As someone who dreamed from a young age of writing for a living, I can appreciate the narrative that so many aspiring writers have in their heads. Get an agent, get a publisher, and fame and fortune will follow. It’s the dream many of us have held onto for years.
But the publishing industry is changing. Traditional publishing is no longer the only route available to writers—and increasingly, it is also not the ideal one. There are many advantages to self-publishing your novel that you won’t be able to find with one of the big publishing houses. Here are just a few of them.
1) Make Your Own Timeline
When you work with a publisher, your life becomes a seemingly endless sea of deadlines. There will be revision after revision, as well as pieces of promotional copy and guest posts for various blogs. It will feel like these deadlines drag on forever since it will take at least a year or two for your book to ever see print.
Self-publishing gives you the chance to be your own boss, and to do things as slowly or quickly as you like. You can work your writing schedule around your job, kids, and other responsibilities in a way that’s manageable for you. Conversely, you could also bang out a draft and be published within a few weeks if you wanted.
2) Creative Freedom
While those working on your book will generally ask your opinion about your book cover and flap copy, these decisions will ultimately be up to the publishing house. You also won’t have a say in the final edit of your book in most cases. When a publisher buys the rights to your book from you, you lose the ability to shape the final product.
With self-publishing, you get to take the creative reins. The cover concept comes from you, you write your own description/flap copy, and the only person who gets to press “Publish” is you. These responsibilities can be overwhelming, but they are also thrilling and very creatively satisfying. And you don’t have to do everything alone—whether you’ve already got some writer friends in your life or need to venture online to find them, you’ll surely be able to find a supportive team to help you with suggestions and feedback along the way.
A lot of people don’t realize that when you sign with a publisher, you generally only get to keep 10-20% of the profits. The rest goes to the publishing house. As singer/songwriter Greta in the 2013 film, Begin Again, points out when she learns that a record company would take 90% of the profits from her self-made album, “So I think what I’m wondering is why are you getting nine out of ten of my dollars?” While a publisher can help a great deal when it comes to editing and promotion, it still seems a little insane that the author—the person without whom the book in question wouldn’t exist—gets such a small slice of the pie.
If you self-publish your book on Amazon, you can make up to 70% in royalties—seven times more than you would often make with a traditional publisher. Yes, much more of the front work is up to you. But with cover design/book-formatting sites like Ebook Launch and countless qualified freelancers on Upwork eager to edit and illustrate, it’s easier than ever to put your book out yourself.
Say someone wants to adapt your book into a film or TV show. Depending on the type of deal you sign with your publisher, you’re probably not going to have a lot of say when it comes to such an adaptation. Especially as a first-time author, a publisher is not likely to offer you a decent percentage of the film/TV rights to your book.
Whereas if you self-publish, those rights stay with you. It may not seem like a huge deal now—the idea of your novel becoming a real book, much less a movie or series, seems so far in the future. But I promise that when that day comes, you will want to be able to stop a producer or director who completely misunderstands your vision from taking hold of your beloved story. With self-publishing, that will always be an option.
5) Play the Long Game
I know it can be tempting to look for quick gratification after getting your book published. You toiled for so many months or years—now it’s time to watch the cash roll in. You may think that traditional publishing would be a good way to achieve this, and you wouldn’t exactly be wrong. With all the promotional might and connections a big publishing house has, you have a good shot at achieving more sales right off the bat than you would if you self-publish.
But being with a big publisher does not guarantee those sales. For every bestseller a publishing house puts out, there are several more that are published and forgotten in what feels like an instant. And if your first book doesn’t pan out, it is very unlikely that your publisher is going to put a lot of effort into promoting your next one (if they even agree to publish it at all).
While it can be more difficult to get higher sales right out of the gate with self-publishing, this mode of publishing allows you to play the long game. Even if your first few books don’t sell well, there’s nothing to stop you from plugging away and putting out more. And if just one of your novels manages to hit, readers will click on your name and start checking out your other books, creating a sort of domino effect. A bonus is that the more books you release, the more seriously Amazon’s algorithm will begin to take you as an author.
While you might get some book reviews as a traditionally published author, you are not going to get a lot of feedback from actual readers as you write. You won’t even have an agent or editor until you complete your manuscript and polish it up well enough to submit. Writing can be such a lonely process, and with traditional publishing, you spend so much toiling all on your own.
With self-publishing, there are several ways to build a community of readers while you are still writing. Self-publishing websites like Wattpad allow you to post your work in progress as you write and get feedback from readers. Some authors on the site have even scored book and movie deals. At Fictionate.me, you can self-publish your novel and actually make royalties as you post.
7) Break Free of the Gatekeepers
Perhaps the biggest reason of all to go with self-publishing rather than a traditional publisher is to break free of the gatekeepers. The gatekeepers are the many people in the publishing industry who have the power to tell you “no”. Not only agents and editors, but those agents and editors’ interns, assistants, and anyone else who might have a say in the long chain of command.
You may think you got rejected by an all-knowing literary agent, but instead it might have been by an intern who was already having a crappy morning and might not have enjoyed anything she read that day. And even agents and editors themselves are just people at the end of the day, with the ability to make the wrong call. A whopping twelve publishers said no to Harry Potter, after all.
As James Altucher (the author of many self-published bestsellers) would say, it is time to “choose yourself”. Don’t wait to be picked—if you really believe in your book, then you should put the work in and push it out into the world yourself. Then you will have created something that is truly yours that you can be proud of.
Author’s Bio: Jillian Karger was born in Ohio but has lived in and around New York City for over a decade. Since graduating from NYU in 2009, Jill has had a long string of jobs doing things like scouting books to be adapted for film and researching trivia questions for “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”.
She has done freelance writing as well for sites like Cracked.com, and had her Twitter jokes featured on BuzzFeed and funnyordie.com. Jill has also self-published two novels on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Jillian-Karger/e/B07B894DNW).
Follow her blog posts about books and writing advice, read books and publish them for free at: https://www.fictionate.me.