Posted on IONAblog on August 5, 2011


I’m not a newbie at writing.  I’ve been writing books for 20 years—two through a major publishing house and three self-published.  All have sold well.

For my first book I went through the traditional publication process, partly because I thought that was what you were supposed to do, but largely because I believed the “myth.”

That myth, propagated through the media, pictures an author’s life like this… you sit at your computer, composing your latest book, occasionally taking a break to go to the mailbox and pick up your next royalty check.  The myth says once you’ve published a book, life will be easy.  You will be rich and famous.  You can live anywhere and have lots of free time.  All your problems will be solved once you get that publishing contract.  WAIT!  What’s that sound?  Oh NO!  It’s the alarm clock!  …It’s time to WAKE UP!

Let’s look at the harsh realities of the “writing life.”  I’m not a psychic, but I CAN PREDICT YOUR FUTURE if you go the route of traditional publishing:

AGENTING – You may spend a year or more finding an agent.  I’ve talked to some who have spent several years, sending query after query, and still no agent.  Rejection slips pile up.  Some agents don’t even send rejection slips any more.  If they’re not interested, you never hear back from them.  You wait… and wait… and wait…

EDITING – Once you have an agent, your book will be edited, and the agent will ask you to make changes in your manuscript.

FINDING A PUBLISHER – Your agent will then begin the process of trying to sell your book to a publisher.  That also can take time.

RE-WRITES & PUBLICATION – You find a publisher.  The publisher may also ask you to do re-writes of your book.  Then comes the actual printing and distribution.  The typical timeframe from a query to seeing your book published can be 2 ½ to 3 years.

EUPHORIA – You have a brief period of euphoria.  You are now a published author!  You hold your new book in your trembling hands.  Your name is on the cover.  IT WAS WORTH IT ALL!

Then come more harsh realities…

NO PROMOTION – Your publisher will do little or nothing to promote your book.  (You didn’t know that was part of YOUR job?)  Without promotion, no one outside of your close circle of friends even knows your book exists!

LITTLE DISTRIBUTION – Your book may or may not make it to your local bookstore.  If a bookstore carries your book at all, it will usually be only two copies.  Two spines on the shelf, among thousands of books by better known authors.  Chances are very good your book will not sell.

FAILURE – The typical shelf-life of a first-time author’s book:  3-6  months.  If it hasn’t become a best seller in that time, it’s usually taken off the shelf and returned to the publisher.  No time to develop a fan base.  No time for word of mouth.  Your book has failed.

According to statistics, the failure rate of first time authors is 90%.  You’ve poured your life into your book; you’ve gone through the agony of seeking an agent and the long process of publication.  And in 3-6 months, it’s all over.  Your book, if not sent back to the publisher, will be put on the clearance table.  Your dream has been shattered.  You’ve not made much money.  Few people have read your book.  Many first-time writers are so discouraged by the process they never write another book.  That’s the experience of the majority of first-time authors!

The truth is, the traditional publishing model has always been a bad deal for writers.  The problem is, until recently, it’s been the only option.  (Traditional self-publishing was even a worse deal for writers.)

But in the last 5 years a major earthquake has struck the publishing world.  Things like the rise of Amazon.com, print on demand, and most of all, the E-book revolution!   The whole paradigm has changed.

The key to success used to be having your book prominently displayed in brick-and-mortar bookstores.  Let me tell you a secret:  That’s not even an issue anymore!   We’ve entered an era when a smaller and smaller percentage of books are sold in bookstores.  Think of it like this:  When was the last time you went down to a record store and bought a vinyl LP so you could listen to your favorite music?   See the point?  The same thing is now happening with books.

The whole publishing game has changed drastically!  If you read the trade publications, bookstores and publishers are frightened.  They’re desperately trying to find a way to survive in this new reality.

And in this new reality, the traditional route of getting an agent and a dead-tree publishing company is no longer the default option.  In fact, unless you are a celebrity, or you’re already a bestselling author, that route is probably not your best option!

In part two of this post, I will give six reasons WHY I believe self-publishing is a much better deal for a first-time author.  In fact, I believe, for almost any author, it’s foolish NOT to self-publish.


Most of us have assumed that traditional publishing is the only route to success for a writer.  That may have been true at one time, but it’s no longer true.  In the first part of this post, I tried to “burst the bubble” on the myths associated with publishing.

In recent years, a number of authors have achieved success by doing an end-run around the publishing industry.  A good example is the Christian novel, The Shack by William P. Young.  Young submitted The Shack to 26 publishing houses, both Christian and secular.  It was rejected by every single one.  The Shack was too “different.”  It didn’t fit any of the standard categories.  So together with three friends, he formed his own publishing company for the sole purpose of publishing his book.  (Essentially, they self-published.)  The Shack went unnoticed for over a year, but suddenly became popular in the summer of 2008.  By May of 2010, The Shack had over 10 million copies in print, and was number 1 on the New York Times best seller list for 70 weeks.  According to Wikipedia, The Shack achieved its success via word-of-mouth and a $300.00 website!

Yet The Shack was written before the E-Book revolution!  Now the whole publishing industry has changed.  Just as MP3 players and music downloads have made “record stores” obsolete, now E-readers and downloadable books are putting brick-and-mortar bookstores out of business.  (I’m not saying that’s good. It’s just reality.)

When I wrote Iona Portal, I assumed the best way to publish fiction was to seek an agent and a publisher.  I even queried one agent.  But in the process I began to research the publishing industry.  As I read the trade journals I discovered that publishers are frightened.  They see the traditional model in decline, and are struggling to find a way to survive in the new paradigm.

But while the new paradigm might bring hard times for publishers, it offers unprecedented opportunities to you, the author.  Here are 6 reasons why I believe self-publishing is now a better route for most authors…


Many aspiring authors spend years seeking an agent.  They send query after query and get rejection after rejection.  Why do they have such a hard time finding an agent?  Maybe the book is no good.  Maybe the book is great, but the author writes poor query letters.  Maybe the book doesn’t fit easily into one of the agent’s categories.   As The Shack proved, the success of your query doesn’t say much about the salability of your book.

Of course, the agony of the query process would be worth it IF getting an agent would guarantee success.  But as we’ve seen, having an agent does not mean your book will sell.  90% of first-time authors—most of whom have agents—still fail.


In traditional publishing, you yield control of your book to the publisher, who may ask you to make major changes.  In my first two books, I was lucky and few changes were requested.  But on my third book, the publisher asked me to make major changes, which I was unwilling to do.  That’s when I switched to self-publishing.  Interestingly, that self-published book (WITHOUT the publisher’s requested changes) has sold better than either of my traditionally published books!


The average time from query to publication is 2 ½ years.  Combined with the year or two you spent finding an agent, that means you’ll have to wait a long time to see your book in print!

With self-publishing, you can have your book published on major e-book platforms in less than a month!  You can spend those extra years marketing your book and building a following instead of trying to get your book published.

4. You get better DISTRIBUTION

When my first book was published, I assumed the publisher would distribute it widely.  My naive dream was to go into bookstores and see my book prominently displayed.  It never happened.  Three times I found my book on a bookstore shelf.  I actually had people write me asking where they could get my book.  They’d seen a friend’s copy and wanted to buy one, but could not find it in a bookstore.  That kind of availability is not a formula for success.

But with e-publishing… in a single weekend, you can have your e-book for sale in the biggest online bookstores in the world, available to anyone who wants to purchase it, no matter where they live.


The royalty rates for self-pub e-books are WAY ahead of anything traditional publishers offer.  So even though your e-book costs less to buy than a dead-tree book, you will make more money on each book sold.  That’s a better deal for the reader, and a better deal for you.


When my first book was published, I assumed the publisher would market it…  that they would invest time and money to “get the word out” so people would buy it.   Wrong again!  The publisher did almost nothing to market my book.  That’s pretty much the norm.

FEAR OF MARKETING – One of the biggest reasons people give for NOT self publishing is the fear that they’ll have to market their own book.  The truth is, if you are not a celebrity, you WILL have to market your own book, no matter how you publish it.  (But you CAN learn to do that!  Other people do  it, and you can too!  There’s tons of material on the web to help.)

THE SELF-PUBLISHING ADVANTAGE – Self-publishing gives you one major advantage in marketing:  TIME.  With dead-tree publishing, you have a 3-month window to make your book a best-seller.  If it’s not a success in 3 months, bookstores begin pulling it from the shelf.  (Every book you’ve seen on a book clearance table represents some author’s crushed dream.)

There’s no time for word-of-mouth.  There’s no time to build a following.  You must “hit it” in a 3-month window.  Some books are overnight sensations.  But others take time.  It took a year before people began to notice The Shack.  But then it went viral.

Self-pub e-books give you all the time you need.  Your e-book will be available to everyone, in the biggest online bookstores in the world, for as long as you want.  You still have to market it.  But you have time!

That’s why I decided to self-publish Iona Portal.  And that’s why I believe, for the majority of first-time writers, it’s foolish not to self-publish!

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