Saturday, February 15, 2014

Traditional Publishing Versus Self-Publishing

Choosing between traditional publishing and self-publishing can be very challenging.

Traditional publishing and self-publishing are by far the two most prevalent forms of publishing (out of all the different options out there for authors nowadays). Below, I summarized several pros and cons of both options, in order for you to more easily pick your desired path:

Traditional Publishing

As I've previously mentioned in earlier posts, in traditional publishing the author completes his or her manuscript and then writes a query letter, possibly a bio and cover letter as well (see the specific publisher's guidelines), and then submits the document to the publishing house. Then follows the terrifying wait for acceptance or rejection. If they choose to publish (don't worry if this does not happen on the first try), it will be printed (or put out as an e-book, depending on the company) and you will be paid royalties for the sales. Generally, the publishing house decides the price and design of the book, meaning you have less work, but also less control. The house often does some of the marketing, but you ultimately have a large amount of responsibility in this if you want good sale numbers. The publishing house will distribute the finished product to the public.


Self-published authors: due to smaller-scale distribution,
there might be less sales than with traditional publishing
You can choose for the self-publishing path if either you've been rejected by the traditional publishers, or you simply want more control over the price, layout, etc. of your work. The process is slightly different, as you will not be required to write cover letters or other query-material to a publishing house - you will be your own publisher. You, as the author, will have more responsibility because you are now the one that has to proofread and provide the funds for the publishing process (as there most likely is a cost between $300-15,000 associated with getting your book made). The author also has to provide the cover design (which could ultimately make or break the novel). The author has the responsibility of design, marketing, distributing, possibly even filing orders and advertising. Depending on whether you use print on demand (POD) or the printing of a certain number of books upfront, you might even have to make an estimate of sales.

Compare and Contrast

  1. Time - With traditional publishing, it takes a very long time to fill in and write all the "extras" that do not come along with self-publishing (query letters, etc). Furthermore, with traditional publishing, a manuscript can take years to turn into a published book (first of all by being "worked through" and then accepted by the company, and then by being printed and designed). On the other hand, self publishing enables you to have a published book within six months, oftentimes even earlier (especially when going for e-books).
  2. Money - Traditional publishing is free, meaning money is no problem. However, royalties are usually much lower than those of self-publishing companies, which can go up to 100%. Self-publishing often has a high start-up cost (though Amazon Createspace requires none). Not only do you generally pay upfront costs, you also have to pay for everything else (design, editing services, printing services, advertising/marketing) unless you decide to take all this weight upon your own shoulders and risk decreasing the novel's professional appearance with a lack of sales as a result. In professional publishing, these preliminary costs might be smaller or even non-existant (depending on the effort you put in and the company you choose to work with). The royalties are often much smaller, though, and the publisher takes the lion's share of the money made.
  3. Control - With self-publishing, all is up to you. The responsibility, but also the control. However, this makes it harder to get your book into actual bookstores (rather than only online markets). With traditional publishing, the author oftentimes has no control over cover design and pricing of the book. Furthermore, editors could rip the manuscript apart in front of your eyes. At the same time, however,  many of the tasks are taken over from you and that also means less anxiety on your part.


Well, ultimately it is all up to you. Ask yourself what works best for you, as both options could equally well be fit for you depending on your personality and wants. Are you willing to pay upfront and have all control (and hopefully earn back the money and more)? Or do you prefer a traditional publishing experience in which you are not required to pay, yet need to grant a large part of the royalties to the publisher and lose some of the control? Look again at the above pros and cons, and decide for yourself!

Other options for publishing (yes, traditional publishing and self-publishing are not the only options out there):

Traditional publishing: as explained above, this involves a query submitted to agents/editors, after which you'll have to wait (and apprehensively hope) for acceptance and a well-paying contract.
Self publishing: as explained above, this involves a DIY-approach in which all the work is left to you (unless you choose to pay people for outside services, like cover design or editing).
Vanity publishing: also known as fully-assisted publishing, it requires you to pay a (high) upfront fee and then get your book published without any further work (all is done for you). Beware of these, however, as they will not be as motivated to sell lots of copies (they got the money - which you paid to publish originally - and that's all they really need).
Caution: vanity publishers publish anything as
long as the author pays their high upfront fees
Partnership publishing: the "evolution" of traditional publishing, where authors generally receive a higher royalty, but usually no advance.
E-book, hardcover, soft-cover: you can choose whether you want only an e-book (which can be done for free and with high royalty rates), but you could also choose for hard- or softcover books (usually with a lower royalty than that of e-books). It is up to you and your own preferences.
POD: as explained above, this is publishing in which the books are printed upon demand. The opposite would be printing houses that require you to request a number of books and then - if more are required - send a new estimate for them to print.

I hope this was helpful and you'll be able to decide what works best for you. If you have any more information (or questions) leave a comment and/or email directly to
If you need any more information, I'd recommend you look at the following site (I personally find it very helpful and informative): I'm also open to answer questions through the comment section or through email.

Good luck writing (and publishing)!

1 comment:

  1. Tom Corson-Knowles, the author who founded Bestseller Ranking Pro, spent six long years trying to get a traditional publishing deal (and failed miserably). He finally decided to self publish his first book on Kindle in February, 2012.

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