I’m not sure if this has been answered yet, but I always have people tell me that self publishing might not be safe. What are the dangers of self publishing? Also, a question to the published writers: what do you think is better? Self publishing or traditional publishing?

  • @Cyn - Why "ethics"? Jul 15, 2019 at 16:29
  • @ChrisSunami Please feel free to suggest something better. I was thinking about "safety" in terms of being ripped off by printers or distributors and stuff like that. What does "safety" even mean in this case? It's not clear.
    – Cyn
    Jul 15, 2019 at 17:23
  • @mazo4034 Can you please explain what you mean by "not safe"? Jul 15, 2019 at 18:22
  • @Cyn If it's OK with you, I'm going to remove the "ethics" tag --I see that more as dealing with your own ethical responsibilities as a writer. I see from the tag description it can also apply to what responsibilities the publisher has towards you, but it still seems like a stretch for this question. Jul 15, 2019 at 18:24
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    @Cyn That's a good argument. Hopefully the OP will come back and tell us what he or she meant by "not be safe." :) Jul 15, 2019 at 18:37

3 Answers 3


Although I have heard a few success stories, I think self-publishing is a mistake.

The obvious benefits of a professional editor are lost, that includes your work not straying into copyright infringement, slander or libel, or falling afoul of pornography laws (which one might do if portraying explicit sexual acts with characters beneath the age of consent, or advocating for such acts).

Amongst other benefits, professional editors and readers often catch dumb mistakes for you, in punctuation, bad word choice, unnecessarily racist or sexist analogy, etc. You don't have to fix them, but it is good to know if you have done it unintentionally. They can point out story problems, or character inconsistencies. An editor caught a line in my book where I attributed a statement to the wrong character. A minor mistake but confusing, and it would have been immortalized in a self-published book, because I had read that line myself at least five times.

Many of these things are also delivered by agents if you can get one to take on your work (and IMO it is worth the commission, but don't ever pay for an agent or sign your work over to one. Research not getting ripped off by an unethical agent, they should work for commission only and you need a way out if they go a long time without selling your work).

Finally, the traditional route offers you professional market analysis. There are plenty of honest people out there seeking new talent for books or screenplays, that are focused on making money for both themselves and for you. Most of them would love to discover a new author they think can write blockbusters, and they aren't interested in stealing your first work and breaking such a relationship from the start. A fair deal with a new author can establish a strong relationship that will make both of you millions.

That is not to say you should trust them: get their contracts reviewed before signing them, don't ever be coerced into a signing by an ultimatum (a near sure sign of a rip-off).

But that said, if you cannot get the traditional publishing route to work, the chances of self-publishing working for you is much reduced. If professionals trained in the market and making money publishing do not think your work is marketable or salable, it may cost you many thousands of dollars in your own (and likely naive and amateur) marketing efforts learn what they already told you.

I suspect most of the wild self-publishing success stories could well have been traditionally published; but I can't say that for sure. There are always a few unicorns that nobody in the industry would have touched but still strike it rich, like "The Blair Witch Project".

My advice would be to try very hard for a year to go the traditional publishing route as many times as you can. If what you have can be sold, I think somebody will recognize it. If your motivation for considering self-publishing is resentment over somebody else getting rich on your work, get over it: They sell their contacts, their judgment, the trust other professionals have in their judgment, and their expertise. All stuff you don't have!

In the end a fair piece of some real actual money is better than all the money you imagine but never get on your own. And finally, if you DO self-publish and fail, it may preclude you from ever getting the work traditionally published, because you have both poisoned the well and proven your work doesn't sell.

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    I would agree with all of this except "the benefits of professional editor are lost," because there's nothing stopping you from hiring a professional editor to look over your manuscript. Dec 18, 2017 at 10:57
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    Are you asking "Why would someone pay for an editor when the person is self-publishing"? Because "self-published" doesn't have to mean "piece of trash" by definition. Self-published writers pay for editing (ahem), layout (Ahem), and cover design (AHEM) so that their final product is something to be proud of, even if the book can't get a foot in the door at a regular publisher. Dec 19, 2017 at 16:38
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    @Jedidiah On the contrary, that comment is in explaining why publishers don't want to rip off your first book, which on average does even more poorly than the average for subsequent books (when the author is better known). They want a relationship with an author they believe is capable of producing huge sales, and I have heard this same justification from them, they do indeed think in terms of several books and millions of copies. If they think you are good, it makes little sense to rip you off with a bad first deal. Just in case, that's why signing with a commission-only agent is important.
    – Amadeus
    Jul 15, 2019 at 17:01
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    @Jedediah We are talking about different things. Authors can get published by mainstream publishers, and get paid, and make themselves, their agent, and their publisher a profit worth continuing. I am not saying they only take writers of blockbusters, I am saying they are always hoping to get one, and I don't think that is a controversial or non-factual claim! Because they want a profitable long term relationship, they generally don't try to screw a new author out of their fair share. The real profit is in subsequent books, not the first, so they don't poison the well.
    – Amadeus
    Jul 15, 2019 at 20:29
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    @Jedediah Because it can, meaning it is a possibility, they don't know where their next blockbuster comes from, but if you write well it could be from you. Also, the relationship can result in millions if you publish several books with them, without any given book hitting #1 on the charts. And that is why they are strongly disincentivized to cheat you. Some beginning writers think they are getting a raw deal, and don't recognize the decades of expertise and experience that should be involved in producing and marketing books professionally.
    – Amadeus
    Jul 15, 2019 at 20:40

Having done both self-publishing and traditional publishing, I would say this: Self publish only if you are ready, willing and able to treat your book like a product, and to sell all copies personally and directly. The biggest issue with self-publishing is that you have to wear all hats, and do all jobs (or outsource them, often at considerable expense, and sometimes with questionable quality). The biggest of those jobs, by far, is sales. I still have boxes and boxes of my self-published book, not because I quit being able to sell them, but because I got tired of being a salesperson for them.

If you are a public speaker, or would like doing author visits, if you don't mind touring, if you're a marketing genius, and you don't mind flogging your book mercilessly, you could make a great living as a self-publisher --maybe even see your book rise to the best-seller lists. You definitely see a much bigger margin of profit per book sold as a self-publisher (assuming you don't go through a vanity press). But personally, I don't envision myself ever going that route again.

I wouldn't necessarily call it "unsafe" however --I would ask your friends what they meant by that. What comes to mind for me is the likelihood of being ripped off by unethical bottom-feeders providing publishing services, or losing significant amounts of money (even without being ripped off) just from not making back your expenditures.

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    I will add the unfortunate truth that having a publisher doesn't mean you don't have to treat your book like a product and do all or most of the selling yourself. Finding this out with spouse's comic series which has a traditional publisher that does pretty much nothing (except the setup services one can buy and to take 50% of the income).
    – Cyn
    Jul 15, 2019 at 17:30
  • @Cyn - It's true that you often have to be your own saleperson, even with a traditional publisher. But with self-publishing, you literally have to sell 100% of the books yourself. No one else has a vested interest in your sales, and as a consequence, no one else is selling them --ever. Jul 15, 2019 at 18:26
  • That is absolutely true. Though right now the e-comics are on Comixology and Drive-Thru Comics and there is zero difference in sales with the publisher having put them there vs if we did it directly with the retailers. Once the first physical book comes out (early fall?) we're hoping to see more of boost from having a publisher. Note: there was zero editing from them too, aside from a content boundary.
    – Cyn
    Jul 15, 2019 at 18:38
  • Retailers have a vested interest in your sales though. It is harder to get your book into the stores if you're self-publishing, but that's not true for e-books. They'll likely push traditionally published books more, and big name publishers more, and the publishers sometimes send promotional materials too, but it is the case that retailers want people to buy.
    – Cyn
    Jul 15, 2019 at 18:40
  • There's less incentive for a publisher to be hands on with ePublishing, since the costs are minimal. With a physical book, they have some skin in the game --something they've paid money to produce. With that said, I don't know the comics world, but I suspect it's expected there that writers shoulder a lot of the promotional work. Jul 15, 2019 at 18:41

When comparing self-publishing or traditional publishing, there is no "better" option to pick from. The better option is up to you.

Self-Publishing is for the entrepreneur writer who is willing to take personal responsibility for their stories getting to the readers. You have to be willing to accept constructive criticism and make changes accordingly and not be shy about asking for input from others.

Traditional publishing takes a lot of the creative control away from the writer and places it with the editor. Some writers prefer this because they can get the experience of others to help make their stories as good as it can be.

As for marketing and sales, I've spoken with writers of tradpub and selfpub and both tell me that marketing is up to the author. Traditional publishing houses do not market your book for you unless you are a center piece of their publishing house, and most rookie authors will not get that.

In the end the choice is yours, and that is a great thing. It used to be you had no choice and were at the mercy of a corporate publishing machine. If you are willing to take full control, and keep the majority of the earnings, the publishing independent of a corporation is a viable option. If going alone scares you, then find an agent that will help lead you down the path of corporate publishing.

Either way you chose, make sure to tell your story. The world is a better place when it is filled to over flowing with stories.

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