Choosing between self-publishing and traditional publishing


This is a much-talked-about topic. So, rather than going the traditional pros-and-cons route, I’m going to give you some advice on which factors to consider when making your decision:

1. First thing’s first: what’s the difference?

  • Self-publishing a book means that you are putting it out there on your own – no publishing house and no literary agent. You will be in charge of every aspect – editing, proofreading, marketing, the book launch, cover design etc.
  • Traditional publishing means that your book has been purchased by a publishing house and that said house is responsible for getting your book out into the world. This process also usually entails being represented by a literary agent.

2. Factor: Your knowledge base

  • Few writers are writers only, which means that you might have a particular set of skills or a vast array of knowledge in an area that could assist you in one of these publishing routes.
  • Knowledge needed for self-publishing: some business knowledge, knowledge of the entire process needed to publish a book, knowledge of self-publishing platforms etc.
  • Knowledge needed for traditional publishing: knowledge about the publishing industry – about literary agents and publishing houses, about what to look out for in contracts, about querying and going on submission etc.
  • Keep in mind that this knowledge can be acquired. It doesn’t have to be something you already possess. But the type of studies/research you do will be determined by the route you choose to take.
  • So, if you majored in an area of business, if you worked for a publisher for years etc., you already have a good foundation for self-publishing.
  • If you’re like me and you’ve been researching the industry since you were 15 (and have a law student’s knowledge of contracts), your skills may assist you better in traditional publishing.
  • So, think about the type of knowledge you have/would be able to acquire.
  • Keep in mind: marketing knowledge is applicable and needed for both routes.

3. Factor: Budgetary concerns

  • We’re not all in the same financial situation. I know it’s not fun to talk about money, but it does play a significant role in publishing.
  • With traditional publishing, you will have to spend money on marketing. Furthermore, if you hire an editor/critique service in order to polish your manuscript before you query, that’ll cost you a few bucks too.
  • However, self-publishing requires a lot more money. You need to pay a cover designer, critique service, editor, proofreader, formatter etc.(there are often packages to this effect) And you will have to pay for marketing as well. If you use platforms like CreateSpace or IngramSpark, you don’t have to pay for the printing itself, since it’s print-on-demand.
  • This consideration isn’t about whether you have bags of money just waiting to be used. It’s about whether you have the financial and personal capacity to save the money you need (and whether you can budget well). Calculating how much you need to save each month in order to self-publish and sticking to that calculation will be necessary for the self-publishing route (unless you have quite a few dollars lying around).
  • So, if you are on a VERY tight budget (like me as a student) or know that you are absolutely horrible at sticking to your saving goals, consider trying the traditional publishing avenue.
  • HOWEVER, the income you receive from the published product must also be kept in mind. With traditional publishing, authors get a (relatively small) advance and then a small percentage of the sales as royalties (12% is generous where I’m from). Since the publisher paid for everything, they also get most of the profit. With self-publishing, you get the biggest percentage of the sales revenue (some of it will go to the printing and distributing platform). 

4: Factor: Your personality/preferences

  • Are you a very versatile person? Would you like spending your time on various different aspects of the publishing process? Do you need control of every aspect of your book baby’s release into the world? Are you good at managing projects? Can you be difficult to work with? Are you excited by the idea of paving your own way and ignoring industry stigmas? Are you great at sticking to self-imposed deadlines? Then you’re probably more suited to the world of self-publishing.
  • Do you want to focus on writing (and marketing) and not really the other stuff? Are you okay with relinquishing some control? Do you work well with others? Does prestige matter to you? Does the idea of managing a big project alone give you the jitters? Then your personality might work better for traditional publishing.
  • Please don’t think that this is set in stone. I’m not trying to place anyone in a box. This is just another factor you can take into account when making your decision.

5. A decision doesn’t bind you for life

  • You can be a hybrid author. If you’ve decided to pursue traditional publishing, you can always switch to self-publishing later once you’ve made a name for yourself. If you’ve already self-published one (or a few) books, nothing prevents you from querying agents for a different project and going the traditional route. (In fact, having self-published books might count in your favour.)
  • So, it is an important decision, but it isn’t set in stone.

I hope that this is helpful. If you have any questions, head over to my asks. And if you want to request a writing advice post, don’t be shy.

Reblog if you found these tips useful. Comment with the route you’re thinking of taking. Follow me for similar content.

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