Should You Consider Self-Publishing?

For nearly as long as I have been in the publishing industry, the term “self-publishing” has carried with it a certain stigma. Publishers who specialized in it were branded “vanity presses.” We hope to change that perception with the announcement of WestBow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson. This imprint officially launches today.

Photo courtesy of ©, Image #5631322

Photo courtesy of ©

Although we receive thousands of submissions from aspiring authors, we only publish about 500 new titles per year. Until now we have had nothing to offer these authors other than a rejection letter and our best wishes for “finding just the right publishing partner.”

Because of my blog, I hear from scores of these authors every month. They have grown weary of trying to get their book into print. Unable to find a publisher—or even an agent—they are discouraged and ready to quit. It seems there are simply too many authors, too many manuscripts, and too little shelf space.

As a result, many authors have given up on traditional publishers. They have taken matters into their own hands. For the first time since such figures have been kept, print-on-demand titles outpaced traditionally-published titles in 2008 according to Bowker, the agency that publishes the Books In Print database and assigns ISBNs. Self-published print-on-demand titles make up the bulk of this expanding category.

Why is Thomas Nelson entering this segment? Three reasons:

  1. We think there is huge growth potential in this category. Increasing numbers of people are moving from being merely consumers to being creators. They want to express themselves creatively. Just witness the phenomenal success of user-generated content sites like YouTube, Flickr, and Scribd.
  2. We want to offer a legitimate alternative to traditional publishing. Why should all the power be in the hands of publishers? If prospective authors are convinced their book should be in print and are willing to fund it, they should be able to do so without the fear that they might be ripped off.
  3. We want to find the new voices for tomorrow. Publishers aren’t omniscient. We miss numerous opportunities every year. Finding the next bestseller is like searching for a needle in a haystack. WestBow Press provides us with a kind of “farm team.” We intend to watch the sales of these titles carefully. We will offer traditional publishing contracts to those authors whose self-published books begin to gain traction.

We also want to work with agents and consultants as “WestBow Press Affiliates,” so that they can help more authors realize their dream of getting published. Rather than simply send a rejection letter, they can now offer a legitimate alternative and earn a referral fee in the process. (If you are interested in our affiliate program, please send an email to Pete Nikolai, who is overseeing it.)

Is self-publishing right for everyone? Obviously not. But it might be right for you. It is worth considering if any of the following apply to your situation:

  • You are passionate about your book idea but can’t seem to find a publisher or agent who “gets it.”
  • You are weary of the rejection letters and just want to get your book into print—now!
  • You really don’t care about selling a gazillion copies and becoming famous. You just want something to give to your family and friends.
  • You are a public speaker and need a book to sell at your events.
  • You want a published book to explain your business philosophy and provide a “calling card” for prospective clients.
  • You know that even if a publisher agrees to publish your book, you are probably not going to get A-list treatment. You might as well do it yourself and keep the lion’s share of the profits.
  • You are the pastor of a church and want something to drive your sermon series more deeply into the life of your congregation.

The name “WestBow Press” is particularly significant to us at Thomas Nelson. West Bow Street in Edinburgh, Scotland is the place where a young, eighteen-year-old visionary named Thomas Nelson first started his publishing company in 1798. It is our hope that WestBow Press can be the place where authors with a dream to be published can also launch their writing careers.

In creating WestBow Press, we are partnering with Author Solutions, Inc. (ASI), the world’s leading self-publisher. I have personally visited their offices in Bloomington, Indiana, along with my senior executive team and several of our publishers. I can vouch for the fact that ASI is an extremely well-run organization. Their primary strength is customer-service. They have hundreds of publishing professionals on their staff and deliver the kind of quality that you would expect from any trade publisher.

If you are interested in learning more about WestBow Press, please visit the new Web site.

Question: Have you ever considered self-publishing? What questions do you have about it?
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  • Bill

    What a great idea!! I hope to make use of this in the future.

  • kingsdaughters21

    This is a great idea, but I must still I would still prefer to be published by Thomas Nelson. If you don't think my book is worth publishing then I will go back to the drawing board and rework it until it grabs your attention. This way at least I know when it is published by you it is actually a great book. My fear of self publishing is that anything goes, even a bad book can be self published. So just incase you are interested in what I am working on, here is a glimpse, your feedback would be fantastic :)

  • Eisley Jacobs

    Thanks Michael. This is a great timely topic! I will share it through the air waves…

  • Cathy Ann Sauer

    I have four self published children’s books of which I am very proud. However, it’s been an expensive, hard fought lesson about the world of children’s publishing. The joy of creating the books was ebbed out by the Goliath of marketing the books. It is very difficult. I hope your new endeavor supports or at least educates authors about what’s in store… as in “Who’s going to help me bake the bread?”
    Great blog BTW.

    • Marc Murphy

      Cathy, welcome to the world of publishing! Before diving in, I recommend that every writer take some time to educate themselves about the harsh realities of the publishing world.

  • Bob Hamp

    Before I began my first manuscript, I wrote a short essay to myself about the foolishness of throwing a teacup full of water in an ocean. It seems a very difficult time to make a blip on the radar of an information engorged culture. Publishing, co-publishing, self-publishing, Print-on-demand, blogging, Twitter, etc. are all changing the face of content distribution, like a landslide changes local geography. For the individual, these options provide the “solution” of easy access. For the crowd, these venues collectively fling open the door to the avalanche of increasingly indistinguishable “one-of-a-kind” works. This is an observation more than a criticism. I am, however, very curious what the landscape looks like two years from now. In the meantime, kudos to TN and Michael for staying on the cusp of a large wave. Cowabunga!

  • PC

    Here’s one more for your list:

    “Your friends and family incessantly demand you write a book, but you have too many excuses for not doing so.”

  • Szoller

    Hi,  my name is Susan Zoller and I beleive that a have a beautiful, heart-warming strory that I feel spirtually inspired to share with othes that may have lost a child.  I lost my 17 year old son Ryan in a devastaing car crash, caused by a teenage drunk driver but  before this horific expereice ever took place, my son somehow knew his life would be cut short in order to save the lives of others.  Ryan’s amazing,  God given insight will totally captivate readers in a beautiful, touching, true story of an Angel on earth.  When Ryan died I prayed that I would have an enternal connection with him.  My prayers were answered when I was spirtually directed to adopt a little girl from Romania that was conceived when he departed.    I adpoted Ryan’s little Angel from the worse imaginable orphanage in the world and I am spirtually convineced that he saved her life.  Maria was extremely tramatized when she came to America and could barley walk or talk at three. She has scars all over her body and has suffered tremendously due to cruel kids that have no clue about harsdshps, but should they?   Anyway this story has a happy ending, Maria is now 13 and ifted with the most beautiful, classical opera voice.  She was the youngest student accepted into the pre opera prgram in Tampa and with God’s guidance, she will continue to sing her song to inspire others.

    If I could get a little assitance in writing Ryans’ book, I would be so grateful.

  • Anonymous

    I know this article is old, but I’m glad I came upon it. I have gotten numerous calls from a WestBow agent asking about a book I’m writing (although I have not returned his calls). I have read various reviews of WestBow, many of which have not been favorable.  However, I did read an ebook called “How to Market and Sell Your eBook” by Sarah Mae, which I found extremely informative and interesting. I’m wondering if you would recommend one over the other – self publishing through WestBow, or self publishing an eBook instead?  

    • Michael Hyatt

      I think it depends on your goal. For me personally, I would want my book available in as many formats as possible. Currently, e-books only represent about 12–18% of the market. This is rising, but why give up the rest of the market?
      I would also be cautious about with what you read about WestBow. We have hundreds of satisfied customers. (I know, because we survey them after the fact.) A few vocal opponents are selling their own solutions.

      • Laurie Ann Jalbert

        Hey Michael, have you published the surveys? I’m looking to publish with WB and have asked for statistic on customer satisfaction and they can’t seem to give me anything concrete, What exactly has your survey shown?

        • Michael Hyatt

          I left Thomas Nelson about three years ago, Laurie, so I am afraid I can’t be any help here. (This post goes back several years to when I was CEO of the company.)

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  • Diane Newcomb

    To Whom It May Concern:  I hope in the greatest way I’ll hear back from you.  I discoverd you by reading Heaven is for Real, recommended to me by my young step-daughter.  Something I’ve not seen written about is grieving for a live child.   Mine is my 36 year old daughter.  I’m not sure if I’ve lost her to substance abuse, mental illness or both.  But I know for sure parents and caretakers in my positition life is a daily unresolved grief.  Life becomes a painful ordeal, despite varying degrees of faith.  I  have the book written in my heart.  There is hope and comfort but it must be sought.  Please assist me with this.  I’m praying several times a day you well.  Thank you, Diane Newcomb, 5539 Barrington Park Drive, Lincoln, NE 68516

    • Michael Hyatt

      If you are interested in self-publishing, please visit the WestBow Press website and explore your options. Thanks.

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  • polina

    Self publishing!!!!!!!!!! I’ve done it in 2005 with Trafford. Since canadian Trafford was transfered to Indian I have NOT received a cent for my book and what’s more, Trafford sells my book everywhere and they allowed Amazon to print and sell my book in kindle edition without even asking for my permission…when I write to Trafford asking for explanation the reply is that I HAVE to contact AMAZON on my own and decide this issue with them. Whenever I ask for a person’s name in Trafford who is in charge of distributing/selling my book I receive no reply at all. Is it a decent publishing House to deal with? Polina Roussou

    • Michael Hyatt

      I have not had any dealing with them. Sorry.

  • Joe

    It doesn’t seem to be such an unselfish step as it may sound at first. Why is this step taken now and not ten or fifteen years ago? Then it certainly would have been visionary and a true sign of unselfish assistance to aspiring but frustrated authors. Now, it appears to be rather complying with the pressures of the market. Obviously, if most books that are sold today are self-published, then this is where the money is. And if the current trend continues, this is where publishers need to go if they want to keep making money in the future. Sorry, guys, this step comes to late to be convincing.

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  • Oliveleaf

    When self-publishing, what is the best way(s) to market yourself?

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  • Jeanne Doyon

    I would love to know, now that Westbow has been around for awhile, is it still a good choice in self publishing?

    • Laurie Ann Jalbert

      Jeanne, I would also like to see more survey proof of how well WB is actually doing and what the authors are saying. This would be helpful before I commit to using them.