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What self-publishing myths have you heard?

6 Self-Publishing Myths That Need to Die

In 2015, Joanna Penn hosted a talk at Nottingham Writers’ Studio on how to make a living from your writing. Her talk dispelled many of the myths around self-publishing and inspired me to pursue it too.

Sadly, many of these myths still remain. They often—but not always—stem from outdated information and literary snobs who don’t like it when the status quo is challenged.

And to them, I say tough.

Things change. Move with the times or fall behind, it’s up to you.

I know which path I prefer.

Here’s some of the big self-publishing myths that need to die because they’re a load of 💩

(If you agree and want to help change this, please share this post with your network. The more people we can get talking about the truth behind self-publishing, the sooner we can remove the stigma!)

Self-publishing is easier than traditional publishing

No. No it’s bloody well not. I spent EIGHT HOURS one Sunday just formatting books. And I didn’t even finish.

The more elements of the self-publishing process you do yourself—and, because I’m broke, I do them all—the longer it will take you, and the harder you’ll have to work.

It’s all these processes around writing that are the problem. They’re the reasons why it takes me so long to publish my books. I can write pretty damn fast. But the publishing process? Bleh.

Self-publishing is most definitely not the easy path.

Self-publishing is not the easy path it's made out to be.

With traditional publishing, pitching your work to an agent, then a publisher, is the hard part. All the design, copywriting, and even some of the marketing, are done for you. For the most part, once the edits are in, you can move on to your next book.

With self-publishing, once you’ve finished writing your book, you need to double—possibly even triple—that length of time before you can share your work with your readers. You may also have to spend even more time on top of that to market your book.

It’s possible to publish faster, but to do so, you need a nice chunk of change to spend on a graphic designer, editor, proofreader, book formatter, and whatever else you can delegate to someone else. Your average person just doesn’t have that amount of money.

Self-published books are of a lesser quality

Really? You think a book going through a gatekeeper is a sign of quality?

Ha ha ha ha ha.


It’s a sign that it will (probably) make money.

Literary books are generally of a high quality, but they don’t sell that well. It’s also highly unlikely that the book’s readers will be as loyal as those that read genres such as crime, fantasy, or romance.

Pulp fiction is where the money is. Some pulp fiction is good, some of it is bad. It’s as much of a personal preference as anything else in life. Gatekeepers are not immune to the effects of personal preference.

And they most certainly don’t always get it right. Look at Rebecca Black and Friday. (Or don’t, just use it as an example of how gatekeepers don’t know everything.)

There are also books out there written (or ghost-written) by celebrities such as Katie Price. And while I can’t deny she knows how to market herself, she’s hardly J.K.Rowling (she may have her books ghost written, but I once saw her say in an interview that all the plots were her idea. I’ve honestly no idea how true this is. And while we’re on the topic, whatever happened to Katie Price? She seems to have faded into obscurity).

Self-published authors need to do more marketing

(Traditional publishers will do it all for you)

The assumption that traditional publishers will do all of your marketing for you is one of the biggest myths when it comes to traditional publishing.

The more a publisher pays for a book, the bigger the marketing budget.

Unfortunately, unless you already have a big platform, it’s pretty unlikely you’ll get a fat cheque or a decent marketing budget.

Publishers pay more for celebrity books—and market them heavily—because they already have an audience. They know the books will sell if they reach the right people. The lower the risk, the happier they are to invest.

There’s a rule in marketing, and it’s that you promote your most successful content. If something does well on its own, it’s worth you investing money into it to make it go even further.

You do not waste money on a sinking ship. If your book sales are already paltry, it’s highly unlikely that publishers will reach into their pockets and promote it for you to try and fix this. The margins in publishing are small. They’re therefore going to promote the books already doing pretty well.

When you self-publish, all the successes and failures are your own. That’s part of what I like about it. I’ve learnt far more by pursuing this path than I would have by pursuing traditional publishing. And if I had gone down that route, I may still be waiting for my first book to be published.

The traditional publishing world moves at a snail’s pace once it has your book in its hands.

But its trends move fast.

If you’re pitching something to agents and publishers that’s popular now, you’re already two years behind.

Self-publishing is easy money

Books do not sell themselves. There is no magical fairy that will find your readers for you.

Your readers won't find you - you have to find them.

If you don’t give readers a reason to read your book, they’ll just go and read someone else’s. There are millions of books published globally every year. You have to do something to stand out.

Doing all of this is not cheap. In fact, I’ve made a loss every year since I started self-publishing. Self-publishing is the reason I’m broke. Had I not pursued this path, I could’ve gone on a whole lot more holidays in the last couple of years.

So, if you want to self-publish but don’t want to a) market your book and b) miss out on holidays, think again.

One book will change everything

Publishing your first book is the biggest anti-climax you’ll ever experience. (There’s a crude joke in there somewhere.)

You put your book out into the world, you get all excited, you even host a launch. But once the book goes live…well, what did you expect to happen?

Publishing your first book is a huge anti-climax.

You won’t get your payments from Amazon for a couple of months, and if you publish on Kobo or Draft2Digital, you have to reach certain thresholds before they’ll pay you. For Kobo this is $100. I’ll be Nan’s age before I make that much on Kobo.

It could be months—maybe even years—yes, I said YEARS—before you get payments from these publishing channels. The less books you publish, the longer it will be between these payments. If you give up on self-publishing before you’ve really got started, you may never get the money that you’re owed from certain publishing platforms, because you gave up too soon 😱

Negative reviews won’t affect book sales

When you have a small platform, anything below a 5* review won’t just damage your sales, it will kill them.

Think about it—you have a few hundred, maybe a few thousand followers on social media. You get a few hundred hits to your blog each day. No one really knows who you are. So the easiest place for people to find you is on Amazon.

You can include all the keywords you like in your book description, but it won’t make any difference if one person decides your book isn’t for them and leaves a negative review.

Yes yes, I get the part about it balancing out all the smushy stuff. But when presenting results to people, Amazon only cares about a book’s popularity, and when you don’t have money to throw at advertising, reviews are a free way to increase your exposure.

Say you’ve got a book with one 5* and one 3* review. The average for that book is 4*.

Someone has written a book in the same genre and it has one 5* review.

That book with just one review will rank higher in search results than your book with two reviews.

If you write in a competitive genre, reviews are even more important.

Even if you have a great 5* review, if the next one that comes along is a 1* review, Amazon will give your book a 3* rating and it will practically disappear off the face of its search results.

So, next time you go to rate a book on Amazon—particularly a self-published one—take a moment and think about how that review will affect the author. Because, while you may feel a 4* review is positive, if that book doesn’t have any other reviews, you’re one click away from killing its sales, and with it, a little piece of its author.

You have to choose between self-publishing and traditional publishing

Many writers take the hybrid approach. Some of their books are published traditionally, while others are self-published. This gives them the best of both worlds.

There’s no reason you can’t adopt this method, too.

Moral of the story

Self-publishing is WORK.

If you’re not willing to work on your book marketing, you may be better of pursuing traditional publishing. However, there’s no guarantee that this will mean that you don’t still have to do at least some marketing. The bigger your author brand, the bigger your advance, and the more books you’ll sell.

Whatever publication path you pursue, you need to WORK.

You need to work as hard as you can, and then some.

You need to be like a cheetah chasing its prey.

The only difference between you and the cheetah is that you’ll never catch your prey.

You’ll never reach your end goal.

You’ll always have to keep learning, always staying ahead of the curve, because, right now, the literary world is changing faster than ever. And that’s great. So long as you’re willing to work at it.

And if you’re not, well, there are plenty of jobs out there for you if you don’t want a career.

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Everything you think you know about #selfpublishing is wrong. It's not vanity publishing, it isn't cheap, and it isn't the easy path. Here's what self-publishing is really about.

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Kristina Adams

Kristina Adams is an author of fiction and nonfiction, writing and productivity blogger, and occasional poet. She has a BA in Creative Writing from the University of Derby and an MA in Creative Writing from Nottingham Trent University. When she's not writing she's reading, baking, or finding other ways to destroy the kitchen.

Her latest book, Productivity for Writers, is out now.


  • 6th March, 2018 at 21:39
    Alessandro Tinchini

    You exposed a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. Well, what writer haven’t and doesn’t? I am writing two books which I plan of publishing in the near future and one is suitable for traditional publishing, while the other, a memoir, is more apt to be self-published.
    But that’s not what I want to talk about.

    I read about Amazon algorithms and, thanks to a blog post on The Creative Penn, which you cite at the beginning of your article, I saw what people look at the most when searching books on Amazon. That’d be the cover, the description and, as I recall, the “People also bought…” section.

    I also read an article once, written by a fellow writer on Medium.com, which explained the technical path to make a book a bestseller on Amazon and I was simply flabbergasted (yeah, I hadn’t used this word in a while) by the absurdity and the stunning and horrid simplicity of that method.

    Now your article comes along and while I admit that little out of it is novelty to me, you convinced me of one thing; algorithms killed writing.
    Yes, because that’s what you are talking about. Let alone the work one has to go through in order to have their book published, be it traditionally and self-published (and all authors are aware of this, at many levels) but once the book is out there, the author has to dance his/her way through marketing laws dictated by engines and publishing laws that guarantee nothing.

    Whatever happened to the art? Is good, excellent writing worth nothing at all?

    I am asking rethoric questions, but you get the point.

    Besides, it is a good thing that, alongside giants like Amazon and the infinite army of small, independent publishers and self-publishing services, there are realities like Medium, where authors can really express themselves and earn money to do it. I don’d doubt that successful Medium writers earn more money than fiction writers who self- and/or traditionally publish their work on Amazon.

    • 7th March, 2018 at 15:04

      That’s an interesting way of looking at things, Alessandro. I’m not sure I agree, though – publishing has always been a competitive industry. Even before the internet authors still needed to find ways to stand out from their competition.

      Marketing departments had to work out which section of a shop or library a book fitted into best, and picking the wrong one could kill a book’s sales (and indeed, still can), just as quickly as an algorithm. The only difference now is that people can search for the books they want online, meaning that it’s easier to find lesser-known books and authors.

      Before the days of internet and TV, authors reached more people with book tours. These are still used, but mostly by already well-known and traditionally published authors because they’re a big cost (and risk) to publishers. For lesser-known authors book tours aren’t the best way to get the word out any more: the internet is.

      Marketing has always made the world go ’round, it’s just that we’re more aware of it and marketers are having to become increasingly creative in order to stand out.

      I can’t comment on how much writers on Medium make (it’s not an avenue I’ve explored myself yet), but given how small the margins are in book publishing, it wouldn’t surprise me.


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