I’m a Writer. Should I Get a Book-Deal, Self-Publish or Self-Distribute?

I’m a Writer. Should I Get a Book-Deal, Self-Publish or Self-Distribute? Written by Dino Dogan ~

(If you prefer to listen to the audio version, click I’m a Writer. Should I Get a Book Deal, Self-Publish or Self Distribute? hosted on writer Wanda Shapiro‘s blog)

Would you like to be the next big thing in the book world? Here is the recipe.

  • Write fiction; it sells better than nonfiction.
  • Write in conversational rather than academic tone.
  • Write about a topic that has a broad rather than narrow appeal.

Got that? Do you meet all the criteria?

Most writers don’t, nor do they aspire to.

But…assuming you’ve met the above-listed criteria, let’s talk about your odds of making it big.

There are 200 thousand books published (in English) each year. Book super-sellers (like Barnes and Noble) will carry 20% of that inventory.

  • On average, an author (in America) can expect to sell 500 copies.
  • Out of 1.2 million books tracked by Nielsen Book Scan (as of 2004); 950 000 books sold fewer than 99 copies. Another 200 000 sold fewer than 1000 copies.
  • From these 1.2 million books (basically all books ever published with a UPC code), only 25 000 sold more than 5000 copies.

Note: These statistics were culled from the most excellent work done by Chris Anderson in his book The Long Tail (aff).

Let me summarize those numbers I just gave you.

ONLY 2% of the books (when published using traditional channels) will be commercially viable. The remaining 98% will be a financial swan dive for the publishing house as well as you, the author.

Given these factors, do you still want to sign with a publishing house?

I DO Want to Sign With a Large Publishing House

There is at least one great reason to sign a book deal with a large publishing house.


Let’s not kid ourselves. Saying “I’m a self-published author” just doesn’t have a ring to it. On the other hand, imagine having a “published author” on your resume.

Getting a book deal with a large publishing house can be a great catapult for speaking gigs, new clients, future book deals, etc. As long as you don’t think of your book-deal as an end onto itself. Instead, think of it as a platform for bigger and better things.

If “prestige” is your goal, getting a book deal is the way to go. But what if you care more about making money?


We mentioned earlier that an average book will sell 500 copies. If you decide to self-publish, and use print-on-demand service like Lulu, you can expect to keep most of the profits from each book sold.

Financially speaking, this will make you lot richer than if you were to sell the same number of books via large publisher. Downside?

You will have to do all the marketing yourself. But guess what? Most authors who sign book-deals have to do that anyways.


Ok, that’s cool Dino, I hear you saying. But I don’t really need to have my ego stroked, nor do I particularly care about making money. I have this great idea, and I just want everyone to read about it.

Fear not my dear friend. Self-Distribution to the rescue.

Once upon a time, the benefit a publishing house would provide to an author is distribution. However, the Internet has made the “distribution” part of the equation available to anyone with a high-speed modem. You don’t even have to physically print your book. You can distribute it as a file (in .pdf format, aka E-Book) from your computer (or a hosted server). Better yet, make your E-Book available via Bit Torrent services.

To learn how first time authors like Wanda Shapiro use Bit Torrent for large-scale distribution, click here.

So, are you going to sign with a large publishing house, self-publish or self-distribute?

Only YOU can answer. But I imagine the answer will depend on your motivation and goals. I hope this post has helped you examine:

  • Why you chose to write? (prestige, money or proliferation of ideas)
  • What you hope to get out of writing?
  • Which path will you take?

Don’t think that you have to do only one.

  • Seth Godin has distributed his first book, Unleashing the Ideavirus (aff) via Bit Torrent only to have it published “for real” later on.
  • Dr. Brad Blanton has self-published his book, Radical Honesty (aff) only to have it picked up by a large publishing house when it proved to be a nimble seller.

I think it all comes down to this.

You have no more excuses to finish your book. So get to writing.

Start by leaving a comment and let us know what YOU think of these 3 options?

Is there a fourth option we didn’t think of?

Do you have experience using any of these 3 methods? Tell us about it.

Thanks Dino ~

Please check out Dino on Twitter @dino_dogan and at his website dogandogs.com.

Dino Dogan spent many years researching ways ‘adults learn, seek and receive information, communicate (both internally and externally) and apply learned info, specifically as it pertains to Human-Dog Relationship.’

In his quest to develop the Human-Dog Problem Tree he still finds time for his music and fitness. He is a singer/songwriter who is also a biker. But mostly he calls himself ‘a life-long student’.

“All who have accomplished great things have had a great aim; have fixed their gaze on a goal which was high, one which sometimes seemed impossible.”

Orison Swett Marden – Writer

CURRENT STATUS: Reminder, Motivator and Review Meeting (Read on if you want to join me in my Corporation of One meeting)

What l have learnt:

What I have done:

  • Wrote my very first guest post. Read it here.
  • Put the two Twitter accounts on my website. It’s an experiment. Not sure how it will go.

WORD COUNT: Night Walker 144,000 words in total.

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25 Responses to I’m a Writer. Should I Get a Book-Deal, Self-Publish or Self-Distribute?

  1. Dino Dogan says:

    Thank you for having me Jessie. I had a lot of fun writing and thinking through this article and what options young writers have.

    The publishing space (self publishing or otherwise) has never been more competitive and yet the circumstances are better now than ever before in the history of the world as we know it. Its a very exciting time.

  2. Jessie Mac says:

    It was good having you on the blog. I’ve learned a great deal from this. It’s funny, with every guest post, I’m learning more because everyone is different. I’m also noticing how other blogs set out their guest posts so hopefully I will improve in time. Still learning. And I found it frustrating that I’m not totally in control of the wordpress template I have because of my lack of code know-how.

    When it comes to traditional or self-publishing, for me, I’d like to go via the traditional route first and see what happens. But it’s great that there is the self-publishing option. The increase in royalties is a big factor to consider.

  3. Dino Dogan says:

    The increase in royalty is more than significant indeed.

    According to the numbers from the Long Tail, a published author can expect to make about 15% from each sale (I think this might be high); on the other hand, the cut from a self-published book is about 80%.

  4. Chris Loyd says:

    I think like many folks out there, I harbor a delusion of publishing a book one day. All i have to do is figure out what the book should be about and sit and write it….details :)

    But once thats done, its interesting to see that for a first time author, getting a big record deal (lol) may not be the best financial decision.

    So I guess if I ever write a book; self publish option is the one thats makes most sense financially. hmmmm…..very interesting…..I wouldn’t have guessed that.

    Nice to discover your blog Jessie….

  5. Jessie Mac says:

    Good to see you here Chris. Thanks for popping by. It’s a big jungle out there and I’m just glad we have the options of going the traditional or the self-publishing way. I’ll pop over to your blog and say hello soon enough. Hope you pop by again.

  6. Pingback: Guest Post by Dino Dogan : One Girl One Novel

  7. Renee Miller says:

    You make some good points on all sides, but you’ve glossed over some major points on self-publishing. True, many traditionally published authors have to do a lot of their own marketing but when self publishing, you are responsible for everything.

    Let’s break that down: Writing, editing, publishing, distributing, marketing yourself, marketing your book, and hopefully while you’re doing all that you’re also working on a follow-up because one book is not going to pay the bills. Oh, the bills; there’s the regular things like food and rent to pay and most new authors have to work a ‘day job’ to do that. Marketing eats up a lot of hours, as does writing, so where will you fit all of that into a measely 24 hour day?

    The reality is, for a new author, there is no ‘perfect’ option. Traditional publishers, while they can’t guarantee your book will do any better than a self published book, do carry a major share of the marketing load, plus they provide the editor, the cover artist, copyright, legal crap, financial issues, etc. You write the book, you help edit the book, and you market it. The other stuff, while a wise man would be in the loop, it’s not something you have to worry about doing the leg work for. The publisher does it.

    Just wanted to point out the pros and cons of both options. I know what I think works for me, but that doesn’t mean it’s the same for everyone. I worked with a group of authors self publishing an anthology and it is a ton of work. Our book was free and it was tough to market and the costs can be astronomical. The royalty might be higher, but you’re carrying the entire load. Remember that and if you choose to self publish make sure you have a business plan, a marketing plan and follow through. It’s possible to be a successful self published author, but it’s work. I’d say way more than traditional.

  8. Jessie Mac says:

    Renee, I totally agree with you. With self-publishing you are responsible for everything and if you want to find an editor or a book cover designer for example you’ve got to fork out the cash for them or do it yourself. You really can’t do everything unless you don’t have to work full-time, you don’t have a family to take of and you’ve had years of editing, designing, copywriting, publishing experience to know what you’re doing.

    As a writer, it’s hard enough to do the actual writing of the novel and doing what you can to promote yourself on the internet. But to find the time to deal with everything else on the publishing chain, that’s a lot of work.

    Self-publishing may work better for certain writers eg writers of non-fiction or established writers. Usually these writers already have a following via their blog or from going the traditional way in the first place. Authors who are already published and have a massive following have more clout, publishing experience and more contacts within the industry to give them advice. Non-fiction and established authors probably do well with e-books as well. People are used to reading news articles electronically and if you’re a fan of Terry Pratchett, you’d read him no matter what form it takes. If I was a non-fiction writer or an established author (where the increase in royalties would make a difference) I’d seriously consider the self-publishing way.

    For new fiction writers like myself the traditional is the best. You’re one person and you can only do so much. And as one person I prefer experts to help me with the rest because I’m not confident about book cover design, blurbs, editing etc.

    Thanks Renee for your comment and popping by.

  9. Dino Dogan says:

    Hi Renee…yup..you are right…self-publishing is A LOT OF WORK. Allow me to be little snarky and say…well…its SELF publishing he he

    Lots of work no doubt and I do have a re-but however I think it may warrant another post :-) thnx for the inspiration :-)

  10. Pingback: I’m a Writer. Should I Sign a Book-Deal, Self-Publish or Self-Distribute? « Dogan Dogs Video Blogs

  11. Jeff Emmerson says:

    Indie publishing all the way! NEVER go out of print, keep ALL creative rights, put ALL the $ back into your own pocket, and NO ego-maniac literary agent holds your project up for possibly YEARS….ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

    Traditional Publishing will die out, I am sure of it. Indie is the future.

    - Jeff Emmerson

  12. Edie says:

    I’ve had some experience with this, having published four books with major publishers (three on a work for hire and one on a royalty basis). The last book, the royalty book, and the state of publishing today have made me rethink self publishing.

    Work for hire means that you get paid a flat fee to write a book and then never see any more proceeds from it. I used to think this was a bad thing, until I wrote a royalty based book. With my work for hire books, I never cared whether they sold or not, never worried about publicity. It was the publisher’s headache and I had the prestige (and the fun amidst the angst) of having written the books. With royalties, it’s all on my head. The publicity that the publisher provided was minimal after the first few weeks. Because I got an advance, albeit not a large one (and far less than for the work for hire books), I may never see any returns from the royalty book.

    Finding a publisher is difficult, especially if you don’t have a track record. Many publishers don’t want to take a chance on new writers. Self publishing DOES require an outlay of money and a lot of discipline but the returns and the satisfaction of knowing you benefit directly from your publicity work are great.

    I’m personally in a quandary about all this. I want the security of a print publisher for the next book have in mind — and need the money to be able to set aside the time to write (I should mention that’s the way I earn my living; it’s not a side interest). On the other hand I know that self-publishing would make a lot more sense. I’m just irrationally afraid to take that step.

  13. Dino asked me to share this here after we discussed it via email – I thought the royalty percentages were a little high. I don’t think many published authors end up with more than 10% of each book and that’s before their agent or manager takes their cut. But I can’t really defend that number with any specific source or data. From what I’ve read, the author ends up with between .75 and 1.50 per book which if you figure $15/book (which is the avg price in my genre) that’s about %10. But again that’s only a vague understanding from various resources. As for the self-pub royalty I think that’s high too. I’ve done my best to cut out all the middlemen (I don’t even use a company like Lulu which takes a cut) and I only make about 45% of each book sale. Which, I’m ecstatic about ;) Maybe Lulu has worked out that high of a royalty but I’m not familiar with their pricing structure. On Kindle you get 70% but the price is generally lower so in my case it will work out to almost the same $ profit / book.

    Also, I would like to comment on a few things from Jessie’s recently added comment.

    It’s true that with self-publishing you are responsible for everything but that doesn’t mean you have to fork out cash or do it yourself necessarily. We all have talented friends and collegues and if they’re passionate about your project they will help for free.

    I also must disagree that you really can’t do everything unless you don’t have to work full-time. I have a full-time job (and a husband) and I work more hours/week than anyone I know, but it’s possible. It requires a lot of dedication (I get up at 4am most days) but there are enough hours in the day. And I didn’t have any experience when I started, but between Amazon, Google, and Lynda.com I taught myself everything I needed to know.

    Renee is correct that it’s a ton of work, but imo it’s well worth it. Taking the DIY path of an indie author is a never ending job but at the end of the day I believe it was the best business decision I ever made.

  14. Jessie Mac says:

    Wanda – thanks for your comment. I don’t know what’s involved with self-publishing but to self-publish you’re essentially publishing it yourself – without the help of an agent, editor and publisher (usually found via your agent) – and because you’re in charge it’s up to you if you want to cut out the editor, the book designer, the publicist etc. Like you said, unless you know people in the industry and they’re willing to help you for free, you are doing it yourself. As I’m not an expert editor, publicist, book cover designer or the photographer for the photo – to self-publish, if I want an expert to help me, I would have to spend money to get it done. I could do it myself but I wouldn’t be confident enough to ensure that it’s of high quality.

    I really admire your energy and dedication, and if I ever decide to go that way – I hope I can achieve what you have achieved. I can imagine it’s probably very rewarding to succeed with self-publishing.

    For me, I’d like to spend as much energy and time as I can on my writing. I think it comes down to how you want to spend your time and also, as I’m not totally clued-up on the whole process and not at the stage to make decisions to go traditional or self-publish, I’d like to take my time, learn as much as I can and see what feels right for me.

  15. Jessie Mac says:

    Edie – I appreciate your comment.

    I’m not experienced with work for hire or even royalty based books but I understand being ‘afraid to take that step’. For someone new in the industry, all the new options sounds like a dream come true with the increase in royalties if you self-publish via Amazon etc. I’m not against self-publishing – I may choose that option one day, who knows but right now when I’m still a newbie, I’d like to follow a path well-trodden and hope they’d let me on it. I’m too close to my writing, too deep in how much I sometimes care about it that I really need the quality check of an agent who has years of experience and knows a good editor to help me make my work the best it can be. I need an experienced publisher that my agent has negotiated with.

    With so much talk about the agent and the publishers now who cannot all the publicity or marketing for you – okay, if that’s the reality, I’ll accept it – but I want people who know what they’re doing on my side while I help with whatever side of the marketing I can eg social media, offline speaking etc. Perhaps after 20 years or less (hopefully) of being in the industry, I’d get to a point where I understand what works, what doesn’t and think about self-publishing.

    Oh, I don’t know. The day when I have to make a decision will not be a day I welcome lightly.

  16. Jessie Mac says:

    Jeff – thanks for popping by. How far are you on your self-publishing road? It’ll be good to know. I hope you blog about it because I will read it. You’re brave and I think if you’re that determined – and you sound it – I say go for it and good luck with it all. Let us know how things go.

  17. Dino Dogan says:

    @Wanda What Lynda courses are you referring to? I’d love to know :-)

    @Jeff I agree that traditional publishing will either die out or change in a major way…the benefit of taking the major-pub route is smaller and smaller…they will have to evolve or die.

    @Edie Great to see you here Edie :-)

    To all :-)

    The major point I hope everyone takes away from all this is that there is no excuse NOT to publish and pursue your dreams. It doesnt matter which route you take, but make sure you take the route :-)

  18. I use Lynda.com quite a bit but most of the time I spent there was learning InDesign. I had no experience with the Adobe Creative suite but I was able to teach myself everything I needed to format the interior of my book using InDesign. Though it’s a paid service, Lynda is a spectacular resource.

  19. Renee Miller says:

    Wanda: You’re right, if you have talented friends who are passionate it is possible to get some things accomplished for free. IF. That’s a big factor. Some of us are that lucky, many are not.

    I’m sorry if my post implied self publishing is a bad decision. I don’t think it’s good or bad. I feel the same way about traditional. It depends on your situation. Myself, I have way too many ‘other’ priorities going on to commit the time and possible money required to self publish. I also write to pay the bills. I freelance and I write fiction. I also have three children, a house and bills that require my attention. While I am passionate about my writing and determined to make that my career, these priorities were here first. So, to devote unlimited amounts of time, as is often required with self publishing, isn’t realistic for me. I am up every morning before the sun, and go to bed most nights well after midnight, just to get my writing time in. That will be necessary no matter which publishing route I take.

    Traditional publishing is the decision I made for myself. But, I have many friends who have self published and are doing very well. I know about the costs and time involved because they’ve told me. Is it worth it? They think so and they continue to publish their own work and bust their butts to sell it.

    I get concerned though when decisions like self publishing are made out of frustration or on impulse and feel the need to point out the reality of both decisions. Neither is a ‘sure fire’ answer. Both have their pros and their cons. Self publishing without thinking it through and making a plan and failing can be devastating for a writer and can crush that passion. I’d hate to see that happen to anyone.

  20. Jessie Mac says:

    Hi Renee – sorry for the delay in responding – been away on a reading retreat. I know no one in the industry except from the lovely writers who visit here and on Twitter – so I’m really grateful for the Internet. And though I don’t have the responsibilities that you and many writers have – a family and children – I can understand that you do need to spend some time and effort if you self-publish and if I plan to do it, I’d want to know everything about it first.

  21. Jessie Mac says:

    Thanks for the info on Lynda.com, Wanda. It would take me months to get to know how to use InDesign – good for you.

  22. Hi Renee and hello again Jessie. I totally agree that self publishing without thinking it through and making a plan is often a disaster; there are many such stories. And you’re absolutely correct that there are pros and cons to both kinds of publishing. Neither is a sure fire path to a successful writing career. I applaud you for your efforts and your success. I can relate to the effort you put in given everything on your plate and I think people who work really hard for what they believe in are triumphs no matter which road they take. Wishing you best of luck with everything.

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  25. I just happened to stumble across your site and the article I’m a Writer. Should I Get a Book-Deal, Self-Publish or Self-Distribute? Written by Dino Dogan | jessiemac.com. The words you give kind of makes me think. Thanks for writing the article.

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