"Should I self-publish or should I try to find a conventional publisher?"

For authors of every stripe, but especially for early stage authors, this is almost a dilemma today. Whether 'tis nobler in the long run to wait for a publishing deal or jump straight to one of many self-directed print, e-book or other digital options and permutations - now that is the question. The entire universe of writing, publishing, marketing and reading is in complete turmoil and the possibilities are almost endless and changing weekly. How should an author who has completed his first, second or third book move forward while still keeping as many doors and options open as possible?

A simple Google search can give you reams of information and interesting stories about the history of publishing and who has and who didn't use a conventional publisher and their results. Rather than take up your current time with that, let's deal with a few of today's realities and the biggest one faced by a new author which is, "Can I land a deal with a big publisher?" And the answer, in 90% of the cases is, NO ! If you are absolutely convinced, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that you are among the 10%, then stop reading this and run to your nearest agent (no, not publisher - agent) and get them to start shopping your manuscript now. If you have a serious degree of "celebrity status" and a large marketing platform or tribe, then, get thee to an agent and publisher...

Alright, now that they have left us, let's deal with reality as it exists for 9 out of 10 aspiring authors. Publishing, self-publishing, assisted self-publishing and all of the other options are a business and like it or not, you have to treat it as such. If you have spent the last 30 years holed up in your parent's basement writing the "next big thing" and expecting someone to knock on the door demanding the publishing, foreign language and movie rights, uhhh, they're not coming. Those of us still dealing in a real time universe need to seriously consider the many self-publishing options and learn how to market our books. This is complicated, in some ways, by the fact that there are many printers out there who offer some sort of "publishing package" but really, they are simply printers trying to maximize their bottom line by filling your garage with boxes of books.

Bottom line: 
  • accept the fact that you will need to self-publish your first book or two
  • actively seek out objective help from another author, book coach or knowledgeable person who can guide you through the maze
  • the more objective and "arms-length" your adviser, the better
  • contract (if you can't do it yourself) an experienced book marketer to help
  • learn everything you can about the process
  • beware of snake-oil salesmen and yes, women - if it doesn't feel right - don't do it
  • be skeptical about the "publishing house" that gushes over your manuscript and insists that their "package" will make you a best seller - look carefully before writing the check
  • check "publishing" references from REAL authors - phone them
  • if you have already done it - pay it forward and help others
So, there really is no one-size-fits-all approach to getting your books into the hands of a reading public but understanding that the business of selling your book is yours; the marketing and sales function belongs to the author, regardless of whether a big-time publishing house buys the rights or you keep them yourself. There are lots of forums, including this one, to post thoughts, ideas, advice and questions - take advantage of them. But honestly, most of us will have to seriously investigate the self-publishing options until we have built an audience. Pay very close attention to the business of marketing before you make a decision - have a plan and don't assume that someone else will do it for you.

Help another aspiring author by posting your experiences, thoughts and questions here.