Traditional vs. Self-Publishing

When choosing between traditional publishing and self-publishing, you need to understand the benefits and drawbacks of both models. Learn how different publishers handle costs, rights, distribution, and other factors so you can choose the best publishing strategy for your book.

Traditional vs. Self-Publishing

Text version

Selection process

  • Traditional publishing
    Traditional publishers are extremely selective, wading through mountains of manuscripts to find a single masterpiece.

  • Self-publishing
    Anyone can publish a book as an indie author.

Work scope

  • Traditional publishing
    Once you finish your manuscript, the publisher takes over and manages most of the publishing process for you.

  • Self-publishing
    If you choose to self-publish, you'll still have a lot more work after you finish writing. You're responsible for the whole publishing process.

Team

  • Traditional publishing
    Traditionally published authors have a team of industry experts who aim to make their books successful.

  • Self-publishing
    Self-published authors have to form their teams themselves, and finding the right people is not easy.

Rights

  • Traditional publishing
    The rights of your book belong to the publisher, with the exact conditions varying by publisher and your contract.

  • Self-publishing
    Self-published authors usually retain all rights to their work. Make sure to properly obtain rights for any artwork you use, as well.

Creative freedom

  • Traditional publishing
    If you sign with a publisher, you give up creative freedom. You lose your say over title, cover, editorial, and marketing decisions and may not be satisfied with the end result.

  • Self-publishing
    Independent authors maintain full creative freedom. All elements remain ultimately the author's decision, so you can publish your book just as you envision it.

Decisions

  • Traditional publishing
    If you opt for a traditional publisher, a team of experts makes all decisions regarding your book. They know what they're doing, but your right to make decisions on your own book is gone.

  • Self-publishing
    If you self-publish, all decisions regarding your book are yours. There might not be anyone to advise you, so this is not necessarily a good thing, but at least you have freedom.

Cost

  • Traditional publishing
    If you go with a traditional publisher, they'll cover all costs.

  • Self-publishing
    If you plan to self-publish, you're looking at a few thousand dollars for the entire process.

Publishing duration

  • Traditional publishing
    With traditional publishers, the process can be lengthy, sometimes taking up to two years.

  • Self-publishing
    Indie authors can have their book released in mere months -- it depends entirely on their own speed and abilities.

Bookstores

  • Traditional publishing
    If you sign with a publisher, they can make sure your book pops up in physical bookstores all over.

  • Self-publishing
    Self-published authors usually only produce eBooks. It's possible -- but highly difficult -- to land your book in major bookstores.

Distribution

  • Traditional publishing
    Traditionally published authors can break into both the online and brick-and-mortar markets.

  • Self-publishing
    Indie authors can generally only distribute their works online.

Marketing

  • Traditional publishing
    Traditional publishers will aid authors' marketing efforts. However, in most cases, authors are still largely responsible for their own marketing.

  • Self-publishing
    If you self-publish, you're completely on your own in terms of marketing unless you purchase help.

Publicity

  • Traditional publishing
    There's a chance you'll be well promoted, featured in bookstores, on posters, and in newspapers (keep in mind that still doesn't guarantee success, though).

  • Self-publishing
    Traditional media outlets typically don't pay a lot of attention to self-published authors. Fame beyond your niche will be difficult to achieve.

Royalties

  • Traditional publishing
    The rates vary based on the publisher and country, but with traditional publishers, authors usually earn no more than 10% for each book they sell.

  • Self-publishing
    It depends on the store, but indie authors can typically earn around 60 to 70% for each book sold.

Public perception

  • Traditional publishing
    If a traditional publisher has deemed your work worthy, readers likely will as well. The prestige that comes with a reputable publisher's name on your book can go far.

  • Self-publishing
    If you're self-published, you'll be judged only on your book's quality.

Awards

  • Traditional publishing
    Though awards are never easy to win, traditionally published authors stand a much better chance than self-published authors.

  • Self-publishing
    Only a small number of awards are open to indie authors, so your chances of winning a prize are extremely low.

Important:

 

You don't have to stick to your original publishing choice. You can attempt to publish traditionally by sending out query letters, and if it doesn't work out after a few months, you can self-publish instead.