Self-Publishing vs Traditional Publishing: Which Route Should You Choose?

The journey to becoming a published writer is similar to a rollercoaster ride, full of twists and turns; the lines are long, but the ride is worth it. One of the steepest turns you’ll have to take near the end is which route you’ll take to publish your book, the self-publishing vs the traditional publishing one. Weighing the pros and cons of both routes is essential, and the choice is fairly subjective, changing from one person to another.

As John Farwell, self-publisher and founder of EssayOnTime says, “Traditional publishing vs self-publishing… is one way better than the other? Absolutely no. It’s all relative and depends entirely on your book’s genre, quality, and uniqueness, but also on your goals, lifestyle, knowledge, skills, and resources.”

Since the choice is quite daunting as it is, we’ve created a comprehensive guide to help you choose the route that’s best for you.


In this article:

Traditional Publishing vs Self-Publishing: What’s the Difference?

What makes authors so hesitant to choose between traditional and self-publishing? To answer that question, we have to first examine the differences between the two routes.

Traditional publishing is when you sign a contract with a publishing house to have them publish your book. They do not charge you for the publishing process, but instead pay you an advance before the manuscript is fully finished and is ready to be published. After that, they give you a small percentage of the royalties for each copy sold, at regular time intervals as stated in the contract.

Self-publishing, on the other hand, means that you publish your book yourself, whether that’s printing and mailing physical copies to your customers or selling ebooks through self-publishing platforms like Amazon and Kotobee Books. By publishing on such platforms, you retain most, if not all, of the publishing rights to your book. However, you might sign a contract if you use an aggregator to add your book to those websites.

If all of that sounds confusing, here’s a helpful comparison to clear things up:

Traditional PublishingSelf-Publishing
Creative ControlVery limited creative controlFull creative control
Royalties8% to 12% on print books, 20% to 30% on ebooks50% to 70% on most websites, (100% on Kotobee Books)
Initial InvestmentNoneUp to $5k
Publishing TimeFrom 9 months to 2 yearsAccording to the author’s timeline
MarketingDone mostly by the publisherDone by the author
CredibilityFairly high depending on the publisher’s reputationCan vary from high to zero credibility

Quick note: There’s a third type of publishing called hybrid publishing, where you pay a publishing house or agency a certain sum to publish your book.

What Does the Publishing Process Look Like?

Before we dive into the pros and cons of each publishing type, we want to take you through the steps for both traditional and self-publishing. While the general requirements for a published book are similar, the process itself can be very different depending on the route you take. 

The Self-Publishing Process

Generally speaking, most self-publishers go through the following steps:

  1. Writing the book.
  2. Self-editing the book.
  3. Sending the manuscript to beta readers.
  4. Hiring an editor.
  5. Hiring a graphic designer for the book cover.
  6. Formatting the manuscript for ebook and/or print.
  7. Choosing a self-publishing platform.
  8. Writing the book description and/or blurb.
  9. Picking a reasonable price for the book.
  10. Publishing the book!
  11.  Marketing the book on different platforms.

It’s a big list of steps, but you can use it to ensure that your book succeeds and to increase its sales.

The Traditional Publishing Process

Meanwhile, getting published traditionally looks like this:

  1. Writing, self-editing, and polishing your manuscript
  2. If possible, writing a proposal for your book.
  3. Querying literary agents.
  4. Signing a contract with a publisher.
  5. Working with editors to improve your manuscript.
  6. Publishing your book!

While reaching the contract stage is very difficult, it often means the journey gets easier from then on.

In the next sections, we will go over both publishing routes and list the pros and cons of each.

Self-Publishing Pros and Cons

The self-publishing journey can be the road to freedom. It is often more work-intensive on the author’s part than the traditional route, but it allows you to have full control over your book’s publishing process. 

Here are some of the pros and cons you’ll find in the self-publishing route:


  1. Creative and Legal Freedom

Self-publishers make their own decisions. They decide their book’s title, design, marketing angle, and everything else that comes with the publishing process. This means that the author can immediately apply empowering changes without having to worry about double-checking any contracts.

Another bonus is that authors get to keep most, if not all, of the rights to their books. If the self-published author wishes to convert their book to an audiobook, for example, they have the full freedom to do it.

  1. High-Profit Margin

Self-publishers who sell their ebooks directly from their own sites get to keep more of their profits. While self-publishing platforms and aggregators do take a cut of the sales, they still take less than publishing houses. With Kotobee Books, for example, authors can get 100% of the royalties.

  1. Frequent Payments

Publishing a book on Amazon, or on a similar digital publishing platform, ensures that you get paid monthly or bimonthly. Authors who sell their books independently, such as through their own author website, receive an instant payout anytime a book is sold. Traditional publishing houses, on the other hand, pay authors on a quarterly basis or even only twice a year depending on their contract.

  1. No Agents Needed

It is very possible to launch a book successfully via self-publishing. Instead of making publishers judge a book’s potential, authors can test the waters and discover the true potential of their work on their own. They can publish their work without having it be approved/selected for publication by someone else.

  1. Instant Publication

There’s no need to wait for years to release a book to the market. A self-publisher can decide the publication date and plan it on their own time. They don’t have to abide by a release cycle that traditional publishers go by, which can take up to a year or more.

  1. No Time Constraints

Self-published authors don’t have agents pressuring them to meet deadlines when they’re behind schedule. On the contrary; they have all the time in the world to write their book and perfect its quality without the need to rush.

  1. More Accessible to International Authors

Many authors, whether they write in their native tongue or another language, are looking for a bigger audience. It’s hard to get that through traditional publishing since that route is usually limited to the country they are based in, depending on the publishing house’s budget. Self-publishing allows these authors to overcome such an obstacle and get their books out to readers anywhere in the world.


  1. High Risk

Self-published authors who write and publish their books themselves can be exposed to higher risk than traditionally published ones. If they don’t get good initial feedback from their readers, or if their budget runs out, their book’s reach and performance may decrease.

  1. Upfront Investment

Self-publishers have to bear the costs of professional editing, designing, and marketing their books. Unfortunately, these things can amount to a small fortune if they want good quality, meaning it will be costly for them at every step of the publishing process (unless they use free alternatives).

  1. Need for Skills and Resources

Self-publishers have to do everything on their own (or hire expensive professional help). If their budget doesn’t allow them to hire other freelancers to help them design, promote, and sell their book, they’ll need to personally develop and excel at these things, which is a very difficult and time-consuming job.

  1. Self-Marketing and Distribution

A self-publisher will also need to be a great marketer to make it in the self-publishing world. The competition is extremely tough as thousands of ebooks are self-published each day. With the proper budget, resources, skills, and help, authors have a decent chance of marketing their books and making them a success. Without them, it’s almost impossible.

  1. Lower Credibility

There’s a long-running belief that self-publishing your books is like taking the easy way out. As a result, self-published books are sometimes considered less legitimate than traditionally published books (though as we mentioned before, that’s starting to change).

Read more: Digital Self-Publishing Challenges (And How to Overcome Them)

Self-Publishing Platforms

The number of authors self-publishing recently has increased drastically, especially with several companies being at the forefront of the self-publishing industry, including:

And if you would rather not bear the hassle of publishing on each platform yourself, these aggregators can do the hard work for you:

If you want a more detailed guide for publishing on these websites, you can read our article on the best free digital publishing platforms.


Traditional Publishing Pros and Cons

Traditional publishing involves finding an interested agent/agency that will promote your book to a publisher. From there, you will sign a contract with the publisher which usually covers the printing, publishing, distribution, and promotion of your book. 

To help you better understand  this type of publishing, here’s a look at its main pros and cons:


  1. High-Quality Services 

Your agent won’t just look for publishing opportunities. Once a deal is signed, they will negotiate better rates with the publisher and try their best to improve profits. And once that contract is signed, the publisher hires industry professionals for editing, graphic designing, marketing, and other parts of getting your book published.

  1. No Upfront Costs

Aside from the agent, who may ask for a cash advance before promoting your book, there are no initial costs to traditional publishing. The publisher handles all the services at no cost to the authors.

  1. Signing Bonuses (Advances)

Some publishers might in fact offer you signing bonuses (cash advances), rather than charge you, to support you until the book is published. These advances are paid in specific sums over a time interval agreed upon in the contract. They are usually equal to the costs of editing, revising, and publishing the book.

  1. Easier to Sell in Bookstores

Selling a book in reputable bookstores is hard to achieve. However, if you have a reputable publisher negotiating for you, the odds will improve in your favor.

  1. Credibility

Many book readers undervalue self-published books, and many would rather choose a “safer” option from reputable publishers. This ties into how easy it is to self-publish a bad (or good) book. As a result, readers are more likely to buy a book published by industry names than they are to buy one published by an unknown author online.


  1. Lower Royalties

Authors who choose traditional publishing never get to keep the entire royalties from their books’ sales. Usually, 15% goes to the agent, the publisher’s rate is variable according to the book’s format, and the author’s cut is usually only between 20% to 30% for ebooks and 8% to 12% for print copies. If the contract includes an advance payment to the author, they will only get paid once their book sales exceed the total sum of that advance.

  1. Rare Paydays

It depends on the details of the contract, but most publishing houses pay authors every one to six months. Adding average royalty rates to the equation, you can expect fairly bland paydays.

  1. Loss of Creative Control

It is always important to have creative control over your book, but unfortunately, some of that control is lost in traditional publishing. Usually, the publishing company ultimately decides the book’s cover, title, promotion strategy, and more.

As a result, writers who sign with traditional publishers find themselves torn between their own visions and the expert advice of the publishing house’s editors and staff.

  1. Loss of Rights

When you sign a deal with a publisher, you’re giving away the rights to your book indefinitely, or for a specified period of time, depending on the terms of the contract. This can lead to a number of problems in the long term.

  1. Very Slow Process

Getting an agent is a process that can take months on its own. That’s besides finding a publisher, negotiating a contract, and signing one. The publishing process in its entirety can take anywhere from 9 months to two years depending on the size, budget, and reputation of the publisher that you want to sign with.

  1. Super High Competition

As more and more authors strive to get published, the competition is getting bigger and bigger, as well as expectations on quality and originality. If finding an agent is hard, finding a matching publisher can be even harder.

  1. Vulnerability to Vanity Publishers

Vanity publishers are publishers who promise to publish your book in exchange for a fee, which is usually unreasonably high or suspiciously low. Novice authors especially may be lured in by these publishers’ enticing offers which are usually empty promises.

Traditional Publishers

If you opt to sign with traditional publishers, you will find countless options. And to make it easier for you, we’ve compiled a short list of publishers recommended for first-time authors with or without agents:

traditional publishing

Which Type of Publishing Is Right for You?

While some authors need a publisher to give them an extra push to publish their books, others hate the idea of selling most of their intellectual rights to a publishing house. As you weigh your options, consider what you can’t do without and what you can sacrifice to get your book published. There is no one-size-fits-all, but generally speaking, most authors can adjust the process to some extent to better fit their needs.

For starters, traditional publishing works for authors who want:

  • An upfront payment: As mentioned before, you may actually get paid a reasonable sum of money after signing a contract instead of having to pay anything. However, this depends on your author’s reputation and the publisher you sign with.
  • Meticulous feedback from experts: Most publishing houses find or employ excellent editors, graphic designers, and marketers who are experts in their field of work.
  • More expansive marketing: Depending on the publishing house’s budget, they can carry out marketing campaigns that go beyond ads, and may even connect you with potential interviewers and reporters.

Meanwhile, self-publishing works best for authors who:

  • Prefer independence and complete control over the publishing process: A contract with a publishing house usually includes signing away intellectual, creative, and distribution rights. By choosing the self-publishing route, you retain control over all three.
  • Have a big reader fanbase: If you already have a thriving community of readers, it’s much easier to self-publish and sell your books to people who are likely to read them.
  • Write in specific niches: Oftentimes, publishing houses will reject niche books because they don’t see their market as profitable. But no matter how obscure your topic is, you can find success in publishing a book about it with enough effort and the right marketing strategy.

Final Thoughts

As you may see, choosing which publishing track to take is a subjective, critical, and necessary decision. In order to make the right choice, you should reflect on your preferences, do your research, study other publishing attempts, learn from reputable authors, and be confident when you choose. If things don’t work out too well, you can always revise your strategy and pick the other option.

Like any other part of the writing process, getting published is hard but so worth it in the end! We hope this article will help you make a good decision between traditional and self-publishing.


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