Man writing on floorNow that it’s so easy to self-publish and there are lots of success stories knocking around, you might have decided you should make a deal with a self-publisher, start printing books, and see what happens. A few caveats you should remember before you launch out of the starting gate:

  • Every book is different, and the following advice is general.
  • There are two basic types of self-publishing: print-on-demand and electronic.

Ready? There are ten questions you should ask yourself before you decide to pursue self-publishing (adapted from, originally published on

Card catalogHave you taken the time to research both the traditional publishing process and the self-publishing process?

You probably took a year or more to write your book, so don’t rush into a decision about its fate. Too often people get frustrated too quickly with the traditional publishing industry; don’t let frustration cloud your judgment. Any decision about how you’re going to proceed should be based strictly on what is best for your book and your career as a writer.

Research your options. There are different self-publishing models. Familiarize yourself all your options and determine which one you want to pursue.

Does your book appeal to a broad audience or is it intended for a specialized group?

Be honest here. Some books have a limited audience because they will appeal mainly to a certain region, they’re experimental, they’re very specialized, they’re geared toward a subculture, or the audience is otherwise restricted.

The traditional publishing industry is geared toward books with a mass audience. Yes, there are exceptions. But increasingly, specialized publishers and self-publishers are the ones who reach niche audiences. If you have a specialized project, you probably don’t need an agent and can either approach specialty pubs directly or proceed with self-publishing.

Man and treeIf you tried first to find an agent and/or publisher and didn’t find one, are you sure you don’t want to write another book and try again?

These days, with the major publishers publishing fewer titles and mid-tier houses disappearing, great books are absolutely falling through the cracks. Many times, though, books fail to find an agent and/or publisher because the manuscript simply wasn’t ready. While it’s painful to put a manuscript in a drawer, in retrospect you may very well be glad you let it go if your next book ends up working out.

How can you tell whether your book is really good and will find an audience or whether you’re not actually ready? Admittedly this is very difficult to answer. If you’re not really that worried about finding a major publisher down the line and just want to have your book out there for people to find, self-publish. If, however, you want to self-publish because you’re hoping for an easy do-it-yourself bestseller, that’s not a good reason to self-publish. You might instead try to continue to hone your craft and land an agent/publisher for your next book. But only you can decide for sure.

Do you know which self-publishing model you want to pursue?

There are many different ways to self-publish and zillions of companies who will be willing to offer you their services.

Print self-publishing options break down roughly across a spectrum of choices, depending on your up-front investment. Options range from the author funding the print run and receiving most or all the revenue from sales, to no upfront fee where the self-publishing company keeps most of the revenue from sales.

Or you can e-publish. If you choose that option, be very careful that you retain all control over your work and can pull it at any time.

Remember that there are lots and lots and lots of self-publishing scams and bad deals out there. Writer Beware.

Money in trashCan you afford to lose any money you plan to spend self-publishing?

No book is worth going broke. It’s really, really not. Only spend it if you can afford to lose it. Books are about as likely to lead to riches as casinos, lottery tickets, and staring at the sky and waiting for a million dollars to spontaneously land on your head. The average self-published book earns $2,000.

Do you have a plan for copyediting, interior design, cover design, ISBNs, and all those other nuts-and-bolts elements that go into making a book?

There’s way more to making a book than writing it. If you decide to self-publish, you have to figure out how all those things are going to be done. And if you’re not a pro in those areas, you’re going to have to hire someone who is.

Books in trunkDo you have a marketing plan?

If you don’t want to sell your books out of the trunk of your car, you need a solid marketing plan. Bookstores do not generally stock self-published books. Selling your book in a brick-and-mortar store will only happen if you’re able to pound the pavement and make it happen. You will likely need to hire a distributor who represents self-published books to stores.

You can still reach audiences via online bookselling. But how are you going to make people aware of your book? How will you make them interested? How will you find your audience? It’s not enough to simply have your book selling on Amazon. You need to get out there and make people want to buy it, whether through a blog, Twitter presence, marketing campaign, book trailer, billboards on the freeway, a spot on the jumbotron at the next basketball game, or all of the above.

Do you have a plan for your next book?

If you’re hoping to use your self-published book as a jumping-off point for future books, you have to invest enough time in your self-published book that it generates good reviews and healthy sales (usually in the thousands). You will also need to be working hard on your next project. If you want to make the leap to a traditional publisher with your next project, it’s almost always better if it’s not a sequel. 

Woman hugging wordsDo you have a healthy amount of self-esteem and an entrepreneurial spirit?

Even with the increasing self-publishing success stories, there is still somewhat of a lingering stigma against self-publishing. Even if your self-published book is really, really good, the vast majority of self-published books are not very good. and some people are inevitably going to lump you in with those. You’re probably going to be greeted with a certain degree of skepticism as you try to convince people that yours is one of the good ones.

You will need to be the type of person who doesn’t mind long odds, can deal with frustration and hearing people say no, and has a can-do spirit in the face of adversity.


Are you having fun yet?

Do the last nine questions strike fear into your heart or do they make you giddy with excitement? It's not worth it if you’re not going to enjoy it.

 (Photos: top, Queen’s University; research, Albright College; tree, Fine Gardening; money, City Girl Savings; man with trunk,; woman hugging words, Australia Post; Nathan Bransford, nathanbransford; Brad Cotton,


Nathan BransfordNathan Bransford is the author of the writing guides How to Write a Novel and How to Publish a Bookand the middle grade novels Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space KapowJacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe, and Jacob Wonderbar and the Interstellar Time Warp. He started blogging in 2007, and his blog has consistently been named one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers by Writer’s Digest. He’s dedicated to helping authors write what they love, navigate the publishing process, and successfully market their books. Nathan was formerly a literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd., and has gone on to help companies such as CNET, Freelancers Union, Bridgewater Associates, and Uber develop online community and social media strategies to achieve business objectives and recruitment goals.


Brad CottonBorn and raised in Toronto, Brad has been a professional writer for more than two decades. His blog, brad cotton, is populated by writing tips and resources (gathered from online sources and originals), reviews, and more.


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