Advantages & Disadvantages Of Self-Publishing

Over the years we have received a number of questions about why someone might choose self-publishing over a more traditional method and vice-versa. I’ve outlined some of the benefits self-publishing offers authors, as well as some obstacles self-publishers face to give everyone an idea of what they can reasonably expect.

The Advantages of Self-Publishing

  • Your work will be published. As you are self-publishing your work, you know it will be in print and you can hold a copy in your hands.
  • You keep all of your rights. Traditional publishers will almost always require that you give up the rights to your work if you sign a contract. In contrast, self-publishing almost always allows you to retain your rights.
  • You control the production aspects of your book. You decide what your book will look like, how much it will cost, what formats it will be available in, and more.
  • No  long-term contracts. Most self publishing options will not involve you signing any long-term contracts. As such, you have the option of taking your book or other material somewhere else. You can always decide to try traditional publishing if you aren’t happy with self-publishing or if your needs exceed what self-publishing can handle.
  • Turn-around time. Typically the turn-around time for self-publishing is much shorter than traditional publishing. This can obviously vary, but with some options taking as little as a week (and in few cases even shorter!) the turn-around is often within a couple of weeks at the most.
  • You can create a second edition of a book or correct errors much more easily.

The Disadvantages of Self-Publishing

  • It is difficult to get shelf space in a brick-and-mortar store like Barnes & Noble if you self-publish.
  • You have to handle all, or almost all, your own marketing.
  • You pay any upfront costs. This could include copies of your book, editing, cover design or any number of other aspects.
  • Some people still stigmatize self-publishers.

Is Self Publishing For Me?
We recommend you look over the materials we have provided, evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of self publishing, and make your own informed decision. Self-publishing isn’t the right option for everyone, so think about what you’re trying to accomplish and decide whether self-publishing fits those needs.

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38 Comments

  1. This is a great article;very informative. I do have a Question though. How do you as the owner of a self published book, draw potential buyers to your store front in a cost effective manner? Also, What kind of Grants are there in place to help self publishers?

  2. babs liverant

    This is the first time I have tried to order anything over the internet and I assumed that the book would be sent to me…..I am not familiar with downloading, etc. and it’s very disappointing…is this the only way I can get your product?

  3. I believe you’ve touched on every aspect of the pros/cons of self-publishing very well. Though while I’ve seen the discussions on why people shouldn’t self-publish I know there are many who do self-publish the first time just to have a feel for things. To get their book in print or just get their name out there despite the risks of being labled ‘self-published’. This process is good for those who also just want to print for personal reasons and never expect to make a dime(though we all hope that isn’t the case).

  4. Ann Burlingham

    I always say “there’s a reason it’s called vanity publishing”. Self-publishing is fine for limited uses – a gift for friends and family, say – but there is a reason the publishing industry, with its experience, resources, and connections, exists. One thing very much lacking when one chooses the self-publishing route is editing. For serious writers, omitting the step of getting serious editing to improve one’s work limits the quality of that work. Most writers are not their best editor.

    For more, the Science Fiction Writers of America have excellent pages at their website: http://sfwa.org/beware/vanitypublishers.html

  5. This is great information for someone like me who may one day want to publish a real book.

    I am still one of those old-fashioned people who likes to read real books, and not just e-books.

    The pros and cons are clearly set out. Both the practical publishing aspects, but also what should concern any writer, established or aspiring, the marketing aspect.

  6. Nick Popio

    @The Quail I recommend checking out some of our posts on Tips & Tricks for ideas on how to market your books effectively http://lulublog.com/category/tips-and-tricks/

    Unfortunately, I do not have any information regarding grants for self-publishers.

    @babs liverant I’m sorry you’re having trouble. Have you tried contacting our customer support? What’s your order number?

    @Tammy Suto

    @Ann Burlingham I agree with you about editing improving one’s work, but I want to clarify that self-publishing does not exclude editing. It does require that you either find someone independently to edit your work for you, or in the case of Lulu you can purchase one of our editing services. I also want to take a moment to distinguish vanity publishing from self-publishing. The article you link to does an excellent job of defining the terms “commercial publisher”, “vanity publisher”, “subsidy publisher” and “self-publishing” as well as their similarities and differences.

    We have many authors on our site who sell their work, and not just to family and friends. It’s important to remember that self-publishing isn’t for everyone, but that it also is a completely valid method of publishing and should not be overlooked. That being said, there are advantages and disadvantages to self-publishing, and the goal of this blog post is to highlight them so that people know what to expect.

    @Birte Edwards Thank you, I tried to cover the various aspects of why someone might want to choose self-publishing as well as the reasons it’s not for everyone.

    Thanks,
    Nick

  7. David S. Silvey Sr.

    As someone who has wanted to publish a set of four books of short stories (one at a time) for some time I have found most self publishers are builders of mazes that pressure for a monetary comitment then up the ante after documents are signed.
    That is not to imply that Lulu does the same but I need to know just what I will have to lay out in iron clad terms before making a commitment.
    Is it possible that I can do that?

  8. Nick Popio

    @David S. Silvey Sr. To use Lulu you do not have to sign any contracts, simply agree to our membership agreement. You retain all of your rights and you can cancel your account at any time. You do not ever have to pay us anything unless you want to purchase books or services (such as editing). We give complete control over those decisions to you, and you never have to purchase anything unless you want to.

    If you are still concerned, I recommend you read over our membership agreement http://www.lulu.com/about/member_agreement.php and if you still have questions, then let me know.

    Thanks,
    Nick

  9. Lorilei

    Nick’s post here serves its purpose well. He provides the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing, as the title suggests. As for many comments I think we need to remember that self-publishing is not the antithesis to “traditional publishing”, and we should avoid trying to box it up as such. If we do we are providing a very limited idea of the process of self-publishing. It is not just about writing something and sending it to a printer. Self-publishing and print-on-demand are gathering momentum in publishing and this trend can’t be easily overlooked. Like anything new it will take time, especially when a stigma surrounds it, including terms like “vanity press”. In any case, this post illustrates only a few of the reasons why it’s not the best course for many writers, but shouldn’t be counted as less serious than the traditional method.

    Also, Nick, I have been trying to reach you through Lulu. Could you send me an email at lorilei.mcmillian@gmail.com . It would be greatly appreciated.

  10. How does Lulu determine which size books are elegible for distribution by Lulu or by author?

  11. great post! very informative! thx a lot man!

  12. Thanks for the information, Nick, but I’m still unclear on a few differences between self-publishing and publishing with Lulu.
    When you publish with Lulu, Lulu gets the rights to your book; what kind of royalties can you expect as the author? Can you still make changes to the book?
    If you self-publish, does Lulu still list you on Amazon?
    Thank you

  13. There’s a difference between Vanity Publishers and Self Publishers. In my case it is $20,748 upfront for one book with no guarantees from the Vanity Publisher. The margin offered by them on each paperback sold was $6.50
    If I produce the same book using Lulu the margin at the same recommended sale price would be $9.00 (ignoring any production discounts).
    $20K buys a big load of editing services and promotional copies!

  14. As the author of a number of books, 5 of the published with Lulu, I can say that I fully agree with Alaric Adair’s comments. I cannot begin to describe my emotions on the day I held in my hand the first copy of my first book, published by Lulu.

    What’s more, I have a website that allows much flexibility. I can allow for free downloads to build a base of readers, while still allowing for purchase by those who wish to have a paper copy, or “real” book. I can change my pricing at will, or stage my own “sale price” for periods of time.

    For me, self-publishing is the ONLY way to go!

  15. Nick Popio

    Sandra,
    We only get a non-exclusive right to publish your book for you. You keep all of your rights and can publish the book elsewhere if you choose. The amount of royalties you can expect varies depending on the number of books you sell. You can make as many changes to the book as you choose to. We can list you on Amazon, yes. I would recommend reading our help information on the topic here: http://www.lulu.com/en/help/distribution_faq

    Alaric and Wilson,
    I am so glad you have both had positive experiences! Thank you so much for sharing.

  16. Lorraine

    I’m not sure about uploading and/or downloading. I would like to illustrate my own book. Would someone be able to help me with paper size (for drawing llustrations) I don’t know anything about publishing a book.

    I have both an Apple desktop and windows vista computer. Would I be able to upload text from Appleworks or Microsoft Office Word?

    I’m interested in writing a chilren’s book (approx. 10 pages long).
    Lorraine

  17. Nick Popio

    Lorraine,
    I would recommend you take a look at some of our video tutorials here: http://www.lulu.com/en/help/index.php?cid=en_tab_help

    They should give you a better idea of how to use the site. If you have any further questions, please let me know.

  18. You totally nailed it on your article! Cheers to that. Your article is very informative, it evaluates the strong and weak areas of self-publishing. Thank you very much. Glad I made time for your site today.

  19. Bryce

    This is a nice post. It outlines what not many companies who provide self-publishing service will admit.

  20. Charushilla

    1. In a traditional publishing set up, the onus of making the book succeed / reach the market and its readers rests with the publisher and the author, jointly. It’s like a partnership. How does lulu partner with those who choose to self-publish with them? Coz, whether 10 books or 10,000 copies, benefits come to both. Is the entire marketing effort/initiative that of the author?
    2. Can you name some self-published authors who have acquired popularity / become famous / acquired celebrity status.

  21. AJ

    Charushilla,

    Lulu is set up so that an author can publish and sell at his or her own pace. However, we understand that many authors need an extra hand along the way, which is why we offer a wide range of services for everything from writing a press release, to a holding a full-on press circuit. All of our marketing services can be found here: http://www.lulu.com/services

    Many of our authors have been incredibly successful. Our top seller has only sold 1700 copies and has made over $200,000. What is more interesting to me is the number of traditionally published authors, writers, and actors such as John Edgar Wideman, Cory Doctorow, Warren Ellis, and Harland Williams. that are leaving their publishers or circumventing them altogether because Lulu offers them more control over their works.

  22. Great Post, man!

  23. Danielle

    I would like to become a best seller and make my book well known, Which style of publishing would be better to acomplish this goal? And great blog Nick it gave me lots of information i could not find anywhere else.

  24. I found all the information here are true and positive for a self publisher and lulu.com is really one step ahead from others but I want to know that if I publish my book on lulu.com whether as an author will I get a free copy of my own book or not? As stated that I found Lambert(self publishing co.) is giving a free copy to author for proof reading.

  25. Morgan, Lulu

    @Saki – Thanks for your comment. This is a good question. Lulu does not offer a free print copy for proofreading. These can be purchased at production price (+shipping), so there is no cost above what it takes to print the book and get it to you.

  26. Tyrul

    That was a great post. I’ve just published a book on Lulu.com. Will I get a free copy of my own, written, published material?

  27. Morgan, Lulu

    @Tyrul Good question. You will have to purchase your proof copy unless you have ordered one of Lulu’s paid services in which a galley copy (aka proof) is included in the package.

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    Hello, just wanted to tell you, I enjoyed this blog post.

    It was funny. Keep on posting!

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