To Self-Publish An eBook or Traditional Publish?

It’s taken a couple years, but I’m finally finishing up my book on how to profitably quit your job.  Too many people are quitting their jobs and leaving tons of money on the table and I hope to fix that.  Sydney, my father, and an editor have been helping me with the revisions and I’m proud of the work so far.  The book is for anybody who feels trapped at work and aches to do something else more meaningful with their lives but is too afraid to ask or lacks the knowledge and skills to negotiate.  The book is suitable for those who are just starting out, or at the tail end of their careers.  There is a backstop for everyone!

My book proposal has been accepted by a couple literary agents in New York City, but I’m just not sure whether I should accept them yet.  To give up so much control over the creative direction while I have my existing platform is conflicting.  I’ll make a decision over the next couple of weeks and want to highlight the benefits of self-publishing vs. traditional publishing.

Perhaps through a discussion, we can come to a conclusion.


* Traditional publishing is considered more prestigious.
* Higher barriers to entry therefore signifying higher quality control.
* Established marketing platform.
* Opportunity for multi-book deal publishing contracts.
* Potential for upfront cash advance.
* Leverage off publisher’s relationships for other business opportunities.

* Might give up your creative control as publishers steer you towards what will make them the most money.
* Publishers might take a larger cut of profits.  After you pay your publisher and agent, you are often left with less than 40% of the original sales price.
* Might take a much longer time to get your book published than you wanted.
* Much more red tape.
* Not all publishes are created equal.  Here’s a list of the world’s largest 54 publishers as of 2012.  If your publisher is not on the list, perhaps you are wasting your time.  There is little prestige in going with an unknown publisher.

* You get to move at your own pace.
* You decide all creative aspects of the book.
* You keep all your profits.
* It’s easier to do.
* It’s faster to launch your product.
* You are free to update the book as you see fit and not on the publisher’s schedule.
* You can change the price of your book, although with each change you might need a new ISBN number.


* Less prestigious given such low barriers to entry.
* A need to self-promote more aggressively given you don’t have an incentivized publisher or agent to promote for you.
* Quality control could seriously be lacking because we often think what we write is better than what it is.
* Harder to sell if you don’t have an established platform or reputation.


* Does not have an existing platform (reputation, blog)
* Has been accepted by a traditional publisher.  This is quite an accomplishment in itself.
* Doesn’t need to make money from their book to pay the bills.
* Depends on their book to pay the bills. The jury is out on which is more profitable.
* Wants to develop a career or side income in speaking.
* Is OK with giving up some if not all control over their work.


* Has an existing platform to market and distribute.
* Enjoys marketing and promoting.
* Has a network of friends who have platforms.
* Will depend more on their book income to survive.
* Will not depend on their book to survive as self-publishing is easy for hobbyists.
* Is comfortable with the whims of the internet.
* Is more willing to take risks and experiment.


A large part of the reason why I want to work for myself is because I like to do things at my own pace.  I enjoy the autonomy of making my own decisions and experiencing the repercussions of these decisions, good or bad.  As soon as someone starts telling me what to do, the fun-o-meter starts to decline and it feels like work.

After three years of blogging, I’ve built a platform of some ~120,000 unique visitors a month and ~170,000 pageviews a month on Financial Samurai.  I should be able to leverage the platform to distribute my book.  My readers care about personal finance, career, retirement, and making money.  My book addresses all these issues and more therefore the relevancy is very high.  Furthermore, I’ve made numerous online friends who care about the subject and will possibly be advocates.  Finally, the distribution channel of Amazon and B&N is enormous if I later want to use their platform.

I’ve read numerous amounts of physical copy books, many of which aren’t very good.  I go to the bookstore at least once a week and wonder how can there be so many published books when so many of them aren’t that good!  There are thousands of books in the bookstore, yet only 50 of them become bestsellers.  Therefore, what’s the different between self publishing and traditional publishing?  Even if you had a hot book, the bookstore only carries a limited number of copies due to inventory.

Money is a tricky one.  If I’m going to be a full-time writer, I will be depending on my book sales to pay the groceries.  I want to price the book low enough to be accessible to as many interest readers as possible, and high enough where it reflects the value of the product.  If you could read my book and live a better life and make $20,000 in the process, how much is that worth to you?  Hopefully, a lot!

Putting all the pros and cons together, I’m leaning 80% towards self-publishing my book.  I understand the importance of providing a high quality product that addresses a burning need.  Therefore, when all is said and done, my book will probably go through 10 revisions and have at least five different writers/editors review the content before it is launched.  I also love being my own boss, implementing the marketing skills I learned in business school, work, and online to get a product known and sold.

Self-publishing is to traditional publishing like entrepreneurship is to working for a company.  Given my book is about how to profitably leave your company and do what you’ve always wanted, it only makes sense to go the self-publishing route.

Readers, what are your thoughts on self-publishing vs. traditional publishing?  Which route would you choose?  What are the pros and cons that I’m missing?  Which route works best for you?

Note: Here is a great guide on self-publishing that we recommend on Untemplater.  The guide has three different packages to address a self-publisher’s most pressing concerns.



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Sam is the founder of Financial Samurai, America's fastest growing personal finance site. We believe in reaching financial independence sooner, rather than later. Slice through money's mysteries!


  1. says

    As it is your first book, I would lean toward self publishing too. It is sort of testing the waters. A few questions come to mind too. How will you know if it is a success? How many do you think you can sell (self publishing)? You may be leaving money on the table. Will the traditional publisher spend money marketing the book? Do you know how much? You may get a smaller percentage of a bigger number.

    I am sure this won’t be your first or last book, so you will have multiple opportunities to chose either one.

    Recently, you mentioned getting a PhD. and teaching (university), they may like the traditional publisher better. Universities are very old school!

    • says

      Testing is exactly what I love to do. To have the flexibility to tweak and adjust easily based on the market. Can’t do that with a traditional publisher.

      Success will be determined by: 1) Publishing the book. It’s taken me a couple years of research, writing on the blog, working with friends to get the book done, 2) Selling the first 100 copies. The first sales are the hardest. 3) Creating a recurring income stream.

      The biggest thing I enjoy is the autonomy and learning experience of writing, marketing, and leveraging my platform.

      The Professor I spoke to was pro self-publishing to my surprise!

  2. says

    I’ve done a fair bit of reading on the subject, so I’m somewhat educated on it as well. To me, the biggest issue is with the rights of the work, and with the publicity of the work. Anyone that is thinking about doing self-publishing can, and should, hire a professional editor to go over the work. It costs money, but is necessary to have the top-most quality of work come out. With self-publishing, you don’t get the publicity engine that most publishers have access to. Any sort of book tour or publicity circuit is then straight out of the pocket of the author.

    All told, if I were to publish something, I’d probably self-publish. But, I’m one of those that likes to keep control of my own stuff and cut out middle-men whenever possible.

    • says

      Good feedback Shane. I 100% agree on hiring a professional editor or using someone with a lot of editorial experience. Editors make words sing!

      I spoke to a potential agent, and he mentioned something like $5,000-$10,000 for a publicist, $5-10,000 for one of his editor writers, $20,000 for a marketing book tour etc. Bottom line, the expenses are A LOT, and he recommended to look to break even as a goal.

      This is the power of having a platform.

  3. says

    Sam, Self-publishing all the way! You have the potential to make so much more money and not be bound by other peoples’ constraints (and inventory issues). Not too mention you’ve already got a huge network in place to accelerate distribution which most self-publishers do not.

    And as for ISBN, that’s only necessary if you self-publish on Amazon. You can do an unlimited number of iterations if you publish yourself and promote through Clickbank or eJunkie (and I’m not aware of any reason you can’t do both).

    Good luck!

    • says

      Ah, very good to know on the ISBN issue! What about copyrighting with the Library of Congress?

      The freedom to do what I want really is the most attractive aspect. I promise to make the content high quality. And whatever happens, I’m very happy to have learned and tried.

      • Sydney says

        Even if you don’t go on Amazon it doesn’t hurt to get an ISBN If you don’t mind paying for it and it could potentially help people find your book as well bc you can get it added to a database. I’m drawing a blank on the name right now but I read about it. You can buy 10 ISBNs for the price of 2 right now and you just register them as you need them.

        Copyrighting isn’t required either but I think it’s a good idea since you spent so mich time on it and it isn’t hard to do now that you can register and submit online. The internet makes things so much easier!

        • says

          Thank goodness for the internet right? Makes everything that much easier. The good thing about copyright is that Financial Samurai’s content is all copyrighted with a 3 year history. The book frequently references back to posts and content and in any court of law, I can easily prove that I wrote the book. Someone would be silly trying to claim my content and would face some serious repercussions!

    • Edward Antrobus says

      To weigh in here, you don’t need an ISBN (although it certainly doesn’t hurt) to self publish on Amazon (or Barnes & Noble). But you do need it for Apple’s iBookstore and Google Books.
      You don’t need to update the ISBN when you update the book, unless you are publishing it as a new edition. Also, ISBNs are unique to the format. You cannot use the same ISBN for a mobi file (Amazon’s format) as for an epub file (everyone else’s format) or for for a paperback.

  4. says

    Sam, because you have built up such a good network and traffic with your FinancialSamurai website and the Yakezie, and you are such an engaging writer, I would self publish your work and keep the profits personally. I honestly think that you have the tools and skills to make that work even better than a publisher could do for you.

    The key for you is you have en established readership and network (and are so good with writing engaging posts and involving people) whereas I don’t – so for me, finding a publisher would have been a lot nicer.?

    • says

      Thanks Jeremy. We’ll see what happens. The book is very personal, and very focused on giving concrete steps to empower the reader who wants to leave their job. I hate reading boring books, so I promise to make it a page turner!

      Good luck with your journey to find a publisher. Remember, not all publishers are the same!

  5. Lance@MoneyLife&More says

    I’d love to give you advice but I am definitely not qualified and don’t have the knowledge. It’d be cool if you could get the book to be a best seller through a publisher but if you can’t get to that level then I don’t know if it’d be worth it.

  6. Edward Antrobus says

    As an ebook formatter, I’m kind of biased towards self-publishing. But only if you make it available in multiple formats. There’s nothing I hate more than trying to read a pdf on my Reader or reading dozens or hundreds of pages on the computer.

    But in terms of traditional publishing, assuming you could get a deal (which is a lot harder than just getting an agent who will pitch it), the odds of a personal finance book making the best seller list are pretty slim. Get Rich Slowly’s JD Roth published a book 2 years ago. It’s currently ranks above 250,000 on Amazon.

    • says

      Edward, didn’t realize you are an ebook formatter. Might need to use your services! Can you shoot me an e-mail and let me know the package?

      Good example on JD’s book. I definitely realize that most books don’t sell well and relying on book income is a very unlikely proposition. It’s just fun to get one out there and work on it. You never know until you try and it is very satisfying to do so!

  7. eemusings says

    My gut feeling is that you could do really well with self publishing.

    The Traveling Writer and Dollars and Deadlines are blogs that have covered this, too. You might find some useful posts there.

  8. says

    I actually self-published a few eBooks and have enjoyed the process. The only caveat is that you need to push yourself because you don’t have anybody else to do this for you.

    You can easily launch an eBook on your blog and then have it converted to Kindle format and sold there. That’s another option.

    • says

      Martin, can you launch a Kindle and iPad version on your own site, and sell directly those types of versions from your own site? If so, pricing is also up to your discretion right? How did you go about your pricing exercise when you sold your ebooks? thx

  9. says

    You’re right, a traditionally published book is more lucrative. Did you go to a big-name fancy college? Does the fancy stuff appeal to you? If so, go with an agent. If not, then go non-traditional. I think the subject matter — leaving the normal path and going your own way — means that the non-traditional publishing methods should work out really well for you.

    • says

      The fancy stuff doesn’t appeal to me. It’s why I like to walk among the shadows.

      The jury is still out though regarding which is more lucrative. It depends on marketing and platform imo. For now, I’m focused on making the most entertaining and helpful book possible targeted to the right audience.

  10. says

    I know it will be great regardless of which path you choose. I think you have done it right, which is why you have many options. I guess I am curious about people who don’t have established platforms.

    • says

      Thanks Roshawn. Those without platforms should try out the traditional publishing route and leverage their platforms imo.

      Going to be hard making money without a platform.

  11. says

    Sam, I truly found you by accident, when looking for article on refinancing my loan, but a strange thing happened when I read your articles….they made me come back for more. My opinion is for you to self-publish, I am trying to work on a book myself, and work with a man who is going to publish through a self-publishing company called Mill City Press…I don’t know about you, but I may eventually go this route with Mill City. I think that you are selling yourself short, you have more followers than you may know…sign me up for your book when it comes out! Can I put a down payment on it?…lol.


  12. says

    I self-published two short stories on Amazon through Kindle (never had patience to write a novel.) I also tried to get literary agents by sending a query letter for my novel that was never completed. lol Long story short: if I ever produce a book (a novel or a non-fiction) I would try to go the traditional route first. Why? Because it opens more doors than self-publishing.
    Why not try the traditional route first, and if that fails go and self-publish. You never know what you miss if you dismiss traditional way right from the bat.

    • says

      Hi Aloysa, I take it that the sales weren’t very good on Amazon then?

      I’m primarily focused on selling through Financial Samurai because I want to write posts around the topic and interact with my readers.

      I can always go the traditional route later too no?

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