Crossing the Threshold: The Dangers of Self-Publishing in the 21st Century

Self-publishing is just one of the changes brought on in the twenty-first century. With increasing Internet usage and accessibility on hand, it is easy to imagine a new way to connect a writer’s work with readers. This would be a way that is advertised as simpler than the hurdles of a traditional publishing company and a quicker, streamlined process. Self-publishing has been all the rage on social media, as many writers have come to view it as an idealistic way to publish their work and save time, effort, and money. This perception, however, is misguided, because self-publishing will take more effort and ultimately, cost them more money. In the competitive literary market of the 21st century, self-publishing offers more dangers than positive prospects to a writer dreaming of success.

The danger most evident upon reading self-published books is realizing that perhaps they were published too soon, without the eyes of an editor or any honest feedback. Self-publishing gives books the opportunity to reach the market before they’ve been polished and in result, are the target for obvious plot twists or even plot holes. Dialogue that should have been rewritten to sound more natural and characters in need of a more likable arc fall victim to self-publishing and strongly affect the readers’ takeaway from the novel (King). Prematurely published books are the result of not having an editor to critique not only content but also grammar and spelling. Writers who self-publish risk having their work ridden with grammatical errors and inconsistencies. This will distract the readers from the plot and negatively affect their view of the work.

Self-published authors also must create their own design for the book, which can lead to spending more time creating the exterior of the work than the literary interior. This can contribute to putting more effort and time into the physicality of the book than writers would otherwise (Youngman). Additionally, self-publishing can lead to errors in the printing process, causing cheaply made and incorrectly measured cover designs. When social media generates excitement for self-publishing and advertises it as a way to save time when publishing work, it often makes no mention of all the additional time spent on self-designing the book.

In addition to editing and designing the work, self-publishing writers also have to market the novel themselves. While marketing can be an important skill to have as a writer, self-marketing will not have the same reach that a marketer for a traditional publishing house would have. Either on their own or with a traditional publishing house, marketing is important to sales and will require a great deal of effort. According to co-author and independent editor Dave King, “The advantage to traditional publishing, even with a smaller house, is that you know a publishing professional thinks your manuscript is worth the investment” (King). The expertise and knowledge of working with a traditional publishing house may save time and effort in their knowledge of the quality of the work, whereas marketing for self-publishing may not be worth the financial and time investment.

For self-publishers who are bent on having professional editing, designing, and marketing, many self-publishing houses have the option to purchase these services (King). However, it is important to know how much to spend on these additional services and still make a profit. And without the significant investment or support of anyone such as a traditional publishing house, it is impossible to tell whether the book will sell well, even producing revenue. As author Ros Barber writes, “You can put all of that effort in, do all that marketing, and still not make a living” (Barber).

Ultimately, self-publishing is likely to cost more than it will produce. In order for work to get published, the publisher must pay for it. With self-publishing, in addition to paying for professional editing, marketing, and designing, the writer must also pay for the actual publishing. With a traditional publisher, however, payments for publishing are not the writer’s responsibility. Traditional publishing houses will purchase the writer’s work and pay royalties on it (Youngman).

Although self-publishing may seem like the easier option because of accessibility and lack of rewrites and regulations, it does not have the strong marketing, editing, and expertise of a traditional publishing house. While self-publishing quickens the process between writing and selling, the quality of the work will be lower and it will reach fewer shelves, meaning that fewer readers will buy it and the writer will make less money. Authors should entrust their manuscripts to traditional publishers if they have dreams of profiting from their work and achieving success among readers; even if only an indie publishing house.

Works Cited

Barber, Ros. “For Me, Traditional Publishing Means Poverty. But Self-Publish? No

Way.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 21 Mar. 2016.

King, Dave. “The Perils of Self-Publishing.” Writer Unboxed, 21 Jan. 2016.

Youngman, Dale. “Dangers in Self-Publishing.” PageMaster Publishing, 25 Nov.


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