Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing


^I took dis on ma way to work one day ;)

Do you recommend self-publishing or seeking a professional publisher?
This is pretty much the million dollar question when it comes to publishing right now, so I’m really glad you asked.
Since I haven’t published a book yet*, I can’t really attest personally to the merits of either. What I would love is if there are any followers out there who have experience either in self-publishing or professional publishing who would be willing to write in and tell us about your experience.
What I can do is tell you guys a little about what each of these terms mean—definitely important information if you hope to one day publish a book. There’s traditional publishing, there’s self publishing, but there’s also a whole gradient of options in between:
Traditional publishers are the houses that you always hear about—the big six were RandomHouse, MacMillan, HMH, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette, until recently when RandomHouse and Penguin merged into what I like to call Random Penguin.
This is a little bit what that process looks like: When you’ve finished your manuscript, you query book agents (a process that’s a bit like, say, applying to college—the agents are the colleges, and you’re applying on behalf of your book). Once an agent decides to represent you, she goes to editors at publishing houses she has relationships with and tries to sell your book (sometimes there’s a difference between acquiring editors—who pick which books will be published—and the more traditional conception of editors, the person who helps you make the content of your book better).
This is pretty much the point at which the author’s control over her book ends. It’s like your baby leaving the nest of… you. The traditional publishing company scoops it up, formats it, designs the dust jacket and covers, etc., launches marketing and sales campaigns, drums up publicity, and puts your book out into the world.
The pros: A complete publishing house has all of these mechanisms in place. They know what they’re doing. And I’m not 100% sure about this, but I’m pretty sure the author doesn’t have to front any money—established authors usually get an advance, which is basically a pre-payment of your royalties based on how many copies of a book are expected to sell. (For example, Elizabeth Gilbert was already an established author when she pitched Eat, Pray, Love, so Penguin actually gave her an advance that would cover her year of travel so that she could fund the writing of the book. Good move, Penguin.)
The cons: Royalties (the percent of money the author earns each time a book is sold) for authors are extremely low. Since the process includes so many people—the editors, the marketing and publicity people, the designers, the salespeople, plus the cost of printing and binding a physical book itself (different story for ebooks obv, but that’s why they’re cheaper)—everyone has to get a piece of the sales. A first time author may not get an advance, and could make less than 8% of every book sold. (This area is obviously where I’m a little foggy so if anyone want to write in with more detail about royalties, advances, etc., that’d be great).

For more about the publishing process, check out an infographic I helped with at my old internship, The Life Cycle of a Book.



Pure self publishing basically means you do it by yourself. In the internet age, self publishing has become much easier because authors can manage their publicity themselves with social media, can design their books using templates, and can sell it using tools like PayPal.

However, there are also a ton of companies that will help with your self publishing endeavor “a la carte”. Say you’re designing and copy editing your book yourself, but you need someone to manage your internet presence and build you an author website—there are companies that do just that. Or maybe you need someone just to design and print your book for you—you can hire someone to do only that. There are even “self publishing” companies that do the whole process for you, but you have to pay them to. The a la carte self publishing industry is definitely a booming one.

The pros: The main perk that authors seek when self publishing is higher royalties. 

The cons: The biggest con for the people of the world (not the author) about self publishing is that a lot of bullshit crap books get put out into the world and dilute the market. Also, if you use a company to do a piece of the publishing process for you, you may have to front a bunch of money to pay them, or front a bunch of money to produce the book, which you won’t necessarily earn back.


So yeah—that’s the basics. If I ever publish a book, I’d love to be traditionally published—there’s something so romantic about saying, “Ah, yes, Penguin is publishing me, HarperCollins is my publisher, etc.” and the idea of being taken care of. But considering I have a little design experience and, ahem, a sizable web audience, it probably would make more sense for me to at least partially self publish. But I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Again, I’m sorta pulling this all out of my ass from what I learned at my internship like a year and a half ago, and I’m sure some more veteran authors/pub people are going to want to write in and elaborate/correct me/comment, and I’d love if you would—just click here.

The best resource ever for young people who want to know about publishing is Publishing Trendsetter.

Also don’t forget that we’ve had a lot of posts about publishing before, and they’re all tagged publishing.


©Yeah Write! 2012

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