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At What Point Should You Consider Self-Publishing?

As you query agents, many of you may be wondering: “at what point should I consider self-publishing?” Self-publishing has an historically mixed reputation, but for many authors, it’s a wise choice. In fact, the number of self-published titles jumped 40% in 2018—it’s an alternative route an increasing number of writers are considering taking.

Self-publishing allows you the time to work on your own schedule and gives you complete control over your story, its presentation, and its packaging. Plus, you receive all the earnings gained from sales. On the flipside, to self-publish successfully, all the costs are yours to bear as well: from professional editing and packaging, to marketing and publicity. Many authors find value in the traditional path, which offers wider distribution of one’s work, along with a dedicated, expert team and brand behind it.

For those on the fence between the conventional and the unconventional publishing path, let’s break it down.

If you’re a first time author…
Agents and publishers will look primarily to your qualifications for writing a work of nonfiction or fiction in the first place, alongside the quality and novelty of your idea. If there’s neither a perceived audience or “novelty” to the idea proposed, a publisher will be hard-pressed to see the potential of thousands of book sales. Self-publishing could then be a very good first route, especially if you have conviction in your book and urgency to reach people with its content despite a modest platform. With strong media attention or sales from that self-published book, the traditional path is still available to you! Consider Christopher Paolini, whose fantasy novel Eragon started as a self-published work. After promoting his book for over a year, Paolini landed a publishing deal with Random House and earned the Guinness record for being the youngest author of a bestselling book series.

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Your work may be too niche, even when your platform is huge…
Sometimes, your topic may be too niche and the audience too small to give the big traditional publishers a reason to get involved. Their primary role and aim, as said above, is mass distribution, which is largely generated by the author’s idea or audience. If you find that the target audience for your work applies solely to a specific set of readers, such as young adults entering college, or those who have taken your crafting course, you may find greater advantage to publishing through your own channels or that of a university with which you’re affiliated.

If your book is tied to your business…
Further to the previous point, those who run successful businesses with existing paying customers may also benefit from self-publishing, as it gives them more creative freedom and financial control. If your goal is to scale your business through your book, then it may be in your best interest to self-publish to keep the book and its rights within the company. However, if your goal is to expand your name and work to those outside of your company’s network, bring prestige to your brand, and land media and speaking opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be available, traditional publishing is an avenue worth considering. If you have a large online audience, always consider speaking with an agent first who can better assess niche or mass-market potential.

Here’s a shortcut we’ll tell writers: if you have a book that looks to change the way people work, think, or live, you may be sitting on a big idea with broad appeal.

While self-publishing isn’t for everyone, we hope that we’ve given you something to think about in terms of what best fits your publishing goals. If you’re still unsure which publishing route is best for you, our Get Signed course shares insights from Lucinda on this topic addressed to writers just like you, and offers personal worksheets like “What Publishing Path is Right For You?” Grab that worksheet and the full course right here!