Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Should you self-publish or sign on with a publisher

(Left: My first book that I self-published, right: my second book with a publisher)

Many budding authors feedback to me that they found my article: "9 Important Lessons learnt on self-publishing in Singapore" very useful, so I am writing another one for authors who are wondering if they should self-publish or sign a contract with a publisher. After experiencing both sides, I would like to put together the pro and con of each side and share with you what I went through so you can decide for yourself which path to take.

Self Publishing

  • You can control everything from the content to the pricing of your book.
  • Higher profit margin if your book cost is low.
  • Retain full copyright to sell to other publishers in various countries, including selling on and publish in any eBook format.


  • You bear the cost of all production, including reprints.
  • You have to store the rest of the books that your distributor did not take and try your blardy best to clear them.
  • Distributor may under-estimate your sales and it is up to you to check stock at each bookstore chain and pester them relentlessly for payment. Yes, that includes countless emails, messages and phone calls over several months before they give in and have your money back (usually more than a year had passed).
  • Unless you are a celebrity or have a proven track record of darn good sales, your book will most likely be placed somewhere at the bottom of a god-knows-where shelf.

Signing with a Publisher

  • You do not have to pay for anything to get your book published.
  • You do not have to store any books, unless you buy back at a discounted rate from publisher to sell on your own.
  • You may receive an advance royalty so you can stop starving...
  • Someone will chase the distributor for payment so you can stop hunting them down on your own.
  • A better image because publishers do not take in any work. Your work has to be good enough for them to invest in the time and money.
  • Your book may have a better shelf placement if your publisher has a good relationship with the bookstore. There are cases where books just flew off the shelf because they were placed in prime locations (such as cover facing up at eye-level, or at the "Top Recommendation" shelves).
  • Somebody to blame if there is a spelling or grammar mistake...


  • Depending on your publisher, you may have very little say over what to include or exclude in your book. 
  • Surrender of partial/full rights (depending on contract and negotiation). Most publishers will demand worldwide or exclusive rights to your book whenever they can. Sometimes exclusive contracts work well as the publisher and bookstore do their best to sell your books by placing them at prime locations, which means a higher chance of selling out. However sometimes it may backfire if there is a foreign publisher interested to translate your work but you already signed off all the rights to your original publisher. 
  • Low returns per book sold. Royalty rate can be anywhere between 6-10%. This means if your book is priced at $15, you only earn $1.50 when a book is sold. So if you sold 2,000 copies, you only get back $3,000 for that several months of hard work. Payout of royalties only happen once a year so remember to get an Advance before you turn into a skeleton.

We usually choose self-publish if no publishers are interested, or we want to retain full rights and control over our creative work. Some publishers are well connected and may get you to appear at certain fairs or festivals. But if you are equally well-connected, this will not matter much.

The main advantage of going into an exclusive contract with a publisher is that they and the bookstores will work together to place your books in extremely good shelf locations. I have seen many authors with lesser FB Likes than mine but sold more than 10,000 copies (yes, much more than mine), just because their books are placed at eye-catching places.

However, if you are expecting future growth to global audience, this contract will backfire because you won't be able to sign contracts with foreign publishers yourself and publish eBooks in Kindle or iBook format. You will also be unable to sell your own books during conventions. Therefore you might want to negotiate with your publisher to sign into a non-exclusive contract whereby they have exclusive rights to certain countries/region and you have the freedom to sell to the rest of the world or in other eBook format. Of course, if you don't intend to sell your own goods (together with your book), or if you don't mind giving up your creative freedom and don't want to deal with any book sales, then going exclusive may be right for you.

I hope my article had been useful to any aspiring and budding authors/artists out there. If you have any questions, feel free to comment below and I will usually reply within a day or two. Good luck! :)

1 comment:

  1. I agree with your point of view. It's true that self publishing gives an extended platform to distribute book and gain profit.



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