writing an e-book: the pros and cons

Four years ago, I wrote a book called Is That All He Thinks About?: How to Enjoy Great Sex with Your Husband. It’s for women (obviously), and I had no intention of ever writing a companion book for men. Because men don’t read.

Well, men who read blogs like the WordServe Water Cooler read, of course, but not the average Joe I know.

Then I started getting a bunch of e-mails from guys who had read Is That All He Thinks About? and specifically requested their own version.

So I wrote a comic book. (Not really.)

I started playing around with words. Then I started writing hard-core. Then I asked guys to fill out a husband survey. 130 surveys later, I had committed to doing this thing.

But despite having four published books under my belt, I decided to go the self-published e-book route this time around. Why? Here’s why:

The Pros:

1. The timeline. From the minute I submit a proposal to my agent to the time I see my book on a shelf, a minimum of one year will have gone by (and most likely, much, much longer than that). My e-book took less than three months from the time I started writing it until it was in readers’ hands.

2. The style. I had a certain vibe I was going for in this book. Very conversational, at times a little slang-y. It was important for me that I be allowed to write it just like I wanted it.

3. The money. All the proceeds from the e-book are going toward a family mission trip (me, hubby, our 3 girls) to Cambodia this winter. I can sell an e-book for just $2.99 and still make more than I would on a “real” book. And I get paid instantly (or within six weeks).

4. The experiment. Two of my four books haven’t sold well, making it hard for publishers to take a risk on me. Maybe I’ll be traditionally published again someday, maybe I won’t. I think I wanted to see if I could make it in the e-book world (I dream of selling millions of copies and having publishers knocking my door down).

5. The audience. This is a book for men (husbands) and it’s about s-e-x. If I were a guy, I’d feel better about buying a book like this from the privacy of my own home than in a bookstore where anyone could see me.

So, why isn’t everyone rushing out and self-pubbing e-books? Well, they kind of are, but here’s why you should think long and hard before you do:

The Cons:

1. The stigma of self-publishing. I can’t predict the future, but I feel like it’s still going to be awhile before people take self-pubbed authors super-seriously.

2. The weight of promotion. When you self-pub, it falls squarely on your shoulders. Not that being traditionally published is a ton different in some cases, but the only way anyone finds out about my e-book is through my own efforts.

3. The risk. What if it bombs? What if I barely sell any, and it just adds to my previous sales history woes?

4. The work. It takes a lot of sweat and tears (no blood in my case) to produce/publish an e-book. Thankfully I’m married to a web designer/genius. He did it all for me (thanks to Mary DeMuth for her helpful tips) and says he needs a big long break before he’s ready to do another one.

5. Incomplete sales records. My e-book is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.com. But I also sell it through a website. And give away copies for free all the time. I really have no way of knowing how many people have read my book.

So, let me ask you this:

1. Which “pro” excites you the most?
2. Which “con” scares/depresses you the most?
3. What are some other pros or cons you’d add to the list?

Post Author: Marla Taviano

Marla Taviano—a lover of words, Scrabble tiles, and giraffes—dreams of traveling the globe with her web-guru husband and their three young daughters. The author of six books, Marla writes and speaks on enticing topics like sex, loving the poor, and how to visit 52 zoos in 52 weeks on a shoestring. Her heart breaks for those in poverty/slavery around the world, and she wants to use her platform to ease their suffering. Marla lives in Columbus, Ohio and met her Wonder Agent, Rachelle Gardner, at a Starbucks by the Denver Zoo in 2009.


32 thoughts on “writing an e-book: the pros and cons

  1. Marla,

    Thanks for explaining how this book came about.
    I think #1 in the cons is what makes me want to do the traditional route. I still think there is a stigma attached to people who self-publish, but I completely understand the reasons people choose to do so.

    But it’s so great that you are having a shot at both. The publishing world is quickly changing and you are in the very throes of it!

  2. Great post, Marla. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on e-publishing. What would concern me most if and when I self publish is the marketing. It seems huge. I hope you make lots and lots of money for your family’s mission trip!

  3. Since I’ve never published any book at all I like the experimental aspect of this. I keep hearing such interesting stories and seeing people getting books out there quickly and I becoming interesting in doing the experiment myself just to see what might happen. I would miss not being able to see an actual book with a nice cover–something that I could hold in my hands, autograph, and see on bookshelves, but maybe if the e-book sold well enough that could come later.


  4. Marla, thanks so much for sharing your real life experiences with self-publishing. I’d be curious to know how the e-book does and what marketing you’ve decided to use. I’m just getting my toes wet in traditional publishing, so I better stick to that for now. However, with e-books the wave of the future, who knows what tomorrow holds for authors. Thanks again!

  5. Of course the $ in my pocket is the best pro. When you realize how much work writing is and how little pay, just bumping your pay up a little above minimum wage seems like a grand idea.

    The first con, the stigma, is the worst. Since you have several traditionally published books already, I would think it would be less of a stigma to have one in the “pile” but if all the books available for the author are self-pubbed and painfully obviously so by cheezy cover art, I’m sorry to say, I’ve already made an assumption that you couldn’t sell to a traditional because it wasn’t good enough–whether or not that is the case. I’d have to have someone braver than me with their money and doesn’t love anything and everything to read it first and recommend it or you would just have to have one super cool premise (which I think you’ve got with this one) good luck with it! And the mission trip fundraising.

  6. I’ll stick with the ‘pros’ here, I think…

    I like that you can stick with your own version (vibe) and publish exactly what you have in mind. I also have “won” several e-books, or requested them from different blog sites when they were offered for free and have been very impressed with them. So far they have all been well done and delivered what they promised. It’s been a very positive thing for me as a ‘buyer’. I also think that if God puts something on your heart and urges you to get it out there to others, this may be the way to go, and even though there are rules in the publishing business, we have to remember that ultimately God is in charge.

    I was thinking that the timeline might be more critical with non-fiction issues. Am I way off base here?

    I checked out the website, by the way, and love it!

  7. Most excited about? Getting only myself to blame/praise, no matter how it turns out.

    Most depressed about? All. That. Work. Although I understand a lot of promotion falls to the author even if they’re self-pubbed (correct me if I’m wrong).

    So in a way, I happy/upset about the same thing. The work looks daunting, but I would like that control. It’s a weird love/hate relationship. Personally, I’m on the fence about it, but as an unpublished author, step number one is to write a decent book no matter which route you’re going, so that’s my focus right now.

  8. What excites me most about self-published eBooks is the profit aspect. You can make more per sale — and be paid quicker.

    The biggest downside is the amount of work required to make it happen. I currently don’t write as much as I would like to, so devoting time to figure out eBooks, further dilutes my writing time.

    Another issue is the numerous options, formats, and technologies available, each with their own pluses and minuses — and which are in a constant state of change.

  9. I think if you are confident in the product you’ve produced, then an e-book is the way to go. I like the speed at which you can get things ‘out there’, but I’m not sure I’d be happy with not really knowing how the book was doing – i.e. how many readers had it. But you can keep track of how many sales you have, right? I’m still not sure how all the numbers on Amazon work, and whether they are correct or not.

  10. Well actually the appealing pro isn’t listed here–letting the author be their own gatekeeper. While I have neither published traditionally or independently, I am quite well aware that traditional publishers, while making the best guesses they can, do not always publish what some readers want to read. That is the strongest asset to independently publishing your own work.

    To listen to traditionally published authors talk on the web, it sounds to me like they have do pretty much all the work also, so to me there’s no great advantage or distinction in being traditionally published. I guess it depends on whether an author feels they need the validation of the traditionally published route.

    BK Jackson

  11. I have been reading your posts about purging our homes of “stuff.” I like that eBooks don’t add to my “stuff.”

  12. Hi Marla. I self published my children’s books by creating my own publishing company, Sherfordbear Publishing, and have really enjoyed the experience. It’s been great fun to write them and great fun to watch my book setter & printer, while he created them into books. Then great fun to hold a book launch and watch children’s faces as they lose themselves in the world of the Dinkers.
    I don’t believe there is the stigma these days for self pubs. You have complete control over everything, which does mean of course, that you will make some bloomers, but you learn from it.
    I didn’t write these books to make money, though obviously it is a thrill to receive payment for all the hard work, it started as a hobby and a momento to the destruction of the valley in which I live. But I’ve found myself recently getting hooked on to the marketing train and I’m really not enjoying it at all!
    The pro’s are exciting. Your work, your control etc.
    The cons?? Well, it has to be the marketing, it sucks! It can be stressful, degrading, humiliating and can make you feel a bit worthless sometimes! (Even if you publish traditionally, you still have to market it)
    It’s a big world, with a lot of people and too much competition.
    Sorry, I’ve gone on a bit!!!

  13. The style, and doing things your own way/trusting your instincts, excites me most. I have my own self-published novel, and I think getting over the stigma hurdle is toughest. I’m dedicated to reading a lot more independently published and small press books, and I can see why some people get frustrated. The bad ones are SO bad. I’ve read bad traditionally published books, but they have an editor and money behind them, so they’ll only get so bad. If I could give a self-publisher one piece of advice… spend money on editing!

    Great post!

  14. Marla, thanks for this insightful post! I think e-publishing ROCKS, and I’m very excited about it even though I’m in the middle of a traditional publishing contract. It is going to bring so much freedom to authors and readers compared to the current model.

    I believe the stigma to self-publishing may not be as great as you think, and it’s weakening every day. You know who I think attaches the *least* stigma to self-pubbing? Many traditionally-published authors under 50. We understand from experience that traditional publishing has its own long, long lists of pros and cons, and that there is plenty of merit in the idea of self-publishing.

    I love your cover art, by the way!

  15. I appreciate this advice from someone who has been there and done that. And Yay for a missions trip to Cambodia!

  16. Marla, firstly congratulations on your books – however you publish them! I understand only too well what an arduous road it is! I am still unpublished and have also carefully considered both avenues. My view is that a traditional publisher is possibly better for any fiction work but if you have written a how-to book or one like the one you are currently promoting, then I would also try self-publishing it. There are pros and cons on both, but I think the main ‘con’ in Self Publishing is the stigma – only because there has certainly been a lot of rubbish put out there in the past. However, I have read about many authors who have had tremendous success with promoting their own e-books – six-figure success! I’m sure your book will do well and I hope for you too that the publishers come knocking your door down! You have inspired me to write an e-book myself whilst I wait (the year or longer) for my novel to run it’s course with the agents! Thanks for that and I really hope you have a fantastic trip with your family. You deserve every success.

  17. As I evaluate my situation, I am leaning to e-publishing. My early writings were religions educational materials published by the General Baptist Denomination. It was a positive experience; however, it was lengthy. In this day and time, much information is “time sensitive’ and needs to get to it’s audience as quickly as possible. E-publishing is the quicker route provided one is willing to take the risk.
    I love your website. Keep up the good work.
    Thank you for your post.

  18. It’s very exciting to know that you can publish an e-book very quickly, especially when you feel passionately about getting a certain message out to your audience. But like you said, the impression of being a “self-pub author” is a little daunting. I’m sure as technology advances, that will soon change. Thanks for this post!

  19. I like the idea of how much faster one can get the book out there, especially in our do-it-now world. Also having control is very appealing which idea is what you address with your point about not wanting to change the tone for this particular book.
    Marla, I admire your attitude about this. Maybe you’ll get published again and maybe not but your world will go on. This is so much more refreshing than most comments on this topic.

  20. Marla, thanks so much for your very informative, motivational piece. I love it when writers get straight to the point as you have. I have recently been contemplating this very question and your pros and cons list is quite thought provoking.

    The answer to your question: The pros that excite me are the timeline and the style flexibility. My book began as a collection of emails and journal entries through my late husband’s hospitalization and death, and then through remarriage. My agent wants it to be more of a memoir style because it will be more likely to sell, but some of it just doesn’t feel right like that.

    The con that scares me a little is the self promotion. My husband is an I.T. guy and into web design as well, so hopefully that will soften the load.

    I’m looking forward to reading your e-book, and thank you again for your article!

  21. Hi Marla,
    I love the cover on both these books. I think you rock for going out into the world of e-pubbing and trying it out. I love the idea of getting money fast for my labors,:) but then the con for me would be the technical aspects. You’re so lucky to have a hubby who can help you with that part. Ugh! I know that some day I will try it. Thanks for the post!

  22. I think the No. 2 con scares me the most. Trying to figure out the marketing without a large reach seems like a huge challenge.

  23. Congrats on going it on your own! Sounds like it was a good move. I just indie published my book and I’d say the pro’s are you have control over every single thing. It’s nice to have a say, rather THE say in things, when traditionally you don’t.

  24. You rock, Marla. You’re such an inspiration to me when I feel like crawling into a hole and quitting the author life. And, I LOVED your book!!! It’s fantastic. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  25. As a new author the biggest con I see is missing out on the professional opinions of people who’ve been there, done that. Even though many of these services are available for a fee, new authors often don’t know how badly we need them, and it seems newbies are more likely to self-pub than more established authors.

  26. Hello Marla,
    This post was forwarded to me from a friend. It is always interesting to read about someone’s world that is completely different to your own (ie. I am far from ever dreaming of or publishing a book). Despite having no connection to this world of being an author, your pros and cons all make sense. I have to say that the scariest one for me would be trying to promote a book. I think it is always hard to promote your own stuff without under or over representing yourself. It is always nice to have an outsider be the critic. However, I understand the one comment in your pro list that sometimes publishers won’t give people a chance. All in all, I would say there is nothing to lose and life is too short to not follow your dreams. Just make sure you are loving doing it:)

  27. I think the #5 pro is my favorite. I have my first conventional book coming out in March and I am working on my second project as an author/compiler for another publisher, but I am also self-publishing men’s Bible studies. I am really enjoying developing a product for a specific audience and growing that audience by one church/men’s group at a time.

  28. Ve-ery interesting post, Marla.
    I like the idea that you were able to retain your style of writing by going with an e-book.
    As for the work involved? Definitely a “con” for me. I’m no computer genius and I’m not married to one. Don’t get me wrong — my hubby’s a smart guy, but he’s not techy. And no matter how easy something’s supposed to be, I always manage to mangle the directions and get completely lost in Web-land.

  29. Thank you very much for this article. There were things I hadn’t thought about with self-publishing that really got me considering for and against it. The most interesting point was pro #5. I can really see it being easier for your audience to buy the book when they don’t have to worry about who is going to judge them for it. I know something like your book appeals to me from a research angle but I would hate to have to deal with trying to explain myself to someone watching me buy it.

  30. I decided to experiment with self-publishing with an “off-genre,” otherwise unpublishable book in spring 2009. I was going to keep my more commercial work in traditional publishing. However, once I made the jump, I knew that was where I wanted to be. It was like “Duck, meet water.”

    You’ve outlined the reasons pretty well:

    ALL of the pros you list are equally important to me.

    Only one of the cons matter one tiny bit: the Work.

    Stigma? At least for fiction writers, the stigma is already done, as established midlist writers realize that the only way they can possibly make a living in this environment is to start releasing their backlists on their own.

    Promotion? Again, it may be different for non-fiction writers, but with fiction at least, the best promotion for a book is always another book.

    Risk? What risk? The book didn’t sell? So what? Unlike in traditional publishing, where you’ve let a whole lot of people down when a book doesn’t sell, in self publishing, it’s just an effort which disappears quietly.

    Which leaves the work. If you hate the business side of the job, then self-publishing may not be for you. Otherwise, well, August Wilson had a saying “You’re entitled to the work, not the reward.” Working for yourself IS a reward.

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