Self-Publishing is Free—and Others Lies

Self-publishing is a great path to finding success as an author, but it’s a lot of hard work. If anyone told you it would be easy, they lied to you. And it’s likely “they” told you other lies too!

Let’s just unpack them, shall we?

“Self-publishing is free.”

If you look at the big picture, this is always going to be a false statement because there are so many different components to books and publishing that you can’t possibly know how to do well from the start. And, if you can’t do them well, then you’re going to struggle putting together a finished product that sells. Here are only a few things you might need that you’ll need to spend money on:

  • Book Covers—you might think you can a marketable book cover yourself, but the truth is that most people can’t. It doesn’t matter how many of your friends tell you how amazing the cover is, if it doesn’t look like it belongs in your genre, you’ve done yourself a huge disservice because potential readers will definitely judge your book by its cover.
  • Formatting—it’s not as simple as uploading a Word document into your self-publishing portal. The dimensions, margins, and spacing have to be just right to look like a proper final draft. You don’t have to hire someone special to do this, but you will have to invest in some software that makes the formatting process easier for you.
  • Editing—as much as you don’t want to face it, your book needs editing. Real editing, not just a proofread. If you publish your book without it, many readers will think you don’t take your books seriously. So, why should they? This is especially important for writers who are just beginning. You need someone to pull you back if something isn’t working in your story.

Can you do it for free? Technically, yes. But the real question should be . . . should you self-publish for free? And my short but clear answer to that is NO.

“I’m a writer, not a marketer.”

If you’ve said this at least once—and you refuse to learn how to market your books—self-publishing is not for you. Unless, of course, you don’t plan to sell any books. And, if that’s true, I’d seriously re-think why you want to become a self-published author in the first place. It’s all well and good to write stories because that’s what you love to do, but if you didn’t want people to read them, you would keep them to yourself.

It’s fine if you’re not setting out to publish books because you want to make a living; that’s not a requirement to pursuing a career as an author. However, if you want your books to be read widely, you’re going to make a lot of sales. And it’s hard to make those sales (or get those reads) if nobody knows your book is out there.

We accomplish this with marketing. I get it; it’s hard. It’s so hard that it sends so many would-be successful authors away screaming. But here’s the truth: it doesn’t have to be that hard. Just find a marketing platform that you’re comfortable with and get started. It will take some time to find the right strategy, but you’ll get there.

“Only amateurs self-publish.”

I’m going to answer this question with a list of some self-published authors:¹

  • Margaret Atwood
  • Frank Baum
  • William Blake
  • Beatrix Potter
  • Lord Byron
  • Charles Dickens
  • T.S. Eliot
  • Stephen King
  • Mark Twain
  • Ernest Hemingway
  • E.L. James
  • e.e. cummings

Now, if it’s good enough for Stephen King or Margaret Atwood, why should you be too good to self-publish?

The real problem is that there’s no one to govern when a bad book is self-published; there are no gatekeepers at Ingram Spark or Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) to stop you from publishing crap. So, we should amend our statement to “some amateurs self-publish.” Of course, you don’t want to be an amateur, so you’re going to do everything you can to ensure you self-publish a quality book, right?

“You can’t make any money self-publishing.”

Not true. Not even close to being true.

I personally know authors who make six figures and beyond as self-publishers, but it didn’t happen over night. They worked their asses off to earn their success. But here’s a few things that work in their favor:

  • They don’t publish their books for free.
  • They market their books.
  • They put a real effort into creating a quality product.

In other words, they don’t believe the lies people tell about self-publishing.

[Post originally published on my Medium page.]


1: Alliance of Independent Authors, “Famous Self-Publishing Authors: Past and Present,” December 11, 2019,

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