Words to Profit

Self-Publish or Get a Mainstream Publisher?

How to Decide Which is Best for You

by Diane Eble

Most people, when they think of publishing a book, automatically want to get published by a mainstream publisher. The kind who will pay you to publish your book, as well as pay the upfront publishing costs.

There are definitely advantages to being published by mainstream publishers. However, there are downsides as well. It really all comes down to what your goals are in getting published. Then you can figure out which path is best for you.

Let's take a look at some of the advantages to each kind of publishing.

Advantages of Self-Publishing

In some instances, self-publishing is the better route. Consider self-publishing if:

  • you want to get your book out quickly. For instance, if you're a business person or speaker who wants a book to boost your credibility, garner you higher consulting or speaking fees, and have something to sell in the back of the room, self-publishing is the best path by far. You need to get your book out there. You don't have time to wait sometimes years to find a literary agent, then a publisher. 
  • you plan to sell your book yourself. Again, if your book is mainly a way to enhance what you're already doing, you want the maximum control over when the book is printed, and how much profit you make from it. Mainstream publishers often don't give authors a huge break on books they buy to sell themselves. Plus, you're at the mercy of their decision as to when and even if to reprint. 
  • you have the resources to pay the upfront costs. Especially if you know you can sell books in the back of the room, or that it's worth it to give them away as a lead generator for your business, you will likely recoup those costs from sales. Look at it as an investment in your marketing. A book is an asset that can bring the financial rewards mentioned above: higher-paying clients and speaking fees (your book brands you as an expert), an easy way to get new clients, something to give away to promote your services, a way to introduce people to your expertise and lead them to your higher-prices products or services, etc. (See my Special Report, "14 Ways a Book Will Boost Your Business" for more on this.) 

The downsides of self-publishing are the upsides of mainstream publishing.

Advantages of Mainstream Publishing

  • Get paid to publish. The obvious advantage is the fact that you get paid to write your book, rather than having to pay any upfront costs yourself. Though your advance against royalty might not be large (nowadays the average is $10,000, but they are actually shrinking), still, it's better than having to put out the money yourself.

However, know that there will still be costs involved, mostly in terms of marketing your book. While some publishers will still give you some marketing at launch time, the success of your book is up to you. If you don't actively promote it, the publisher will soon put your book out of print.

  • Your book gets into the bookstores. Another huge advantage: You get into the bookstores. Most print-on-demand publishers don't get you into the bookstores, though they promise they will. Read the language carefully in self-publishing contract. Most POD publishers won't take bookstore returns, and because of this, bookstores won't stock their books.
  • Possibility of getting on bestseller lists. Another little-known fact is that bestseller lists are based on bookstore sales. If you want to get on the typical bestseller lists, your book needs to be in the bookstores.
  • Credibility with the media. When a mainstream publisher backs you, you have more credibility. Especially with the media. Believe me, they know who the mainstream publishers are, and, for the most part, give precedence to books published by those publishers.

    Part of the reason for that is the sheer number of books being published (something like 180,000 per year). Media folks need some way of culling out the best from the second-best. Mainstream-published books generally are better written, better edited, and better packaged. The media who review books knows this.

One important thing to know about seeking a mainstream publisher: It can take a long time before your book gets published. If you want a mainstream publisher, you absolutely must have an outstanding book proposal to attract a literary agent and then a publisher.


If you have the luxury of time, have a burning desire to be published by a mainstream publisher, are willing to devote yourself to "being an author" which means building and maintaining a platform, and don't need to depend on a book as a main income generator (royalties alone seldom make any author rich), then go for mainstream publishing.  

Changes Blurring the Lines

Publishing is undergoing huge changes, fueled by changes in technology. With print-on-demand technology being used by all publishers, and with all the changes happening in the publishing industry, the lines between mainstream and self-published books are blurring.

So, though many in the media will not look at a self-published book, it often has more to do with the fact that so many self-published books don't look as professionally packaged as mainstream books.  If your book looks just as good as any you'd find in a bookstore, you overcome that hurdle. If you have an interesting idea, a platform (as in, website and some kind of demonstrable media exposure), and an interesting hook--they will overlook how your book was published.

I know it sounds like I'm contradicting myself, but the bottom line is: What you really need is a great idea, an audience, and a well-packaged book. By well-packaged book I mean: arresting title, professional-looking cover, interior design (most authors overlook this crucial factor, and their books stand out as shoddy because of it).

So, if you determine that your book will have these things, you can either look for a mainstream publisher or self-publish.

Again, it all comes down to: Why do you want to publish a book? The answer to that question gives you the lens to focus on the right choice for you.

Recommended Resources on this topic:

  • Listen to the Virtual Book Tour I did with Mark Levine on self-publishing and how to choose a reputable self-publishing company. Also the podcast interview we did prior to the VBT.
  • If you are interested in finding a mainstream publisher, you will need to write an outstanding book proposal. Check out Jump Start Your Book: 12 Steps to Writing a Book that Sells to lay the foundation necessary for a great platform and irresistible book proposal. One of the bonuses is an audio class on "How to Write Irresistible Queries and Book Proposals."
  • Terry Whalin did an amazing 2-hour interview with 8 top publishing professionals--editors and publishers who talked about what they look for in a book proposal and author. You simply can't get access to this kind of info anywhere else. Check out my review or simply sign up to hear the replay!

Watch Diane suggest how to get the most out of your visit here.


FREE Teleseminar:

Overcoming success blocks (in your writing, marketing, life): two-part interview with Dr. Alex Loyd, author of the best-selling book, The Healing Code.

FREE Special Reports:
"14 Ways a Book Will Boost Your Business"

"Frame-of-Mind Marketing: How to Convert Your Online Prospects into Customers"

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Read my article on why you need a book proposal, even if you plan to self-publish.


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