Why Publish?

It used to be that authors wrote and publishers published books. Now authors both write and publish their own books. What may have gotten lost in the transition is why someone would choose to publish a book. We know why traditional publishers publish books; they want to make money. Their decision to publish these and not those titles boils down to sales potential.

Indie authors who publish their own books may skip this basic question of why they are publishing their book. Because it is such a foundational issue shaping your publishing strategy, it is worthwhile to be intentional about your reasons.

The beauty of being an independent author is that you can choose whichever option best fits your circumstances. Basic reasons for publishing a book are

  • to make money;
  • to fulfill the mission of the organization (whether or not you make money);
  • passion; and
  • self-promotion.

While these reasons are not mutually exclusive, indie authors can focus on one and downplay other.

Make Money

As an independent author-publisher, you may want to publish your book to make money, just like a traditional publisher. Nothing wrong with that. Who wouldn’t like to make some money from their own book? However, if this is the primary reason, then at some point you need to step out of your role as author and creator of your book and step into the role of the calculating business person who looks dispassionately at the numbers and views ROI (return on investment) as the ultimate measure of whether to publish a book. This calculation is as simple as lining up the costs on one side and the revenue on the other side of a sheet to see which side comes out ahead. Only, the numbers and analysis are pretty hypothetical, because you are doing this long before any books are printed or sold. If making money is the aim, then realistically evaluate the prospects early in the game to determine whether it is likely that this book will in fact make any money, or what alignment of factors will have to happen for it to make money. You can run a P&L (profit-and-loss statement) to do the ROI assessment, as illustrated in this one from Jane Friedman (https://janefriedman.com/book-pl/). The return depends on the assumptions you make about sales, print quantities and costs, discounts, distribution costs, shipping, editorial, production, marketing, and other expenses.

Fulfill the Mission

Some books fulfill the mission of the organization. That’s their ticket to being published.

Indie authors may actually run an organization. And their publications may be the articulation of the mission of that organization. You use different criteria to determine whether a book fits that mission than you do to determine ROI. A family history association may wish to publish their genealogy independently, because their mission is to preserve the name and accurately present the history of the family for future generations. If the book meets those criteria, it gets the green light.


Authors who produce a work about which they are passionate may have a single compelling reason for publishing their book. They are consumed with the topic and simply cannot leave it unpublished.

When an author is that committed to the publication of such a book, the primary goal becomes market penetration. They want to get the book into as many people’s hands as possible, and they are going to make that happen regardless of the obstacles. Books driven by this type of passion are evaluated by the author differently than either money-driven, or mission-driven books. Ultimately, passion books must primarily be self-satisfying to the author. The focus of a book of passion can be very local, very peculiar and unique to the author, allowing the author to express himself or herself fully. If others enjoy or benefit from the book, that’s great—icing on the cake—but sales and revenues take a back seat to seeing the project through to publication.


One the one hand, all book publishing is self-promotional. On the other hand, self-promotion isn’t the sole purpose of many books. When a book is published specifically to promote the author, the author’s brand, or business interests, that reason for publishing (i.e., self-promotion) influences how the author approaches and evaluates the success of the book.

Sales may be used to measure self-promotion, particularly if the author is trying to attract the attention of traditional publishers. Likewise, fulfilling the mission of the author may be play a role in the evaluation of the book, especially if self-promotion is the author’s mission. Passion could play a role, but perhaps a less prominent one. In the end, if the reason a person publishes a book is self-promotion, then other factors will come into play in how the book is evaluated. For instance, a business consultant might publish a book to promote her consulting business. The book may offer high-value content to readers, but real success is measured by new consulting clients and volume of billable hours, not by book sales. For consultants, this is a prudent strategy. It is publishing as marketing.

Why Do You Want To Publish?

As an indie author, why do you want to publish your book(s)? If you want to make money, then do a realistic assessment of the sales potential of your book, just like traditional publishers do when weighing the acquisition of a new title. If your primary aim is to fulfill the mission of your organization, then write to the mission and judge each book based on its contribution to that core mission. If yours is a book of passion, the real bar is how well the book embodies that passion. If self-promotion is your aim, then don’t be bashful; promote away. Deciding why you are publishing will help you make intelligent decisions throughout the publishing process and assess the results.

Photo Credits

Question Mark: © Leo Reynolds (https://www.flickr.com/photos/lwr/12364944)

Pledging Allegiance: Public domain

Running with the Bulls: Bucket List Events (https://www.mybucketlistevents.com/product/2017-running-of-the-bulls-closing-ceremony)

Shameless: Shot of the cover of Margot Potter’s book, The Fine Art of Shameless Self Promotion