What are the pros and cons of traditional vs. self-publishing? In the ever-evolving landscape of the publishing industry, aspiring authors face a pivotal decision when it comes to bringing their hard work into the hands of readers.
Traditional publishing has long been considered the holy grail for authors seeking recognition and widespread distribution. It involves submitting a manuscript to literary agents or directly to publishing houses, who handle editing, marketing, distribution, and, in some cases, advance payments.
While traditional publishing offers the allure of a wider reach, potential prestige, and higher sales, it is also highly competitive, and authors face multiple rejections before securing a publishing deal.
Additionally, authors have limited control over their work’s creative aspects and earn a smaller royalty percentage.
Prestige and validation: Many authors suffer from self-doubt and wonder if their writing is good enough for publication. Getting an agent and, subsequently, a publisher can give you the approval and validation that you crave. This may or may not be your definition of success regardless of book sales.
An established professional team: Editors, cover designers, formatters, and sometimes marketers are provided by the publisher as part of your contract. Many authors only want to write and don’t want to deal with the heavy lifting of all the other details that go into the final product.
No upfront financial costs plus an advance: Unless you hire an editor prior to submission, you don’t have to pay anyone to get a traditional publishing deal. (BTW, if you are asked for money upfront, it is likely a vanity publisher, and you should run away fast!) According to Reedsy, a first-time author with a traditional publishing deal might expect an advance of $1,000-$10,000 upfront. You then don’t earn more until you’ve exceeded this amount in your royalty rate.
Potential to become a brand name: Highly unlikely, unfortunately, but never stop dreaming.
Easier print distribution: This is what traditional publishers are designed to facilitate. Sales reps go to stores and offer book buyers to select books they like and pay later.
Literary prizes and critical acclaim: Much more likely through traditional publishing; many literary prizes aren’t even open to indie authors
Incredibly slow process: It may take a year or two to get an agent after writing and editing your work. Then, it may take another year to get a publishing deal plus another 6 months to 2 years before your book is launched.
Loss of creative control: Many authors end up with titles, covers, and genre descriptions that they don’t like. You also do not get to choose your editor, which is sad.
Low royalties: Royalty rates are a percentage of the sale of a book. Reedsy notes that a typical royalty rate is 5-18% once an author earns out their advance. Compare this to a potential of 40-70% for self-published authors (depending on format).
Lack of marketing assistance: Increasingly, authors have to do their own marketing and establish a platform for themselves.
Self-publishing, on the other hand, grants authors complete control over their creative process, timeline, and distribution. It also allows authors to retain higher royalty rates and choose their own marketing strategies.
This, however, requires a significant amount of time doing self-promotion, cover design, hiring an editor(s), and marketing efforts.
Moreover, self-published books can face a stigma due to the lack of vetting and quality control associated with traditional publishing.
Total creative control over content and design: After signing a contract, traditionally published authors give up their control over pricing, timing, marketing, cover, title, and sometimes even their words. As an indie author, you can choose to work with high-quality freelance professionals to create a quality product and become a successful author entrepreneur. Check out my services page to see how I can help with your publishing process.
Fast time to market: It’s lightning-fast compared to traditional publishing which can take years to get to market. Once you are ready to publish, you can have your e-book version for sale withing 4-72 hours. If you are doing print on demand, you can get that up within 24 hours.
Higher royalties: According to Reedsy, if you price your ebook between $2.99 and $9.99 on Amazon, you can get up to a 70% royalty rate. You can’t guarantee you going to make as many sales as you would with a traditional publisher, so investment in marketing is important. Check out the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) advice center for guidebooks and general advice on all aspects of self-publishing.
The ability to niche: Major publishers have an expectation of a certain number of sales, so if you are writing a niche book on a certain genre, the market may be too small for them to entertain. Your book will appeal to a very particular reader who may pay higher prices for just that specificity.
Necessity of an upfront budget: If you want a professional result, you will need to invest money upfront for editing, books and courses for writers, cover designers, formatters, marketing, etc. (This isn’t completely limited to indies because now you are expected to spend money on professional editing before submission to agents.)
Lack of prestige: This is less of an issue every year and really only is bound up by your definition of success.
Lack of notoriety: Self-published authors often find their books lost in a sea of hundreds of thousands of others. This leaves you without much hope of being discovered. However, winning the right book award can be a catalyst for discovery. And with this type of discovery a self-published author and their work out of obscurity and into the spotlight. Many literary prizes don’t accept indie books and most literary critics for mainstream media won’t review them. Click here for IndieReader’s Discovery Awards entry and check out their other services, such as book reviews.
Hybrid Publishing has emerged as a sort of middle ground between the traditional and self-publishing models. It combines elements of both approaches, offering authors a curated publishing experience while maintaining a level of control over their work.
Authors collaborate with a publisher who provides professional editing, design, and marketing services for a fee or a revenue-sharing model.
Hybrid publishers vary, and you should carefully research and evaluate each option to ensure transparency and fair terms.
In conclusion, use the pros and cons of traditional vs. self-publishing to help weigh your options, but the ultimate decision depends on the author’s goals, resources, and preferences.
Each approach has its merits and drawbacks, and authors should consider factors such as creative control, marketing support, distribution reach, and financial needs when making their choice.
The publishing landscape is continuously evolving and your current publishing choice may change in the future.
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