Do You Think Self-Publishing is Easy or Hard?


Everyone says, “Self-publishing is easy!” But is it really? That depends upon who answers the question. In this guest post, W. Terry Whalin (@TerryWhalin) provides his view on why self-publishing is not easy and what you need to do to self-publish successfully.

Almost everyone has a keyboard and a computer with the ability to crank out words and produce a manuscript—whether nonfiction or fiction. Publishing a book has never been easier. But authors who want to traditionally publish struggle to find a literary agent and a publishing deal. They get tired of crafting an excellent product, waiting, and rejection letters. So they decide to self-publish because that option looks easy. 

For over 20 years, I’ve been reading about publishing and writing and working in this business as an editor and writer. I recently read an interesting article written by Jane Friedman, former editor at Writer’s Digest and a publishing expert. I encourage you to read her recent article, too. I want to quote a brief section of Friedman’s article: 

Back in 2012, there were many headlines about the tremendous growth in self-publishing output as demonstrated by the increase in ISBNs used by indie authors.

Since then, Bowker—the agency that issues ISBNs in the United States—has continued to release annual stats that still show growth in the sector, but these numbers always come with important caveats, including:

  • Bowker’s figures don’t reflect all of the self-publishing activity out there.They can’t count books that don’t have ISBNs, and a considerable volume of self-pub titles are published and distributed without ISBNs.
  • Bowker’s counts are for ISBNs, not book titles.A single book title may use several ISBNs (e.g., one for the print edition, another for the ebook edition, and so on).

According to Bowker, ISBNs for self-published titles in 2015 reached 727,125, up from 599,721 in 2014, representing a 21% increase in one year. The increase since 2010 is 375%.

But I think more important is where the growth occurred. Bowker’s numbers indicate more authors are using Amazon’s CreateSpace, which is free to use; older, fee-based self-publishing services are falling out of favor. Here’s a selected glimpse (again, remember these are ISBN counts coming out of each service per year):

  • CreateSpace titles in 2010: 35,693
  • CreateSpace titles in 2015: 423,718 (+1,087%)
  • Author Solutions titles in 2010: 41,304
  • Author Solutions titles in 2015: 23,930 (-42%)

The only area of Author Solutions’ business that saw an ISBN increase in 2015 is WestBow, the Christian self-publishing imprint marketed through Thomas Nelson. Note that Penguin Random House, which used to own Author Solutions, sold it off in January 2016, unloading what was probably seen as an albatross.”

Are these statistics a surprise to you?

For me, I was startled to learn the increase of over 1,000% percent on CreateSpace. If you publish through CreateSpace, your book is only on Amazon and not available in other formats.

Facts You Need to Understand about Self-publishing

If you decide to self-publish, understand several facts:

First, you are establishing a world-wide sales record of your publishing efforts. Traditional publishers and literary agents look at this information to decide if they are going to publish your next book or take you on as a client.

Second, you are in complete control of your work, which may feel easier. However, you also are responsible for all the details of the book creation (excellent cover design, well-written writing, distribution and sales). And handling all those details by yourself may feel hard.

Selling Your Book is Hard Work

Yes, the creation of books has never been easier. But here’s the reality that few people tell you: Making your book is easy, but getting people to purchase the book will take hard work and persistent effort. 

If you have developed relationships with people in your target market and connect with them often—more specifically if you have connected to your audience through an email list and speak to them face to face—then, yes, you can sell your book.

Self-publishing Action Steps

No matter what I write, a number of you are going to take the leap into self-publishing. Here are several action steps to take if you go this route:

  1. Work with an experienced editor to create an excellent book.
  2. Work with professional cover designers and people to format and produce a book where every detail looks like something from one of the big five traditional publishers. This means including elements like endorsements and words on the spine of the book (including a publishing logo on the bottom of that spine).
  3. Keep working consistently to grow your audience. Get my free ebook, Platform-Building Ideas for Every Author and trying new avenues to market and sell your book.
  4. Continue to learn all you can about publishing. Get a copy of my Book Proposals That Sell and study the publishing insights in this book.
  5. Never give up on your book.As the author, you have the greatest interest and passion for your book. This statement is true no matter whether you are traditionally published or self-publish. Always look for new opportunities to write or speak about your book.

This last point is something that I try and model with my own books. For example, in the header of my twitter profile, you see my Book Proposals That Sell book, which is only available from me. My Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams book is in my bio for my recent Southern Writer magazine column. And finally, I continue to do radio interviews for my Billy Graham biography, which came out over two years ago. Just follow this link to see some of the recent interviews and listen to them.

Have you self-published? Was it a good experience and “easy?” I look forward to reading your comments.

About the Author

W Terry Whalin headshot x160W. Terry Whalin, a writer and acquisitions editor lives in Colorado. A former magazine editor and former literary agent, Terry is an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing. He has written more than 60 nonfiction books including Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams and Billy Graham. To help writers catch the attention of editors and agents, Terry wrote his bestselling Book Proposals That $ell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success. Check out his free Ebook, Platform Building Ideas for Every Author. His website is located at Connect with Terry on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Photo courtesy of Bram Janssens/

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