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To Publish or Self-Publish, That is the Question

So, you’ve written a novel… Now, what do you do? I have to assume that your goal is to have it read, but how do you get it out to the masses? Do you blast your manuscript off to publishing houses or go the self-publishing route? In this post, I will go over the pros and cons of both options.


A person or company that prepares and issues books, journals, music, or other works for sale.


A person (author) who publishes (a book) using their own resources.

When you sign a deal with a publishing house, your work (other than some possible editing) is done. Your publisher will take it from there: fine-tuning, distribution, promotion, financial management. Major publishing houses have a vast number of professional contacts and nearly endless resources that they employ to make your book (their investment) a success. If you ever see a book advertised on the giant screens of Times Square, rest assured it was the work of a major publishing house.

When you self-publish, the entire burden falls on you: editing, distribution, advertising, financial management. Most of us authors are not well versed in the logistical details involved in bringing a book to market and getting it into the hands of readers. However, if you have the time, money, and patience, it can be done. Martian by Andy Weir, for example, was originally self-published and went on to become a major motion picture starring Matt Damon!

Based on the above, signing a deal with a publishing house seems the better move. The chances of your book becoming a bestseller are exponentially increased when a major publisher is backing you. Few authors, however, are fortunate enough to get a contract. A 2014 study by Digital Book World and Readers’ Digest suggested that around 23% of submissions succeed in becoming traditionally published, but I believe that number is skewed. Many of those submissions may have been made by reputable agents versus coming directly from the author. Literary agent Chip MacGregor lists the odds at 0.0065% which, in my opinion, is much closer to the mark.

Why are so many books, even good ones, rejected? Publishing houses (and agents) are flooded with more manuscripts than any of them can handle. If a manuscript doesn’t grab them within the first few pages or errors in grammar, spelling or structure are immediately identifiable, then it goes in the bin; some are kind enough to send a rejection letter with an explanation while others don’t even bother with that. A good book can be overlooked because it doesn’t fit with what the publishing house is looking for at the moment or simply out of poor judgment from someone who is way overtaxed with work.

Here is my top ten list of notable, if not laughable, rejection notices:

1. Stephen King, Carrie

We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.”

2. Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

Stick to teaching.”

3. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

You’d have a decent book if you’d get rid of that Gatsby Character.”

4. Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Frenetic and scrambled prose.”

5. Dan Brown, The DaVinci Code

It is so badly written.”

6. H.G. Wells, The War Of The Worlds

An endless nightmare. I think the verdict would be ‘Oh don’t read that horrid book.’”

7. L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz

Too radical of a departure from traditional juvenile literature.”

8. William Golding, The Lord of the Flies

An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.”

9. Hermann Melville, Moby Dick

“Our united opinion is entirely against the book… First, we must ask, does it have to be a whale? While this is a rather delightful, if somewhat esoteric, plot device, we recommend an antagonist with a more popular visage among the younger readers. For instance, could not the Captain be struggling with a depravity towards young, perhaps voluptuous, maidens?”

10. Sylvia Plath

There certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice.”

Publishing Pros & Cons


Experience and Resources

Powerful Exposure

Advance on Royalties

Limited Personal Effort


Rarity of Contracts

Emotional Abuse (rejections)

Time Invested

Limited Control

Self-Publishing Pros & Cons


Total Control

Immediate Marketing

Gaining Knowledge & Experience

Supportive Community


Time Consuming


Difficult to Effectively Promote

Lack of Resources

In summation, publishing through a major house is the better option if you can stomach all the rejections and hold out indefinitely for an offer. Self-publishing is the better alternative if you don’t want to wait and have the time, money, and patience to make it work.

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