Monday, October 9, 2017

Should You Self-Publish or Try to Get an Agent? 4 Questions Can Help you Decide.

By Chuck Sambuchino

It's an exciting time to be a writer. 10 years ago, there was only one "correct" way to get published. You'd sell your book to a traditional publisher (usually through an agent) and sell physical copies of books at brick-and-mortar bookstores. Nowadays, you have two mainstream awesome options to get published. There is traditional publishing and self-publishing (also called indie publishing). Either route is acceptable for you, and it all depends on your goals for your book as well as what you can bring to the table in terms of time and marketing. Read on to understand the four major questions you should ask yourself before going down either road on any particular project.

Quick note: Keep in mind book to book can be different. Just because you self-published one novel doesn't mean a new novel in the future can't attract an agent for you.

1. Why do you want to see your book published?

Is it money or to be distributed widely? If you answered yes to either or both, then traditionally publishing should be your first goal. A publisher will typically distribute your book to all the bookstores they can, and perhaps even into specialty markets, be those airport bookstores or Target or anywhere else that agrees to carry the title. You also usually get money upfront (called an advance) that is yours to keep no matter how the book does. This is all good news.

Is it just to be read -- just to see it available and get it "out there"? If you don't have hard goals for your book or its sales, then self-publishing is an easy option. Some people just want to see their book out there and available. If so, just self-publish it. It may not sell big, but that's not the point. You just want it available for anyone down the road who wishes to enjoy it.

Is it to further your brand or business? If you're an entrepreneur, consider self-publishing a nonfiction book to build your brand. You can then introduce yourself as the author of that book.

Is it to have it as a free resource? Example: If you want to have your short stories available as a free download to newsletter subscribers, then just self-publish them to make them easily accessible.

2. How much proven ability do you have to market?

In the publishing industry, your ability to market yourself and your books is called platform. Last I checked, more than one million books and projects are self-published every year. In a sea with one million fish, what can you do to draw attention to your fish? Don't think it's as simple as "If I put it out there, readers will miraculously find it and buy it and share news of it." This almost never happens.

To market a book, you need either a platform or a marketing plan or both. Will you send out review copies? If so, to whom? What are you doing on social media to gain followers? Are you making contacts through any sort of media platforms, such as newsletter editors or blog owners or members of the media? Are you spending money to buy ads on different websites?

If you self-publish, you are the entire team for your book -- all marketing, all distribution, all promotion, all everything. People who enjoy writing but not the business end of things (i.e., marketing and promotion, in particular) may find self-publishing difficult if they want to sell big numbers of books.

3. Who is your audience and how do you plan to reach them?

An old adage in publishing is "A book for everyone is a book for no one."

If I ask you who will enjoy your self-published novel and you say "Everyone who enjoys a good book," then I know you're in trouble concerning marketing. How will you promote such a product? How can you succeed when aiming in all directions?

Meanwhile, if I ask you who will enjoy your self-published novel and you say "Well, it's a good book for women readers in their 30s, 40s, and 50s -- especially new divorcees, because the main character is a recent divorcee who's clueless in the modern dating scene," then we have something here to work with. We can identify good websites and message boards and newsletters and forums that such women are reading, and get involved in those places.

If you can't do a good job of identifying your specific target readers or composing a plan on how to get involved with their community, then it's tough to self-publish and market well. Maybe traditional publishing is a safer choice for you.

4. How much time and effort can you put in everything?

If you just want to self-publish your book and get it out in the world, with no specific sales goals, then go for it.

But if you do have specific sales/financial goals for your work (and future works), then I suggest investing a lot of time into the process. Educate yourself. Read dozens of blogs and articles by self-published writers and learn from their successes and mistakes. Spend money (advertise, etc.) to make money. You're starting your own small business; that means a steep learning curve and it may take years to generate the profits you seek. Be patient and take it extremely seriously.


These questions should help you along your journey. If you have more questions, reach out to me on Twitter at @chucksambuchino, or online at

Chuck Sambuchino (@chucksambuchino) is a freelancer editor, bestselling book author, and former longtime staffer for Writer’s Digest Books. For many years he edited the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS and the CHILDREN'S WRITER'S & ILLUSTRATOR'S MARKET. His Guide to Literary Agents Blog was one of the largest blogs in publishing, and he wrote the platform guidebook CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM. His 2010 humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, was optioned by Sony Pictures. Chuck’s books have been mentioned in Reader’s Digest, USA Today, the New York Times, The Huffington Post, Variety, New York Magazine, Buzzfeed, Mental Floss, New York magazine, and many more media outlets. He is a successful freelance editor of queries, synopses, and manuscripts—seeing dozens of clients get agents or book deals following his consultations/edits. He loves meeting new writers.

IWSG Show Your Writer Insecurity Contest Winners

Thanks to everyone who participated! Wow, there were so many awesome photos. You guys were really creative. But we only had three prize packages with dozens of books, audio books, IWSG features, and IWSG erasers…

Third place goes to: J Lenni Dorner

Second place goes to: Mary Aalgaard

And the grand prize winner who also finally told all his Facebook friends he’s a writer: Ken Rahmoeller

For more awesome images, visit the other participants:
Sarah, Karen, SE White, Carrie-Anne, Tyrean, Fundy, Sandra, Erika, Olga, Toi, IB Nosey, Morgan, Nancy, Deniz, Zan Marie, Allison Kathy, and Sharon.


nashvillecats2 said...

I chose to "Self Publish" mainly at the time I didn't have one iota how to gooing to get a publisher. I wanted my books published to prove I could and did achieve something after I became a widow.
Thanks Alex for this wonderful post on tips on both ways to get your book on the market.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Thanks again, Chuck!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Finding a publisher or agent won't guarantee great sales either, but you'll have a better chance.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great questions to ask yourself when deciding whether to self-publish. For me, I could not do it all alone and put enough energy into it to self-publish. Want to shout out about Chuck's book, Create Your Writer Platform. It has a lot of helpful info on different social media platforms.

Pat Hatt said...

If you want to push further a great idea indeed. Learn all one can.

Congrats to the winners.

Mary Aalgaard said...

Thank you so much. We had fun setting up the shot. Thanks to the Biker Chef for the photo and Mr. Happy for posing with me! He's always there for you whenever you're feeling insecure, lost, or just need a little pick me up.

Sandee said...

Writing is complicated enough, but then there are the ins and outs of publishing. This site is a wonderful place to glean so much help in every process.

Have a fabulous day. ☺

Michael Di Gesu said...

Hi Alex,

Terrific information here. Still pondering the thought of self publishing. But if I do decide, I need to put the time into it and that is so scarce these days....Life always gets in my way. LOL

SpacerGuy said...

Congratulations dude, you guys are all winners

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Great to see Chuck on IWSG. This question is one many, many writers have to answer and hope they made the right choice.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Thanks for the great advice, Chuck. It's a minefield of ups and downs no matter which way we go. Anyone foolish enough to think writing the book is the easy part is nuts. LOL. Happy Thanksgiving.

Toi Thomas said...

Good points to consider. Either way you go, it's gonna take hard work.

J Lenni Dorner said...

This is great! Thanks so much.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Alex and Chuck ... a really useful pointer post for us to consider and let our thoughts gel down ... it's starting and getting the book/booklets etc out there - that's a first step - cheers Hilary

Deniz Bevan said...

Congratulations to the contest winners!

Tyrean Martinson said...

I chose to self-publish and thought I had a plan, but oh, how little I knew! I did have a niche market book - Christian fantasy adventure for YA with a strong female lead and strong secondary female characters. Christian fantasy adventure is a fairly small market (especially beyond Tolkien or Lewis) and there are some readers who won't read about a female swordswoman in that niche market. Still, I wrote it, and I have 100 or so readers. It's enough for now. Next time ... well, that will be different.

The Cynical Sailor said...

Thanks for sharing your view on the debate of self-publishing vs. going the agent route. Good food for thought for when I get to that stage of my writing project.

Congrats to the contest winners!

SHON said...

Such a great post. Thanks for sharing.

Christine Rains said...

Congratulations to all the winners!

Fantastic things to think about. It's so important to educate yourself no matter if you self-publish or go with an agent, and with the way the market goes, you have to keep educating yourself. Patience is key!

Michelle Wallace said...

Self-publish or try to get an agent? Either way, it's definitely hard work!
Thanks for the informative post.

H.R. Bennett said...

Given me a lot to think about. I've been asking this question a lot recently and I'm still debating.