That is the question.
For it is no longer the norm for aspiring writers to send off their beloved manuscripts in a giant envelope, wait for months and then paper your walls with rejection letters. Thanks to websites like Lulu and CreateSpace, we can do it ourselves quickly, easily, and for the most part, free!
Here is a list of pros and cons that I have put together so it will help you decide whether it would be worth it to self-publish or not. Since I go through Lulu, I will be using them as my primary example.
Pros of self-publishing:
1. You have complete creative control over your project. Whether it is a chapbook, an eBook, a spiral bound photo book or an old school hardcover...you can make it happen exactly how you want it right down to the binding, book description (which will be seen on all websites selling your book) and cover design. The only restriction you have is that there are only a few small requirements which your book must make before it can be distributed to retail websites, which mostly involve font selection, margins and any photos. Small potatoes there. No pesky editor will mess with your words or change the punctuation (unless you hire one, which can be costly)...but they also will not catch any typos or other errors you miss. Some of these errors are not even seen until you have the first copy of your book in your hands, despite going over the manuscript on your computer countless times. Before approving your book for distribution, Lulu requires you to purchase a test copy and make sure it is perfect. If you find something wrong, you can go back and fix it...but at the cost of at least one more test copy. This is the only real money that you are forced to spend on your project, and even then is typically less than $20. Plus, you can take these test copies later, turn around and sell them as unique "collector" copies!
2. You set your own price. You can choose to sell them for as much or as little above production cost as you want, depending on how much profit you would be comfortable with. Lulu will take a small percentage for their commission plus production cost per book you sell, but the rest of the profit goes to you. You can get paid either by check or even through PayPal.
3. Self-publishing websites like Lulu and CreateSpace lets you release your vision to the world at almost no cost to you whatsoever. There are options for free ISBN numbers and distribution to all major booksellers online. Unless you choose to purchase a marketing kit (want matching bookmarks or postcards to give away with your book?) or employ the services of an editor or other type of professional, the only money you pay is the production cost for any test copies or books you wish to sell on your own. The choice is yours, nobody will try to talk you into spending more money than you have to. No pressure.
4. The books are made with the same quality as you see in the books sold in stores. There is no difference in paper, ink, binding or size. However, the appearance of the book is entirely your responsibility. You will want to take some real time to make sure it looks as good on the outside as it does on the inside. After all...people do judge books by their cover.
5. The self-publishing websites are very easy to use. To quote from the Geico commercials: It's so easy, a caveman can do it! There is a wizard for every type of book you can imagine. You get walked through the process step-by-step, and if you want to go back and change something, you can do so painlessly. Also, there are no deadlines to meet. You can take as much time as you need.
6. You retain all rights and ownership to your book. No further explanation needed here, imo.
7. You no longer have to worry about rejection. As long as your book has met the few basic document requirements set by the self-publishing website of your choice (mentioned above), it will get published regardless of content.
Sounds pretty cool, huh? It is. But like with all great deals, there is a catch.
Cons of self-publishing:
1. You do not receive a free copy of your book, as you would with traditional publishing companies. However, as already mentioned before, you do not pay full price either...only the cost of production.
2. No publicist or personal agent. You do the legwork. On that momentous occasion where your book finally sees the light of day, there will be no press releases or glowing reviews in the New Yorker or Poetry Magazine. If you don't have the money to hire a publicist, it is up to you to create the fanfare yourself. If you want to make any money at all from your books, that means going to book fairs, markets and open-mic nights, setting up book signing events, creating and maintaining some sort of online presence via social networking, YouTube or building a website, and anything else in between. Bottom line, you will get as much out of the experience as you put into it. If you do little to no work in promoting your books, you simply will not sell any. However, even if you do put in a serious effort, you still may not become as famous or rich as Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. Hopefully though, money and celebrity should not be the reasons why you wrote a book in the first place! *wink*
3. Unless a miracle happens, you will still be poor and relatively unknown. You still can't quit your day job. Your biggest fans will still be your family and friends, and chances are the only real publicity you will have is an article in the local paper, which you will frame and take with you to all book events. Almost anyone who writes a book thinking it will make them a celebrity will be bitterly disappointed. Some do get lucky...but for the most part, any success you find will be mostly underground and/or local. Sorry to burst your bubble there.
Have I convinced you? Take a look around the different self-publishing websites, see which one is the best choice for you. I personally recommend Lulu, but please scout around and decide for youself. I hope you found this helpful.