Traditional Vs. Self-Publishing

Let me say this first. This is not a how to for either of these. This is the pros and cons of each. And, each of these criteria will have different weights of importance for each of you.


Traditional Self-Publishing
  • If you have an agent, they will give you feedback to edit your book, usually before they will advertise it
  • If you’re published, you will have an in-house editor that will give feedback to improve your book
  • Because the publishing house pays you and the team for personal feedback, they usually have the last say on what goes on in your book
  • Since you published it, you get the final say on what goes on in your book.
  • If you hire outside editing, you will have to pay for it, but you don’t have to use it.
  • If you use outside editing, such as friends, you don’t have to pay, but it may (not) be as professional.


Traditional Self-Publishing
  • After finishing your book, you will have to write a query letter and possibly chapter summaries.
  • You will not get accepted on the first try, you will have to send it to multiple agents, multiple publishing houses. This will require some initial shipping fees (though there are discounts for writers).
  • Upon acceptance, you will have a publishing team that will do most everything for you: an editor to give you feedback, designers for covers, outside printers, marketers, distributors.
  • Publishing houses will receive sales data on your books and will determine when to print or pull it off the shelves, based on these numbers.
  • The tendency is that with your own publishing team, usually works produced are higher quality.
  • Most of the time, editing will rely on you. You will have to do a lot of passes to get it to a high standard.
  • If you want outside editing, designing, you will have to research it, find it, and pay for it. But, the nice part is it’s voluntary, you don’t have to use it if you don’t want to. (Emphasis on research.)
  • You have no printers, so you will have to find and pay for routes to publish, meaning either choosing digital distributors like Amazon or printers like Lulu.
  • Because you’re on your own, you will have to market your own book. You will have to find and organize advertisements, commercials, events, publicity stunts, etc.
  • Depending on your popularity, you will have to find your own distributors (like bookstores), and not everyone accepts self-published authors on their shelves.
  • Because your sales are mostly through you, you may not sell all the books you paid to print. It will take more effort to get them out of your closet.


Traditional Self-Publishing
  • If you send copies to an agent, it will take time for it to go through review and acceptance (or rejection). This could be a few months to more than a few years for someone to take this on as a cause.
  • Agents are like hiring an employee. You should spend time reviewing their background and making sure they have a positive reputation with their customers and publishers.
  • Even if you send it to a publishing house, it can take over six months for your book copy to make it to someone’s desk for them to read. Not to mention the time it takes to find someone to accept it.
  • Once accepted, the whole publishing process can take from one to three years. This includes editing, designing, printing, etc.
  • Editing can take multiple months since there are a variety of people reviewing and giving feedback to your book. Don’t forget how long it takes for someone to read and write those corrections.
  • Depending on your contract, different publishing houses can keep your rights for different lengths of time. Make sure you review these criteria!
  • The time you spend on the publishing process is ultimately up to you. If you want to edit for a day, then you can. If you’ve already made several passes and determine it’s done, then it’s done.
  • Depending on your level of experience, different parts of the process can take longer or shorter amounts of time, depending on if you do them yourself.
  • If you bring in outside help, the length of this process is dependent on them. Take this into consideration if you have your own personal deadlines.
  • Printing can take a few weeks to a few months, depending on your format (paperback vs. hardcover) and depending on your vendor.
  • If you choose digital, you can publish your book within a day.
  • You put in as much time to market and distribute as you want.
  • You keep all rights over your book. You never have to worry about your contract!
  • (If you’re worried about copyrights, make sure to send it to the US Copyright Office – I’m not aware how long this takes.)


* As a note, I would like to define an advance. An advance is how much of the royalty you will be paid ahead of time. This means that if you receive $10,000, the publisher has paid $10,000 of your royalties ahead of schedule. You will have to wait to pass this mark before you begin to receive royalty checks.

Traditional Self-Publishing
  • There’s an initial fee to mail your book out to companies/agents, but make sure you ask for the media charge. I believe it’s usually cheaper.
  • Good agents should not charge you fees, but they will take a commission upon your publication, usually around 15 percent.
  • If the house takes it, they buy rights and pay you with an advance and future royalties, either based on “cover price” or “amount received by publishers,” which will vary with the company. Maybe, maybe the royalty will be between 6 and 18 percent.
  • Keep in mind different companies, and their variety of sizes, will pay you different ranges. Usually authors get a few thousand to tens of thousands from a book deal. It is rare to get offered hundreds of thousands.
  • Because your publishing house is a company, they already have editors, designers, marketers, distributors. They will be paying for all of this.
  • You will pay for outside developmental editors, copy editors, cover designers, production editors…Keep in mind each of these will cost a few hundred. Each.
  • You will pay for printing, and depending on the format, it will vary.
  • Don’t forget that the cost of shipping will be included! Take this into consideration when choosing your vendors.
  • If you go digital, there’s no more printing or shipping to pay for!
  • A lot of people don’t think about this, but once you distribute books, bookstores may charge you for returns if they don’t make a sale. This is all based on the cost to stock.
  • You may not sell all the books you paid to have printed, so they may take up room in your closet for a while.
  • The nice part is you get to keep most of what you make. You’re your own publisher.


Traditional Self-Publishing
  • This sounds silly, but only reach out to agents or houses that you believe in. Only accept offers that you like. It’s going to be hard to follow the advice of someone if you don’t like them.
  • Also silly, but you do not have control who will accept it and who will reject it. Not unless you’ve suddenly gained some form of hypnosis or telepathy.
  • If a house publishes your book, keep in mind they bought your rights, and will get the last say on your content. You have have some say, but in the hierarchy of control, you’re below them.
  • Since the house also pays for designing, printing, marketing, and distributing, they usually also get the say of what your book looks like, how it’s printed, how it’s marketed, etc.
  • You have no control on how fast your book will move through the publishing process. Keep this in mind if you’re an impatient person.
  • A lot of the times, publishers figure out your payment based on algorithms: what’s popular, what format, how many are going to be printed. They have control over your paycheck.
  • Be careful with your contract because some publishers will have you sign over the rights for audio books, movies, TV, foreign languages, etc. Watch out for this.
  • Publishers will know when to take it out of print, based on their sales data.
  • Less than 1% of authors are traditionally published.
  • Because you publish your book, you have all the control over the piece, over the process. You can decide which feedback you’ll use or keep. You can decide the timeline of your project. At the end of the of day, you’re the boss.
  • Since you pay for all the outside help you want, you get control over who to hire and whether you’ll accept their work or not.
  • Again, you get to choose your printer, and as friends have showed me, this means you get to choose the quality of your book. The kind of paper, the kind of cover or binding. Feel free to experiment! Bind them yourselves! It’s up to you.
  • Unfortunately once you go digital, you will give up some of your control to your digital publisher. Unless you want to send your PDF out by hand. Haven’t heard of that yet. You could just publish it online through blog though.
  • Even though you have to pay for a lot of services here, you get to choose what you’re willing to pay for and by how much. You write the checks.
  • At this point, you get to choose your audience and market. If you decide you want certain customers, you can customize it for them.
  • You get to keep all rights over your book!
  • You get to see how your efforts affect sales, ex: you can see how blog posts can affect sales.
  • You control your appearance and performance, so put your best foot forward and do your best!

Please keep in mind there are stereotypes and stigmas of each route of publishing. Because we are individuals, we each follow a route for our own different reasons, and although each route may come with a different negative/positive stigma, these only reflect your own experiences and opinions. Feel free to express them but be receptive of others as well.

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