Should I Self-Publish My Work?

Hey Guys. So first off, just and FYI but I will be posting my Part 2 on Royalty Statements next month.  If you’re interested in reading Part 1, go here.

For this month, I want to open up a topic that has been a very popular discussion among writers I know and/or work with: Should I consider self-publishing my work?

Most people think that, as an agent, I hate self-publishing. But that’s not the case at all. And in fact, we’ve assisted and advised a number of clients in self-publishing over the past few years. We have seen some success from this. We have seen some books have less success. And sometimes you can do all of the right things to ensure success, and success still doesn’t follow. Such is the way of life, right?

One thing we do know though, is that rushing into self-publishing without considering a number of factors first, is the best way to NOT to do well. So when a client calls up to say they’re interested in self-publishing, we have a long list of questions to ask them. But the top 3 questions are:


Books don’t get published for free! Whether it’s you or a publisher paying for it, there is going to be a cost for wide distribution. Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) program offers the unique opportunity with their KDP Select program. It’s just one option, but if you decide to go this route, it can help to make self-publishing very inexpensive. They’ll cover most of the costs, however, your book can only be sold exclusively on Amazon for a period of time. This means that Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google Books, and any other platform will not be able to carry your book until Amazon’s allotted period of time is over. Which means that readers that do not have Kindles or the Kindle app cannot buy your book. (I am one of those readers!) KDP will also coordinate to design your cover for you, free of charge. But the other drawback is that, legally, that cover does not belong to you and after the allotted exclusive period on Amazon, it is not clear whether or not you are allowed to use that cover on other platforms. So there are pros and cons to going this route:

Pro: publish quickly and inexpensively on one of the most popular platforms on the market
Con: only partial distribution and possible future cover woes (which is a branding issue)

If you decided to publish on all platforms, there are a number of costs involved: cover design, formatting to each platform, obtaining an ISBN, etc. But the pro to these costs is that you have 100% control over where your book is sold, as well as control over your book package and brand as an author. This is a big deal in today’s world where branding is becoming more and more important.

And no matter which way you decide to self-publish, there are costs, such as:

  • Editing: you should have your work professionally edited in some way if you are interested in a long-term career as an author.
  • Marketing & Promotion: YOU are the publisher now. No one else is going to market this book for you. So set aside at least a few thousand dollars as your marketing budget. You may need to hire an outside publicist, too. Which leads me to…


If you’re unable to hire a freelance publicist, who can cost thousands of dollars alone for their expertise, then you need to be ready to do this yourself. To clarify, publicity is NOT marketing and promotion. Publicity is “the act, process, or occupation of disseminating information to gain public interest.” ( This includes: blog tours, articles, video interviews, events, etc. You can’t be shy about outreach, and you can’t be talking AT people about your books—you’re talking WITH people about a lot of things. Networking!

And if it helps to clarify this, marketing and promotion, which is also important, includes: ads, swag, giving away free copies/downloads of the book, etc.

All of these things require many hours of research and execution. Most writers I know just want to write, but there are some that are interested in this aspect of the business and do it very, very well.


This last question may sound like an odd one. Because why should this matter, right? Well. Most writers I work with can’t write a book in a couple weeks. I should clarify: can’t write a good book in a couple weeks. And even if they could write a decent draft in a couple weeks, that draft still needs to be edited and copyedited. So writing the book takes time.

But in the self-publishing world, there is a direct correlation between success and the amount of books you have available to the public/how consistently new, well-done material goes up for sale. So before we consider going down the self-publish route with a client, we usually suggest that they have two manuscripts done before we start the process. And they better get started on that third book while the process is under way!

These are certainly not the only questions and factors we take into account when advising/assisting a client on self-publishing, but they’re 3 of the most important items to consider.

So should you self-publish your work?

Well, that’s up to you. Whatever you do, be strategic. Do your research. Set aside a budget. And plan wisely.


15 Responses to Should I Self-Publish My Work?

  1. Jessica Knauss Oct 29 2013 at 7:51 am #

    Great post! Good writing takes time, and everyone needs an editor — can’t be stressed enough.

    Only Kindle Select, which is a program you can opt into (not required), has the exclusivity requirement.

    • JoSVolpe Oct 29 2013 at 8:34 am #

      Ah–good call to clarify on Kindle Select!

  2. Marc Vun Kannon Oct 29 2013 at 8:19 am #

    I honestly don’t want to go the self-publishing route, but I have a great deal of difficulty describing the books I write, so I have a big problem trying to get a publisher (or an agent) interested when I can’t write the query letter. I’ve been very fortunate to have a publisher so far who knows my work well enough to take it on faith, but I don’t want to get trapped in that rut either.

    • JoSVolpe Oct 29 2013 at 8:36 am #

      Is it just the pitch you have trouble with? Or figuring out the genre?

      If it’s the pitch, there are a number of query-writing workshops offered online and around the country. But if it’s the genre, I usually tell writers not to worry about that and to instead provide me with comp titles. We can usually figure out the genre well enough once we’ve read it!

      • Marc Vun Kannon Oct 29 2013 at 8:57 am #

        The genre is Urban Supernatural, but I know no books like mine. That’s sort of the point, I try to make my stories as different from any other story that I’ve ever read as I can. I have a query synopsis for my latest that seems to work, based on some ideas I got from Cheryl Klein’s website and her book Second Sight.

        • JoSVolpe Oct 29 2013 at 9:20 am #

          There are no books like yours in any possible way? For example, if you have a character that is reminiscent of Joe Pitt, the main character from one of Charlie Huston’s series, even though your plot and world are different (let’s say you write historical), you can always say something like: Joe Pitt in 1880 Chicago. As far as I know, there is nothing like that on the market, but if you pitched it to me that way, you’ve given me a good idea of what to expect.

          I do have a couple questions for you though: why you don’t call it urban fantasy? Or simply, speculative fiction? What about it make it urban supernatural?

          • Marc Vun Kannon Oct 29 2013 at 9:36 am #

            The title is Ghostkiller, with an alternate title of Patchwork Demon. I could say it’s like the Dresden books, only without the wizards, multicolored vampires, or Faerie. Would that help? I have my own monster types. It’s set in a modern-day urban environment, with more to do with ghosts, mediums, and psychics than with sorcery, for the most part.

            Here’s my logline: “While looking into a friend’s brutal murder, John Smith uncovers a tome, five hundred years old and written in his own blood, the physical embodiment of a curse he alone can break.” I built my query synopsis out of this. I’d be glad to pursue this with you at length, but perhaps this blog’s comments section is not the right place.

  3. JoSVolpe Oct 29 2013 at 9:43 am #

    Hi Marc,

    Of course! I wasn’t trying to force you into pitching me. My apologies if you felt that way. I saw this as an opportunity to offer some help to a reader of this blog where some of our goals are to offer advice and to educate writers.

    As an agent, I am very wary when someone says “There is nothing out there like my story.” It makes me think that the writer doesn’t read enough or isn’t in touch enough with the market. Clearly that is not the case here! I wasn’t trying to pry, I was trying to help you home in on your genre so that you have an easier time when pitching your work.

    The logline sounds great and I would classify your story as solidly Urban Fantasy based on the short description you provided.

    Best, JSV

    • Marc Vun Kannon Oct 29 2013 at 9:52 am #

      I would be glad to pitch you, I’m currently trying to find agents/editors to pitch, I just thought maybe you’d rather do it in a less public forum. I was just looking at your contributors list on the website, by the way, to see if you had an email address I could send it to, but your link appears to be broken. There is no any more.

      • Marc Vun Kannon Nov 24 2013 at 8:46 am #

        I did pitch you. No response, which according to your website is a negative. Oh, well. Perhaps sometime you can do a post on bad pitches and tell me where mine went wrong.

  4. Natalie Aguirre Oct 29 2013 at 3:20 pm #

    Great post. I’m glad you’re open to self-publishing, not that I’m planning to do it. I think you’ve really hit on a lot of the considerations someone needs to think about if they want to self-publish and be successful . I didn’t realize the distinction between being a publicist and promoting and marketing your book. Thanks for all the helpful information.

  5. Amie Oct 30 2013 at 9:22 pm #

    Jo, this is fascinating! I’ve pointed a few friends at this post — there’s so much people need to know!

  6. Susan Oct 31 2013 at 9:17 am #

    Really helpful and insightful post. I honestly knew none of that about Amazon having exclusive right to sell AND keeping your cover. I’ve been mulling compiling all my popular blog posts into a writing book (like Rachel Aaron did with 2K to 10K), so I’m REALLY glad to have this post…

  7. Joy Daniels Nov 1 2013 at 9:19 am #

    The first and last points are valid but even traditionally-published authors are taking on the lion’s share of publicity these days.

  8. Alexa Y. Nov 6 2013 at 3:51 am #

    I didn’t know too much about self-publishing before, but this post is actually quite helpful. I really find it fascinating to learn a lot about the publishing world. Thanks for sharing some insight into this part of it!

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