• Ariane Weathers

The Self-Publishing Dilemma


Should I self-publish or prospect a publishing house? That has been the million dollar question for every new writer. Before you can answer the question, you have to understand that there are many companies that fall under “publishing” and offer very different services. I’m not including magazines, newspapers and other media – I’m talking strictly books.


Publishing houses are what the general public are familiar with. They publish the seasoned authors and, whether it’s a novel, the Book of the Month or a Best Seller, their names are seen throughout the local bookstore. Publishing houses generally specialize in one or two genres only and accept only a limited number of submissions a year. As a result, many are turned away. Submitting to a publishing house is a long tedious process that is often discouraging. Details of the requirements for submission are on each individual company’s website. Here are some pros and cons for soliciting a publishing house. PROS: Once your manuscript has been accepted, all publishing costs are covered, and there is a wide distribution for your book. CONS: It often takes a long time to find a publisher who will accept your work. Once accepted, the publisher may still sit on the work for some time; you lose full control of your work; the percentage of royalty is very slim – mind you, if you sell 10 times more books than doing it yourself, it balances out.


Other companies who fall under “publishers” offer any number of services that make up the publishing process (editing, formatting, cover design, printing, etc). Some also offer distribution. These companies usually cater to writers who are self-publishing.


You may have heard of Print-On-Demand or Vanity publishing. Print-On-Demand (PoD) may offer any of the publishing processes as previously noted. They usually also have in-house printing and can offer printing at a lower cost and in smaller quantities. PoD publishers have in the past been deemed as nothing more than vanity publishing by the old-schoolers. Although I don’t agree, I also find nothing wrong with a little vanity. Haven’t we all, at one point or another, thought of writing our own biography – whether just to have our name in writing or to share something with friends and family? The problem arises when a company takes advantage of the writer and makes a profit through false pretences. If you plan to sell your book to the public, make sure you choose a company who will advise you if your book is remotely saleable and not just take your money for services rendered.


Now we come to self-publishing. A writer may choose to self-publish for many reasons:

  • He has not been successful with the publishing houses,

  • He is an entrepreneur or public speaker and will distribute the books himself or use them as a promotional tool.

  • He is only doing a limited number of copies for friends and family,

  • He wants complete control of his work.

As with the publishing houses, there are pros and cons. PROS: You have full control of your writing – content, cover, book size etc; you retain the copyright; the royalty for each book sold is a higher percentage or 100% if you distribute yourself. CONS: You are responsible for all costs involved; it requires some legwork and involvement in the publishing process.


We go back to the question, should you self-publish or prospect for a publishing house? Ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the goal for your book?

  • Who will be your reader? Friends and family, clients and customers, the general public?

  • Are you an experienced writer or a dabbler, i.e. would a publishing house look at your material?

This is a good start to determine what your next step should be.


On a final note, be aware of the following:

  • Just like an upcoming movie, there are no guarantees that a book will sell. You can anticipate a best seller, but you can’t guarantee one. So don’t ask the publisher, “What is the guarantee that my book will sell?” or “If my book doesn’t sell, do I get my investment back?” There are no guarantees.

  • If you decide to self-publish and this is your first book, I highly suggest that you get a professional company to assist you (see the article “You don’t know what you don’t know” ). But you must also do your homework. Read the fine print and know what you’re buying. There are a lot of bargain basement on-line companies that offer bargain basement services all glossed up. You find out after it’s too late that the services that you really need are all extra. Ask questions, and then ask some more until you’re satisfied.


Happy writing.



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