Why Are We Still Having Dilemmas About Self-Publishing? It’s Done

One of the sessions that I attended at the Isle of Wight Literary Festival was called ‘Is the printed word dying?’ but even asking this question proves that you’re years behind. It’s like asking whether MP3’s will catch on, making CDs disappear in the process.

The industry seems caught up in a loop at the moment while the actual market is changing around it. The figures speak for themselves, so it’s probably better to talk about how to serve the new market instead.

The point is that these speculative issues always get polarised into CDs or MP3s, Vinyl’s or CDs, newspapers or iPads, eBooks or printed books, but the reality is that they’ll all remain. It’s just another format that makes it more convenient for the reader. Convenience isn’t everything though.

Readers will buy some books as eBooks and some as proper books. Reference and non-fiction will always look good on a shelf and by the nature of it be readily available to refer to, where as throw away novels make sense to be more portable so that you can read them anywhere and they don’t have to clutter up your shelves as dust collectors.

That is how the market has settled. Amazon approximately have half and half sales and this is probably how it will remain. It’s not necessarily about readers pinning their colours to one mast, it’s just a matter of convenience in some situations. People will read both formats so let’s get over it. When paperbacks came in, the industry mourned the loss of the hardback. Hmmm?

A more interesting debate for me is how the writer is served by this change in the market. If sales are 50/50 now, and we all know that writers can sell eBooks very easily on their own, what’s the incentive to share your royalties with publishers and agents.


Publishers can sell your books in bookstores. That’s nice but they’re disappearing. I’m not making any preferential opinion but just stating facts, as a writer I would love to walk into a bookstore and see my book sitting on a shelf but more for vanity rather than any expectation of selling. It’s all about promotion, and publishers will be spending their money on the big boys, not little old me.


Agents are slightly different. I think that an agent would be a great support and I wouldn’t mind giving an agent 20% of whatever I get if it means distribution into translations, film rights etc. But would an agent expect to push you to publishers because if so, I don’t think I’d want it.

A self-published author can receive 70% royalties on a book priced £2.99 – so, £2 per book. An established, traditionally published author that was speaking at the festival receives 10% royalties on his printed books – so, he would have to sell each book at £20 to make the same money. No chance.

As a new writer there is no other option than to self-publish. Look at the comparison:


  • Publish immediately
  • Control pricing
  • Control how it looks
  • 70% royalties
  • Sell to 50% of the global market
  • Publish updates immediately
  • Ability to publish further books quickly
  • (Editing costs)
  • (Illustration costs)

Traditionally Published

  • Advance of about £5k
  • (No promotion)
  • Available to 50% of the market in bookstores
  • (Available as an eBook priced at more than the paperback)
  • (At least a years wait to be published for each book)
  • (If you have books self-published already it would mean taking them off the virtual shelf for a couple of years before re-publishing them traditionally. Losing 2 years worth of income.)
  • (10% royalties on printed books)
  • (25% royalties on eBooks)
  • (Small chance of 2nd book deal due to lack of promotion)
  • (Publishing career over)

I’m sure I’m slightly biased but it’s not far off. The printed word/ eBook debate is a non-issue now, and the question shouldn’t even be, should I go traditional or DIY? Instead, as writers we should be asking, what will a publishing deal get me when I’m an established self-published author. That’s where the industry needs to wake up.


15 responses to “Why Are We Still Having Dilemmas About Self-Publishing? It’s Done

  1. Exactly! I’m sure my self-pubbed book isn’t perfect (but I’ve seen plenty of books from publishers that were a mess), but I don’t see the point of sharing royalties, sharing control and waiting months and months when I can do it myself. Self-publishing appeals to the rebel in me. I guess I just don’t like to be told what to do. 🙂
    However, I will add that I feel comfortable self-pubbing because I have great critique partners who tell it like it is. Going it completely alone could be a disaster.

  2. Pingback: Various Strategies for Self-Publishing Success | Michael J Holley – Writer

  3. Pingback: Traditional publishing or Self-publishing « A Living Line

  4. I just saw this post, months later, and am grateful for your perspective. It addresses my concerns with one exception: I’m not very technical and I am dubious, to say the least, about my ability to create a quality ebook. I’d be grateful for any further thoughts.

    Thanks again.

    • I would encourage you to have a go at doing it yourself. I don’t think it’s that hard and once you get the hang of it, who knows? I would say though that you need to be objective, if it looks like a car crash then find someone who can pull it all together for you. It’s definitely not rocket science.

      • John in Atlanta

        Thanks for the feedback, Michael. I appreciate it, and best wishes in your endeavors.


  5. Got to your blog for the first time. I Like it, your up front honesty and info. Its encouraging as a writer like myself, who is a bit of a rebel too. I have pieces that have had great and not so great critiques. I’ve decided to write and publish, my way, which of course is the ebook preference. If I may, I’d like to offer a distinction between a writer and a story teller. Sure, writing is all about telling story’s. However, there is great difference between sitting at your grandmother’s knees, for example, attentive as ever to her old tales, and flipping through a story technically perfect and geared for sales. So, I am going to jump in, perhaps a bit technically flawed, but with a few good old tales to tell. Grandma would get it!

  6. @John in Atlanta. Best way to get confident with creating ebooks is to practice as Michael says. Best advice, get Scrivener and the free software from Amazon that allows you to creat .mobi files for the kindle. Scrivener also lets you create epics which work on iPads and nooks etc.

    The guide belowis great for getting up and running on a kindle, only really gets tricky if you are doing images, tables or really complicated content pages – but a quick search in google should have you going in no time.


    • John in Atlanta

      @mobewan … thanks for the feedback. I’ve been using Scrivener for years, and wouldn’t be without it. This is my second book using it, but first one was printed the conventional way.

      I’m not sold on going the Kindle/Amazon route, however. Been reading a lot of Mark Coker’s material on Smashwords about epublishing. He’s got a vested interest, being a distributor, but there’s a staggering amount of free material at smashwords.com and he strikes me as being upfront and honest. Another source is Dan Poynter at ParaPublishing.com who started self-publishing 30 years ago.

      Anyway, I’m grateful to you for taking the time to respond. I’m still in discovery mode — and still revising the book — and curious to see how this all turns out.

      Thanks again, and best wishes in your endeavors,

  7. That’s supposed to say “.epubs which work on iPads…” Although I’m sure they will be epic 😉

  8. That’s a really good point about smashwords. It was something I looked at early on, as I had some friends who’d self-published through that route, but haven’t gone back and had a proper look (mainly because I’ve been focussing on short stories and been looking at some ezines – but from memory I think short stories were fine on smashwords as well…). I like what you say about their honesty. Thanks for the reminder.

    Not heard of paprpublishing.com so will check them out too. Blogs, so much more useful than a google search 🙂

    • John in Atlanta

      It’s dangerous to generalize, but the point Coker makes is that you can reach more retail outlets through Smashwords. Amazon is huge and has become such a household word that it’s natural to want to publish there. But the issues around exclusivity and Amazon’s habit of trying to squash competition is problematic. At least to me it is.

      BTW, thanks for the link to your tutorial on Scrivener to Kindle. Who knows? I may yet find myself pulled in by Amazon’s tractor beam.


  9. Pingback: The Writer's Weekly Wrap-Up (Issue #16) | Your Writer Platform

  10. Pingback: Self-Publishing: Carnival of the Indies Issue #26 — The Book Designer

What d'you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s