Why Writers Choose Self-Publishing as their First Alternative

In spite of its growing popularity self-publishing still has a stigma attached to it in the traditional publishing world. Many supporters of this publishing format will attempt to encourage new authors to adhere to the practice by telling them if their book is good enough a traditional publisher will see it and perhaps offer them a contract to republish it traditionally. The reality is that this seldom happens, and one of the reasons that is besides the fact that traditional publishers do not search online or in bookstores for exceptionally talented self-published writers is because very few bookstores will stock self-published books. Why is there a hesitation on the part of bookstores? They are concerned about sales, so therefore they don’t want to stock books they are unable to return. Of course, if an author wants to provide the books on consignment to the bookstore they may succeed.

The big question is why so many novice writers are looking at self-publishing as the first option. Of course traditional publishers are taking fewer new writers, but that should make a writer work harder to produce work that is perfect, right? Unfortunately that doesn’t always happen. That doesn’t mean all self-published writers produce inferior work, but the fact that so many do is why self-publishing is still looked down upon by agents and royalty-paying publishers. What are some of the reasons writers choose self publishing? From my own experience I have found the following major reasons from self published authors:

Total Control Over their Work

Novice and even some experienced writers seek total control over their work. They know publishers/editors will likely demand they adhere to certain guidelines. In addition, they don’t want to have to change anything in their work, even the most simple detail. This is their “baby,” and they are confident they know the best way to sell it.

Unfortunately what they don’t see is they are also sacrificing continuous sales of their work. They either think they know better than the publishers what is selling or they develop an unrealistic mindset that says they just want to tell a story and they don’t care about the public. I ask what kind of sense that makes: if you don’t write what the public wants to read you are not going to make any money. It doesn’t matter that you invested money into self-publishing and all the profits belong to you; you have to sell something to make a profit!

Lack of Confidence

Many unpublished writers do not have enough confidence to believe they will be accepted by an agent or publisher. They know the competition is strong, that they will be competing with authors who may have published dozens and even hundreds of books. They give up before they even make an attempt, developing the misconception that once their name is on a self-published book they will increase their potential for being accepted by a traditional publisher. Unfortunately in many cases quite the opposite happens.


The turnaround time for traditional publishing can be as long as a year or more from the time of approval to the time the book arrives on the bookshelves. Even fiction writing that is complete must go through an extensive editing process before it is ready for printing. Novice writers become impatient, they want to see their work in print now–they want to KNOW they have captured the attention of an audience.

Fear of Rejection

One of the reasons many novice writers choose to self-publish is because they fear rejection. They don’t want to send out the query letters and book proposals only to find out their work is not good enough for traditional publishers or it isn’t what is currently selling in the market. Self-publishing allows them to avoid rejection before publication, but they don’t consider the fact that lack of sales is also a type of rejection.

Greed and Selfishness

Greed and selfishness are two other reasons both novice and seasoned writers choose to self-publish. Instead of paying commission to an agent to find them a publisher and living off the advance and royalties, they want the entire price of their book. They don’t want to share their profits with anyone, not even an agent or publisher. They would prefer to to pay substantial up front costs to self-publish and then attempt to recover their initial investment which frequently fails to happen. Of course, in today’s e-book market the costs are lower, but writers who restrict themselves to only one format are setting themselves up for failure.


While there are certainly other reasons writers choose to self-publish, these are the ones I have noted from articles I’ve read and people with whom I have come into contact. That doesn’t mean all self-publishing is unnecessary; there are certainly times when it is justified such as those who are writing in a niche market that would not draw enough of an audience to interest a traditional publisher or if you have a great book but are unable to find a publisher after numerous attempts. If you do fall into those categories, you need to make sure you hire a good editor who will make sure your manuscript is well-written, grammatically correct and free of errors.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. rinkjustice
    Sep 20, 2010 @ 06:03:04

    Regarding fear of rejection, I designed a game called Rejection Therapy back in 2009 to encourage myself to get out of my comfort zone more and take chances. It was amazingly effective and enlightening (for as long as I did it).

    If anyone wants to try it, it’s here: http://rejectiontherapy.com

    It’s not finished, it’s very stripped down, but it works.


  2. CW64
    Sep 20, 2010 @ 10:34:23

    Very clear, well-organized and well-explained account depicting the common motivations behind why writers resort to self-publishing. As I have said to you before, too, the important thing regardless of the particular motivation and mode of publication is that writers seek the service of professional proofreaders beforehand. Writer’s talent and ability aside, no work is ‘perfect’ and outside input is essential to said work’s development. There is no shame in that. Even seasoned and well-established writers still have their work proofread before it hits a publisher’s desk. I know you made this point at the end of the post, but I felt it necessary to elaborate on it because it is oh-so important. IMHO, this is the key between failure and success.


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