When Should You Self-publish And When Should You Submit To A Publisher?

This question comes up quite a bit amongst new writers.

They have finished manuscript and I wondering what to do with it. They may feel discouraged by the long and arduous process of finding a publisher, and they’re wondering whether to just self-publish.

One thing I should say. Whether or not to self-publish should never be a question of publishing what you could not get published by a traditional publisher. You should always self-publish your best work.

Surprisingly to many people, I very often recommend that when new writers have finished their first manuscript, they should be submitting it to a publisher.

Why, since I am obviously a proponent of self-publishing.

Well, in the first place, submitting to publishers buys you time.

One of the main problems of self-published writers is that they often do things in far too much of a hurry. They self-publish their first books before those books are ready.

I know this may sound quite arrogant, but I don’t mean ready as in that the book has polished prose and is of literary value, I mean that the plot is tight, and that book fits well in the market.

Submitting to publishers gives you a better idea of that market that you are trying to sell to. It is not about whether your book is good or not by whatever standards you want to measure “good”, it is about whether it fits the current desires of readers.

For all they’re maligned in the self-publishing community, publishers have not survived for many years by ignoring the type of books readers want to read. In fact, they employ professionals who in general have a pretty good understanding for what makes a commercial book. When you submit to publisher, you are a encouraged to see what else this publisher sells. You are encouraged to read those books and to socialise with those writers. This can give you a much better idea of the current book market.

Since a lack of understanding of this market is the main thing you’ll have to overcome whether are you self-published or submit to publishers, it is a huge advantage to gain this knowledge.

When you have been submitting for a little while and have gotten some encouraging reactions, this is when I would courage you to make the decision whether to self-publish or continue submitting.

This is when you have to consider how much work you are willing to do. Self-publishing is a very hands on experience. There is a lot of work that needs to be done that you may not necessarily want to do. If your goal is to just see your book out there then that just fine. But I assume that you are interested in giving your book the best chance possible and actually making some money. So, consider for yourself whether you are interested in learning how to market your book and whether you are interested in sourcing editors and cover designers. Whether you are interested in doing this for significant amount of time, all the time, for the lifetime of your writing career.

One of the major disadvantages of publishing traditionally is the loss of control and the extraordinary amount of time everything can take. Add to that the complete randomness of some decisions as they are influenced by internal changes within the publisher’s business. Are you happy to roll along with this, say for example if an editor who was really keen on your book leaves the publisher and the new editor suddenly doesn’t want your book any more? Are you willing to wait or resubmit to another publisher while you thought you had it all in the bag?

The frustration of waiting times and being scuttled at the very last minute is real.

On the other hand, a publisher can help you get into bookshops so if your aim is to find your book on the shelves, you really cannot do this half as well when you self-publish.

In the end, it is about educating yourself first, and then deciding based on your personality. By the way, no one says you can’t do both. But you need to do it with two different books, preferably into different series.

The beauty of today’s world is that you have this choice.


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