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Should You Self-Publish Your Novel or Query Literary Agents?

Black and white photo of a black cat sitting on a pile of books.
Photo by Marco Chilese / Unsplash.

When an author posts on social media about how tough querying is, someone will inevitably reply, "Just self publish." This gets my goat every time. JUST self-publish? JUST? Like self-pubbing is easy as blinking.


And then there are the people who turn up their noses at self-publishing, as though those books are “lesser” than the traditionally published ones. Those guys are also the worst.


You might see a lot of discourse on this topic, where people are staunchly arguing for one over the other. But here’s the real deal. The true story. The tea.


They are just different.


Which one is right for you depends on what you want, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you're not sure on the differences or what's best for you, read on!


The Self-Pub Route


Self-publishing gives you all the creative control. You decide when your book is done, when it will launch, who edits it, the title, the cover design, the formats available, the marketing, the publicity—everything. Plus you don’t have to share your royalties with a publisher.


The reason the “just self-publish” comments irk me is because self-publishers are basically running their own business. This is a big decision. Not everyone wants to do that, and not everyone has the funds or the time for all the steps involved in producing a book.


But some writers LOVE it. Working with editors, designers, and layout artists can be a joy. Learning the ins and outs of marketing can be intellectually stimulating. Watching those royalties come in and knowing you did ALL OF THAT can be the most satisfying thing in the world.


Pros:

  • Creative control.

  • Being your own boss.

  • Doing the parts you like and hiring out for the others.

  • Decisions aren't made without you.

  • Higher royalties.

  • No waiting or dying on sub.

  • Owning the rights to your work.


Cons:

  • High cost of production.

  • Responsibility for everything, not just writing.

  • Stigma.

  • Lack of support and experience from a publisher.

  • Time to find freelancers you enjoy working with.

  • Marketing and distribution challenges.

  • Lower quality of print books with print-on-demand options.


Self-pubbed SFF books to check out



The Traditional Route


Traditional publishing means working with a publisher who will produce your book for you. You don't have to pay anything, and they take a cut of royalties. Some publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts, but most of the large ones require the author to have a literary agent.


Trad publishing can be a slog, and it can feel unfair if your publisher decides not to put their marketing budget behind your project. But writers who choose this route do so for good reason. Maybe it's your dream to be traditionally published. Perhaps you want the support of an agent or the weight of a large press behind your work. Maybe you want to see your book in a physical bookstore.


Pros:

  • Advances.

  • No financial cost.

  • Support of industry professionals.

  • Credibility and validation.

  • Likelihood of books in physical stores.

  • Literary prizes are more common.

  • Ability to focus mostly on writing.


Cons:

  • Long wait times.

  • Loss of rights.

  • Little marketing support (unless you're one of the lucky few).

  • Lack of control.

  • Low royalty rates.

  • Limiting contract clauses.

  • Possibility that agents and editors will reject your book.


Some of my favourite trad-pubbed books



In order to decide what's best for you, ask yourself what success means to you and what your goals are for your writing career. For some, keeping creative control is the most important thing. For others, that dream of seeing their book on a bookstore shelf is key. What matters most to you? Also, there's no rule that says you can't do both!


Whatever you decide, I hope you find joy in the process and a supportive community, as publishing is not for the faint of heart. I'm cheering you on!

Comments


The book cover of Making Myths and Magic: A Field Guide to Writing Sci-Fi and Fantasy Novels.

ABOUT

Allison Alexander is a writer and editor specializing in sci-fi, fantasy, and nerdy nonfiction. You can find her playing D&D, chasing otter penguins off the Normandy, or co-hosting The World-builder’s Tavern, a podcast for speculative fiction writers.

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