Does Self-Publishing Make “Real” Publishing Impossible?

I’ve been thinking of self-publishing my novel Oasis once I get the edits done. One of the questions I have to ask myself is “If I self publish Oasis, am I ruining my chances of getting published by a ‘real’ publisher?” I suspect that a lot of writers have wondered similar things about their fiction babies.

I suppose the first question that needs to be asked is:

What are the dangers in self publishing?

  1. Public Embarrassment – Let’s face it. The mean kids might laugh at you (that is, if any of them read your work,) and write nasty comments and reviews about your literary baby. All over the internet. This used to be a problem for me. I was terrified of bad reviews. Eventually, I got over it and started posting Oasis online. This is a danger no matter how you showcase your works, though.
  2. “Death of writing carrier” – From what I understand, this is no longer a real issue. Apparently at one time real publishers would never ever touch an author once they’ve self published.
  3. Loss of “First Printing Rights” ability to sell to a “real” publisher – OK, so if you self publish first I guess you do lose those. But let’s face it, you’re not going to get that big of an advance for your first book, anyway.
  4. Hidden Costs – Besides charging hefty up-front fees, a lot of self publishing houses nickle and dime the heck out of you. If you learn some simple new technical skills, you can avoid most of these, though. I’ll cover those sometime in the future.
  5. Obscurity – For me, this is the most ‘real’ danger. It is hard for a self-published author to get noticed by anybody.

So, is it even possible to go from ‘self’ to ‘real’ publishing?

The simple answer is yes. I can find several examples of books that were first self published first (or only). The wikipedia lists a bunch, including The Joy Of Cooking, Chicken Soup for the Soul, In Search of Excellence, and Eragon. Other self published authors include Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, and Rudyard Kipling.

In a more current real life example, Tony Monchinski, who I interviewed a while ago, started by self publishing his book Eden. It soon got picked up by Permuted Press.

Can a novel take off from a small publisher? Sure. Speaking again of Permuted Press, they recently had a book called John Dies At The End get relicensed by a filmmaker (and I’m guessing larger publishing house.)

Why would a publisher pick up an already-self-published novel?

The only reason a publisher publishes a book is this: They think it can make them a buck.

If you can prove your novel has selling potential, I think they might just be interested. Just remember, the only proof you can ever have that a book has selling potential is actual sales. Like sales in the thousands. That’s a lot of books.

Christopher Paolini did it with Eragon. He wrote the book, his parents “self-published” it, and then they set things up for his to speak at high schools (he was still right around high school age), they sold a bunch of copies, and then BAM! The next thing you know they’ve made one of those epic movies.

But his overnight success was still a whole lot of work.

How likely is it that I’ll be picked up by a traditional publisher once I’ve self-published?

My guess here is: not likely. Of course, it wasn’t likely before you self published, either. If you sell a bunch by yourself, though, it becomes much more likely.

Does this even matter?

Why do you want to publish anyway?

Is your work a memoir of a grandparent that you want to give to your family for Christmas? Yes, you should self publish.

Do you just want to hold a physical copy of your heartbreaking work of staggering genius in your hand? Of course – self publish.

For me, I want to write. I want to make my writings available in printed form to anyone that wants a copy. I don’t want to spend a lot of time going to conferences to schmooze agents, keeping track of rejections and submissions, or any of that. I just want to keep writing my little blog and my little fictions. If through my efforts I build up somewhat of a following (which would admittedly be cool) then someday yes, I’ll decide my probabilities are good a publisher will want me, and I’ll expend the effort to really pimp myself to them.

To answer my own question from the title: No it doesn’t make it impossible to get a real publisher, but for me, it doesn’t even matter (yet.)

So what am I forgetting?

What else have I not considered?

What are your thoughts about self-publishing?

Additional Info

dangers of self publishing.
Another Hidden Danger of Self Publishing
Wikipedia Article on Self Publishing
Print On Demand, One Year Later
Self Publishing Is A Bad Idea

10 thoughts on “Does Self-Publishing Make “Real” Publishing Impossible?

  1. I have a lot of thoughts on this. I try to discourage people from going this route for a lot of reasons until and unless they’ve exhausted their other options. Opinions vary, but you’ve provided most of the information on both sides here. Does self-publishing prevent an author from being picked up by the traditional publishing industry? Not always. Will the self-published work be picked up? Almost definitely not, and if the self-published work is part of a series, the entire series might be passed on. But nothing’s impossible.

    I only suggest to you that you try publishing Oasis traditionally because, A) I thought you wanted to be a professional published author in the traditional industry, and B) I think Oasis is good, strong writing and would be a commercial success. But you’ve stated different goals here than I understood, and we’re all different, striving for different things, with different objectives. If self-publishing is the best route for you to go with your work, and you’re going to hit your objectives best that way, then by all means self-publish.

    And I’ll say no more about it. 🙂

  2. Self Publishing can be a rewarding endeavor.
    Either way you are the one who must push sales of your books.
    My understanding is that the big publishers are looking for good business models.
    If you can show them that you were able to sell 10,000 books through a Self Publishing model they will probably see the opportunity to take you into the fold.
    If you are that successful you will possibly want to Keep doing it on your own and keep the lion share of the profits.
    The Publishing world is changing!
    Joel Turner

  3. An alternative to self-publishing is to set yourself up as your own publishing house by purchasing your own block of 10 ISBN numbers from and printing your book with one of the POD printing services without handing over any publishing rights whatsoever.

    The odds for unpublished author to get a reasonable publishing deal (and as a former acquisitions editor I know this) are very small, and if you are ready to share your work and you’re willing to take responsibility for selling, why wait?

    If your goal is to sell the book to a publisher, produce it the same way a publisher would — hire an editor and a professional designer. You’ll also need to plan to actively market your book. A professionally produced book with a solid sales and a good review or two is absolutely going to be more attractive to a bigger publisher than a manuscript from an undiscovered writer (though if you’re successful in selling it you might not want to give it up.) Publishers are not looking for great writing, they are looking for something that they can sell.

    Good Luck!
    Julie Trelstad
    Publisher, Plain White Press

  4. I think a book sells on its own – whether you self-publish or use a traditional publisher.

    Buying a book is an “impulse-buy” decision. You can still see people picking up a Kahlil Gibran over a Dan Brown book in a book store in India – although Kahlil Gibran has never been advertised, never been talked about.

    Godfather, Fountainhead, any Sidney Sheldon book and Mills and Boon get picked up everyday in India without even trying.

    It is important to note that some of the Popular Authors have died more than hundred years ago.

    I think, for an author, it is important to be honest while writing the story, give it your best and let word of mouth work or use any other promotional method to promote the book.

    It doesn’t matter whether you go the trditional way or not.

    Learn the value of patience. Try your best, always!

    Kishore Joshi
    One Step At A Time (Manzilein)
    Kishore Joshi

  5. Bryce,
    Never doubt yourself and your ability. From my perspective, OASIS is a GREAT book and needs to be published. There is a lot of serious crap out there that is published. I was lucky enough to have gotten a copy of Tony Monchinski’s book EDEN and good grief, it was truly an excellent read. His is taking off really good. Another writer, Rhiannon Frater who I think I’ve told you about, she’s self published and is doing very well. It’s going to sound corny as hell, but I’m going to say it anyhow. A quote if you will. “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself”. You’re good Bryce, don’t let fear, self doubt, or anything that the “mean kids” say to you stop you from your ultimate goal. And to take a quote from the DarcKnyte: And I’ll say no more about it. 😉

  6. I received a ton of good agent interest, but never landed a agent. So I self-published. There are a ton of self-pubs that are rushed, with horrible typos and stinky editing. If you clean up your novel well, I would self-pub. There are a number of good authors who self-pubbed and landed deals. Look professional, first and foremost.

    What are the dangers in self publishing?

    1. Public Embarrassment – Only if you have typos and grammar errors
    2. “Death of writing carrier” – Nope. Not at all. This is a new era, being written by us. Agents won’t care about your 800 self-pubs if they find one they like
    3. Loss of “First Printing Rights” ability to sell to a “real” publisher – most likely if you land a real pub, you won’t sell many anyway. Your old material won’t be worth purchasing for your new pub company.
    4. Hidden Costs – Lulu all the way. Low, low up front. Easy to put on Amazon. Quality work. No hidden costs.
    5. Obscurity – It’s hard for most published authors to get noticed. Heck, most of them don’t have a blog anywhere near the quality of yours.

  7. BTW, my self-pubs were featured in some nice magazines. Paramount Airways, an India airline, even featured one of my books in their in-flight magazine.

    Anything is possible.

  8. One more point…so many of the published novels I read are – well, crap. Sorry for being blunt, but they are. Don’t worry about laying yourself out there. The fact that you are concerned says to me that you probably write well. Those who don’t care usually turn out unpolished blather.

  9. Thanks for all the ideas, guys.

    Darc, Glenn – Let it be known that you guys are awesome. As far as Oasis goes, whether it gets published (traditionally) or not, it won’t be the last book I write. And the next one(s) will be even better.

    William – I really like Lulu. It’s one of two POD places that I’d consider using. Also, I don’t worry about embarrassment anymore. I’ve got thick skin and a desire to write.

    And I also have a couple of other projects going that will require self-publishing. One of which is the alluded-to memoir of my grandfather. He assembled it using a 286, typewriters and many photocopiers. There are only a couple of spiral bound copies floating around, and I’d love to make a good hardcover or softcover available to the extended family (and he had 5 kids, so there are plenty of us). So I’ll still be discussing self-publishing on this blog whether Random House comes beating down my door or not.

  10. Thank You for this discussion.

    1. It is very difficult for an unknown author to get in touch with the Traditional Publishers and whatever you send to them is called Unsolicited Mail or submission.

    2. Every blogger is ready with a “novella” nowadays in a matter of days, as research has become easy ‘on the net’ and so invariably every Publisher faces a problem of “Spam” novel.

    It took me four years to write, re-write, edit and re-edit the book and finally settle with as the publisher.

    Although I have to do most of the Promotional Activities for the book on my own, I am happy with the response that I have got for my book and the newly edited version of my book is available at

    The book is available for download only for One U.S. dollar printed version for USD 10/-. Although the printed version seems expensive, I am happy that the interest in the book has staryted growing among the Indian – Thai -American readers.

    All this has been made possible by this new technology called Print-on-Demand.

    Kishore Joshi
    One Step At A Time (Manzilein)
    Kishore Joshi

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