• By: Jessica Faust | Date: Sep 18 2007

It appears that it will be impossible to get a good agent like yourself, even though some knowledgeable people have told me that my story is definitely worth a book. I was wondering, therefore, if you would recommend that I self publish through someone like iUniverse?

I guess before making the decision to self-publish you need to decide why you want to publish. Do you want your book available in a bound format for friends and family or do you really hope to break into the marketplace and begin a publishing career? If your plan is for the latter, then self-publishing will not help get you there.

Typically I do not recommend self-publishing. It’s not the way to begin a publishing career and not recognized by publishers, editors, and agents as a reputable beginning. However, if your thought is that you want to publish your book to be read primarily by family and friends or to use as a tool for your business, then go ahead. Just be aware of the restrictions that self-publishing can have. You won’t get mass distribution into bookstores across the country, you likely won’t get foreign or other subsidiary rights sales, and it’s very unlikely that you’ll get publicity beyond very local sources.

All of that being said, there have obviously been success stories now and then of self-published books that have done well. However, if you take a close look at those stories you might realize why. Typically they were nonfiction books for which the author had an amazing platform and/or was able to sell enough through workshops or seminars that brought publishers to the book. And when I mean sell enough I mean selling thousands and thousands of copies. In the case of fiction it is typically books that the author worked very, very hard to get into the limelight and probably spent a good deal of money and time to promote and get the book into stores.

And yes, I’m sure you’ll all come up with an exception to the rule, but I’m going to stick to the rule on this one. While it can’t hurt your career in the very long run to self-publish, I think it’s best to be aware of what you’re up against. If agents and publishers aren’t jumping all over your book, you have to consider that maybe this is not the book that’s ready to be published.


19 responses to “Self-Publishing”

  1. Avatar Alessia Brio says:

    These days, it seems the only distribution channel that remains closed to self-publishers is shelving in brick-and-mortar stores. DIY sites like Lulu and CreateSpace now make books available through major online booksellers.

    The biggest drawback is the cover price. It has to be set high for an author to make a few pennies over the percentage taken by those sites.

  2. It can be so frustrating to wait to get your book published.
    Been there done that.
    It may not be the quality of your book. It may be that it doesn’t fit into what NY wants. That doesn’t make it bad.
    Find people to critique it. Then work on the next book. And the next. Each one will get better.

  3. Avatar Kris Eton says:

    For many, going to the e-publishers has worked. And not all of them are only interested in romance/erotic romance. There are many reputable e-publishers to whom it may be worthwhile to submit your book.

    I highly recommend you do your research, though, to find the good ones. There is no cost involved to the author, and you learn a whole heck of a lot about self-promotion, being professionally edited, etc.

    I think it’s a great place for a new author to get her feet wet.

  4. First of all, go back to Miss Snark’s blog (it’s still up) and read what she has to say about places like iUniverse.

    Second, although I do know of one person who successfully self-published, these ingredients were already there:

    – A successful blog that she’d maintained and grown over a period of years. This became her platform, along with the weekly blog she writes for a noted periodical.

    – Excellent writing. (See above.)

    She landed an agent, who was unable to sell the book. I don’t know if they’ve since parted ways. But I’m sure by now that she’s recouped the significant expense she had to lay out.

    This story backs up what Jessica already said… self-publishing is certainly possible, but the situation has to be pretty special for you to have success at it.

    Good luck!

  5. Avatar Anonymous says:

    To be honest, its hard to get your book on shelves even when you are published by one of the big publishers. Harder, too, to get it reviewed in any sort of newspaper other than your hometown paper.

    The reason people write is because they do want to be read. Bottom line, you aren’t gonna be read when you self-publish because unless you are the president of a PR firm, you can’t posslibly have the money you need for promotion to get your book “known.”

    I talked to someone reacently at a writer’s conference who self-published and looked absolutely horrified by the process — says it was a lot of expense with almost no payback.

    Why put yourself through that?

    Just my two cents.

  6. Avatar Laura says:

    Writer Beware just recently did a post on iUniverse here, for anyone thinking about self-publishing:

  7. Avatar moonrat says:

    I want to play the devil’s advocate here. While it’s true that if an author comes to me with a self-pubbed book, I only take it slightly more seriously than an unsolicited manuscript (and far, far less seriously than anything that comes from an agent), self-pubbers like iUniverse have definitely been a vehicle for the rare book that really does have a built-in readership.

    One prominent example is Linda Berdoll, the author of the MR DARCY TAKES A WIFE series. When her self-pub took off, a major trade house cottoned on to the viability of her project (whereas all the publishers and agents she had reached out to hadn’t foreseen the sales her books would generate). Linda isn’t the only example, either. I promise. I have editor friends who seek out viable self-pubbed books, especially in cases where the author has demonstrated an uncanny ability to hand-sell or advocate their own product.

    So while self-pubbing doesn’t help everyone, if you’re really eager to see your book in print it’s not always a bad option. As anonymous says here, sometimes having a book published with a trade house doesn’t get you significantly more space on a bookstore shelf than self-pubbing would. And if you’re a charismatic hand-seller (especially one with an active on-line presence), self-pubbing could be a really excellent, lucrative, and attention-getting maneuver.

  8. Avatar Mark Terry says:

    I think it’s really important that people considering places like iUniverse and Lulu understand that these companies have a STATED BUSINESS MODEL of “publishing” many, many, many books and selling very, very few of those books.

    In interviews and in business documents they’re straightforward about it. They’re not planning to published 1000 books a year and have each of those books sell 1000 copies with a result of 1,000,000.

    They full intend to publish the equivalent of 10,000 books that sell 100 copies, resulting in 1,000,000 copies.

    If you know that going in–that the “publisher” thinks you won’t sell more than 100 copies, would you still do it?

  9. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    The final words in Jessica’s post say a lot: If agents and publishers aren’t jumping all over your book, you have to consider that maybe this is not the book that’s ready to be published.

    When I wrote my first romance I thought it was the perfect story for publication. The manuscript won every contest I entered it in and all of my friends who read it praised everything about it. I submitted it to every publisher willing to look at a category length romance, and got nothing but rejection letters. Eventually I put it aside and wrote other stories, and eventually I sold. I recently went back and looked at that original manuscript. It’s absolutely horrible. I keep it as a reminder of how much I had to learn then, and how much more I hope to learn in the future. All I can say is, thank goodness iUniverse didn’t exist in the 1980s! I would be totally humiliated if that story were in print!

  10. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I have a comment about self-publishing from the reader viewpoint. I love fantasy books, but I was getting tired of the increasing number of heroines with murky morals. I started reading Christian fantasy, but there’s not much available. I took a chance and started buying self-published Christian fantasy through Amazon. I was appalled to find I’d spent double what I normally spend on a book and yet got a piece of crud. In one case, the story might have been publishable if it had a few good critiquers read it over to tighten it up, but the rest had horrible grammar, spelling errors, and a story that dragged and rambled all over the place. The books themselves were poorly made and the spines started to break as I read them–and I read books so carefully that you normally can’t tell it’s not brand new when I’m done. Cover art is an import selling tool, yet none of these had catchy covers. (I also bought a few secular self-published books, and the results were the same.) These days, if the price is higher than normal, I check to see if it’s self-published. No matter how interesting they sound, I avoid them like the plague. I suspect I’m not the only one to do this.

    So, yes, you might have your book listed on online venues, but that doesn’t mean anyone will find your book among the thousands available or buy it if they do.

  11. What Anonymous said. Just because it’s available on Amazon and B& doesn’t mean it will sell there.

    Unless it’s a specialist non-fic subject, I see a self-pubbed book and assume it was self-pubbed because it wasn’t good enough to be picked up by a regular publisher. Harsh, but true.

  12. Avatar bran fan says:

    People don’t want to take the time.

    A dear friend had a mystery that WAS good enough to be published tradtionally. However, he grew impatient with the process of finding agent/finding publisher and wanted the book now, now, now.

    He self-published. Two months later he had a book. He has sold about 300 copies. That is all he is likely to sell, because he doesn’t “have time” to do the incredible self-promo that it takes to sell a self-published novel.

    With a tradtional publisher, he could have sold 30,000 books and had a little help with promotion.

    Don’t be impatient. Take the time to do it right, even if that means sticking your first novel in a drawer and writing another. And another.

  13. I simply have this to say about self-publication:

    I expect to be paid for my writing.

    I may not (yet) have any big contracts or agents banging on my door, but I know, with enough perserverence, I will.

  14. Avatar groovygrrl says:


    Self-publishing does pay. It has to be done correctly. Are you saying that you want others to pay you?

    Publishing as a business can be profitable. It starts with high-quality writing and goes from there. It is disheartening to learn from this blog that self-publishing is so frowned upon.

    But that’s okay. I’ll keep on selling my book by myself. Luckily, self-publishing allows me the luxury to ignore harsh commentary.

  15. Groovygall,

    What I mean is that I should not have to pay to have my book published.

    I have done research in self publishing, and the cost to the author can be outrageous.

    Why should I pay seven thousand dollars to have my book published and get a print run to sell, when a publisher can pay me seven thousand dollars for my book?

    I don’t disagree with you that self publishing can pay, if done correctly.

    But isn’t that the problem with self publishing? Most people do not have the time and resources to properly market and get their books in every bookstore out there.

  16. Avatar lindajeanne says:

    I aspire to be a great author; and this cannot be done if I can’t take criticism. Criticism helps me to perfect my art. I want to get paid for what I do. I don’t just want to be read. I can do that myself.

    I have been working on a manuscript for two years. And in that time, I have gone through three major changes in my story. These changes have only made my story better. There has also been one name change. This title tells about my story in just two words.

    Although I have had to change the plot of my story; and add two major subplots, the story remains the same. If I had not the help of great writers and critics, I would still be trying to sell a substandard manuscript.

    If you are a successful self-published author; Bravo. But I would have to say that you are missing out.

  17. Avatar R.W. Ridley says:

    I hesitate to post here because I am usually beaten to virtual bloody pulp whenever I tell my story. But here it goes.

    I am a self-published author and I work for a POD company. I’m sure you can figure it out if you do a little googling, but I prefer not to say because my opinions are my own and don’t necessarily reflect those of my employer.

    I’ve written 7 novels to date. None of which have been traditionally published and only two have been self-published. I went through the query, submission, rejection process. I found an agent. She was very enthusiastic, and she followed the rules of the AAR. But I chose not to resign with her after about year and half with no result. I got tired of it. So, I decided to publish on my own. It just so happens that there was a POD in my backyard and they were hiring. I took the job, learned the business a little and self-published.

    I’m having the time of my life. I’ve sold in the neighborhood of 2,000 books. It isn’t about the money for me. It’s about getting my book in front of readers. And with all due respect to Candice, I am being paid for my writing.

    Am I still looking for a traditional deal? Absolutely. That is still my dream. And I am the first to say, self-publishing is not for everyone. If you’re not going to put in the time and money to promote yourself and your book, don’t bother. It’s not for you.

    The publishing world has changed. Trad publishers aren’t doing as much promotion for first-time, and midlist authors as they used to. So, if you’re not willing to spend time and money promoting your book as a trad published author you aren’t going to have much success either.

    JMHO –

  18. I don’t agree that if agents and publishers aren’t jumping all over a book, then maybe it isn’t ready for publication. Agents and publishers are human beings with opinions just like the rest of us. They may not always know a good story when they read one; especially if they’re not thinking outside the box. I do agree, however, that there are restrictions in self-publishing (I didn’t use POD, but started my own small publishing company). Although, those who have read my book gave good reviews, the positive feedback has yet to reach a multitude of readers who’d be interested in buying a copy. Maybe that wouldn’t be the case if I had the help of an agent, publicist or major publishing company. And, yes, I could hire the publicist, but that’s something my budget won’t allow at this time. There’s one of those restrictions.

  19. Avatar david says:

    this article is outdated and needs to be updated!

    self publishing is a reputable option for authors, in fact, several major publishers now have self publishing divisions.