Self-Publishing: Pros and Cons

By Gloria G. Adams

Self-publishing has changed the face of the book publishing world dramatically over the past two decades. The process itself has undergone several transformations and improvements. It has not only made it possible for anyone to become a published author, but it has created whole new businesses and income streams for those who facilitate the processes and marketing of independently published works.

One of the biggest inroads has been in the area of respectability. As the world has seen authors make fortunes and become successful in selling their work on their own, traditional publishers have taken notice and become somewhat more accepting of the fact that their competition is here to stay. Many review journals now offer opportunities for reviews of independently published works, and Library Journal’s Self-e program has paved a path to inclusion of self-published eBooks in libraries.

Although a type of wall, or at least, a fence, still exists between traditional publishers and independently published authors, more opportunities for equal consideration are available today than they have ever been before. And out of this has come a new breed of authors, those who publish in both worlds, the “Hybrid Author.”

Since I now find myself a member in this new congregation, I’d like to share some pros and cons of writing and publishing on both sides of the fence.

Reviews and exposure
One of the major differences is exposure by way of reviews. Traditional publishing houses are able to get reviews in major review journals and widespread exposure (and thus, many sales and large distributions) for their books. Bookstores are willing to buy many of those books as long as there is a “return” policy for the books that don’t sell. Libraries order most of their books based on reviews in the major review journals.

The self-published author, on the other hand, must do most, if not all, of the work in order to get reviews and exposure and sales. He or she must either be business savvy, learn how to do this well or have enough money to hire others to do it. While there are avenues for free reviews, such as blogs, or reviewers on Amazon or Goodreads who are willing to do free reviews, most places charge money for reviews, such as Kirkus (prices range from $350-$1149) and other, less well-known venues.

Royalties and Advances
Traditional publishers typically, though not always, offer advances against royalties. This gives the author some money up front, which is a nice perk. What it means, though, is that your book has to sell enough copies to pay back the publisher before you will earn any royalties. Percentages for royalties are usually fairly small (5-15%). An agent can often negotiate higher royalty rates, but the agent will take a cut (usually 15%) of your royalties, as well as your advance. You also have no control over what your book will sell for.

For our book Ah-Choo!, my co-author, Lana Koehler, and I got a 5% royalty, which we had to split. For our book, priced at $14.95, we each received $0.37 per sale.

In self-publishing, of course, there are no advances. Royalty rates are advertised as being higher, but you still must pay for services, whether it’s to a printing company or a print-on-demand platform such as Amazon KDP, Ingram, Barnes & Noble, etc. Some, like Ingram, charge set-up fees. In addition, you can’t just arbitrarily choose your selling price; there will be a minimum charged by the platform, so you must determine from that how much you want to charge. And, your cost must be competitive in order to sell any books.

How does this translate in dollars and cents? I published my book, Photo Plots: How to Write Great Photo-inspired Books and Stories, through Amazon KDP in both eBook and paperback. The minimum price that I was allowed to charge for the paperback was $10.75. I priced it at $12.95. The royalty rate is 60% on Amazon for the author. But the reality is that it’s 60% minus Amazon’s cost. My royalty comes out to only $1.32. The eBook, which I priced at $3.99, gives me a royalty of $1.40. For a paperback picture book, priced at $7.99, I make $1.14.

Frequency of royalty payments is usually every six months for traditional publishing, but every month through print-on-demand platforms.

While traditional companies will garner greater exposure for your books and usually provide you with marketing materials, such as bookmarks and posters, the bulk of marketing still falls to the author. Unless you are a famous, best-selling author, you must arrange for book signings, speaking engagements, school visits, and any other types of marketing on your own.
For self-published authors, marketing can be the hardest part of this journey, because you, as the publisher, must do everything to market your book. If hiring a publicist is within your budget, it may be one of your best investments.

Control over your book
This is one area in which self-published authors have an advantage over traditionally published authors. You not only can choose the platform(s) on which you want to publish, but also your book price, your covers (back and front), what the inside will look like, and, pretty much everything else. You can even make changes to the text, photos, and cover AFTER you’ve published your book. The only things you can’t change are the title, sub-title, author, and ISBN.

In addition, you get to choose when to publish your book. Lana and I waited 2 ½ years before Ah-Choo! came out. I waited one year for my other picture book, My Underpants Are Made from Plants, to show up in the eBook database at Schoolwide, Inc. But in 2018, I published eleven new books through my independent publishing company, Slanted Ink. And I loved creating my own books, on my terms, on my own timeline.

So, whichever path you choose, whether it’s traditional, self-publishing or both, make sure you research thoroughly and know what you’re getting into. But mostly, take time to enjoy the journey.

Check out Gloria’s website for her independently published books and resources for writers at

Interview with author Toni Buzzeo

By Laurie Knowlton

I'd like to introduce a new friend, Toni Buzzeo. I met Toni while in Florida. Prior to meeting Toni I'd read a preview of When Sue Met Sue, published by Abrams Books for Young Readers. The article caught my attention because of my love of fossils.

Not long afterwards I met Toni. When I entered her home I saw her author copy of new book sitting on her coffee table. I picked it up immediately, recognizing it. “I know this book!” I said. “I read about it!"

We quickly became friends, talking about writing, publishing, a love of fossils! After enjoying our time together, I knew our readers would love to get to know Toni also.


New York Times bestselling children’s author Toni Buzzeo has published 27 picture books for kids as well as 11 books for teachers and librarians. Toni and her books have won many awards, including a 2013 Caldecott Honor for One Cool Friend, illustrated by David Small. She writes for a broad audience, from the very youngest readers through elementary-aged children. Her characters are sometimes real and sometimes fictional, sometimes human and sometimes animals whose experiences echo those of a human child. No matter what, her characters are as lovable as the children Toni writes for. Before publishing for children, Toni was a Maine elementary school librarian and college and high school writing teacher. Now she lives and writes full time from her charming writing cottage in Arlington, Massachusetts. For lots more information, visit

What inspired you to write When Sue Found Sue: Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex?

After I published A Passion for Elephants: The Real Life Adventure of Field Scientist Cynthia Moss (Dial, 2015), I knew that I had found a publishing niche I wanted to continue to occupy—telling the stories of inspiring women scientists in illustrated picture book biographies. So, I put out a call to my school librarian community on the LM_NET listserv and asked for suggestions. When someone mentioned Sue Hendrickson, I dug into preliminary research and loved what I found—that she was yet another self-taught scientist, like Cynthia Moss, another woman so strong and independent that she devoted her life to the work she trained herself for, in Sue’s case, a life of discovery. A major event of that life of discovery was her encounter, in 1990, with the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever uncovered. Not only did she use her skills and knowledge as a paleontologist, Sue also trusted her intuition—the entirely internal sense that the cliff, seven miles away, was calling to her, as indeed, it was!

You have two very different books about dinosaurs: No T. Rex in the Library and When Sue Found Sue: Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex. Can you share some insight on the similarities and differences in writing these two books?

Would it do to just say that they are completely different in every way? That is almost true, actually. While No T. Rex in the Library (Simon & Schuster, 2008) is fiction with a young character who misbehaves in the library and brings a T. rex to life from a book, thus causing ensuing impossible events such as a broken aquarium and knights doing synchronized swimming in the spilled pool of water, When Sue Found Sue (Abrams, 2019) is nonfiction, featuring the accurate story of Sue Hendrickson’s life, from her shy and lonely childhood to her astonishing and unlikely discovery of the largest T. rex skeleton ever uncovered.

However, it is true that a single author—me!—wrote both of these books. And that author is not even a huge dinosaur-nerd. While I think dinos are cool, and I am curious about them, they aren’t the thing I am most passionate about. Actually, the thing I am most passionate about is writing.

I noticed you have several series books. How is writing a series different that a single title?

The answer is different depending on the genre. For the fiction books I have written in series, the Dawdle Duckling (Dial) and Adventure Annie (Dial) books, there are several advantages. First, as the fiction author, you already know your character and how he or she will react to the situations you put her or him into. And, to some extent, you know the secondary characters. You may even know the setting. The challenge in that can be to come up with unexpected plot twists that challenge the well-known character.

For nonfiction, such as my Whose? (Abrams Appleseed) series, what you have at the outset is a predictable format. For each of these board books, for instance, I know that I will be focusing on six professions and that the professions will be revealed through a guessing game which will require the young reader to identify the tools or vehicle that the professional uses to accomplish her or his work. Beyond that and the requirements of a rhyming text following a prescribed pattern, the content is entirely unique.

What is the most exciting event you had as a writer researching for a book?

My first published book, The Sea Chest (Dial, 2002) in which a ship’s captain and his wife cast their baby upon the ocean waves in a sea chest to save her life, was based on a legend from mid-Coast Maine—a legend that many Mainers believed to be true. As a certified librarian, it was important to me to get to the bottom of the mystery and determine whether I was writing a fiction or nonfiction book! I was delighted when I met Barbara Skinner Rumsey, former director of the Boothbay (Maine) Regional Historical Society who was able to share with me her work in trying to answer that very question. She had done extensive research that included reading page-by-page and word-by-word the lighthouse keeper’s log books from the decade in which the shipwreck was said to have occurred. Barbara found no record of such a storm, no record of a lost ship, and no record of a baby washing ashore on that lighthouse island. My question was answered, and I got to share vicariously in Barbara’s search!

What was your favorite book as a child?

My favorite books as a child were any of the Beverly Cleary books then in print, including Beezus and Ramona, all of the Henry books, and especially Ellen Tebbets.

What do you like to read now?

I read all genres of children’s books, picture books, middle grade, graphic novels, young adult, and nonfiction. But I also love adult literary fiction, memoir, and the occasional inspirational/lifestyle/philosophy book.

What advice do you have for new writers?

My strongest advice is to take yourself seriously as a writer. In order to do that, you need to join our professional organization, SCBWI (, take as many classes as are available to you and which apply to your work—both locally and online—and attend writing conferences regularly. You also will want to find a critique group (SCBWI can help with that too) and use your membership in that group to learn as much as you can about the revision process and the importance of revising work over and over as you peel away each layer of the onion.

What do you do when you aren’t writing?

I love to read. One guilty pleasure is to get up in the morning, make a cup of coffee and, if it’s warm enough, sit out on the back porch (or during my Sarasota, Florida winters, on the lanai) with the sun shining in and read whatever book I’m immersed in until the coffee is gone. If it’s cold here in Arlington, Massachusetts (early spring/late fall), I prop myself up in bed with the mattress warmer on and drink that same cup of coffee while I read. Guiltiest pleasure of all? A second cup of coffee and more chapters. That hardly ever happens though. I’m too much of a first-child rule-follower, even when the rules are my own!

I also love to work with fiber and fabric as my alternate creative outlet, and I spend time every day playing with each of my young grandchildren.

What is the best investment you’ve made in your writing career financially or time wise?

I’ve invested both time and money in attending conferences and workshops all over the country. They’ve given me new knowledge and often new opportunities. There’s no discounting how much there is to learn at every stage of one’s career.

What author do you wish you could sit and have a conversation with?

See my answer to my favorite book as a child. I would love the opportunity to sit down with 103-year-old Beverly Cleary and ask her about how she weathered such a long and successful career and what advice she’d have for someone like me, with 27 books in print and two more under contract.

Short and Sweet

Panster or plotter?
Guilty Food Pleasure? Cake with lots of frosting
Dog or cat person?
Best time to work? Mid-morning or late at night