Friday, 20 May 2011

Traditional Publishing vs. Self-publishing

You've written a book and want to get it published but don't know how to go about it. First off you need to decide whether to go down the traditional or self-publishing pathways. Let's take a look at the pros and cons for each...


Traditional publishing involves your manuscript first being accepted by a publishing house and being offered a contract. First time authors almost always need to go through an agent who approaches the publishing houses as most don't accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Pros for Traditional Publishing*

- The prestige of gaining publication with a publishing house. It's something to be proud of, being picked by someone else who trusts in your work enough to publish it.
- Direct access to professional editing, printing and distribution with no out of pocket expenses.
- Your books are more easily accepted into bookstores and other retail outlets (although this doesn't guarantee sales).
- An advance on potential royalties is given.
- If your book does well, you could be offered a longer term contract with the publisher for multiple books.

Cons for Traditional Publishing

- Lack of control over the process and finished product. You are unlikely to get much say in things like the cover and interior formatting.
- Less royalties than if you self-published.
- The rights to the book are held by the publisher - even less control for the author.
- Minimal marketing by the publisher. Although there is a higher chance you'll get into bookstores, and publishing houses have access to powerful connections, without good and consistent marketing and promotion people will not know about your book and therefore will not buy it. Which brings me to my next point...
- If you don't sell many books, the publisher may say farewell to you.


What is self-publishing? To self-publish is to design your book from beginning to end, and pay for it to be printed and distributed, rather than using a traditional publisher to do the legwork. You could use a print on demand service where a book is only printed when it is ordered online, or pay for any size print run.

Pros for self-publishing

- Control over the whole book, from interior layout to the cover, and all other aspects.
- Emerging or aspiring authors can print a book and test its market potential. This has benefits in that a first-time author can work hard to establish themselves and possibly get a book deal. However, if the book is weak in certain areas (lack of editing etc.) this would most certainly have some negative effects on the author's reputation.
- Niche markets where there is likely to be only local distribution. Self-publishing allows for small print runs.
- Royalties tend to be greater in self-publishing. However, the author misses out on the connections traditional publishers have to offer. If you as the author wish to compete with these larger, established companies, a lot more hard work and money would be required for marketing and publicity. This said, all authors should give their books the best chance by self-marketing and publicising as much as they can.
- The rights to the book are held by the author. This is beneficial in that you will be able to sell your book anywhere you like in any format (eBook, audio etc.) and for whatever price you choose.
- Having something in print you can be proud of, whether or not you share it with the world.

Cons for self-publishing

- Money up front with no guarantee of a good or any return. With a traditional publisher you tend to get an advance on royalties.
- Limited assistance unless you seek it, which takes more time and money. There are so many great books and websites on self-publishing I will discuss in brief in this blog and in detail later that can help put you on the right track and give your book the best chance.
- The unknown - people think twice before buying something unknown. With self-publishing comes a stigma, perhaps due to the number of very poorly self-published books out there (read POD People by Jeremy Robinson – it talks about beating this stigma). You won't sell a lot of books if yours do not meet the standard, even with the best marketing strategies.
- Competition - with so many books being published each year, how are you going to get yours noticed? To stand out, you'll need good book buzz with great reviews. The problem is, it's very difficult to get reviews from prestigious book review companies if you're a self-publisher.

To sum it all up, like anything in life there are benefits and drawbacks for both traditional and self-publishing. You need to decide what's most appropriate for your needs. Some authors choose to just produce digital versions of their books, or eBooks. Others only need a minimal number of books printed, and therefore can just take it to the printers themselves. Then there are those who desire that lucrative book deal with a famous publishing house. Whatever your heart desires, as long as you put the appropriate amount of time, effort and love into writing something people will enjoy and appreciate, then there will always be a market waiting to read it.

*Thanks to Joanna Penn, author of "From Idea to Book", for providing some of the benefits and drawbacks of traditional publishing. Her book contains all the information you need to get writing and pursue your dream of becoming a published author! Check out her blog at

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