional publishers. However, as you pointed out, it’s work, and involves getting covers done and editing accomplished before publication. Thanks for sharing.

    • Bob Hostetler February 21, 2018 at 9:59 am #

      As long as your full price of admission goes to me, Richard. Jim has all the money he needs, what with all the percentages and stuff.

  8. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser February 21, 2018 at 7:51 am #

    Great article, Bob.

    Another reason to SP might be that you have a book with very strong local tie-ins, but that will not have much appeal outside the area.

    Way back in the 1960s, a historian in Santa Barbara, CA named Walker Tompkins wrote a wonderful series of books (privately published) under the banner ‘Santa Barbara Yesterdays’ (and also hosted a local 5-minute daily radio sport by that name), that told of both the history and where you could still see it, and touch it.

    Things like a local resort that once cut its initials a hundred feet high into a hillside during one night, as advertising. (And these could still be traced in the 1960s.)

    Unfortunately, Painted Cave Resort’s owners did not realize that an audience in 1900, seeing the letters ‘PCR’ suddenly and miraculously appearing over their abode, would make the logical leap and begin Preparing for Christ’s Return.

    • Bob Hostetler February 21, 2018 at 9:58 am #

      Great point, Andrew. And so funny about the acronym. Makes me think twice about my planned launch of Professional Oboists Of Peoria, Inc.

  9. Shirley Brosius February 21, 2018 at 7:54 am #

    Help. When I try to “manage subscriptions” it says page no longer available. I received the answer to my question, now I want to “unsubscribe” to getting every comment. How do I do that?!

  10. Bob February 21, 2018 at 8:49 am #

    I could add another. Perhaps I can share with you this week at the FCWC? Looking forward to meeting you. Regards,

  11. Carol Ashby February 21, 2018 at 10:05 am #

    All good reasons, Bob, and I would add two more.

    1) To keep rights to your work. We want to use my novels to support missions. As the former lead fiction editor at one of the biggest Christian publishing houses told me two springs ago, the only way we could keep rights so we would be able to use the books in different ways to support missions was to self-publish. Add to that, the per-book royalty is higher for a mid-level and new indie-author, so even modest commercial success pumps money out to serve God. Even minimal commercial success would provide some money to support mission.

    2) You write themes that traditional publishers don’t think will sell many thousands of copies in a short period of time. I write stories of spiritual transformation, where at least one character starts out not believing. The agape love and forgiveness they receive from believers leads them to examine their own beliefs and decide what they should believe themselves. The spiritual arcs of those characters form the main plotline, although there are parallel lines that include a satisfying romance and a plotline focused on difficult, sometimes dangerous, relationships with people outside the romantic pair.

    I highly doubt a traditional publisher would want to risk publishing my novels, but the message of the power of forgiveness and agape love to transform a lost soul is what God is calling me to share. Plus enough readers are telling me they get an “aaah” at the end from both the romance and the spiritual transformation that I know there’s an audience for such books, even if it’s not in a trad publisher’s catalog of titles.

    • Norma Brumbaugh February 21, 2018 at 12:09 pm #

      Carol, your #2 is an issue of consequence, one that I relate to in my writing. Thank you for mentioning it.

  12. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D February 21, 2018 at 10:55 am #

    HI Bob:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this matter. My friends and family are encouraging me to self-publish my self-help book for the unexpectedly unmarried but I have been hesitant to do that until I build up my platform on social media (which I am working on). Of course, with the platform built up, traditional publishers might be more interested in the yearly market of 1.6 million people who become Suddenly Single as a result of divorce or death….food for thought.

  13. Norma Brumbaugh February 21, 2018 at 12:23 pm #

    I vanity published a book before I knew anything about the business. I didn’t realize what that would mean for my future writings/books. There are many reasons it was a mistake that now holds me back (minimal sales…). I still hope for traditional publishing but may have only the indie option in my future.
    Lots of newbies don’t know the basics. Agency blogs help us come up to speed. Sometimes I cringe when I read on these blogs the same mistakes I’ve made. But I carry on and continue to learn and apply, market and connect. (And enjoy)

  14. Anne Carol February 21, 2018 at 2:37 pm #

    I self-published my first book before I knew what I was doing. Yes, I invested in good editing, cover design, and marketing. No, I did not sell 10,000 or more copies, but I did establish a small faithful audience. Incidentally, this book is the first of a four book series; therefore I’m self-publishing all four books. Hopefully I’m not ruining my chances for traditional publishing but honestly, God is in control of my writing journey. I trust His plan. Whether I continue to indie publish, traditionally publish, or hybrid publish, I pray I touch the hearts of readers and spark interest in at least one person to learn more about the Christian faith.

  15. Sharon Cowen February 21, 2018 at 5:18 pm #

    Thank you for this post, Bob. Does being on a publishing ‘struggle bus’ count as a point as well?

  16. Randy Ingermanson February 21, 2018 at 9:58 pm #

    I’m having trouble understanding #1, the bit about having time and money on your hands.

    You wrote: “But, seriously, self-publishing done well is an expensive and laborious process.”

    Randy sez: Seriously, no. A LOT depends on the writer. I suspect the indie way is cheaper for more than 50% of all writers, and I know it’s about the same actual amount of work, since I’ve done it both ways.

    The last book I indie-published took me a bit less than 4 months of calendar time from the time I started writing to the day I published it. The actual clock-time worked was 150 hours, according to the spreadsheet I keep of my hours worked.

    The total cost to me was $1220. I paid my macro editor $600. I paid my cover designer $400. I paid my proofreader $220. I formatted the book myself, so there was no cost for that.

    So 4 months on the calendar, 150 clock hours, $1220 spent. And it earned back my initial costs in about a week. The earnings in the first month were several times the initial investment. It took another six weeks to actually get paid that first check, but thereafter, the paycheck each month has, on average, also covered more than my initial costs. So I don’t feel like I overworked or overspent.

    Had I published the book traditionally, it would have been, as you say, about 18 months on the calendar, roughly the same 150 clock hours to write the book, and $0 spent. But there are other costs that need to be paid. As a trad-pubbed author, I’d probably go to one major conference per year just to say hi to the editors and agents and maintain relationships. And that would run me upwards of $1000. An indie does not pay that cost. As a trad-pubbed author, my royalties would have been a bit less than a quarter of the money earned. Of course, some of that would have been paid upfront as an advance, but an advance is a loan that must be paid back. So there would be a wait for that advance to earn out and then more of a wait for the next six-month royalty cycle to end, and then another couple of months for the check to be sent. So the cashflow situation as a trad-pub would have been initially better, but after a few months it would have been very substantially worse.

    I am not convinced that the indie way for me could be called either “expensive” or “laborious” as compared to the trad way.

    Of course, everybody’s mileage will vary. I have the advantage of having been in the industry a long time and built a strong platform.

    It’s important to note that a beginning writer couldn’t get away with only one conference upfront. Typically, beginners spend several years of calendar time just making connections AFTER they have learned the craft. If they go to one major conference per year during that time, those conferences by themselves add up to several thousand dollars. This was typical at the time I broke into publishing, and not a lot has changed on that score since then. Any honest accounting should factor in this large upfront cost, which is much more than the upfront cost to indie-publish a book. An honest accounting should also factor in the very large upfront delay spent in submitting books to editors and agents and building relationships before an author even sells the first book. And only then does that 18-month clock start ticking.

    I think in the end, everyone has to look at what kind of person they are and how entrepreneurial they are and make a decision based on that. Because if the decision were based solely on time and money laid out, then I suspect a lot more writers would go indie.

    One final note: It is a red herring to say that indie authors must be good at marketing. EVERY author has to be good at marketing these days, whether trad or indie. No matter which way you go, you will spend a significant amount of time, energy, and money in marketing.

    If you are indie, you will get 100% of the return on that time, energy, and money, and you’ll get it within 2 months. If you are trad, you will get somewhere between 0% and 25% of the return on that time, energy, and money and you will get it as much as 8 months later.

    Because of this, there are some kinds of marketing that aren’t cost-effective for a trad-pubbed author but are for an indie. (If you are trad-pubbed, your ROI must be at least 300% to break even. If you are indie, your ROI must be 0% to break even.)

    So if Jim Bell will allow me to add a #16 to his list, put that one down–that an indie can do more kinds of marketing effectively.

    And if I might be permitted a #17, an indie has access to sales numbers on a daily basis, so they can measure the effectiveness of their marketing efforts almost in real-time. Which means they can optimize their marketing in weeks, not years.

    In my view, #16 and #17 are a big part of the reason my most recent book is by far the best performer I’ve ever had.

    • Bob Hostetler February 22, 2018 at 6:48 pm #

      Well, I have been well and truly flamed! I grant your wonderful success, Randy, but as you said, a lot depends on the writer, and I think it can safely and repeatedly be added to many of your points, “Results may vary.”

      • Randy Ingermanson February 22, 2018 at 6:55 pm #

        No flame intended, Bob. But accuracy is important, and the experience of many indies is that self-pubbing is neither expensive nor laborious. I wish I was as successful as some of the indies I hang out with.

    • Teddi Deppner February 26, 2018 at 5:16 pm #

      Thanks for taking the time to share these details, Randy. Really good counter-points to Bob’s article between your comment and James Scott Bell’s.

      Reading through all of this really underscores one thing:

      The personality and skill set of the writer is probably the biggest factor. “Know thyself” is the essential other side of the coin to making the choice between indie publishing and traditional. (The first side of the coin is an understanding of the industry and the market.)

      • Bob Hostetler February 27, 2018 at 12:08 am #

        Thanks for the comment, Teddi, and you’re right, a lot depends on the author himself or herself. I surely erred in not including some of the things Jim and Randy point out. To be fair, Jim might have mentioned his long and considerable success in traditional publishing, which may boost his self-publishing efforts. Randy might have pointed out that it is not only writers pursuing traditional publishing who attend and invest in learning and networking at writers’ conferences. In writing my post, I had no desire to offend or mislead anyone nor to be contentious. I am happy, however, when my posts spur helpful comments from many perspectives, which this certainly did.

  17. Faith February 23, 2018 at 8:52 am #

    Really interesting post and comments! Thanks.

    Question: does it ever make sense to self publish “in the interim”… while I look for a traditional publisher? Sometimes, people in my target audience ask to read a book I’ve written. I want to share my story, but I also hope to find a traditional publisher eventually. I don’t like giving out electronic copies. Sometimes, I print out the manuscript and ask the reader to return it when they are finished…I’ve wondered about self-publishing (with one of the inexpensive options) and giving the book out that way… or will I be sabotaging my already slim chance of finding a traditional publisher?

    • Bob Hostetler February 27, 2018 at 12:13 am #

      Faith, those who plan to seek a traditional publisher in the future should understand that they are not building only a publishing history but also a sales history, and self-published efforts are a part of a writer’s sales history. Poor sales numbers (of either traditional or self-published books) will not hinder your future self-publishing efforts, but they are likely to scuttle your quest for a traditional publishing contract.

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