The choice is to self-publish or submit to an agent

Hugh Howey makes another insightful set of comments on the state of self -publishing. If there is a self-publishing revolution, Howey is it’s Napoleon. Will end up being made mad by the wall paper on a small mediterranean island? Let us hope not. Centrally, Howey tackles the false equivalence made when critics of self publishing snort that most self-published books do not sell many copies.


One reminder that I’ve blogged about at length is that most books don’t sell very many copies. And that’s okay. It’s not a self-publishing thing; it’s a publishing thing. 98% of manuscripts submitted to agents never get published at all. They don’t sell a single copy. Nobody mentions this when they deride self-publishing as an option. The false premise seems to be that you can choose to self-publish, or you can choose to have your book on an endcap in every bookstore while you are sent on a 12-city tour by your publisher. That’s not the choice. The choice is to self-publish or submit to an agent. This is the choice.

If you self-publish, you can immediately move on to writing the next work. You don’t have to look back at all if you don’t want. You have the rest of your life to promote that work, if you decide to promote it at all. If you are one of the 1% to secure an agent, the earliest you might see that work in a bookstore is a year. More likely, it’ll be three to five years. And you’ll be asked to rewrite that work, not based on any artistic vision, but based on what’s currently selling, what publishers are currently looking for.

via The State of Self-Publishing | Hugh Howey.


What Howey is pointing to here is really a marketing issue as much as a creative one. Remember way back in the mists of yesterday when I told you that books were about as naturally marketable on the internet as an M1 Abrahams tank is a practical commuter vehicle? Well, that marketing problem is only made worse by waiting two years to find an agent, then two years for your actual book to get published. In that time your equivalently talented self-published comrade has written and published four books which they are happily selling in varying numbers as they build a following. See the problem? Traditional publishing has become a waiting game, and in a digital  world of microsecond attention spans, that is tantamount to suicide.


Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

8 thoughts on “The choice is to self-publish or submit to an agent

  1. I agree with Hugh that traditional publishing delays release to market and results in some books coming out too late to catch the hottest genre trends. I don’t agree that rushing to market is a good idea for any book, especially a self-published book. Authors are already anxious to get their stories out in to the world – so anxious that they neglect important steps like copy editing, proofreading, permissions checking (Did you get approval from the photographer to use that picture as the front cover of your book?), name checks (Are there 3 other books with the same name as yours?) and research in to the correct markets and platforms for release (Do you have the file types needed? Are you releasing a horror book on a romance platform?). Hugh’s advice here encourages even more haste and less attention to getting a book in good shape before releasing it. Advice like this gives us more poor-quality, half-baked books that fuel the criticism that self-published books aren’t as good as traditionally published books.


    1. I’m not sure half-bakedness is overall a problem. Because no one really sees those books. The quality of the self-published books that sell is now as high – or higher – than the mainstream novels I see.


  2. Firstly, I doubt that Hugh Howey would suggest for a second that indie authors should rush their books to market. He is much smarter than that and we should give him credit for the trail he is blazing. The people who do rush their books to market will stand out to the reader for all the wrong reasons and so won’t do very well in the long-term.

    I am going to self-publish my first book later this year and I am proud to say that I have taken a lot of care in editing it myself, seeking beta readers and having the manuscript professionally assessed. I now intend to get a professional cover and a final copy edit, followed by a proofread before I go ahead and hit the publish button. I am daunted by the marketing but whatever I put in, I know I will get out in spades. You make an interesting point about the ‘instant gratification’ society in which we now live and that may be to the indie authors’ gain. Let’s just wait and see :)


  3. It’s definitely a pro for self-publishing that you can get your work out quicker. However, that doesn’t mean that you should rush the process. Far too many self-published works are published before they are really ready. This is what has given self-publishing the negative reputation that it has in some circles.



Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s