Traditional Publishing vs Self-Publishing

What you need to know about publishing your own book.

Your friendly neighbourhood ghostwriter showing off her new glasses,

Something I get asked all of the time by clients is, “What do I do now that I’ve got a completed manuscript?” While my expertise ends with the completion of the manuscript, I only felt it was right that I educate myself on the next-steps for the clients. Just a little disclaimer here… I am by no means an expert in publishing, all of this information is gathered from people who know a hell of a lot more about it than me. Therefore, I’ll be adding links and references for you to check out the source of the information used here. Traditional publishing vs self-publishing is a topic that has received quite a lot of press in recent years, with the rise of e-books, Amazon and the like, self-publishing is more accessible than ever. But does that mean it’s the right thing for you and your book? Let’s find out, shall we?

When you google, ‘self-publishing vs traditional publishing’ you are bombarded with information, so much so that it can be nigh-on impossible to get to the nitty-gritty of the issue. This blog post isn’t going to be super long, instead, I’m hoping to provide you with the simple pros and cons of each type of publishing to support you with making your own decision. A spring-board for you to continue your research.

Let’s start with traditional publishing. Traditional publishing, sometimes called trade publishing, is what people usually think of when it comes to publishing a book. It is essentially a business contract. You submit a proposal and your manuscript to a publishing house, either yourself or through a literary agent, and the publishing house will determine whether they would like to publish your work, or not. In all likelihood, you’ll submit your manuscript to many, many publishing houses before being accepted, if you ever are. There are no guarantees that by sending off your manuscript and proposal, you’ll be accepted.

There are, of course, positives and negatives to choosing to publish your book with a traditional publisher, and it is down to you to weigh up whether it is worth it for you.

Prestige. It’s plain and simple, being signed by a book publisher is validating for many authors. If a publisher sees merit in publishing your work, then it often signifies success.
Publishers take care of everything. There’s a lot more that goes into publishing a book than writing a manuscript. There’s editing, cover design, printing, distributing, advertising, amongst other things.
You pay nothing. The publisher takes care of all the costs associated with publishing your book. You won’t experience any financial loss if your book doesn’t sell well.
You’ll see your book in bookstores. Something writers love to see, is their books on shelves in bookstores. Traditional publishers have great distribution channels and so bookstores are more likely to pick up your book, meaning it’s also more likely to sell well.
Literary prizes and critical acclaim are far more likely. Many literary prizes aren’t open to indie authors. This is something to consider.
Increased likelihood of becoming a household name. Thanks to the distribution and advertising associated with traditional publishers, you’ll have a better chance of gaining notoriety for yourself and your book.
Time-consuming. If you’re a first-time author, you’re likely to experience quite a few rejections before (if) your book gets picked up. Once the deal is signed, it can still take a while for it to be published, even a couple of years.
Authors have limited control. It is unlikely you’ll have a lot of creative control over the book once you’ve handed the manuscript over. This can include things such as titles, cover art, etc.
Low royalty rates. Self-publishing royalty rates are often considerably higher.
The dreaded contract! Publishing contracts are notoriously difficult to read and understand. Often, terms favour the publisher. You’ll need a lawyer to look over the document and fight for you to have the best deal. I could do a whole blog post on literary contracts and what to watch out for. Essentially, you need to keep all the rights you can. Things to watch out for are world English rights in all formats, the term of the contract and the rights reversion clause, and the do not compete for clause. Make sure you’re aware of exactly what you’re signing.
Positives and Negatives of Traditional Publishing

Self-publishing is becoming more prevalent, with 30-40% of all e-book sales coming from self-published books. Self-publishing involves bypassing the publishing houses and using one of the self-publishing platforms out there. QUICK NOTE: please have your book professionally edited and designed before going for self-publishing. This is a mistake a lot of first-time authors make and it can dramatically impact the sale of your book.You can do this through independent freelancers, or a publishing service company. Most companies won’t charge upfront, rather they will deduct a commission from your sales (usually between 10-65%).

Quick publishing. You can get your book out there very, very quickly. This is great for authors of niche works, or first-time authors. A few days is usually all it takes to get your book up and running.
Complete creative control. This is possibly a huge contrast to traditional publishing. You can hire the people you need, either editors or book designers, to fulfil your vision.
Super easy to make changes. The books are not printed and stored in advance, and are usually printed on-demand, so you can make changes when needed. Please note, if you are making significant changes, you’ll need to apply for a new ISBN.
Longer shelf-life. Traditionally published books are usually removed from the bookshelves to make way for newly published books. This doesn’t happen for self-published books. People can discover your book years after it was originally published.
Sell in the global market, as you retain the rights to the book. Something we brushed over in the previous section for the cons of traditional publishing. Essentially, this means you can sell your book anywhere in the world as you own the rights.
Niche books can reach the required audience. Traditional publishes are less likely to take on books with a niche audience, but that doesn’t matter in self-publishing. You have the power to reach those audiences.
Great starting point. It can be a great springboard to get your name and your work out there. Many self-published authors have publishers coming to them, as they have an established name since self-publishing, making them less of a risk.
Marketing and advertising. This is possibly the main pitfall of self-publishing, as all this responsibility falls on your shoulders. You will have to invest a lot of time in getting your product out there if you wish to be successful and make money. Social media is your best friend! Some authors enjoy this though, so it’s not entirely an issue.
Paying for professional services upfront. Hiring an editor and book designer is considered essential. For many readers, finding errors in a book is a huge turn-off. It leaves a bad taste in their mouths, so I would highly recommend having it professionally proof-read and edited, not that I’m biased.
It can be time-consuming looking for professional services. Finding the right professionals for you can be a tricky business. Make sure you ask all the questions you want to know the answers to and vet anybody you’ll be spending money on. Professional editing services are not cheap, and you need to make sure you have somebody who shares your vision on board.
It is unlikely that bookstores will stock your book. It can be difficult to convince bookstores to take a chance on you and stock your book, which means fewer physical purchases.
There’s still a stigma about self-publishing. It’s completely unjustified and is lessening every day, but it’s still there. People can look down their noses at self-published authors as they don’t have the ‘prestige’ and ‘validation’.  
Positives and Negatives of Self-Publishing

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing! Something to consider, now that we’ve gone through the pros and cons of each approach to publishing your book, is that it’s worth noting that many authors take a hybrid approach. Some books are better suited to self-publishing, whereas others might be better suited to traditional publishing. Just because you’ve gone one route for your first book, doesn’t mean you have to for other books. You are empowered to make your own decisions here.

There are some scams out there, so be mindful. Check out these websites for further information on what to watch out for. You’ll find information on which publishing services are genuine and which aren’t completely truthful. WRITER BEWARE and SELF-PUBLISHING ADVICE BLOG, are good places to start. If you want more information on the scams out there, then please let me know and I can certainly do that.

Over to you. With this information in mind, hopefully, you have a clearer picture of what to expect from traditional publishers and self-publishing. For first-time authors particularly, publishing can be a confusing world, so take your time, do your research and do what feels right for you. Don’t let the opinions of others impact your decision. There’s no right or wrong way to publish your own book.

As always, wishing you love and books that make your heart skip a beat,

Sarah Jules x

P.S, I have some very exciting blog posts lined up over the next couple of weeks based on things I’ve come across in my work recently. The next blog post will be about the ethics of re-writing existing books and publishing them as your own (spoiler alert: it’s wrong and shouldn’t happen!). The following week we’ll look at how to deal with difficult buyers, this will be a fun one. I promise!

Check out these sources for further information:

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