To publish or to be published…that is the question – Sheila Norton

By  |  0 Comments

By Sheila Norton

Authors these days have more choice than ever when it comes to bringing our books to the marketplace. Being accepted by a mainstream publisher is as hard as ever, but the ease, affordability and respectability of self-publishing have increased. So how do the two experiences compare?

I’d had eight novels published by Piatkus (Little Brown) before trying self-publishing – first to produce Kindle editions of my backlist, then to publish a total of six new books, through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and through their CreateSpace for paperbacks. I really enjoyed the self-publishing experience but when I was then approached by Ebury Books (Penguin Random House) to write a different type of book for them, I jumped at the chance. The fact is, I can go back to self-publishing at any time, but it’s not every day you get the chance to be with one of the big publishers.

Here’s a quick summary of my pros and cons:

Speed versus approbation

With self-publishing for Amazon, once you’re completely happy with the book and the cover, the process is so fast, your book can be on sale the next day. But there’s no voice of authority saying your book is of publishable standard. So unless you’ve had it honestly reviewed beforehand, you don’t really know if it’s any good. A publishing house editor will leave you in no doubt – but the process is lengthy and can be frustrating.


A good editor responds as quickly and helpfully as possible to queries – and luckily I’ve had very good editors. But sometimes in the past, it was frustrating waiting for answers from departments of a large company – so I wasn’t hopeful about dealing with a giant company like Amazon. However, I always had prompt and polite responses from KDP and CreateSpace whenever I encountered a self-publishing problem. To be honest it didn’t quite make up for the relationship you can develop with an editor, but I found them professional and helpful.

Sales and payments

At one time, you had to wait six months (for a royalty statement) to find out how your traditionally published book was selling. So I was impressed with KDP’s ‘sales dashboard’, where you can check every day if you like! And you get paid every month, even if you don’t earn much. Now, the big publishers seem to have caught up; they have their own ‘author portal’ websites where you can check your sales figures yourself – a great improvement.


With a publishing house, you share the exciting moments, and the disappointing ones. If your book gets good reviews or comes high in the Amazon rankings, your editor and PR team will be involved. If things aren’t going well, there might be more of a silence! – or there might be suggestions for improving the impact of the next book. Self publishers can feel lonely, so they need good writing friends to share the ups and downs with. Talking over a bad review, for instance, with someone who knows how you feel, lessens its sting.

Being in control

I enjoyed this aspect of self publishing. I was proud of producing my books, and of being solely responsible for them. But it was scary too! If a reader finds a mistake in a book, you can’t blame anyone else!


With self-publishing, all promotion is the author’s responsibility. These days, it’s not so different with traditional publishing: we’re expected to do our bit – but there are also professionals working to the same end. Promoting your books on social media etc isn’t difficult, but standing out from the crowd on sites like Amazon is. And getting your self-published book into bookshops is almost impossible. That, for me, is where traditional publishing still scores a hit.

To sum up

There are advantages to being with a publisher: the human contact, the back-up, the kudos – and seeing your book in the shops. Self-publishing can feel isolating, but with social media and writing friends, I found this easy to cope with. Self-publishing is no longer just a ‘last resort’ or second choice: many authors make a positive decision to bypass publishers, and many are very successful. I like being with a big publisher but it’s no guarantee of success. I’m glad I’ve experienced both.

Sheila Norton lives with her husband near Chelmsford in Essex, and has been writing avidly since childhood. For most of her life she worked as a medical secretary, retiring early to concentrate on her writing. She has three married daughters and six little grandchildren. Her earliest publications were children’s stories, moving onto short stories for women’s magazines. Her first novel was published in 2003, since when she has published a further sixteen books. Sheila’s latest novels are adult fiction with animal themes, published by Ebury.

Leave a Reply