So, you've finally finished your book. Now, do you try to find a literary agent--or do you self publish? What are the tradeoffs? I give all-day Publishing Game workshops on this topic--but here are just a few things to consider:

* Cachet. Being able to refer to your literary agent and publisher is now, and probably always will be, more impressive than publishing yourself. When someone at a cocktail party asks what you do, if you can say, "I'm an author, HarperCollins published my latest book," that's classy. When I say, "I'm," it's just cute. So it depends on your goals; if you're in it for the prestige, the traditional literary agent/big publisher route is probably best for you.

* Control. If you want to control the details of your book--the editing, the cover design, even the content--you need to self-publish. Although the best publishers give you some input, you're never able to control all the details unless you're publishing yourself.

* Profits. If you have a clear sense of who your audience is, and how you can reach them, you might be able to generate much more income from your book by doing it yourself. When you work with a large publisher, you make only 10% of list price (and the agent takes 15% of that.) So the book that sells for $10 retail is netting you--85 cents. As a self-publisher, you keep all those profits--so that same $10 book, once you've paid off the middlemen who sell to the bookstores and libraries, will generate at least $4.50, or as much as $8 or $9 for books sold back of the room at talks or directly over your website. You can be just 10% as successful as a large publisher--and make the same amount! (The downside is that you'll also incur all the financial risk. With a big publisher, you may not make money, but you won't lose it either.) Still, there are over 100,000 small publishers in the US today, and we're generating over $14 billion annually in book sales. You can be one of us.

* Speed. Mainstream publishing is painfully slow. Even after you find a literary agent and publisher, the time lag between their acceptance of your manuscript and the final publication of your book could easily be as long as two to three years. Be sure your topic won't wither in that period of time. (My book, Terrorism and Kids: Comforting Your Child came out one week after 9/11. All the big publisher books on 9/11 came out nine months later, way too late for the market--and most of those books ended up being remaindered.)

* Shelf Life. With a big publisher, you have no control over the shelf life of your book. Most books today--even those which receive huge advances of money--have a bookstore shelf-life of only eight months. So if you want your book to be around for longer, you need to consider self-publishing. (I turned down a six-figure advance for my book, The Infertility Diet: Get Pregnant and Prevent Miscarriage, because I was concerned that it would be yanked from shelves prematurely. By self-publishing, I was able to ensure that it stayed in print--and on bookstore shelves--forever. That book has now been selling for six years--and it still sells like hotcakes.)

* Business. If you like to write, but you have no interest in business, leave the publishing to someone else. Self-publishing is a business. To make money at it, you need to like those sorts of business things. (You may, on the other hand, find that you love those sorts of business things--I have!)

* Publicity. Finally, no matter which way you ultimately decide to publish your book, remember that you--and you alone--are responsible for your book's publicity. No matter how much money the big publisher throws your way, it's unlikely that they'll be doing any publicity for your title. (In fact, several large publishing houses are now buying my small press book, The Publishing Game: Bestseller in 30 Days and giving it to their authors to encourage them to do some publicity on their own!) If you want your book to sell, and sell well, you'll need to learn how to do book promotion. Fortunately, it's a learnable skill, and with a little practice, you'll get good at it.

Finally, remember that publishing is a game. Whichever way you decide to publish, sit back, relax, and enjoy the experience!

Author's Bio: 

Fern Reiss is the author of The Publishing Game book series, and leader of the popular Publishing Game Workshops, held in NYC (Sept 19) and Boston (Sept 26.) For more information, see