The rise of self-publishing

You'll work hard for the things you wantSelf-publishing has been on an upward trajectory for over a decade, but has gained exponential strength even more recently. What is happening in publishing and the wider world to drive this?

In this post, I will look at self-publishing and the factors powering it. I will compare it to traditional publishing. My next two posts will examine the pros and cons of self-publishing versus traditional publishing, the finances of each, the skills needed to succeed in self-publishing, and the nuts-and-bolts of what needs to be done to self-publish.

Self-publishing is the publication of content by its author without the involvement of traditional publisher. The term usually refers to books but can be applied to other formats such as magazines, journals, videos, and more. When discussing self-publishing, we can be talking about a paper book, an eBook, or both.

Traditional book publishing is when an established company publishes a book and makes it available to the traditional distribution channels. In this model, the publisher absorbs most or all the expenses and then pays the author a royalty for each sale.

In self-publishing, the author will control all the levers (this can be good, or it can be challenging). The author absorbs all the expenses and, potentially, keeps all the revenue. The self-publishing author may work with a self-publishing or technology partner to help them with some simple or more complex tasks at a cost or cut of the revenue. More on this later.

Why has self-publishing increased?

In my opinion, there have been several economic and societal factors. First, some publishers are simply accepting fewer books as they turn toward databases and larger products to offer for sale. Second, the internet has changed the game in getting your ideas or content out to the world with a low or no barrier to entry. Open information sites like Wikipedia, YouTube, and many more now compete with books for answers to reader’s questions, and their attention. Third, related to the internet, new technology and channels have emerged that mean nearly anyone can post or offer content to anyone worldwide at very, very low cost or no cost. Imagine in 1980 telling someone that in a few years you would be able to provide your 500 page fantasy novel to everyone in the world for FREE. Of course, there are other more complex reasons, but I think these are the top ones.

Two more interior factors should be noted. First is the frustration with the publishing system by authors. This touches on rejection or the fear of rejection. Second, is the emotional need to be heard and have your work find its audience. These are not new factors, but have become prominent in my mind with the self-publishing option.

Goals for self-publishing

When I consult with authors and they bring up self-publishing, I turn to a discussion about their goals. This drives all the decisions that will follow.

People have many reasons to want to publish a book or textbook:

  • Academic advancement.
  • Career advancement or public recognition.
  • Financial gain.
  • The desire to disseminate their ideas or findings, and therefore be part of the conversation going on in their area.
  • The need for a book to use in their course.

If people ask about self-publishing specifically, they usually are motivated by:

  • Their frustration with traditional publishing.
  • The “unfairness” of the publisher making all that money and authors only receiving a royalty.
  • Control: they want to be in the driver seat with cover design, title, positioning, pricing, and more.

All of these points add up to a rich discussion about what is the right path for an author. For some, I would only recommend traditional publishing. For others, they are obviously committed to the self-publishing path. And of course there are many people in the middle.

If you are considering self-publishing, think through your motivations. Stay tuned for the next two months and let’s really dive into the pros and cons and how they apply to you.


John BondJohn Bond is a publishing consultant at Riverwinds Consulting. He works with individuals on publishing and writing projects. Schedule an initial complimentary phone call at Publishing Fundamentals. In his career, he has directed the publishing of over 500 book titles and 20,000 journal articles. He is the host of the YouTube channel “Publishing Defined.” Contact him at jbond@riverwindsconsulting.com.

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