CAUTION – Self-Publishing Is Too Easy

When I suggest that self-publishing a book is too easy, I mean it in the sense that descending a mountain by jumping off is too easy. It can be accomplished with minimal effort, little or no assistance, and very short-term planning, but too often the too easy can lead to disaster. Unfortunately, some authors who consider self-publishing seem ready to take the swan dive rather than endure a controlled descent.

I began my analogy at the top of the mountain with the presumption that the author has already plodded up during the writing process. Now, in the rarefied atmosphere of accomplishment, he or she searches for the fastest way to disseminate this newly written creation to the population below. A relatively small percentage of authors will be able to descend in the harness of a publisher’s parachute. The thing about parachutes is that they require a commitment preceded by a leap of faith and followed by a lack of control. Still, some will gladly cede a degree of control in exchange for the hope of a spectacular landing. Regardless, those parachutes are not handed out to everyone.

For the rest of us who do not wish to remain on the summit like a solitary Oracle awaiting the sincere reader to scale the heights in search of our wise words, there is always self-publishing–an increasingly accessible option. But the ease of access carries with it the temptation to ignore the process. Those who succeed through self-publishing do so, more often than not, by careful steps and with the help of a guide who has been over the ground before. The same care that went into crafting the best work possible should be given to publishing that work–even more care, perhaps, since publishing has a permanent quality that writing does not. A draft can be easily edited. A published book, not so much.

The main pitfalls that self-published authors often stumble into are avoidable. One of the most prevalent is a lack of patience–the urge to jump. It is something of a paradox that a person will invest a great deal of effort planning and writing a book but is not willing to invest the same effort in its indelible introduction to the public.

A second pitfall might be called solitary confinement. The author confines publishing input solely to himself. He alone wrote it. He alone will get it published. This applies uniquely to the self-published author. Anyone who contracts with a publisher (through an agent or otherwise) will soon realize that publication is a group effort. It should be no less so with self-publishing. For instance, someone besides the author (preferably several others) needs to help with editing. In most cases the technicalities of cover design and page formatting will require consultation on some level. Then there is the all important selection of self-publishing avenues or “houses”–vanity or print-on-demand; which ones have good track records, which do not. All these issues require a degree of guidance.

A third pitfall is the hassle of husbandry. A common misconception for a new author, published or self-published, is that he is a kind of Johnny Appleseed–tossing out published “seeds” and moving on, leaving an ever-fruitful, self-propagating multitude of book sales in his wake. How rude the awakening when Johnny Appleseed finds he is actually Farmer John. Especially in self-publishing, the author is not only the planter but also the farmhand who cultivates, waters, fertilizes, and sometimes even trucks the produce to market. Of course, the author can hire out all or part of the labor, but someone has to do it or eventually there will be nothing but dust in the wind.

The unfortunate stigma associated with self-publishing is justified in part by the abundance of works that are published before they are ready. Because the process is increasingly easy, poorly written or poorly edited books in poorly conceived covers are out there for all to judge–and readers freely do so. The built-in screening process of the publishing house (even if sometimes too narrow) can be completely circumvented in self-publishing if the author so chooses. But that would be a self-defeating choice. Independent authors can benefit from a similar yet self-directed scrutiny. The opportunities in self-publishing are growing and improving every day. The information is out there. The resources for successful self-publishing are readily accessible. If an author will invest as much effort in getting down the mountain as in reaching the summit, self-publishing can be a rewarding path.

A Few Sources for Self-Publishing Help:

Peggy DeKay, The Business of Writing Today

Joel Friedlander, The Book Designer

Dana Lynn Smith, The Savvy Book Marketer


11 Comments on “CAUTION – Self-Publishing Is Too Easy”

  1. Great post, Clark. I always enjoy your clever use of analogies. I’d like to add that working with a “self-publishing company” is not necessarily the best option. Some authors will be better served by publishing independently and choosing their own printing and distribution options. This article discusses some of the options and I’ve also got an aspiring authors resource page at

    • Dutch says:

      Thanks, Dana. I agree that choosing to handle the process yourself–taking charge of the entire process like a general contractor–is a goo
      d way to go for many if not most “self-publishing” authors. I guess I lumped everything under self-publishing that is not traditionally published. Perhaps I could have been more discriminating. But that is why I like to point folks to your site for help…just the kind of help you commented on above. Thanks!

  2. Tracy says:

    A realistic timeline for a first time self published author to go from creating a short novel to market launch is one year at a minimum.

    I have learned the hard way that self publishing is a 1-2-3-6 process.

    For every 1 month of writing, you will likely require 2 months of editorial review work by professionals. After that, a safe timeline for producing a finished product with nice cover design, proper pagination and a solid market plan is 3 months. Once you have the completed product and marketing plan, it will take the better part of six months to execute the launch and drive sales.

    Yes, my numbers are just estimates. However, new authors need to realize that it will take a year of real work to get a novel out the door if you do it right. You can cut some of that down by hiring services and through experience. Nevertheless, patience and a realistic expectation of the time it will take to develop a real product are critical.

    Self published authors need to learn that you will not receive “bonus points” for having a book that looks like it was produced by the big-six. Those professionally published titles are the baseline, and your work will be heavily criticized for not measuring up.

  3. […] G. Vanderpool presents CAUTION – Self-Publishing Is Too Easy posted at Smudged But Legible, saying, “Self-publishing is a remarkable industry. The […]

  4. Sadie Fisher says:

    This is all great common sense here Dutch, keep up the great work and advice. We made a short animated film about some of these issues here:

  5. Jess says:

    Thanks for this post. It’s helpful and witty too 🙂

  6. […] G. Vanderpool (@CGVanderpool) on Smudged But Legible CAUTION – Self-Publishing Is Too Easy “The unfortunate stigma associated with self-publishing is justified in part by the abundance […]

  7. […] G. Vanderpool presents CAUTION – Self-Publishing Is Too Easy posted at Smudged But Legible, saying, “Self-publishing is a remarkable industry. The […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s