How To Publish Your Book: Self Publishing Vs. Traditional

Jun 24, 2024 | Ghostwriting

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Completing your writing project is an exciting time. Whether you were hard at work on a fiction novel, personal memoir or a business book, make no mistake that writing to completion is a major accomplishment. But as the time to celebrate fades, all writers face a similar question. If you’re ready to publish your book, do you seek traditional publishing or self-publish it myself?  

Answering this question can be difficult. There are a great number of factors to consider, from the time and money involved, to the most critical factor, your ability to reach an audience. 

Where to turn can be equally difficult. The writing and publishing industries are fueled by author uncertainty in these areas. The formula is simple. When faced with big decisions (like confront you when you publish your book) people tend to panic. People that panic, in turn, make rash, emotional decisions.

Publish your book with confidence. Don’t get caught up in that tough loop. Make your decision with the best possible information, outside of the pressure of buying this service or that class. Here are what you need to know when it comes to self-publishing versus the traditional route. 

Publish Your Book Knowing Self-Publishing Pros & Cons

Before launching into the pros and cons, I’ll give a brief description of what self-publishing is. At its most basic definition, a self publishing author is someone who takes on the responsibility for bringing their books to market themselves. This means they pay for their covers and editing out of pocket. The same goes for building their audiences and marketing.  

Why Self-Publishing Works For People

The self-publishing authors I know thrive because they have that DIY spirit. They got into writing because they loved creating a story, which is a common train for all authors, but that was not enough. They wanted to keep control of everything from the cover design to the release schedule and the series. 

Working with a traditional publisher will sometimes force authors to make difficult choices. Do they follow their own brilliant creative spirit? Or change to please their publisher?

Another aspect of self-publishing that I see working for people is that it rewards rapid writers. Traditional publishing, with the ideal of putting out a book each year, bogs them down. 

The successful self-publishing author is prolific. They have a full series in mind complete with novels, novellas and short stories and they fearlessly believe they can build an audience around their content. 

In the interest of full disclosure, I am in part a self-publishing author. I intentionally chose the path because I am prolific, creating new content at a rapid rate. I also come from a DIY art background and I wanted my content, pulpy mysteries with a paranormal twinge, to follow in that tradition.

Why It Doesn’t Work For Some

Difficulties vary, but I have seen complaints come down to one of two areas: the short and long term cost and the challenge of finding an audience. 

On the money side, publishing a book can get expensive. How expensive? Well, I’ve written a series of blogs on the topic for you to consider. For the sake of brevity, let’s say it’s $1000.

To some, $1000 isn’t going to break them. But shelling out what I like to call “vacation money” on releasing a product (which is what a book is) can give some people pause. There are more nuanced ways to look at the outlay of money. For one, you can cut that cost in half if you’re resourceful. Another is that it’s a big write off of your taxes. 

There is no way around it though: self-publishing comes with cost as a barrier to entry.

Another barrier in choosing self-publishing is the challenge in reaching readers. I can be brief here. Reaching readers is tough – really tough. Audiences are fickle. They’re notoriously cheap when it comes to investing in new authors and you are always competing with the big boys. 

That’s not to say reaching readers isn’t possible. I know plenty of self-publishing authors who have developed a large, excited fan base, who buy their books on a regular basis. There are statistics and studies readily available that illustrate just how much money some self-publishing authors make. The number can be staggering. 

The two things all of those authors share in common is that they wrote good books. The other is that they invested time and energy into learning how to market. 

If that doesn’t sound like you then maybe self-publishing is not your path. 

Publish Your Book Knowing Traditional Publishing Pros & Cons

Traditional publishing is the opposite of self-publishing. Whether through an agent or manager, an author finds a publishing deal with a publisher for their book (or books) leaving all of the details (the cover, editing, etc…) to them. 

Why Traditional Publishing Works For People

In my experience, prestige is the number one reason why traditional publishing still works. After the grueling process of writing a book and getting it right, acceptance by a publisher, large or small, is a major league boost to the ego. Tell someone your book was picked up by a publisher and you’re bound to get some welcome feedback.

That prestige isn’t just to your ego though. What do I mean? In my experience, that prestige boost is good for an author’s career. Get your foot in the door with a great first book and suddenly you’re fielding opportunities with television, movies, second books. Got a short story you want to publish? Sending that story out through your agent comes with mucho cache. If you want to see yourself next to the big boys and girls, Stephen King and Louise Penney, for example, then you need to dust off that listing of agents and see who is interested in books like yours. 

Traditional publishing opens doors. Sure, self-publishing gives rise to writing careers, but it’s a different kind of career. In the above example of Davids and Goliaths, the former is proverbial champion, but we don’t live in a proverbial world, do we?

When the time comes to publish your book, sometimes it’s nice to be at the top of the mountain. 

Where Traditional Publishing Goes Wrong

As a friend of mine said, “That New York City publisher isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

Why did she say this? Well, in her case, she had sold the rights to her first novel to a big publisher. Nothing Earth shattering when it comes to money, but it was six figures, a handsome reward after years writing her first novel.

But something rather unexpected happened. The first book didn’t sell. Using the industry term, they were stagnant, so the publisher told her they were not moving forward with book two.

What? This kind of thing happens. 

Yes. It happens all the time. When publishers deem a book, series or even an author to be unprofitable, they move on to the next one down the line.

What was really tough for my friend was the three years she had to wait to take her books to the self-publishing market. Three long years. Well, she must have spent that time learning how to market books because her three novel science-fiction series (the first of which was the so-called ‘failed first book’ according to her publisher) can now be found at the top of global bestseller lists.

The market is fickle. Really fickle. Publishers, like any other business, are looking for what works and are willing to ditch what doesn’t to get it. For an author looking to break in, the investment of time and hope in a deal that ultimate blows up in their face is too much to handle.

publish your book, erick mertz, oregon city

How To Publish Your Book: A Bottom Line

I don’t know that there is a simple, bite-sized “bottom line” in this increasingly passionate debate about how to publish your book. As I have described in the sections above, each route to readers comes with its own unique advantages as well as disadvantages. Neither is an easy route, however, I think there are some X-Factors to consider.

Self-publishing is the “rising” path. This means, ten years ago, if we were having this conversation, I’d probably say, unless you were frightfully niche, you’d want to go traditional.

That isn’t the case anymore. 

Right now, what we call the “traditional publishing” route is in a state of flux. In so many ways, these markets are changing in response to the rapid rise in self-publishing authors (or the ‘hybrid author’). If you want to use a metaphor, self-publishing is the scrappy up-and-comer with an eye on the prize. The Goliath traditional publishing houses are trying to keep up with what the Davids out there are doing.

While traditional publishing offers authors some advantages, what we see happening in the self-publishing space is more what publishing is becoming. In my mind, if you have a mind to make it in the industry for a long time, you want to be where the industry is going.