What is self-publishing and should I try it?

Among my favorite ever Christmas presents ever came from a classmate during our fifth-grade Secret Santa exchange. She knew I liked to write stories and so give me a wonderful mini-printing press kit in which I could punch out tiny rubber letters and arrange them in words and sentences on thin bars. Press the bar into the accompanying ink pad and then into paper, and viola! I was a published author. Finally, I could get my stories “printed”!

The kit unfortunately didn’t work too well. The letters usually didn’t stay in the tiny bars, and after the first use the ink tended to smudge when pressed on paper. In addition, lining up all of those letters backward so they would look right on paper proved too time-consuming for this 11-year-old to handle. Still, the thought alone made it among the best of many presents given to me over the years.

Thirty years later, printing our own short stories is a lot simpler. Thanks to computer technology, anyone now can get their book printed, and it’s fairly instant at that. But not that many writers really understand self-publishing or how to get it done all on their own at virtually no cost.

Self-publishing is the publication of a book (or any other media, but we’ll concentrate on books in this blog) by the author without using a traditional publishing company. It’s also known as print on demand, because typically a self-publishing company doesn’t print large numbers of books to be warehoused but prints them as they are ordered.

Self-publishing is not a vanity press, though some critics denounce it as such. A vanity press typically involves your poem or story being accepted for publication not because it has any merits but because the publisher thinks you’ll then purchase the book containing the piece. Or perhaps the publisher sells other “services” to you that come with the publication of your piece. In self-publishing, the author often is the publisher. Anyone who owns or has ever owned a printing press – such as Ben Franklin in colonial America – is self-publishing if they print their own thoughts and writings. With modern technology, anyone can be their own publisher.

Ever since the invention of the printing press until the past decade or so, the way to get your book printed was through what has become known as mainstream publishing. This system typically involved having a literary agent sell your book to large company that edited, designed a cover for, printed, distributed and marketed it for you. Unfortunately, especially in the tough economic times of the past few years, mainstream publishing houses have cut back the number of titles they sell and distribute. The result is that they reject too many great books, spend too little money promoting books that are accepted, and return too small a chunk of the revenues to the author.

The answer for many a jilted author has been to self-publish. In 2022, an incredible 1.7 million books were self-published during just that year alone. And what is being self-published are hardly novels by unknown writers or nonfiction texts on some obscure subject. In addition to paper books, self-publishing includes eBooks, photo books, calendars, cookbooks, poetry, educational materials and more. The number of materials that will be self-self-published undoubtedly will grow in the years ahead.

There are a lot of good reasons to self-publish besides that mainstream publishing has shut its door to most authors. Most notable is the high royalty that can come back to you. With a mainstream publisher, you’re lucky to make a dime for every dollar of books sold. Up to 70 cents for every dollar can come to you, though, if you self-publish. Another good reason to self-publish is that it’s quick. Within a few hours, your book can be available for sale to the public when you self-publish. Mainstream publishing may require months from the time you complete a manuscript to its appearance on bookstore shelves. In addition, you instantly can sell your book across the globe when self-publishing. Expect several more months and attorneys to be involved with global distribution and sales if you go the mainstream publishing route.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.