To Be or Not To Be...Self-Published

by Sophfronia Scott

I've heard a lot about what writers have to say about the publishing process-and many are disappointed. Usually it's because they had certain expectations that were not met. Whether they knew it or not, there was no way those expectations were going to be met because of the way they chose to have their books published. The way to avoid such disappointment is to be clear about what you want and to make sure you're pursuing an avenue, whether it be self-publishing or traditional publishing, that will get those needs met.

To get clear about your desired outcome, it's best to create a publishing plan for yourself. To do that, you ask yourself a series of questions so you can get a concrete picture of what you want. Make sure you write down your answers!


First, complete this statement: "I want my book to be____________". Here you want to ask yourself, "Do I want my book to be a product I'm going to sell when I get speaking engagements?" or "Do I want it to be a door opener for potential jobs or other business opportunities?" or "Do I want it to be a gift that people are going to pass around?" or "Do I want it to be the first in a long line of my contributions to the literary canon?" What exactly do you want your book to be or to do for you?

I recently spoke to an author/editor working on an inspirational book. When I asked her why she was doing the book, she said she wanted to put a positive message out in the world. Okay, that's great, but she could do that by just printing up a few hundred copies and giving the book away to anyone she met. When I probed further about what she really needs this book to do, she said she wanted it to put her fledgling publishing company on the map and to establish a brand so she could create a series of books, much in the same vein as Chicken Soup for the Soul. With this in mind we were able to focus on marketing, because in order for her book to do these things she would need a very persistent, aggressive marketing campaign to make this happen. If she had only focused on her first answer, she would have made different decisions that may not have helped her get the result she wants.

The Money Question

Next, what do you want financially from your book? Do you want a publisher to give you a huge advance or does the money not really matter because you're looking for prestige? Be honest with yourself. If making a lot of money is important to you, it's going to be hard for a first time author to do that through a traditional publishing house. You would be better off self-publishing your book and then making a big push to sell as many copies as you can. Once you've established yourself with some sales you can always turn to a traditional publisher to help you reach a broader market.

Determined to Go Traditional?

Are you set on having the prestige, not to mention the relatively low-cost experience, of being published by a traditional publishing house like a St. Martin's, Random House or any of the smaller to mid-size companies? If so, how long will you try to find a publisher? If this is your goal, you're going to be focused on doing all the things you need to do to get the attention of a literary agent and/or acquisitions editor. That means developing a following (your platform), taking writing courses if necessary to improve your work, and searching for the right agent to represent you so you can get your foot in the door.

What are you willing to do to find the right agent and publisher? Send out 200 query letters? Are you willing to spend the money to go to conferences to make connections and tell people about your work?

The Numbers

How many books do you want in print and how many do you want to sell? If you sign with a traditional publisher, you may have no say in the matter, but if you self-publish you have the option to go with a company who can print up copies as you need them. Or maybe you don't mind doing a print run of 5,000 copies and storing them in your garage! But what number of sales would you consider a success? 5,000 is considered a really good number in traditional publishing for your first time out. Maybe your goal is to sell 200. Or maybe you're just making this book for your family, so you don't really care how many you sell; you just want your family members to see that you wrote a book. That's okay too!


Next, how will you get those books to the places where they can be sold? How will you get distribution? How many doors are you willing to knock on? What's your budget for this?

The Team

You may try, but if you self-publish you really can't do it all on your own. Publishing will require you to work with others on developing an audience, marketing, distribution, sales and production. Who will be on your team? Are you going to hire a coach, an editor, a proofreader, a book designer, a publicist?

Stick to the Plan

If you answer all these questions clearing and honestly, you will have a comprehensive plan for how your book will come into the world. You'll find the whole process will be easier when you have a plan-it'll help you make decisions when problems or opportunities arise. Then you can tell others a different kind of story: how the publishing process was exciting and enjoyable-and not disappointing-for you.

© 2009 Sophfronia Scott

Sophfronia Scott is Executive Editor of the Done For You Writing & Publishing Company. Learn what a difference being a published author can make for your business. Get your FREE audio CD, "How to Succeed in Business By Becoming a Bestselling Author" and your FREE online writing and book publishing tips at

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