Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing

You’ve just finished your book, and you’re not sure what to do next. You’ve heard how hard it is to find a traditional publisher and how easy it is to self-publish. You have two very different paths in front of you but aren’t sure which one to take. Here you’ll learn about both and hopefully, come away with your answer.

Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing

Traditional publishing used to be the only path authors had, and it looks almost the same today as it did pre-internet.

With traditional publishing, you’ll need to follow strict guidelines if you hope to even have a publisher review your work. You’ll need to create a book proposal first and then land an agent. It’s your agent who will then contact publishers to get one of them to look at your work. Without an agent, you have close to a zero chance of attracting a major publisher.

If you submit directly to the publisher, your proposal will go into a slush pile, and chances are not good once that happens. With either route, be prepared to handle a lot of rejection. Getting a drawer full of rejection letters is not uncommon.

Some smaller publishers are lenient with their process, but your first goal should be to get in with one of the major publishing houses. If that doesn’t work, then you can approach smaller publishers, and some will look at your work without an agent.

The next option is self-publishing, and here you have a few options to consider. You can work with an author services company (AuthorHouse is one example and not recommended) and let them drain your bank account and max out your credit cards before you see your book in print. Or you can use the DIY method, where you’re in control of everything, and you’ll receive all the royalties from your book.

If you do use any author services company, keep in mind that you may end up shelling out around $5,000 to $10,000 (maybe more) and then when all is said and done, you never see a dime in royalties. If you were considering one of these companies, do a Google search on “complaints” or “reviews” first. Ignore the glowing reviews, because it’s been rumored that these companies have their employees visit these review sites to leave positive comments so they can cancel out the negative ones. Does that sound like a company you want to do business with?

Most authors and some well-known authors are becoming self-publishers, or what many like to call indie authors. Here you’re not just an author; you’re a business. You’re an author, entrepreneur, publisher, marketer, and expert in your chosen field. You pay for everything, and everything you make goes to you. You’re not only responsible for writing the book; you must also hire out individual services such as editing, cover design, and interior formatting. It is not recommended to do any of this yourself unless you’re already a professional editor or designer.

Some things you can do yourself are creating a website and blog (using WordPress), designing an email newsletter (using MailChimp), and getting onto social media (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram, etc.). If social media is not your thing, at least choose one platform, such as Facebook. You will need at least one of these channels to connect with your readers.

The days of being the mysterious author who only talks to readers during bookstore events is no longer the smart thing to do. Readers want a way to connect with authors, either through email or social media. The latter is more efficient because with social media you can connect with several readers all at once.

When hiring out book services, hire the freelancer directly, and do not hire through an author services company (as mentioned above). Why? Author services companies do everything from editing, cover design, and marketing, as well as creating your website and email newsletter. They do not specialize so you’re not getting the high quality you would get from a professional who owns his or her own business.

For example, some author services companies hire offshore editors who may not be native speakers of your language. You won’t know because they don’t tell you. Usually, you have no contact with your editor, designer, or marketing rep when using these services. And the term marketing is used loosely here.

Whether you decide to use the traditional path to publishing or go the indie author route, the most important thing to remember is you must have a great book to work with. If your book is good but not great, then you’ll have a tough time selling it.

Readers are picky now because they have a lot to choose from. If they don’t like your cover design, they won’t even consider your book. If they do purchase your book but find a lot of grammatical errors, then they may leave a bad review. If the interior formatting for your ebook doesn’t look good on their reading device, then they may return the book and still leave a bad review.

One last thought. There is a third option: a hybrid author. This is an author who is traditionally published and self-published. If this is your first book, then there is no need to worry about this now. Just know in the future that you can do both, but make sure you don’t sign away all your rights with a traditional publisher.

There is a lot to consider when publishing a book. It’s a process that takes commitment, focus, and persistence. If you’re committed and passionate about your book, then you’re halfway there.

Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing Pros and Cons

Here are some additional pros and cons of both traditional publishing and self-publishing.

Traditional Publishing: It takes 18 months to two years (sometimes longer) to get your book into the marketplace.
Indie Publishing: You can have your book available online at in 24-48 hours if you use KDP for your ebook or CreateSpace for your printed book.

Traditional Publishing: You’ll still do most of the marketing.
Indie Publishing: You’ll still do most of the marketing, but you can also hire out certain tasks that you are not comfortable with or have no time to do.

Traditional Publishing: You have very little or no control over the design of your book, the title, price, and the genre they place it in. They may also require a rewrite that you are not happy with.
Indie Publishing: You have full control over everything.

Traditional Publishing: If you don’t have a platform already, the publisher won’t even consider you. They only work with authors who have an established audience.
Indie Publishing: You don’t need a platform or audience, but you should start building one right away.

Traditional Publishing: If you say “no” to social media then they will say “no” to you.
Indie Publishing: You can still say “no” to social media, but it’s not recommended.

Traditional Publishing: Read the contract carefully. They may include rights of other work you create in the future, and that is not something you want to sign away.
Indie Publishing: You own all the rights to your work.

Traditional Publishing: You’re lucky if you get paid once a quarter. And you’re lucky if you see the sales report.
Indie Publishing: You get paid every month and get to see the sales report at any time you want.

Traditional Publishing: The publisher pays all the costs associated with publishing the book.
Indie Publishing: You pay all the costs to get your book published such as formatting, editing, and design, but you also have the final say on everything.

Traditional Publishing: You get an advance on future royalties.
Indie Publishing: You don’t get an advance, but you do keep all the royalties.

Traditional Publishing: There is a lot of waiting involved. Since you are no longer in control — your publisher is — you have to be patient.
Indie Publishing: The only person you’re waiting on is yourself. You are in control of the timeline.

As you can see, authors have more options than they did five years ago. If you prefer to be involved in all that is required to get your book published, then indie publishing is your best option. If you prefer having someone else handle all the details then seeking out a traditional publisher is something you should seriously consider. All of this may seem overwhelming at first, but it is actually a good thing that you can choose which method fits your personality. Instead of your manuscript sitting in a drawer and never seeing the light of day, you can now be a published author. How quickly that happens is dependent on the path you choose to follow.

“If you can dream it, you can do it.” – Walt Disney

Read Why Hire an Editor? for more information on what an editor can do for you.

Book Writing Series (Previous Posts)
Stand Out in the New Year with This One Tool
Could Your Story Make an Impact?
No Time to Write That Book? Think Again.
How to Outline Your Book
If You Don’t Write That Book, Someone Else Will

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  1. stellab · June 14, 2016

    Hello again. Saw your reply at the other post. So glad you enjoyed that Joe Jackson song.
    I am getting close to having my book together to get published. I really don’t think I have much of a chance with a traditional publisher and like control anyway 🙂 Plus I’m TERRIBLE at waiting 🙂

    I see you DON’T recommend Author House so here goes:
    a) is there an author services company that might be not so bad? I’ve heard of – is it Lulu or some such?
    b) I’d like to do both an e-book and a printed book. I noticed you mentioned KDP for e-books and CreateSpace for printed. Anything that might do both?

    It seems like quite a task, but I have told myself I MUST do this.

    • sandra graves · July 5, 2016

      I recommend Amazon’s KDP for ebooks and CreateSpace for print books. They are the same, meaning they’re both services available from Amazon (KDP – ebooks; CreateSpace – print books). If you want your book to show up in Amazon’s search, you should use them for book publishing. Otherwise, your book will get buried deep in the search results, and may not even come up during a search.

      I don’t recommend AuthorHouse or Lulu. The quality of their products and services is very poor.

      Lightning Source is another great choice. Lightning Source is pricey but the quality of their books is excellent. The big publishers use Lightning Source.

      Good luck on your publishing journey. It takes a lot of persistence and patience, but it’s all worth it.

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