You’re working on a great book idea and you’re wondering if you should pursue self-publishing or traditional publishing.
Believe it or not, a few years ago, authors weren’t concerned about how they’d publish because the big publishing firms were the kingpins.
And authors competed for their attention in the hopes of landing publishing agreements.
But this paradigm has shifted as a result of the internet and technology (i.e. Amazon).
Independent (indie) writers are now extremely popular and publishers are no longer kingpins or even the best option for most authors.
But what you’re really wondering is what publishing avenue is best for YOU…
Both have significant pros and cons, and we’ll do a deep dive into each in this article.
Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing: The Key Differences
There are two significant differences between self and traditional publishing:
1. Traditional publishing actually hurts your chances of seeing your book in stores.
There aren’t many quality book deals hanging around for budding authors to grab.
You have to check a bunch of boxes to stand a chance at getting a good traditional deal:
- Large following and involvement on social media
- Existing clientele
- Sizable and active email list
The chances of becoming a published author are much better when you self-publish, though.
2. Self-publishing gives you 100% of the rights and royalties.
Traditional publishing, on the other hand, entails giving up ownership rights to the publisher in exchange for lower royalties.
Let’s explore each publication option in more detail and what to anticipate from each.
How to Self-Publish: Everything You Need to Know
The method of independently releasing your book is known as self-publishing. By doing this, you serve as both the book’s author and publisher rather than giving a publishing business your manuscript to edit, package, distribute, and sell on your behalf.
A self-published book can reach the market in a few months without the need for outside approval and without having to pay royalties in advance.
Self-Publishing and What It Means for You
The downsides of traditional publishing are the benefits of self-publishing inverted.
1. The Choice to Publish Is Yours Alone
Obtaining “permission” from the author to fulfill their desire to share their work with the public is a significant part of conventional publishing.
A publisher must be persuaded to take a bet on you by giving a deal, and you must persuade a book agent that you are worth the effort.
Through self-publishing, you can avoid these middlemen.
P.S. There’s a propensity to assume that the presence of publishing deals demonstrates the viability of a manuscript and that the absence of such partnerships indicates poor book ideas.
When J.K. Rowling attempted to publish Harry Potter before reaching an agreement, the door was slammed in her face 12 times.
Such rejection tales are evidence that publishers don’t always see a book’s potential right away.
So, choosing self-publishing instead of signing a writing contract doesn’t always indicate you’re doing it cheaply or producing subpar work. It can just indicate that you’re choosing the fastest way to submit your work without first waiting for 12 rejection emails.
2. Shorter Time to Publish
Publishing companies operate as businesses with goals, publishing schedules, set workflow structures, and procedures.
While you merely go along for the ride, they will work on your book at their own pace and in their own manner. The journey to market your book may easily take one to three years.
By adopting the publisher’s role, you may avoid cumbersome procedures, cut through organizational red tape, and hasten the publication of your book.
You may publish your book in a few months as opposed to waiting a year or longer. How quickly you work or how productively the small team you assemble will determine how long it takes.
3. Maintain Full Artistic Control
From selecting your cover design to deciding which ideas to keep, rework, or discard during editing, there are many stops along the way from draft to published product.
When working with a traditional publisher, inside experts would offer their opinions on how your book should appear at each stage.
Although you want their knowledge, the feedback cycle may rapidly become tedious. Even worse, you can make compromises that change your book in ways you’ll regret once the finished product is released.
By turning this procedure on its head, self-publishing. The future of your book is in your hands. Yes, you should ask for more sets of eyes to check your work. The key factor in any choice, though, is what you intend.
4. Take Home More Royalties
The “no free lunch” principle applies to the author-publisher relationship when determining royalty rates.
Traditional publishers will keep anywhere from 5-20% of the book’s selling price and skim off between 80 and 95 percent. And that’s after they’ve earned back the advance money that was given to you before to publication.
However, depending on the market, self-publishing will allow you to keep a higher percentage of the proceeds from your book sales – up to 40-100%
For instance, if you publish your work on Amazon, you may receive royalties of 35% to 70% of the book’s purchase price.
5. Keep Your Rights
Self-publishing provides more than just financial gain. Additionally, it permits you to retain the right to independently republish and utilize your writing as well as to sell those rights to anybody for a fee.
For instance, you are still able to convert your book to various forms since you still own the subsidiary rights to it.
So, let’s assume a producer or movie studio is interested in turning your book into a movie. They would need to contact you and pay for the right to do so. In contrast, while dealing with traditional publishers, you can find yourself renouncing such rights.
The disadvantages are rather clear. So we won’t spend too much time on it:
- There is no advance on royalties given to the author.
- The cost of publishing the book is covered by the author.
- No professional backup system is available.
- It is more challenging to secure print distribution in bookshops.
The Process of Self-Publishing
1. Write a Book Worth Reading
It has never been simpler to write and publish things. On the one hand, this has made the creator economy more accessible to everyone, but on the other, it has also made it easier for low-quality publications to flourish.
Write what counts so that you don’t add additional subpar work to the already large pile.
2. Edit Your Manuscript
To provide readers with the greatest experience possible, editing is essential. Clarifying your thoughts, revising entire parts, or eliminating them may be necessary. Minor faults like typos and grammatical errors should also be eliminated. Bring in a qualified editor to finish the job once you’ve completed your part.
3. Make a Stylish Book Cover
Even if your book is excellent, only a select few readers will pick it up to read it if the cover isn’t appealing.
Potential readers will initially see your book’s cover, so it needs to be eye-catching enough to entice them to take a closer look, read your summary, and potentially buy the book.
Although hiring a qualified designer to create your book cover is ideal, it doesn’t hurt to understand what makes a great cover.
When choosing an intriguing but straightforward style with a distinct title and a succinct but descriptive subtitle, keep your audience in mind. Let the designer handle the hierarchy, font, and other details.
4. Format Your Book
Whether you choose to publish your book as a paperback/hardcover, digital, or audiobook, formatting will influence how it will appear to readers.
To ensure appropriate appearance in the selected publication mode, formatting for prints and ebooks entails organizing paragraph breaks, line breaks, indentations, spaces, and more.
With formatting, you have two choices: you can either do it yourself or hire someone else to do it.
5. Decide on a Self-Publishing Platform.
The choice of where to list your book comes once it is ready to go online. There are various choices, but Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing is one of the simplest and most well-liked (KDP).
KDP enables you to submit your book so that readers may download an electronic copy or get a printed copy whenever they want. Anyone may use Amazon’s KDP, and you can read more about it here.
Other self-publishing sites than Amazon exist where you may publish your book and sell both print and electronic versions of it (only some offer the latter option).
The Complete Guide to Traditional Publishing
In traditional publishing, you sell the publication rights to a publisher, who completes the entire publishing and distribution process.
The first step with traditional publishing is finding a book agent who will represent you in publishing houses. The next step is to prepare your pitch, which your agent will send to book publishers and wait for bids.
If and when offers come in, you negotiate the best contract and sign it, giving the publisher some of your rights. You typically receive an advance against royalties.
Writing your book and sending the publisher your manuscript are the only remaining steps before your book is packaged, mass-produced, and distributed.
Traditional Publishing and What it Means For You
Remember that if you flip the advantages of traditional publication, you get the disadvantages of self-publishing. The following are some benefits of choosing traditional publishing:
1. Money will not be an issue.
One of the best advantages of traditional publishing may be the initial royalty advance.
In addition, a royalty advance often ranges from six to seven figures, depending on the book’s anticipated earning potential. Furthermore, you are not required to repay an advance regardless of how poorly the book sells.
The publisher’s resources will also be useful for the book’s packaging, publication, and distribution.
Self-publishing requires you to either do the layout and formatting of your book yourself or get someone else to do it for a fee. Traditional publishers, however, simply require your work; they will use their knowledge, resources, and time to turn it into a polished book.
2. Exposure to Widespread Media (where applicable)
The largest publishers often have strong professional ties to publications, bookshops, and internet reviews. This extensive network may be helpful in spreading the news about your book more widely than you could on your own.
There is, of course, the disclaimer mentioned in the header. Mainstream exposure is only beneficial when discussing a broad subject.
When addressing a specific topic, targeted marketing may be just as effective—if not more so—than general marketing. The publisher’s exposure may not be worthwhile in that situation.
3. Utilize Deep Industry Knowledge
Traditional publishers have a lot of expertise in marketing books to various markets. They are aware of what motivates people and how to effectively show your work so that it is embraced.
This does not imply that their observations are always accurate. However, since they will base their judgments on information and experience, they will typically be more trustworthy.
4. Get Credibility by Association
Over time, major publishers have created a reputable brand. If you’re fortunate enough to work with one of these publishers, your book will instantly benefit from the power of the brand.
Being linked with such a well-known publisher may have a positive knock-on effect that can advance your writing career, create new chances, and broaden your readership.
5. Be Eligible for Prestigious Awards
The traditional route to publishing your book gives you access to important honors that independent publications do not receive.
One of the most sought prizes in the world is the Booker Prize, for instance. But among its submission requirements is a provision that disallows self-publishers. It may alter your life to even be nominated for such an honor.
P.S. Independent writers are also eligible for numerous awards.
The majority of traditional publishing’s drawbacks are actually self-publishing’s pros.
- reduced royalties
- loss of legal ownership
- large-scale loss of creative control
- longer publication cycles (12-48 months)
The Process of Traditional Publishing
1. Put Together a Book Proposal.
The purpose of a book proposal is to persuade publishers to publish your book. It’s intended to demonstrate the value of your book as an investment given the enormous returns it offers depending on the elements you’ve highlighted.
Your objective is to catch the publisher’s attention and initiate a dialogue that will finally result in you earning a publication agreement. You can use this proposal as a tool while addressing agents.
Your proposal is only a portion of your content. More of a business case, it ought to have the following things:
- Title page: Your name and the whole title of your book.
- Overview: a synopsis of your book’s content. Consider it a great pitch to get people to buy your book.
- Author bio: simply describe yourself and structure it to demonstrate your expertise in the subject matter. You can also include your experience and previously published work.
- Chapter outline: it should contain a list of the suggested chapters, a brief description of each chapter, and their titles.
- Sample chapter(s): If you don’t yet have a well-known name, make sure your sample chapter conveys the core of your book and exhibits your writing style. You have the opportunity to leave a lasting impression.
- Comparative analysis: This is where you draw attention to the distinctive viewpoint or importance your book adds to the discussion. List five to ten books that are comparable to yours that are available, and then compare your book’s strategy to each.
- Target Audience: a summary of your book’s core demographic and the perks that will convince them to buy it.
- Marketing strategy: Here, you want to show publishers that you have a reliable way to reach a large audience. You may, for instance, offer information about your social media following, newsletter subscribers, website traffic from search engines, the connections you want to use in the literary community, etc.
2. Make a Shortlist of Literary Agents
If you’re interested in publishing with one of the “Big Five” houses—Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Hachette, or Penguin Random House—you’ll need an agent to represent you.
You can communicate on your own with smaller publications. However, more successful ones choose to work with a writer’s agent.
Make a list of potential prospects for an agency based on their track record of representing writers in related genres and their general experience. QueryTracker, AgentQuery, PublishersMarketplace, Duotrope, Google, Linkedin, and the acknowledgments section of other writers’ books should be among your go-to search resources.
3. Screen and Pitch Agents
The most qualified individuals should then be pitched. The majority of agents have different guidelines for submissions, but generally speaking, you’ll need:
- A query letter: a letter sent with the goal of convincing a literary agency to represent you. Your work, your qualifications, and the reasons you desire that particular agent should all be quickly discussed.
- Book proposal: For non-fiction, your proposal is a thorough, frequently 20 to 30-page document that makes a business case for the marketability of your book. Your proposal for a work of fiction will typically consist of a query letter, your novel’s summary, and sample chapters.
Be sure to adhere strictly to each agent’s submission requirements. Once you’ve sent out your proposals, wait for feedback before taking any further action. However, be aware that silence could imply rejection.
Conduct a quick interview with any agents that are interested in representing you. Inquire about their experience working with authors as well as their interest in your work.
4. Through Your Agent, Submit Your Proposals to Publishers
You should now delegate the task of contacting publishers to your agent. Expert agents frequently already have connections within publishing firms, which will help them enter more quickly and gain access to decision-makers.
Keep calm and check back often for developments. Be careful not to bother others. However, you must also make sure the agent makes every effort to close a sale for you. Neither has it placed your work on hold.
5. Examine and Discuss the Publisher’s Offer
When a publication contract comes through, your first inclination could be to accept it without doing your research.
Avoid doing that. You must take precautions to ensure that the contract conditions are advantageous to both you and the book because this is your book. You must also be aware of the deal’s proposer.
To assess whether a contract is worthwhile accepting, check the following boxes:
- Consider the publishing house’s experience, the sales of its books, how it treats other authors, etc.
- Analyze the fairness of the requested advance on royalties.
- Study the suggested royalty rates.
- Take into account the suggested delivery dates for your final draft.
- Make sure to clearly define the publisher’s obligations and include timeframes.
- Know the fundamental legal rights you own, the ones you will assign to the publisher, and what will happen to those rights under specific situations.
- Pay close attention to the amount of control you’ll have over the approval of work derivatives.
- And of course, make sure everything is in order by having a lawyer check the deal.
Finally, be aware that you have the option to dispute any condition with which you are uncomfortable.
Is getting a publisher better than self-publishing?
Putting preferences aside, there may be situations where you make a decision quickly.
Traditional publishers, for instance, are more willing to offer contracts to authors who have a sizable following. They like to get into agreements (in advance) where they receive the majority of the earnings. If you don’t have such a big following, trying to get a publishing agreement can be pointless.
However, we think that many authors would fare better by self-publishing. The day when conventional publishers were the exclusive keepers of successful work is long gone.
Self-publishing has ended this monopoly and democratized writers’ access to a worldwide audience.
The compromises authors had to make while selecting publishing partnerships are no longer worthwhile in light of self-publishing.
Yes, independent publishing does not provide an advance. But it compensates for this over time with a bigger earning potential.
Consider the apparent status that traditional publishers provide. That’s going off quickly.
Readers today care more about quality content presented in a professional manner than the organization that supports it. And fortunately, independent publishing allows every writer the opportunity to establish their reputation without incurring expensive links with a publishing firm.
Hybrid Publishing: The Best of Both Worlds
We think hybrid publishing occupies a sweet spot where the two choices converge.
In the hybrid publishing model, a writer collaborates with a publishing house to share some of the publication expenses in return for a greater percentage of royalties, distribution support, and marketing help.
Because the author bears the majority of the financial burden of publishing the book and receives no advance on revenues, hybrid publishing is similar to self-publishing.
And because the book’s production and distribution are handled by a contractual business with strict professional standards, it resembles traditional publishing.
The easiest approach to describe the distinctive benefit of hybrid publishing is to say that it combines self-publishing with traditional publishing without having the significant disadvantages of either.
The major drawback of traditional publishing is that the author loses control over the publication date, the characteristics of the book, ownership rights, and more.
With hybrid publishing, you may influence the majority of these elements while still making use of the benefits of having experts handle the production and marketing of your book.
As opposed to traditional publishing, where you would have to give up your ownership rights, you may benefit from the publisher’s experience and network.
Self-publishing frequently requires you to work alone or to assemble and supervise a team of independent contractors.
However, hybrid publishing addresses this since you’re dealing with a publisher that has an internal staff that manages production, distribution, and some marketing. Additionally, you may use the publisher’s current network of book reviewers and other industry leaders.
What Does It Mean to You?
What would your definition of writing success be? A million copies sold? In the first few months following your debut, did you make a quarter million dollars in sales?
Clarifying and writing down your goals is the best thing you can do for yourself. When selecting a publication channel, these goals should be your compass.
The debate between traditional publishing and self-publishing has a certain winner. However, the entry of hybrid publishing into the fray adds intrigue. Most authors should try to take advantage of the fine balance it achieves between traditional and self-publishing.