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10 Reasons Self-Publishing Sucks

self publishing sucksI’ve kind of made myself into a hypocrite with the title of this article, haven’t I? After all, a blog is considered self-publishing in most circles, and I do this every day.

What I’m referring to, however, is the self-publishing of print books, such as novels and how-to guides. Despite my long-time love affair with the Internet and with user-generated content in general, I despise the self-publishing industry and all it stands for.

I believe that self-publishing provides a disservice not only to writers, but also to readers.

1- The Name is Misleading

Self-publishing doesn’t really exist in print unless you purchase all of the equipment required to compile, typeset, bind and cover your manuscript. What self-publishing really should be called is “pay to publish”, which is the business model used.

It is true that there are a few publishers who do not charge the author up front for publishing a book. Lulu, for example, allows you to submit a manuscript and sell it through their web site without paying a dime. However, if you sell any copies (or if you want one for yourself), Lulu gets a significant cut.

And let’s say you choose self-publishing for your manuscript. Even if you pay up front to have a certain number of copies printed, you are still going to pay a set royalty per book to the publisher. I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t sound like “self-publishing” at all.

2- You Won’t Make Money

Very few authors have ever generated significant income from self-publishing a book. There are a few exceptions, but those who actually succeed with this method of publishing are usually those who are already famous—or at least well-known.

Self-publishing requires you to market your own book. The publisher might showcase your book on its web site and negotiate placement at Amazon.com and Borders.com, but that is the extent of their involvement. You’ve already paid for introductory copies, so they have no incentive.

You might sell a few copies to friends and family members, but will that offset the cost of self-publishing a book? Doubtful. And what on earth will you do with 500 copies of your manuscript—let them rot in your garage?

3- Book Stores Won’t Stock Them

The self-publishing industry isn’t exactly popular among book stores. Not only do the books tend to fail in the sales department, but most of them are published using print-on-demand technology, which means they are hard to stock.

Unlike legitimate publishing houses, self-publishing companies won’t buy back books that remain on the shelves for months at a time. This places book stores at a significant disadvantage, and is why only online retailers will offer them for sale.

It is not impossible to sell a book exclusively on the Internet, but it certainly makes things difficult. You’ll spend more money marketing your book than you did producing it in the first place, and you’ll wind up even farther in the hole than when you started.

4- Readers Care

Despite the wealth of information found online and the relative success of the self-publishing industry, the general public is still impressed by actual publication. They want to read books distributed by well-known houses and imprints, like Random House and HarperCollins, and many will turn up their noses at the idea of a self-published book.

Myself included.

Perhaps you are convinced that you’ve written the next Great American Novel or a non-fiction book that presents truly unique and well-constructed ideas. Unfortunately, most people won’t ever recognize your brilliance because of the stigma placed on self-publishing.

5- You Aren’t Good at Everything

Most people don’t understand the sheer volume of effort required to transform a manuscript into a book. The writer, editor, typesetter, cover designer, printer technicians, sales professionals, distributors, legal counsel, accounting representatives—all of these people have a hand in the process.

With self-publishing, most of these people are cut out of the equation. Someone at the company might edit your book, but only for a fee, and many of the other services require additional investments as well.

Furthermore, the standards are much lower with self-publishing because the professionals hired to create your book are not necessarily the best of the bunch. You know that HarperCollins hires only educated, experienced staff members, but do you have the same assurances with a self-publishing house? I think not.

6- They Lied to You

Unfortunately, your spouse and your best friend are not the best people to critique or review your manuscript, but self-publishing houses are even farther down on the list. The latter doesn’t necessarily care about protecting your feelings, but they definitely want your money.

I’ve read plenty of self-published books, and I’ve never found one I would actually buy given the chance. They are mechanically unsound, poorly constructed and often dull as a post. Again, I’m sure there are exceptions, but I wouldn’t want to face those odds.

The reality is that most people who choose self-publishing do so because a legitimate publisher won’t buy their manuscripts. This means that the content isn’t of publication quality. Get it? And your self-publishing editor isn’t going to tell you the truth.

7- There is No Rest for the Self-Published

The great thing about achieving publication through a traditional house is the weight lifted off the author’s shoulders. Once you’ve convinced a literary agent to represent your manuscript, your work is pretty much done. You can let them take care of the marketing end while you get to work on a sequel.

If you choose the self-publishing route, on the other hand, your work is far from over after typing THE END. You’ll need to research self-publishing routes, pay for the printing, help design the cover and market the finished product. Where, in the midst of all that work, will you find time to write another masterpiece?

8- You Can’t Get No Satisfaction

Just like working at McDonald’s or purchasing knock-off designer products, self-publishing comes with a stigma. Your work will forever be marked with the seal of mediocrity, and anyone you talk into reading the book will start Page One with skepticism.

Quite honestly, self-publishing will diminish the elation experienced upon publication of your manuscript. You won’t feel as though you have accomplished anything—except spending your money—and even the joy of seeing your hard work in print will fade as you agonize over sales figures.

9- You’ll Contribute to a Cesspool

Would you accept a position with an employer known for taking bribes and embezzling funds? Would you join a social circle with people whose values contradict your own? Individualism is important, don’t get me wrong, but people will judge you by the company you keep.

Guilt by association: isn’t life grand?

Even if your book is a phenomenal achievement, you won’t receive the recognition you deserve if you choose self-publishing. It will be harder to get your book into the hands of your target audience, and even if people do choose to read it, they will do so through tinted glasses.

In all likelihood, your book will tumble amidst the pile of other rejected manuscripts, poorly-conceived drivel that will only serve to bring your masterpiece down. Why risk it?

10- You’ll Miss the Experience

Over the course of my career as a ghostwriter, I’ve had the privilege of sharing the process of publication with my clients. I receive their ecstatic calls when a literary agent requests a partial, feel the jubilation when a complimentary copy arrives in the mail, experience the rush when one of my clients attends his or her very own book signing.

I even find books I’ve ghostwritten in local bookstores, and although none of these manuscripts bears my name, I enjoy a quiet rush of pride. And once that moment happens, once a book sale is completed, all the pain of rejection and the hard work of shopping the script fades away.

This is missed with self-publishing, and I can’t imagine giving it up. Why should you?

Making the Choice

I can list all the reasons in the world why self-publishing sucks, but you must follow your instincts. Maybe you just want to publish your grandfather’s memoirs so your family members can have a copy, or perhaps you have a large audience on the Internet and you believe you can sell your own book at a higher profit.

Whatever the case, I would never choose self-publishing for my own work, but I can’t tell you what to do with yours. Just know the risks before you hand over that big check and don’t cry to me if it isn’t what you thought. ‘Cause I warned you.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. December 27, 2011 10:31 am

    Excellent article. You’ve pretty much summed up the reasons why I’ve decided the self-publishing route isn’t right for me. I want my books in print, yes, but I want my novels to have gone through the rigorous revisions by the “best in the business” if at all possible. I do think there are some valid reasons for self-pubbing, but there are still some stigmas associated with it that I’d rather avoid.

    • January 16, 2013 11:06 pm

      I would delete my response above, but am unable to do so. A lot has changed in relation to self-publishing in the past year since I posted my response. Although it’s still not the route for me, I don’t think all of the reasons stated above are true any longer. It is challenging to publish a book no matter what the route taken, and being traditionally published is no guarantee that the book will be well-written.

  2. Mike permalink
    January 16, 2013 9:10 pm

    From my own experience with both “real” publishing and self-publishing, I strongly disagree with this post.

    In the following, I won’t name names, because I don’t think the rather sobering experience I had with my publishing company is very unusual, and I don’t see a point in damaging anyone’s individual reputation. However, the story below is accurate.

    I was approached by my publisher – one of the major science publishers in the US – with the proposal to turn a set of course notes into a textbook. Those course notes had been on the web for a while, in HTML and PDF; they had risen to the top of Google searches for the appropriate terms and got plenty of downloads.

    Flattered by the publisher’s proposal, I agreed. Instead of one year, as I had expected, it took me the better part of four years to finish it. The work taught me a lot: about the science, about writing and typesetting, about the strength and limits of my perseverance; however, it also did some damage to other aspects of my career.

    During the time of writing, I got on with my editor fine, but I gradually realized that he hadn’t the foggiest about the field of science that he was supposed to oversee, and that he could provide no substantial guidance. Similarly, the external reviews that he commissioned were cursory and incomplete; overall, they did very little to change or improve the manuscript. Production hasn’t impressed me too much, either; among other things, I had to design my own cover graphics, because the one they came up with was so awfully botched up. So, to the extent this book is any good, they can take no credit for it.

    The finished book has now been on sale for almost a year, at a price that is twice of what it should be, and has sold about 400 copies. I’m told that is o.k. – well, to me, it’s anything but. The royalties so far would buy me a cup of tea for each day I spent on this thing. But never mind the money; what really sucks is that now all the work is almost invisible and benefits no one. I’d much rather still be able to give it away for free.

    I have another set of course notes, in a different field, that is still on the web, free for anyone. That one also is #1 in Google, and the PDF version gets approximately 100 downloads a day. Now I know that not everybody who downloads the file will read it from the first to the last page. However, I have had messages from students and teachers from many places who told me that they used and appreciated these notes. I love those messages. I used to get them with the stuff that’s now in the book as well – but not anymore, not since it has become enshrined, embalmed, entombed in the book.

    I schenk you the “reputation” supposedly attached to the traditional publishers. Those emperors have no more clothes, and any day now they will get called out for it.

    Thanks for reading.

  3. chris janes permalink
    July 11, 2013 5:50 pm

    I’ve written a three-volume children’s book of rhymes and short stories, which dwarfs last year’s Newbery winner ‘Ivan’ about a sad, mall gorilla. 80% of big publisher print books look like garbage to me. Dystopian this, Vampire that…garbage. Obnoxious teen shit. Shit-suited for 3rd grade mentality. Fancy book jackets. That’s it. I’ve tried marketing (submissions) thru social media to these fascist-like groups (editors enjoying nice incomes while readers minds mush out) because I have so little respect for the industry as a whole. If, down the road, my book catches on and is optioned to one of these “houses” I’m slamming, kindly disregard this post. I’m just frustrated because people really seem to love a lot of the material and I’m kind of broke, at the moment.

  4. December 17, 2013 2:26 pm

    Self-publishing is a sucker’s game. The people who promote it most are either idiots or folk who are shilling for Amazon.com which is the only entity to truly cash out on the enterprise. The biggest cheerleaders for self-publishing are like crooked pyramid scheme promoters–crooks the lot of them.

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  5. October 30, 2014 5:15 pm

    Thanks for this! If you go with zero-front-end-cost Lulu or Createspace, self publishing can be a great way to print a manuscript to share with friends and family. Because waiting until it’s found a publisher can…errr…take a while. Createspace costs a hell of a lot less than Kinkos, on a per-page-basis. Plus, it looks vaguely like a book, which will impress your mom. But is it the same thing as having a real editor/publisher? No. Lord no.

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  6. charleshurstauthor permalink
    July 30, 2017 10:41 pm

    There is truth and untruth in this article. Truth–most self published books are a speck of sand trying to get noticed on a beach. But the untruth is the implication that the work is only good enough if stamped by a real publisher. Fact is many will never get that shot.

    Truth–the mountain of work you have to do besides write. Good luck with that. I tried it and it was too much. Luckily I’m a medical contractor as I can’t imagine trying to resolve poverty by breaking out as a writer. Untruth—-the publisher takes the workload off you. Nonsense. They don’t market now like they did in King’s early years with Carrie. I’ve known writers who got published traditionally—and went nowhere but back to their old jobs.

    Generally though the author is right. And it is an ugly business like all arts are no matter what route you take

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