Continuing with my series of Writing 101 articles, for those of you who are just starting out, I want to talk today about self-publishing. This is the guide for the absolute beginner so I will assume that this is the first time you’ve ever encountered the term. However, if you are a little further down the road with your writing experience and would like something more in-depth, check out my previous article on the subject.

What is Self-Publishing?

In my previous Writing 101 article, I talked about the three most common routes to publishing. Before the age of the internet, the most popular method by far was to go through a publishing house, either on your own or through an agent. These companies take your manuscript and, through a long and complex process which I won’t go through here, they turn it into a novel on the shelf of a bookshop. You then get paid a royalty for every book that sells.

However, there are circumstances, which I will tell you about in the next section, when going through a publishing house is not possible or appropriate. In this case, you may consider publishing your novel yourself. The more common way to do this is to create an ebook. It’s cheap, easy, and offers a huge number of options when it comes to selling. Less common but still possible is to self-publish hard copies of your book. This can be expensive and challenging because, despite what they sometimes claim, printing presses will rarely advertise your book or find it a place on the bookshop’s shelf. You will need to put in the hard work on that front. You also risk being exploited by the less reputable vanity presses. Watch out for those red flags!


If you REALLY wanted to give vanity presses the slip, I suppose you could buy your own printing press… Image by PazMadrid

Why Self-Publish?

So, I mentioned that there will be times when a traditional publishing house is not the right option for you. In fact, “some” may be a bit of an understatement as there are many reasons to consider self-publishing. The first and most common is that your writing may not YET be at a high enough quality for a traditional publishing house to consider. And please don’t take that as an insult if you fall into that category. Publishing houses will only consider manuscripts that they consider to be mind-blowingly amazing (as well as timely and likely to be popular with the mainstream audience). They won’t accept good novels. They won’t even accept great novels. Even with the filter of literary agents, publishing houses will only accept the tiniest fraction of their submissions. Even if you are a talented writer, it may take you a few practice novels before you get to their sky-high standards. But that’s no reason to let your work go to waste. If you have a great novel that just isn’t quite great enough to sway the publishers, self-publishing can be a great way to get your name out there and put your manuscript to good use.

Another reason that you may want to consider self-publishing is if you are writing something very niche. Unless they are a specialist, publishing houses generally only accept manuscripts that they think will appeal to the mainstream audience, and sell a huge amount of copies. If it won’t it isn’t worth their time to invest in it from a financial perspective.

The final reason that I want to mention is a bit more uplifting. If you self-publish, you have total control over your work both from the creative and business perspectives. Traditional publishers often let authors have little say in the way their novel is produced and marketed; even the cover picture is usually out of the writer’s hands. By self-publishing, you will be able to make every key decision regarding your manuscript. But, be warned, it is a lot of work.


Your new blockbuster, “The Anatomy of the Pickle” might not appeal to publishers as a marketable asset. -Image by Dom Dada

Where Next?

Now that you’re clued up on the basics, you may want to move to my more in-depth article on self publishing, where I will recap the “why” in a little more detail, and let you know where do start if you want to give self-publishing a try.