Pay-to-Publish or DIY?

Within self-publishing there are two general routes to take.  These two routes have lots of different names and different terminology associated with them, but for the purposes of this post, I’ll call them Pay-to-Publish and DIY.  


The analogy here is hiring a contractor to do your home remodel vs. doing it yourself.  If you hire a contractor, you’ll pay a bit more, but someone with more experience than you will be managing each step of the process.  Are there bad contractors out there?  Yep!  Are there good ones too?  Of course!  Pay-to-Publish (often referred to as hybrid or vanity presses) is like hiring the best contractor you can and hoping for the best.  

Pros of Pay-to-Publish

  • Someone experienced with self-publishing will guide you through the entire process.
  • You will maintain control over design decisions.  You’re paying the company to do the work, but you will be able to give your approval.

Cons of Pay-to-Publish

  • Pay-to-Publish companies can cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars.  Your profit margin may be lower than DIY publishing.
  • You won’t get any help marketing or promoting your book.
  • The publishing company makes their money whether your book sells or not, so they have no vested interest in your project. 
  •  Many people consider these types of companies to be scams.  This is because these companies will frequently trick eager authors by saying something like, “Our editors have reviewed your manuscript and think it has great potential!  We’d like to offer you a contract for publication!” when in reality, these companies will publish any book submitted to them, regardless of quality. 
  • These companies frequently charge authors much more to produce the book than they can expect to earn in sales.

DIY Publishing

DIY publishing is just like a DIY remodel!  You’ll try to do what you can yourself, but at some point in the process, you’ll likely come across some things you simply don’t have the skills to do!  (Plumbing anyone?)  So, you’ll have to vet and hire professionals/freelancers to do certain tasks for you.  Some DIY remodels turn out great!  On the other hand, some end up looking slightly less than professional.  It’ll be the same with your book!

Pros of DIY Publishing

  • You will maintain control over all design and editorial decisions.
  • You can customize your book completely!
  • Hiring illustrators, designers, etc. individually allows you to be in control of your budget and negotiate prices at every stage.
  • You control the timeline for production and publication.
  • Depending on your expenses, there is potential for you to keep a larger percent of your total sales.

Cons of DIY Publishing

  • Because you ARE the publisher, you will have to operate as a legal business, collect sales tax, carry inventory, etc.  
  • Full control over everything also means full responsibility and legal liability for everything.  
  • You won’t get any help marketing or promoting your book.
  • If you aren’t experienced in publishing there will be a LOT to learn!

Ready to get started? At Home Author is run by three certified teachers (including me!) who have been in your shoes and can help walk you through the process. Check out our personalized coaching services, self-paced video courses, and FREE resources!

Agented or Unagented?

Once you’ve completed your book, you have to submit it somewhere.  You have two choices.  Submit it to a literary agent, who will attempt to sell your book to publishers, or submit directly to publishers yourself.  


If you’ve ever sold a home, you probably had to decide whether to sell it yourself or hire a real estate agent to sell it for you.  The decision of whether to sign with a literary agent is kind of like that!  You can put a sign in your yard that says, “For Sale By Owner,” and negotiate the sale, contract, inspections, etc. yourself – and keep all the profit.  OR you can hire an agent to do all that work for you, utilize their network of buyers and sellers – and pay them a percentage of your profit.  


  • Many of the big publishers only accept submissions from agents.  
  • Agents know editors and publishing houses and the types of books they are looking for.  
  • An agent will negotiate contracts and help you understand your rights and responsibilities once you sell a book.
  • Some agents are very editorial and will help you edit your manuscripts before you submit them.
  • Most agents will sign an author for their career – not just a single book.  So once you get an agent you have someone to help you sell your future books.  (Note: Your agent will NOT try to sell EVERYTHING you write, so don’t expect that.)


  • Most agents get about 15% of whatever royalties you earn on your book.
  • Getting an agent is just about as hard as selling your book directly to a publisher.  There are a LOT of agents out there and it takes a LOT of research to find the right one.
  • Because of this, going with an agent will likely add a couple years onto an already long publishing journey.
  • Just like working with a real estate agent, sometimes personalities conflict.  Finding the right agent is super important and may take trial and error.
  • Having an agent does NOT guarantee your book will sell.


The major difference between literary agents and real estate agents is that most of the time, any real estate agent will jump at the chance to list and sell your home.  Even if it’s a run-down fixer-upper – they have clients looking for those types of properties, so they know they will still make money.  Literary agents, on the other hand, are highly selective.  They definitely won’t agree to sell your “fixer-upper” manuscript!  So before a literary agent will sign you, they need to fall in love with your work.


  • You get to keep 100% of any royalty payments you earn from your book.
  • You can submit the manuscripts YOU feel the most strongly about, without getting approval or support from a third party.
  • You can be selective about which publishers you choose to submit to.
  • You save time and can start getting your manuscript in front of editors sooner. 


  • You cannot submit your book to the biggest publishers.
  • You’ll have to spend a lot of time researching publishers that accept unagented submissions – their submission requirements, guidelines, etc.
  • You’ll also want to spend time researching specific editors at each publishing house to know which ones to target.
  • Even with extensive research, you don’t have the personal connections in the publishing world that an agent might.
  • If you are offered a contract, you will need to get a lawyer to look at it for you, and then you’ll need to negotiate any changes yourself.

Ready to get an agent? I can help! Click HERE to check out my step-by-step guide to querying. Or click HERE to book a personalized session and I’ll walk you through the process!


So you think you want to self-publish?  Here’s a run-down of the pros and cons of self-publishing.  Please note that these are GENERALIZATIONS based on my own experiences and research as a new author.  You will always be able to find exceptions to these “rules!”


  • You have complete control over every aspect of your book – illustrations, design, all of it!
  • Because you control how much money you invest in producing and printing your book, and because you set your own prices, you have the potential to make more profit per book.  
  • Depending on the choices you make, a book can be self-published in months instead of years!
  • Because you’ll be selling directly to readers, you can make a more personal connection to them.


  • You will likely need to invest some money into the production of your book.  This could range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
  • You’ll be a business owner, so you’ll need to take care of things like inventory, sales tax, etc. yourself.
  • You are 100% legally liable for any lawsuits pertaining to your book.
  • You’ll have to approach bookstores individually to get them to carry your book.  
  • You will be responsible for all marketing and promotional events and expenses.

If you’re still reading, maybe self-publishing is right for you! But now the real work begins! There is so much to learn, and everyone’s situation and goals are different.

Luckily, there are lots of people out there who have been in your shoes and can show you the way! I’ve partnered with best-selling self-publishing author Vicky Weber of At Home Author, to bring you tons of resources to help you get started. She’s a fellow teacher, and gives so much to the writing community. I highly recommend her one-on-one personal coaching sessions!

Click HERE to get started on your self-publishing journey!

Pay-to-Publish or DIY?

Traditional Publishing

So you think you want to be traditionally published?  Here’s a run-down of the pros and cons of going the traditional route. 

And if you would prefer a one-on-one conversation to ask questions and get some expert advice, I offer that too! Click HERE to schedule your 30 minute session!


  • An established publisher’s connections with booksellers and distributors can potentially result in higher numbers of books sold.
  • Expenses like editing, illustration, book design, etc. are paid for by the publisher.
  • The work of hiring editors, illustrators, book designers, etc. is handled by the publisher.
  • Because a publisher has money to invest in its projects, they may be able to afford higher quality illustrators, designers, printers etc. than you could on your own.
  • Much of the legal liability for any future lawsuits pertaining to your book is shifted to the publisher.
  • As the author, you get the validation of having a publisher choose your work over others.
  • You may get some help with marketing your book.  (Although you will still be expected to do much of it yourself!)


  • Depending on the contract offered, you may lose some or all rights to ownership of your book.
  • Once a publisher purchases your book, they have ultimate control over decisions such as illustrations, design, etc.  Most publishers will consider the author’s opinion, but ultimately, you will lose some control over these things.
  • Traditional publishing is highly selective.  It is REALLY hard to become traditionally published.  
  • Because of the previous bullet point, you WILL be rejected – a lot.  It will hurt.  
  • Traditional publishing takes a LONG time.  It can take years to get an agent, months or years to sell your first book, and then at least two years from the date the book is purchased by the publisher to the time it hits shelves.  
  • Typical royalties on a children’s book range from about 5-20%.  You may be offered an advance of $1,000-3,000 (ish).  Some people think this is low.

If you’re still reading, maybe traditional publishing is right for you!  But your decision-making isn’t done yet!  Next, you have to decide if you need an agent! Click below to learn more!

Agented or Unagented?