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The Advantages and Disadvantages of Self-Publishing

Before looking at the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing, let me first make few distinctions between two types of self-publishing:

Old vs. New Self-Publishing

  • Old-style self-publishers create their book by hiring an editor, designer, and typesetter or they may do all those tasks themselves. However, they are disconnected from the Internet and the bookstore and library system. They find their own printer and make their basement or garage into a distribution centre.
  • New-style self-publishers take greater advantage of Internet-based technologies.
  • At one end of the spectrum of this approach, authors pay a print-on-demand publishing company such as Lulu to take their word-processing file, create the book pages, and then make the book available – sometimes just to the author, sometimes more broadly – on an offset-printing basis or a print-on-demand basis.
  • In the middle of the spectrum, authors pay higher fees to the book-services companies to procure more hands-on attention from editors and designers and even from marketing people. These authors usually publish their book on a print-on-demand basis. In some cases, their books are available through online “e-tail” sites.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, authors actually set up publisher accounts with companies such as Lightning Source and Book Surge. Some of them remain one-book publishers; others publish additional books by themselves or others. The books are available for sale through the major bookstore e-tail sites, such as the amazon sites in Canada, the U.S., and the UK.

Now, let’s take a look at …


1. Control. Self-publishing authors retain control of their book. They can stay true to their vision of the book and give it the kind of attention that a publisher with many books to mind cannot give.

2. Cost and Timing. While self-publishers put their own money into the production of their book, they can see the results of their efforts much more quickly than when they go through the traditional book-publishing approach, and therefore may be able to recoup their costs more quickly.

3. Their Only Option. It may seem odd to see this as an advantage, but it is. If all attempts to secure a publisher have failed, self-publishing may be the only way authors are going to get their book into the light of day. The downside is the cost and effort put into this creation of something that otherwise would not exist. The (admittedly rare) upside is the creation of a book that becomes a major success.

4. Market. Traditional publishing houses are often not calibrated finely enough to sell to specific, author-related markets. A keynote speaker, for example, has access to his other audience in a way that most book publishers wouldn’t. Most family histories have a very limited market, and therefore are an obvious example of books that are more suitable for self-publishing. “There is no more successful publisher than the publisher of one book,” was the wise statement made by one member of the publishing board I sat on for many years when we were faced with the opportunity to sign up a self-published book.


1. Quality. It is well known that doctors should never operate on members of their own family, and that a client who acts as his own lawyer has a fool for a client.

In these two cases, the problem is loss of objectivity. In the case of self-publishing, authors can be so caught up in the writing of their book that they protect sentences or paragraphs or even whole chapters that an editor would recommend cutting. The authors are too close to their work. They are reading it for themselves, whereas the editor is reading it for potential buyers.

In traditional publishing, the author is the intellectual owner of the writing and licenses the publisher (if the publisher makes an offer to publish) to handle all publishing details. The value of this division of labor is particularly clear when it comes to book covers. I once bowed to an author’s wish to design the cover of his book. He was a designer himself and made a good case for doing the work himself. Big mistake. Bad cover. It seems that the use of the brain and heart to design a book is simply too different from their use in writing a book.

2. Market. The self-publisher’s marketing capability is often calibrated too narrowly to reach a book’s ideal market. That is, self-publishing authors may write on a broad topic worthy of a broad readership but lack the ability or resources to reach that readership.

3. Buyer beware. This will be the topic of a later blog post, but I find the description of the services offered by the Lulus and Xlibrises of this world to be confusing and the results doubtful. Self-publishing authors can end up paying for services that they are unhappy with.

And another thing: It’s one thing for authors to be ignored by their traditional publisher, who after all hasn’t required them to put their own money into the project. It’s quite another for them to be ignored by individuals taking care of their book at a large Internet book-services firm when their firms are also sending them invoices for their services at an alarmingly regular rate.

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