Self Publishing Versus Traditional Publishing: Which One Is Right For You?

Self Publishing Versus Traditional PublishingIt probably will not surprise most of you that, as a writer, I have a deep-seated desire to get my books in front of as many people as I possibly can one day. When I decided to seriously look at the possibility of publication, the very first question that came to mind was: How exactly do I do this thing?

When it comes to publishing, today’s writers have options. There is always the traditional route and initially this was the only thing I considered. I mean, how great would it be to send off that manuscript and have someone recognize you as talented enough to be worthy of representation or to be offered that all important contract (and possibly even an ADVANCE!!) on your very first try. How great would that be! But, the truth is for most writers that first venture into the land of publishing will be met with rejection… and rejection… and rejection… and even more rejection. I imagine that can be pretty daunting.

But, then there is always self publishing. That’s DIY – as in you do EVERYTHING yourself. That means you edit, design, market and distribute your book on your own in either print or e-book format. All by yourself. Just you. No one else… Well… I guess that’s not technically true. There are plenty of people you can hire to do all of the above for you.


At first glance the thought of being a self published author sounds expensive to me. It sounds like a lot of work with very little probability of return. It sounds like it would require a lot of time (of which I have very little) and it would leave me with no guarantees whatsoever. This can’t be a good thing.

But, of course, this was at first glance. I really didn’t know a thing about either option. So, I did what I do best… I researched. This post is the result of all that research. It is a place for me to park this information for my own future reference and a place for other writer’s to come and partake of what I have learned.

Traditional Publishing

When it comes to traditional publishing, writers complete their manuscript, write a query letter/proposal, and begin submitting these documents to publishing houses. If the writer has a literary agent (you lucky devil you), that agent will submit to publishing houses for you. Once your manuscript reaches the publishing house an editor reads it, considers it and either rejects it (booooo!) or publishes it (Yaaaaaay!!) If the publishing house decides to publish the book, they will buy the rights and sometimes (but not all the time) pay the writer an advance on future royalties. The money to design and package the book is put up by the publishing house. They then print as many copies of the book as they think will sell. They market the book and, finally, they distribute the book to the public.

Sounds great, huh?

But, there are cons to the traditional publishing route.

1. It can be quite slow

Publishing houses receive hundreds of queries a month. It can take several pitches at several publishing houses before a manuscript is picked for publication. This means a manuscript can take years to actually become a book.

2. It can be outdated

This particular point may be slowly changing but there are still several publishing houses that rely on TV, print, and traditional media outlets to market books. They may overlook or underestimate the power of today’s social-media.

3. They can be unfair

Publishers want to make money (of course… seems like a no brainer, huh?). But, with that being said, publishers tend to take the better part of the royalties produced by YOUR book. It is estimated that about 85-92% of royalties actually go to the publisher. Even in the digital world, publishers come out on top, taking roughly 70% of electronic royalties which require no distribution or production costs.

So, at this point you may be asking yourself: why would anyone want to publish their book the traditional way?

Traditional publishing does, however, offer far greater prestige than self publishing. It sometimes comes with considerable advances, and provides writers with editors who can offer invaluable feedback. The professionals provided by publishers can make it easier to do things like design a great book cover, sell international and subsidiary rights, and support your marketing efforts.

Self Publishing

Self publishing can be a wonderful avenue for some writers. If you are willing to put in the effort, it can also be more lucrative in many ways. But, that pesky work part may be the thing that prevents many of us from pursuing this avenue or seeing any kind of success from it.

Let’s look at some of the cons of self publishing. They include:

1. Everything is DIY

As a self published author you will have to do all of your marketing yourself. You will also have to take ALL the financial risk. It’s not as simple as writing that break out novel, printing a few, and waiting for the money to roll in. Your changes of success will likely be contingent upon the amount of effort you put into selling your book.

2. Not all editors are created equal

Before you submit your work for publication, I would recommend that you have at least one editor give it a once over. There are many editors that offer their services for hire. It is important, however, that you be cautious when choosing the editor of your manuscript. There are, unfortunately, some editors who only exist to take your hard earned cash. They won’t bother to tell you the negative aspects of your writing or provide you with the feedback that will help you improve your craft. We as writers may not like negative criticism but it is often what helps us become better writers.

3. Certain markets can be harder to break into

As a self published author, you may find it more difficult to get your books into those smaller or independent bookstores. You may also have difficulty with the bigger book fairs and expos. Selling international and subsidiary rights can also be quite challenging.

4. Anyone can self publish

At first glance this sounds great. Anyone… I mean, ANYONE can self publish. But, lets truly look at what this means. The self publishing industry does not rely on talent or superb writing. Even the most poorly written book can be self published, influencing the reputation of the industry as a whole and dragging the reputation of your book down with it.

That being said, self publishing can result in a finished book in your hand in less than six months. If you go the digital route, that time frame reduces to days.

If you are like me and are still on the fence about self publishing versus traditional publishing, take a few minutes to explore what is best for you. Consider your financial situation and the intentions of your manuscript. Are you more interested in the possibility of a large advance from a publisher? Are you willing to wait as long as it takes? Or is quick turnaround and complete control of your manuscript more important to you?

Leave a comment below letting me know. Is traditional publishing or self publishing better for you?

Off to work on my own novel now.

All The Best,

Lucy Q.


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