Self-Publish Only Over Your Dead Body

Bestselling novelist Jan Burke has two excellent posts on her blog this week on the pros (virtually none) and cons (too many to count) of self-publishing. For non-fiction,  self-publishing can make sense. But if you’re a novelist, 99% of the time it’s a mistake:

So when should you self-publish a first novel?

If you are terminally ill — I am not saying this facetiously — and you all you want is for your family to have copies of your story in trade paperback book form (and simply making a photocopy of a clean manuscript to pass down to your grandchildren won’t satisfy you), and you have the money needed to self-publish, by all means do so.

[…]If you aren’t dying, you probably don’t have a worthwhile excuse for your impatience.

Unless, of course, you have written something that you are certain will never appeal to more than 80 or so readers and has no commercial value, and you have no fear of embarrassing yourself, and you really don’t care if you have to hand sell every single copy of your book yourself. If that’s the case, go ahead and self-publish.

11 thoughts on “Self-Publish Only Over Your Dead Body”

  1. For those of you thinking about self-publishing, here are a few things to consider. I set up my own publishing company (Dark Sky Publishing) in early 2006 and released two books so far—Night Laws (March 2006) and Shadow Laws (October 2006). Numerous other books are forthcoming, namely Fatal Laws (June 2007), Deadly Laws (October 2007), Bangkok Laws (March 2008) and Immortal Laws (October 2008).
    Although only the first two books in the Laws series have been released so far, here is what has happened: (1) the Laws books have been very favorably reviewed by over 30 reputable review organizations including Booklist and Library Journal; they have also been blurbed by approximately 20 authors; (2) several thousand copies of the first two books have been sold; (3) the books are carried on the shelves of Borders, B&N and tons of Indies; (4) the books are carried online by every major bookseller including Amazon, Target, Wall Mart, B&N, Borders, BAMM, Half, Overstock, and dozens more; (5) the books are carried by over 200 library systems, many with 10-20 copies; (6) each book has generated a net profit (receipts less expenses) of well over $10,000. And all this is for a series that is still in its infancy, with only 2 of the planned 10 books released so far.
    I’m not saying this to blow my horn, but merely to let people know that there is another side to the story. If you’re considering self-publishing, talk to someone who has actually been there. For more information, go to Anyone who wants more information is free to contact me.
    Happy writing and best wishes for success.

  2. I have a friend who is publishing a novel at iUniverse and when I found out it was iUniverse, it was all I could do to keep my mouth shut and not say, “Couldn’t you find a real publisher?”
    I feel bad for him, and hope that he’s able to overcome this in the future with his literary goals.

  3. Mr. Hansen’s Amazon sales rankings are in the 400,000s, which is better than many of my books, and he certainly has some strong reader support. I have two friends who are succeeding as self-publishers, so I know it can be done. But at least in fiction, these people are one in ten thousand. My congratulations.

  4. Those reviews for the LAWS books are flattering, but with the exception of Aldo Calcagno (a blogger, not a professional reviewer), I haven’t heard of a single one of those outlets.
    Any newspaper reviews?

  5. I wouldn’t take Jim Hansen’s claims to seriously. We only have Hansen’s word for his sales and I am highly skeptical just on the basis of his overblown comment and how he exagerates the significance of things like being listed on Amazon. That fanfic about “Star Wars” was listed on Amazon. I could get my mother’s grocery list on Amazon,, B& and those other sites. Anyone with an ISBN can do that. Blurbs mean nothing especially the ones he has. J.A. Konrath will blurb the toilet paper I wiped my ass with this morning if he thinks one person with a credit card will see it. Hansen’s positive reviews are from blogs and obscure websites like “roundtable review,” “In the Library Reviews” and “heartland review” and magazines like “Futures.” I think that says it all. Jan Burke is right and even if all of Hansen’s claims are true, how many bad writers out there with unpublishable novels are also wealthy lawyers who can afford the tens of thousands of dollars to invest in “publishing” their books outside of iUniverse and that ilk? Even if he has the minimal success that he claims, his example is hardly one to follow.

  6. The difference between Mr. Hansen and 99% of self-published authors is that he treated his novels as a business, stared up his own company, and probably invested a lot of money in the front end to promote his own books.
    That’s very different from iUniverse, the folks at PublishAmerica, and so on.

  7. It is different from vanity publishing, but I’ve seen Hanson’s reviews and it’s the usual vanity suspects led by Midwest Book Review. While he will reap all the profits, if any, he has also spent a ton of money to produce and distribute them.

  8. There are legitimate pod review blogs out there. PODY mouth (deceased), POD critic, and a few others. We charge no readings fees and give honest reviews. How does a print review in a newspaper differ?

  9. It’s in a newspaper and the reviewers have credentials recognized in the industry. That’s something you don’t have and thus a review from you means nothing.

  10. I think it just depends on what exactly you’re trying to do, who you are trying to reach, etc. I self-published a book of poetry in ’04, and sold a couple hundred books. Nothing right? Well I did this without any real marketing. What I’m trying to say is for a poetry book selling anymore than 50 as an unknown (self-published or not) is good stuff. I’ve read in several places that even some of the top names in poetry are lucky to sell 500 books.
    On the other hand I’m also working on a novel now and would seek publishing. BUT if you’ve ever read about first books (fiction) even if you are signed to one of the majors you have to work your ass off to create your own buzz, market, and just really be your own publicist. This is what people who self-publish and sell do. You can learn a lot from self-publishing. You can sell a decent amount of books, if you work at it, and you can sell practically nothing if you are with a major publisher and are an unknown.
    Of course you want the New York times to give you rave reviews. BUT that usually doesn’t happen any authors first time out the gate no matter what route they take. SOOO if you can’t get the BIG stuff…then why turn your noise up at Jim Bob’s site which may have 10, 000 readers. It’s all about exposure, awareness…and of course a good book to begin with.

  11. Wow! I’ve been on both sides of the coin, before i knew what i was doing in self-published with Iuniverse, i hired a well know Publicist and in the end Iuniverse made a lot of money, and i ended up with a hefty bill. Part II, i was approached by a traditional publisher to publish the book above, all was great, advance, royalties the whole nine yards, SCREEECH! the publisher learned from legal they can’t publish “already published works” in other words, no second editions…the book is in purgatory. Part III, a small press takes on my next book, good deal, no advance, but royalties, i market my butt off. Good reader reviews, one good Romantic Times review, sold a lot of copies, in libraries in half of the US…publisher made big bucks, i made enough to pay off one bill. Now, i guess if you don’t attract the attention of some big named publisher, which is getting more difficult everyday, bc truth be told, they are now no better than the “self-publisher”, also publishing “bad books” for the sake of sales. If your book doesn’t fall in line with whats hot now, it doesn’t get the go head, who cares that you have strong voice, great story, a following…is it chick -lit? paranormal romance? Anything like________fill in the blank. So, i’ll take my chances, like the guy above. I also have my own publishing company, and i plan on producing quality, entertaining work, and i will have sales, i’m just that type of girl, a dreamer yes, “if i build it, they will come”…not all about the money now guys, can really care less at this point what some newspaper reviewer says, but for the person, that guy, girl who reads my book and says, “i loved it, liked it”! Payment in full! Oh yeah, i still submit to agents, publishers etc….i’m just won’t let that be the end to all, cuz they are so caught up with what’s now and can’t see pass what they’ve already seen.


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