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Why I Tell 8 Out of 10 Authors Not to Self-Publish

I'll start by declaring that I represent some self-published authors, and I have self-published books myself. In some cases, self-publishing is the best route to go for getting content out into the world. So! Why am I writing an article highlighting the wrong reasons to self-publish? Simple. My agency focuses on activating and accelerating global brands; launched properly books propel brands forward.

In my experience (25 years in marketing and branding with numerous author clients), companies that sell self-publishing services pitch it as the best (or only) option. As they say, the Devil's in the details that are many times not pointed out to new authors. Make your own decision after reading this article.

Self-Publishing Myth #1: Big publishers want authors who have previously released a book so they can judge the author's "sellability."

The Truth: Big publishers want authors who have amazing stories that will sell. They don't care if you've published in the past. They care about your ability to sell books with your platform, social media, newsworthiness, and network. I just recently read the book, Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law.

This remarkable woman got a book deal after an article about her story appeared in the newspaper. It's a fascinating book - give it a read.

Self-Publishing Myth #2: Self-publishing is easier and more cost-effective.

The Truth: Self-publishing is not easier (or cheaper) as a general rule. If you want to slap an unedited manuscript up on Amazon as an eBook - then it's true - self-publishing is easier. If you're 'printing on demand' and ordering small batches of the book, then your cash layout is less. The actual costs of producing a quality book come in the form of hiring editors and copy editors, interior layout artists, and procuring cover art plus selecting book materials that give it the right look and feel. Traditional publishers are responsible for these fees, so producing the book is "cheaper," only because the money doesn't come out of the author's pocket - but there's a trade-off - see below. Self-publishing done right can cost between $15K-$30K (plus any ghostwriting fees, which can be another $25K-$50K) before you hit the print button! If you care about your brand and want the book to drive exponential business growth, then doing it right counts.

Self-Publishing Myth #3: Self-publishing gets your message to market a lot faster than co-publishing or traditional publishing. 

The Truth: Without the right marketing strategy, who cares. I wrote an article on the importance of marketing and selling a book that you may want to reference. Regardless of your publishing model, marketing and sales are the author's responsibility and require extensive pre-planning, time, and money if you want to sell more than 250 books. Whatever you spend on marketing your book, it will be the same regardless of your publishing model.

Self-Publishing Myth #4: Self-publishing allows you to stay in control of your manuscript.

The Truth: Believe me - you could be cradling an ugly baby! Many authors who self-publish skip the vital step of hiring a "critical editor," which leads to a manuscript that is just plain ugly. You may be able to write down your area of expertise into 200+ pages and call it a book - but that doesn't make it a good one. Traditional publishers invest in book strategy and an editor to make sure that the author's message is clear, compelling, and concise. Editors save ugly book babies from growing into more hideous published books.

Self-Publishing Myth #5: You can make more money self-publishing by controlling the majority of the sales revenue.

The Truth: No one can say this without running a financial model. And this should not be the only reason that you choose self-publishing. Don't focus on self-publishing as a way to make money from the book. Focus on identifying revenue streams possible as a result of the book. Making a living as an author is very challenging. I would say that most of the brands I work with have zero expectations of making money from publishing. Even if the book only breaks-even, the revenue potential from speaking fees, course material sales, and customer acquisition is unlimited; this is true with any publishing route. 

Self-Publishing Myth #6: Controlling your book's release gives you independence as an author to sell the book how and where you want.

The Truth: Self-publishing does not give you "independence." You have to follow the same content guidelines and policies mainstream publishers do when it comes to platform distribution and retail shelf space.

Self-Publishing Myth #7: Amazon is where everyone buys books, so self-publishing through this channel will get the book better sales traction.

The Truth: Insert eye-roll here!

There are many different publishing models. Broken down into three main categories, you can see some of the Pros and Cons.*If you want the full Pros/Cons list, send me a note, and I'll forward you the entire presentation.


There are more options than just traditional or self-publishing. Look at Mel Robbins' success with The 5 Second Rule. She published through an imprint that is not traditional or self-published, Her speaking engagements and new talk show are fantastic examples of an activated and accelerated brand platform with an international best-selling book as a part of it.

All things being equal, I generally ask authors to explore co-publishing options before settling on self-publishing, if traditional imprints are not an option, and for these reasons: (in random order)

  • Options for airport bookstore distribution

  • Make more profit per book at seminars and sales conferences

  • Enjoy the brand boost a co-publisher provides

  • Flexibility to get your book in major retail stores

  • More support in producing a beautiful hardcover book

  • Better ability to pre-sell

  • Slight edge to garnering publicity

  • Sets the stage for a book advance on your next book

  • Support for international distribution

  • Co-marketing opportunities

  • Representation to retailers

  • Printing discounts

To be very clear - self-publishing has many, many, many benefits to an author. It is just not the right path for many authors looking to accelerate their brand platform.

Should you self-publish or not? It takes me about 22 minutes on a call to give you a solid recommendation based on your circumstances and business goals.

If you're an author, I'd love to hear about what challenges or advantages you have seen with self-publishing.

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