So you’ve written a book? Congrats! The hardest part is truly over.
Now you want to go from “I wrote a book” to “I published a book.” And unfortunately, it’s not always an easy decision on how exactly to do that.
The choice confronting most authors at this point in the process is to decide between self publishing vs traditional publishing. There’s also a third option called “hybrid publishing” or “vanity publishing” that combines elements of the other two.
So how do you decide which route it best for you?
We usually recommend starting with your goals and using them to help you narrow down your options. For a specific framework on how to do that, consider our free online course, To Self Publish or Not to Self Publish?, where we walk you through our methodology for choosing the best option for your book.
For now, let’s dive into the pros and cons of each below.
Self Publishing vs Traditional Publishing: Which is Right for You?
Traditional publishing has, until recently, been the only way to get a book published, and most of the bestsellers you know of today were published traditionally. If you were to go through the books on your shelf and look at the copyright pages, you’ll often notice the big names like Random House and Penguin listed as the publisher. While there are various different types of traditional publishers, they’re all independent companies that essentially buy the rights to print, publish and sell your book through bookstores and other retailers. In return, the author gets paid a percentage of the sales, which are called royalties. While there are new avenues for publishing books, getting a traditional publishing deal is still widely considered the gold standard.
1. Traditional publishing can be a filter for good writing and bad writing.
The major publishing houses are seen as the professionals on the topic, and they are credited with knowing good books from bad books, and what will sell versus what won’t. If they accept your book, it’s essentially a higher source that says, “this book is good enough for us to publish.” It can act as a rite of passage because it requires obtaining approval from an established gatekeeper.
2. Similarly, it can be a source of personal pride.
It’s natural to want our efforts to be validated by a governing body, and a traditional publisher can do just that. For a lot of authors, this can feel like making it through a gauntlet, or passing a test. You’ll get a stamp of approval for your ego, and that can be very important.
- Will you feel accomplished if you self publish or do you want the stamp of approval from a traditional publisher?
- Will self publishing feel cheap or like you cut corners?
4. Traditional publishers will do a lot of the work for you.
In most cases, traditional publishers will cover all the editing, printing, set up and design costs for you, so you won’t have to spend that money out of your pocket. This can save you thousands of dollars. Traditional publishers will also do some marketing for you, but it will likely be minimal and you’ll still need to market your own book.
5. You’ll be able to get into bookstores.
Traditional publishers aren’t guaranteed to get their titles into brick and mortar bookstores, but most publishers have connections with all the major retailers that will help increase your chances. If you self publish, on the other hand, your chances of getting your book into bookstores is slim to nil. This is especially the case for big chains like Barnes & Noble or Books ‘A Million who only deal with major publishers and distributors. It’s possible to get a self published book into a small, local bookstore if you go through painstaking process of going into the location and making your pitch in person. The good news is that these days, it doesn’t really In matter if your book is in bookstores or not. Most small authors will have more success online where it’s easier to find readers, and that’s where the vast majority of book purchases are made.
1. They won’t do much marketing for you.
Traditional publishers will do some marketing for you, too, but it’s not enough to make a difference. Unless you’re with a huge publisher and you’re one of their top titles, their marketing efforts will be minimal and you’ll still need to do most of the marketing yourself (there’s no escaping it!).
2. The longer timeline.
Traditional publishing can be much slower than self publishing because it can take months or often years to secure a deal with a publisher. When it comes to the actual publishing process once you’ve secured a deal, the time difference between self publishing and traditional publishing isn’t that significant. In order to get through the gate, so to speak, you have to create a proposal and find an agent, who will then pitch your book to publishers, which can also take a long time. A perk of the longer timeline, however is that you can use the time to build your marketing platform so you’re ready to launch.
When you choose to self publish your book, you take on all the roles and responsibilities of a traditional publisher: you organize all the formatting, design, publishing, distribution and marketing yourself, all with your own time and money. And that’s a lot to handle! But thanks to a lot of innovation in the marketplace, self publishing is becoming easier than ever.
1. It can be faster.
The actual time to self publish is about the same as traditional publishing, but it saves you the months or years it takes to find an agent to represent you and/or sell your work to a publisher. We recommend planning to spend 3 to 5 months on the self publishing process, but it can be done much faster if needed.
2. You won’t need to write a book proposal, secure an agent or find a publisher.
As mentioned above, the lengthy timeline for traditional publishing is largely due to all the hoops you have to jump through: writing a book proposal, acquiring an agent, and ultimately finding and pitching your book to a publisher. Many people just don’t have the patience or the desire to take all these steps. There’s a lot of work involved, and also a lot of rejection along the path to a “yes.” With self publishing, there’s no need for any of this.
3. You can make more money.
While traditional publishers will cover all editing, printing, set up, and design costs for you, they will take 90% of the royalties.
What is a royalty? In short, the royalty is calculated by subtracting the printing costs from the retail cost of your book and then multiplying that by your royalty rate, which is usually 10-15%.
Some publishers will pay you an advance on your book, which is based on an estimate of how many copies they believe they can sell, but these are rare.
When self publishing, you get to keep 60% of the royalties for print and 70% for ebooks.
4. You’ll retain full creative control.
Agents and/or editors often have a lot of input into the final manuscript of the book. They may require you to make changes that you may or may not agree with in order to satisfy what’s ‘popular.’ This could include anything from minor character changes to significant structural adjustments that can require many rewrites. With self publishing, you’re the judge. You can publish your book whenever you decide that it’s ready.
1. You won’t get into bookstores.
Most people don’t realize that if you self publish, your book will not be available in bookstores. It’s possible to negotiate terms with your local bookshop(s), but it is very difficult if not impossible to convince the major retailers to carry a self-published book.
2. You might not be taken as seriously by media and other promotional platforms.
When it comes to marketing your book, which you will definitely have to do if you choose to self publish, you’ll have a harder time being seen as a professional author if your book is self published. It won’t carry the stamp of approval that traditional publishing provides. However, it’s quite possible to run successful marketing campaigns around a self-published book, especially if it satisfies a niche market, you’re a well-connected author, and/or you have a large platform.
3. You’ll pay for everything yourself up front
While traditional publishers cover your editing, design, printing, and distribution costs, that expense falls on you when you self publish. This course will teach you exactly how to do (or hire out) the necessary steps to seeing your book to print, but it can cost several thousand dollars to do it professionally.
Hybrid publishing is essentially a blend of traditional and self publishing.. In most cases, you essentially pay the company to publish your book, and they usually don’t have any criteria for which books they accept and which they reject. If you have the money, they’ll publish it. For this reason, it falls more closely in line with self publishing than traditional publishing.
1. It’s fast.
It’s like self publishing, but you pay someone else to do the work for you. So the timelines are similar to those of self publishing, which are generally 3 to 5 months. Plus, you’ll save extra time by avoiding the need to learn all the ins and outs of self publishing yourself!
2. You keep the royalties.
In most cases, hybrid publishers don’t take a cut of the profits. Instead, you pay them an upfront fee, and then you get to keep the typical self-publishing royalties of 60-70%. But there are some exceptions, and some hybrid publishers take a percentage of royalites in addition to their upfront fees. So pay close attention to the small print!
3. You retain full creative control.
The manuscript you submit to a hybrid publisher is exactly what will be published (unless they upsell you on editing, etc.). This means that unlike traditional publishing, you still get to call all the shots on the final product. Another way to think of this is that traditional publishers often treat you like you work for them (because they now own the rights to your work), whereas hybrid publishers work for you.
4. You get to say you were published by a publisher.
When you go with a hybrid publisher, their name will appear on the copyright page and on Amazon as the publisher instead of yours. And the good news is that most readers can’t tell the difference between hybrid publishers and traditional publishers. That said, you can create a similar effect with self publishing by creating what’s called an imprint, which is essentially a made up publishing company.
5. You’ll have access to extra services (like editing, cover design, etc.).
Most hybrid publishers offer services for every step of the publishing process, from editing to promotion, so you can pay to have everything done for you in one place. But it will usually cost a pretty penny.
6. Most hybrid publishers are higher quality than self publishing.
Most readers probably won’t be able to tell the difference, but there is often a discrepancy in quality from self publishing to hybrid publishing to traditional publishing (in that order).
1. It can be really, really expensive.
Like most convenience services, you’ll pay a premium for the convenience of having someone else publish for you. We’ve seen these packages cost over $10,000 when you could do it yourself for much, much less.
2. While often better than self publishing, the quality is still not as good as traditional publishing.
It’s important to remember that nobody is going to care as much about your book as you do, and it’s no different with an expensive hybrid publisher. Most hybrid publishers use “Print On Demand” publishing, which is the same technology as self publishing. This technology, while convenient, has a lower quality than the big batch printing used by traditional publishers.
Now that we’ve taken a detailed look at each of the three publishing options, you should have a better idea of the self publishing vs traditional publishing debate, and hopefully a better understanding about which is right for you and your book. If you still need help deciding, consider our free online course, To Self Publish or Not to Self Publish?, where we’ll help you get super clear on your author goals and use them to determine the best publishing path for you.