Should I Self-Publish or Get an Agent?

By Blake Atwood

Should I Self-Publish?

In 2013, I self-published The Gospel According to Breaking Bad. At the time, I was thoroughly onboard with self-publishing as the only “smart” way to publish. The inevitable publishing path of the future seemed the wisest choice. Why would I want to give away so much control of my final product, along with such a great percentage of sales?

Plus, because I’d waited so long to begin that book and because I wanted to capitalize on the show’s success during its last season, I couldn’t have played the waiting game that traditional publishing requires. I needed to publish almost as soon as the editing was complete.

From writing the book’s first words in January of 2013 to releasing it on Amazon in August of that same year, I only needed eight months to complete the self-publishing process. And that included teaching myself everything I could about self-publishing and two months of serious self-doubt about the project when I didn’t write a word (fodder for a future post).

In hindsight, I realize I was also a self-publishing sycophant because I was afraid of the rejection that necessarily stems from the traditional publishing process. (The irony is that rejection is part of any publishing process!)

I didn’t know enough about the traditional publishing path back then to think it worth my time. And I had nothing remotely close to a platform to reach my target audience.

Should I Pursue Traditional Publishing?

Fast-forward to 2015. I met John Finch through a mutual friend. Though not a documentarian by trade, he’d produced an excellent documentary called The Father Effect. He wanted to write a book based on the documentary, which itself was based on his troubling, fascinating, yet ultimately redeemed life story.

Since I’d begun freelancing as an editor, author, and ghostwriter the year before, I’d learned much more about the process of traditional publishing. I’d made more contacts in the industry. I knew more working writers. I’d even begun to meet agents. I apprenticed myself to learning how to craft proposals and pitch agents.

And when John told me his story (and shared his platform numbers, which were and remain impressive), I knew he was a great candidate to prod toward traditional publishing.

Although we didn’t see The Father Effect: Hope and Healing from a Dad’s Absence on bookstore shelves until two years after we’d written its proposal, we were both satisfied at having successfully navigated the traditional publishing path. And I thoroughly believe pursuing an agent and seeking traditional publishing was the smart move for John—and for me.

Should I Self-Publish or Get an Agent?

Now I have experience on both sides of the publishing fence. I’ve come to understand that neither side is “smarter.” Each publishing pathway has its benefits—and its drawbacks. And it’s hard for today’s writers, especially those new to the game, to grasp what they’re receiving or giving up by choosing either path.

That’s why I wrote “Should You Self-Publish Your Book? 5 Essential Questions to Help You Decide” for The Write Life.

This long article is based on my self-publishing vs. traditional publishing seminar that I sometimes deliver for Writing Workshops Dallas. Using these five essential questions, I believe you can discover which publishing path may be your best option. At the very least, the questions will make you pause and truly consider why you’re writing your book.

Since comments have been disabled at The Write Life, feel free to comment here. If you have a question specific to your writing project, contact me.

We are living in a golden age of publishing, but when so many opportunities abound, it can be difficult to know what’s best for you. I hope this article helps guide your way.