Mainstream vs. Self-Publishing

“After being Turned Down by numerous Publishers, he had decided to write for Posterity.” – George Ade (U.S. dramatist & humorist, 1866 – 1944), “Fables in Slang,” 1899

During these tough economic times, publishing houses are printing fewer books and cutting back on the number of titles they print. In addition, there already are a sparse number of magazines printing short stories, novellas and serials. As a consequence, many good writers who’ve written good books and short tales simply aren’t being published.

These days, a number of beginning and entrepreneurial writers have turned to self-publishing as an alternative way of getting their book “in print.” Though long reviled as a vanity press, more books now are being self-published in both paper and digital forms than mainstream publishers are putting out.

The advantages of self-publishing are numerous:
• You’ll actually get published – You can bypass the literary agent, magazine editor and the publishing house and quickly get to your destination, which is to see your name and book in print. It’s fast, too; within a matter of hours you can have your book up for sale online.
• You can make more money – Your royalties will be higher if you self-publish. In some scenarios, you can earn more than half of the book’s retail sale price by self-publishing whereas mainstream publishers give you less than 10 percent of the earnings. The result is you only need to sell a couple of thousand self-published books as opposed to tens of thousands of mainstream published books to achieve the same profit margin.
• You control the book – Publishing houses and magazines can limit how you promote your book and your ability to reuse material from it. By being your own publisher, you can use the book however you like to promote your business or causes.

Of course, there are some downsides to self-publishing:
• It can get expensive – Self-publishing is less expensive than you think; many authors do it for under $40 a book. But if you need your cover designed, the text proofread and edited, and the book formatted – and if you want be the publisher of your book rather than or (and being your own publisher is a good idea) – the costs can rise into the hundreds if not thousands of dollars.
• You need to market your book – Making sales requires a concerted effort on your part at marketing your book. A website, a blog, tweeting and a Facebook page mark a good start, but it’s probably not enough to sell hundreds of copies of a book, at least not in a matter of a few days or weeks. As many writers simply don’t enjoy marketing, they often give up too early on their promotional efforts. You’ll still have to market your book if you go through a traditional publisher, but arguably the promotional mountain is steeper when you self-publish.
• Some won’t give your book the respectability it deserves – A bias still exists that books printed by mainstream publishers or magazines sold in stores are better written. After all, if you weren’t good enough to work through a major publisher’s vetting process, why should your writing be given a look at by anyone else? Because of this, most newspapers and magazines won’t review self-published books.

Given the existing (though fading) bias toward mainstream publishing – I always recommend that writers first try the traditional route to getting their works in print. Set a time of six months and see if a literary agent, publishing house, or magazine editor is interested in your work. If they are, congratulations!

If not, don’t despair. Instead, self-publish. Indeed, one route to finding a literary agent and publisher is through self-publishing. The magic number appears to be 5,000 … that is, if you can quickly sell 5000 copies of your book, you probably can catch the interest of a literary agent or a publisher.

If you don’t sell 5,000 books, still don’t despair. Instead, get working on that next book. Perhaps that one will catch on – and then readers will discover that masterpiece you’ve previously written.


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.