Battle of the Titans: Self-Publishing vs Traditional Publishing
The journey to becoming a published writer is akin to a rollercoaster ride that’ll take you through so many twists and turns until you get to the finish line. One of the steepest turns you’ll have to take near the end is how you intend to publish your book. Weighing the pros and cons of both self-publishing and traditional publishing is vital, and the choice is fairly subjective, changing from one person to another.
The self-publishing journey is the road to freedom. It is often more difficult than the traditional route, yet it allows you to have the full control over your life and business. Here are the pros and cons of self-publishing.
Self-publishers make their own decisions. Which means, they decide their book’s title, design, marketing angle, and everything else that comes with it. Writers who sign with traditional publishers find themselves torn between their own dreams and visions on one hand and the expert advice of the publishing house’s editors and staff on the other. For many authors who can’t agree with their publisher’s implementation, this stage can be very frustrating and for some, it’s cause enough to leave the path of traditional publishers. In turn, a self-publisher can immediately create empowering changes.
2. High-profit margin
Self-publishers who sell their ebooks directly from their own sites and social media pocket their profits. Self-publishing platforms and aggregators do take a cut of the sales; however significantly less than that of publishing houses. With Amazon, authors keep up to 70% royalty compensations.
3. Frequent payments
Publishing a book on Amazon or on similar marketplaces, ensures a once a month payment, unlike with traditional publishing houses where authors can get paid on a quarterly basis. The independent route on the other hand, (such as with a personal website), provides an instant payout anytime a book is sold.
4. No agents needed
Self-publishing is a risky yet possible way to launch a book successfully. Instead of allowing publishers to judge a book’s potential, a self-publishing author can test the waters and discover the true potential of their work on their own. Which means, no need to jump through hoops to appeal to agents. Authors can publish their work without having it be approved/selected for publication.
5. Instant publication
There’s no need to wait for years to get a book to be ready. A self-publisher can decide the publication date and plan it according to their own will. They don’t have to abide by a release cycle that traditional publishers go by, which can take up to a year or more. (Here’s a timeline of the Bloomsbury Publishing process.)
6. No time constraints
Self-published authors don’t have editors or agents hounding them to meet deadlines for edits or revisions when they’re behind on schedule. Meaning they have all the time in the world to write their book so that they at least get it to be to the quality they want it to be, without needing to rush.
With traditional publishing, an author knows that they have a huge shot of “making it”. However, a self-publisher writing and publishing their book themselves can be very risky. It’s because, if they’re stuck or don’t get good initial feedback, or their budget runs out, their book’s reach and performance will immediately decrease.
2. Upfront investment
Self-publishers have to support the costs of professional editing, designing, and the costs of the pre-marketing campaign. Unfortunately, these things can cost a small fortune if they expect real quality. Meaning, it will cost them for every step of the publishing process (unless they use free alternatives check this list).
3. Skills and resources needed
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 all these things, which is always a very tough job.
4. Personal marketing and distribution
Not only that, but a self-publisher will also need to be a great marketer to make it in the self-publishing world. The online competition is extremely high, as thousands of ebooks are published each day. With the proper budget, resources, skills, and help, they have a decent chance of making their book popular. Without all these, it’s almost impossible.
5. Work’s credibility questioned
There’s a long-running belief that self-publishing your books is taking the easy way out. Which is one of the reasons why self-published books are less acknowledged as legitimate than traditional ones (though as we mentioned before, that’s starting to change).
The numbers of authors self-publishing recently has increased drastically, but several companies have remained as the top self-publishing platforms: Draft2Digital, Kindle Digital Publishing, Kobo Writing Life, Lulu, PublishDrive, Smashwords, Streetlib. To learn more about them, you should check out Guide to Selling on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo, and Everything You Need to Know About Aggregators.
Traditional publishing involves finding an interested agent/agency that’ll promote your book to an interested publisher, who will ultimately sign another contract that usually involves the printing, publishing, and promotion of your book. Here are the PROs and CONs of traditional publishing.
You Gain Validation. There are so many authors who lack self-confidence and self-esteem, so they set their standards low even if their book is a goldmine. When a publisher is paying attention, they can validate their effort and gain momentum to do even better.
You’ll Make a Helpful Friend. Your agent won’t just see publishing opportunities. Once a deal is signed, he’ll constantly look after your interests, negotiate better rates, and try his best to improve the profits.
A Team of Professionals Will Help. Traditional publishers are doing all the marketing and sales work, they deal with the printing, and they basically work on everything else except the writing part.
No Upfront Costs. Except for the agent, who may ask for a cash advance before promoting your book, there are no initial costs.
Signing Bonuses (Advances). In fact, rather than charging you, publishers will offer you signing bonuses (cash advances) that will be paid on every milestone you accomplish.
The Entrance in Bookstores Becomes Easier. Publishing a print book in reputable bookstores is a pretty tough deal. If a reputable publisher negotiates for you, the odds will significantly improve.
More Time and Focus for Writing. As I mentioned above, your team and agent will do most of the work for you, so you can focus on what you do best.
Less Stigma. Many book readers undervalue the self-published books, and many would rather choose a “safer” option (big-name publishers.)
Lower Royalties. Traditional authors will never get to keep the entire royalties from their books’ sales. Usually, up to 15% goes to the agent, the publisher’s rate is variable according to the book’s format, and the author’s cut usually goes between 30% to 40% on ebooks and 10% on print copies. An author will only get paid once his book’s sales exceed the advances he had initially received from the signing of the contract.
Rare Paydays. Traditional authors don’t get monthly payments. Instead, they’ll receive their cuts twice a year, regardless of their book’s performance.
Loss of Control. The creative control is always important, and unfortunately, it will be taken away. The publishing company will ultimately decide the book’s cover, title, promotion strategy, and more.
Loss of Rights. When you sign a deal with a publisher, you’re giving away the rights to your book indefinitely or for a period of time, depending on how you sign the contract. This can lead to many complications in the long term.
Very Slow Process. If your agent manages to sign a deal for you, your book will be placed at the end of the sequence, meaning that all the previously signed book contracts will have a priority. The process can often take more than two years.
Super High Competition. As the digital age is blooming, the competition is getting bigger and bigger, as well as the quality and originality expectations. While finding an agent might be hard, finding a matching publisher will be even harder.
If you opt to sign with traditional publishers, you will find countless options. We’ve compiled a short list of publishers recommended for first-time authors: Chronicle Books, Clarion Books, Coffee House Press, Oneworld Publishing, Persea Books, SourceBooks, Turner Books.
As you can notice, this is a subjective, critical, and necessary decision that you must take. Use your logic, do your research, study other publishing attempts, learn from reputable authors, and be confident when you choose. If it goes wrong, you can always go back and choose the other option. Take our PROs and CONs into consideration and make a wise move. Take Nike’s motto and “just do it!”