When self-publishing might be right for you

This post is a continuation of my post of May 15, 2017. The article originally appeared in Publishing and was written by Jerry Jenkins, a best selling NY Times author. I’ve have shortened the article.

1. When Self-Publishing Makes Sense

I’ve (Jerry Jenkins)  made it my life’s work to coach writers to get their writing to a level where they can market it to traditional publishers. You’ll rarely see me suggest self-publishing as a first option but here are some instances when it is the best choice:

  • When your book does not have wide commercial appeal. Traditional publishers cannot accept books of interest to only several hundred friends and relatives. I self-published two volumes of my late father’s poetry, as well as a short biography of my wife’s grandmother, who lived to be 101.
  • When you need to be published for the sake of your career. You may be a professor under a publish-or-perish mandate. Or you may be an expert in some esoteric science or discipline in which it behooves you to have books available at speaking events.
  • When you have exhausted all traditional publishing avenues and realize that either your subject matter or your writing quality will never be favored by traditional publishers, yet you remain determined to be published.

In that last case, if you choose the self-publishing route, be prepared to spend as much as it takes to get a final product that looks as much as possible like a traditionally published book. If you’re not willing or able to spend that much, at least have someone edit and proofread your book.

And realize that the responsibility of promotion and marketing and sales will fall entirely on you. You’ll either do it yourself, or you will pay for it.

2. Before You Settle for Self-Publishing

If you’re having trouble landing an agent or a traditional publisher, take a hard look at the writing itself. Weak writing is the #1 cause of rejections.

3.The Truth about Agents and Publishers

They aren’t looking for reasons to reject your manuscript. Though the best agents and editors can tell within five minutes whether your manuscript is publishable, they want you to succeed. If your first few pages aren’t error-free or don’t grab the reader by the throat, agents and editors immediately know it’ll be far too labor-intensive (expensive) for an editor to clean up.

(If you’re wondering how to clean up your own manuscript to give it the best chance with an agent or a traditional publisher, my ultimate self-editing guide will get you started.)

JERRY JENKIN’S CONFESION….Despite holding for decades my current view of self-publishing, I did waver a few years ago and even offered self-publishing packages through my former guild. I heard enough writers complain that they found it impossible to break into traditional publishing. I believed I had seen the light and developed a self-publishing package that did little but prove to me in the end that I had been right all along. No one seemed to be able to afford a self-publishing package that included everything that I insisted would make it reputable.

I wound up publishing several of my colleagues, who largely resurrected and updated out-of-print traditional titles. Bookstores accepted these because well-known writers’ names were on them, as was mine.

That proved to be my short-lived attempt at doing something credible in that market. I was left feeling the need to post a blog like this.

Mr. Jenkins advice: 

  • Give yourself to the craft
  • Hone your writing skills
  • Read everything you can about writing, including my idea of the best books on writing
  • Exhaust all efforts to get your writing quality to the level where you can compete for a traditional book contract

If you do opt for self-publishing, there are some good, reputable companies out there. But do yourself a favor and read this revealing book before you sign a contract: Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should (Updated Second Edition)

Though I disagree that “you should,” aside from certain circumstances, the chapter on vanity presses alone (especially some associated with established traditional publishing houses) is a must-read. Many of these have been under investigation for failing to pay writers, overcharging, and otherwise taking advantage of newbie authors.


Regardless the method of publishing you choose, your reader deserves quality writing. Self-publishing is no excuse for less than your absolute best effort.


I know it is VERY hard to find a traditional publisher, and yes you have to most if not all of the promoting of your book, but a traditional publisher gives your book a mark of credibility and a professional, polished appearance.

As always, comments are appreciated. Agree or disagree with me. Share your experiences in a comment. Thank you.


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