5 Fears of a Self-Publishing Virgin


These are both exciting and scary times for those within the publishing industry. By all accounts, writers have it made. As I pointed out in one of my earlier posts, it does seem like it’s a good time to be a writer. Not only with blogs and social media giving you instant gratification in terms of getting your content read by people, the publishing wheels appear to be turning – ever so slowly – in the author’s favour.

They’ve not turned fully, though. So for those of us who are one side of the fence peering out over the jagged edges to the other side, some fears remain. I’ve been a traditionally published author for almost five years, but now the calls are getting shriller, though the fears remain.

What if I am not a good businessman?

Making the shift to self-publishing – whether it is of e-books or physicals – is to turn from a trader into to a business owner. So far I’ve been happily writing my novels, selling to the highest bidder, pocketing my advance, and offloading my risk elsewhere. Now if I have to put out my own book, not only do I have to take care of editing, layout and all that jazz, but I have to also make sure that the numbers add up. Financially. And if you didn’t know it already, the worst nightmares authors have come in the shape of notes and coins. So ultimately, the big fear is whether or not I have it in me to become a businessman.

What if they’re right?

Traditional publishers are always telling us that they have a lot to offer, by way of editing, cover design, distribution, type-setting, printing, sales and marketing. In India they’re also telling us that e-books don’t sell. What if after I snub a publisher’s offer and bring out the book by myself, I find that there are no takers? Or worse, what if the quality of the book is inferior? It would be embarrassing to learn that lesson the hard way.

What if all the success stories you hear are exceptions?

As a rule, only the exceptions make the news. While it is great to hear of people who have gone ‘indie’ and are making comfortable livings for themselves, could it be that this is an exception rather than the norm? Could it be that for every success, there are vast numbers of authors whose work just doesn’t make enough? In other words, what if the probability of ‘making a living’ is the same? Would it be wise to jeopardize an established career in traditional publishing to give self-publishing a go?

What if I am not able to sell the book by myself?

This is the biggest fear. Authors are not very good at sales, promotion, marketing and PR. Is it possible that I will blow my budgets without selling any copies of the book? What if the whole process of going on blog tours and participating in giveaways and contests gets to me and sends me crawling back, licking my wounds, into the arms of my publisher? Will he take me back, then? Or will I find myself stuck on the fence, unable to jump on either side?

In a nutshell: what if I fail?

Ironically, I wouldn’t have thought so much about failure if self-publishing were my only option. But now that I’ve made a career for myself in the traditional business, the prospect of jumping has become that much scarier. I’m still going to do it, I think, but I take hesitant steps, and I’m forever looking around myself. There is the carrot dangling in front of my eyes, the carrot of owning complete rights to your work and controlling every part of it, but there’s also a stick looming in the background.

Those of you who are experienced self-published authors: is this normal? Do you have any words of advice? And those of you who are primarily readers, would you buy the books of an author you like if he chooses to publish a few of his booksย just in e-book form?

Image Courtesy: Perspectives Writing and Editingย 


  1. As a reader, the issue I face with self published books is the fact that there is simply not enough publicity and buzz around the book itself. And this way, more than quite a few good books simply go unsold or unread.


  2. Indie publishing is a challenge – it takes some time, learning, patience and investment to get anywhere, I think. If authors are comfortable investing in & promoting their own works, this is a great time to be in Indie publishing. In the Kindle jungle, visibility is as crucial as writing, and that might take up a lot of author’s time.

    I feel you should definitely try it, at least to get a hang of it. I am sure you have some stories that publishers wouldn’t take, but you are passionate about writing – maybe you can start with publishing them yourself. At this point, I think, going through publishers is better in India. But self publishing is a future bet – it maybe a good idea to start laying the foundations now. Just my thoughts . . .

    Destination Infinity


    • Interesting. Yes, I will definitely try it out. I think in the long run it will only help me. I am not planning to publish those books that no one took, though. I am planning to publish a book that has generated interest and is on the cusp of getting an offer. That is the thing I am worried about – whether saying no to traditional publishers and going the self-publishing route will reap dividends or not.

      But there’s no way other than to try it, I guess. Thanks for the comment.


      • If the book is getting an offer from a publisher, why refuse? The biggest advantage of being an indie publisher is the freedom the platform gives – if you have an off-beat story or is short (say 100 pages) or is globally relevant, you can experiment with indie publishing. Every author has such a story in their mind.

        For example, my next book is about a group of animals in a national park that come together and try to take over the neighboring city. I don’t think traditional publishers will be interested in this genre (what genre is that anyway? ๐Ÿ™‚ ). But I will write it. That’s why I love Indie-publishing.


  3. Self-publishing is a lot of hard work and trial & error. But for those with the talent who are willing to invest the time (and it will take A LOT of time), self-publishing is incredibly rewarding. I wish you the best of luck on your journey!


    • Thanks, Conjurors. Is it easier for someone who has traditionally published three books to get into indie publishing? Because (at least in theory) he/she already has a readership? Or does it take the same amount of time and effort?

      Well, whatever it is, I suppose I have to dip my toe into the water and see ๐Ÿ™‚


  4. Interesting read , Sharath…agree with those fears.


  5. Interesting. Self-publishing sounds risky for someone who’s writing full time but quite convenient for someone who’s merely an amateur hobbyist hoping to get some readership. ๐Ÿ™‚


    • Not sure if it’s risky for an already established writer or not. The self-publishing successes will say it’s ‘easier’ for an established name because he already has a readership.

      But I guess we’re all afraid of change.


  6. It’s really interesting to see about the realistic worries of an established writer; you offer an unusual slant to the debate. I publish as an Indie and I would echo what many of us say – it’s a marathon and not a sprint. My sales grew slowly over three years and then suddenly took off, partly due the fact that I had great new covers and had hit upon a genre new to me.

    I really wouldn’t worry too much about spending too much of your time on social media – it’s totally in your control. As for me I’m delighted that I had my first sale in India. After reading a post about the exchange rates, cost of living and how big global publishersnare ignoring this I used my Indie freedom to reduce my price to something fairer to readers in your country.

    Good luck with your plans. And I advise you check out some blogs which offer great advice. David Gaughran, Hugh Howie, Joanna Penn, Dean Wesley Smith and Bob Mayer are always worth reading.


    • Hi Martin,

      Welcome to the blog. I understand when you say it’s a marathon and not a sprint. Traditional publishing has been a marathon too for me so far. Now, after six years of running, I am at a stage where I’m selling everything I write. So do I now stop running this marathon altogether and begin from scratch in the self-publishing marathon? or do I run both at the same time? These are questions that are plaguing me.

      The main issue is of course that a bird in hand makes you comfortable. Why not just sell my writing to the highest bidder and move on to the next one, a part of me asks. But then the other side is that the rewards are potentially greater when you self-publish (because you own the rights and so on). So a part of me is excited, but the other part is feeling bad for being too greedy.

      And yes, the exchange rate goes both ways. For an Indie writer in India (I used to think ‘Indie’ was short of ‘Indian’ before) to sell books in the US and the UK, we can afford to sell it for a dollar or even fifty cents and still make profits. A $2.99 book may be ‘cheap’ by your standards, but by ours it’s par for the course, if not a tad on the expensive side.

      I will check out the bloggers you mentioned. Thanks again for the encouraging comment ๐Ÿ™‚


  7. I’m not sure if you’re saying e-books or print books. But if it’s e-books, check the top 100 books sold on Kindle. You’ll see either big names or erotica. You might not be targeting the top 100, but it’s a black box. I don’t know how much money you need to pour in to get the title visibility.

    As for print, it has its pros and cons.

    Cons are complete responsibility. Right from editing, cover, printing, distribution, and display in stores/e-comm stores. Editing, cover should be fine. Lots of talented free lancers around, and Indian big publishing houses aren’t hotshots in it either. Printing, distribution and display, these are dirty jobs which you will have to do. Like netting a big fish to take your book for distribution. (You shouldn’t have a problem here since you are published author). But you’ll have to follow up with the printer, see to it that all centers of the distributor receive the copies.

    The real headache is the stores. Co-ordinating with them and trying to get them to stock your book. I think E-comm stores are fine. Once the book reflects in your distributors stock, they pick it up. But physical stores, be prepared to put the good ole self-respect on the line.

    Anyway, all the above are fine and manageable with a little feet on the street attitude. These are things your publisher did, which now you’ll have to. They don’t last more than a month to two in any case, and aren’t daily activities. If you have an all weather friend (cousin, wife, parent, sibling, secretary, anybody really) who is bull in china shop type, then it helps a lot.

    The real bitch is MARKETING. Which even your publisher never did. (I’m assuming this since we’re in India). So this is how the cookie crumbles. All the things that your publisher did is the burger, the hot dog. But what he left out the secret hot sauce to success, even when you were a published author.

    Long and short is, you are doing the most god-fucking important job (more god-fucking important than writing) to give your book wings whether you go to a publisher or self publish. Marketing it.

    One pro is ofcourse more royalty. But by how much? If you get standard 10 now, as self published author, after cutting the distributor share, printing cost and transportation, you might get 20 (considering book is priced 200 and printing cost is Rs. 40/book, and the distributor sucks away 50-55% of MRP). Is the additional 10% worth the work? Or would you rather let the publisher do that, and you focus on becoming a huge name? Like do all kind of gymnastics, from Lit Fests to paid PR to getting Poonam Pandey to dangle your book between her wet fingers (or anything else) when she is twittering snaps from the bath tub.

    Ofcourse both things can be done, but you’ll have to see in which department you want to put in all your energies. Considering you are writing too.


    • Hi Amit,

      Thanks for the reply. When I said ‘self-publishing’, I meant e-books rather than physical books. Self-publishing in physical books will have all those cons that you mentioned and more. I don’t have the legs to run THAT race.

      With e-books, the idea is not to become a bestseller or be in the top 100, but be a mid-lister. Being a mid-lister in e-books still gives you a comfortable living, from what I’ve read. But as you hinted, there is a certain amount of selection bias here: i.e. the most successful e-book authors tend to blog a lot, be most visible and so on, so you hear from them more. As ever, you hear the tales of success more loudly than tales of failure.

      You’re right in saying the real bitch is marketing, which goes for both traditional publishing and self-publishing. As I said in my previous comment, I don’t HAVE to try self-publishing at the moment (I am selling whatever I write). I want to because I think that’s where the future is headed, with electronic and online devices becoming the norm. You could say I’m being greedy. Or prepared for the future.

      Regardless I will not give up traditional publishing altogether. I think it does a fine job of getting you credibility as an author. Maybe I will become a ‘hybrid’ author. Let’s see.

      Your comment made me think. Thanks once again for taking the time.


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