Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing: The Final Countdown

Before going into the details of the most debated area of publishing, let me reassure you: it doesn’t have to be either this or that.

Whatever decision you make, it definitely won’t last a lifetime (unless you get some horrible publishing deal, signing away the rights for the next decade). Many of today’s successful authors went both ways: they have published both at traditional publishers and as self-publishers – sometimes the very same books!

If you came here because you would like us to condemn one of these two ways, you are at the wrong place: we honestly believe that self-pubs and big publishers can peacefully share the market. It only depends on your book, your circumstances, and your preferences.

In this article, we are exploring the reasons why somebody might decide with self-publishing or against it, debunk some myths surrounding self-publishing and traditional publishing, and list the pros and cons of both ways.

“If you have to pay somebody to get published, you are not a writer.” Is this true?

Having seen that the most popular lectures at London Book Fair 2017 were the ones on self-publishing (mostly by ALLi authors, sponsored by Amazon KDP, it is hard to believe that some people still stigmatize authors who decide to go indie. This is probably due to the confusion surrounding the publishing process. The main difference is in who manages the book.

If you have a publisher, the publisher organizes editing, proofreading, design, marketing, and distribution. They usually pay you a percentage of sales after the book is out.

As a self-publisher, you organize editing, proofreading, design; you are responsible for your own marketing and distribution. This is definitely an investment, but in the end, you get a higher percentage of the sales.

There is also a third category: you pay somebody to organize editing, proofreading, etc. on your behalf. These services are called ‘vanity publishers’ and avoid them by all means.

self-publishing vs traditional publishing

Is self-publishing for me?

There are several things you have to consider before deciding either way:

Do you already have funds for editing, design, marketing and possibly printing, and if not, can you get some?

Self-publishing costs money. If you don’t yet have the funds, you can launch a crowdfunding campaign or find a sponsor; it is usually easier if you target a niche audience or if you would like to raise money for a charity.

Do you already have books published you could show the agents?

If you are an author with a known name and can show some sales numbers, it is easier to find an agent or a publisher. If this is your first book, you are less likely to find one.

Would you like to see your books piling up in bookstores all around the country?

The distribution of self-published books (either print or digital) happens mainly online. While it is possible to get into local and regional libraries and independent bookshops, self-published books are unlikely to be seen in bookstores countrywide.

Would you like to become famous?

(Who wouldn’t, of course.) You can achieve fame and success as a self-publisher in your niche market, but don’t expect the traditional media (printed newspapers, magazines, television) talking about you straight away. Traditional media likes traditional publishing, probably because they enjoy the lack of responsibility and boldness coming with a pre-selected material.

Are you stubborn?

Sorry for being brusque, but if you don’t like to work in a team and if you believe that you know everything best, traditional publishing is not for you. People working at traditional publishing houses are experts of their respective fields and are likely to make decisions regarding the title or cover. If you want to have the final say at every step of the publishing process, go indie.

Are you good at marketing?

Your book may be a masterpiece with a beautiful cover and catchy title, but you won’t see any sales if you don’t market it. Traditional publishers have a decent budget for advertising and marketing, and they can also afford to pay reviewers and publicists. They also have the advantage to be in bookstores: even a poorly marketed book can sell if people see it on the shelf.

If you are an indie with an already existing circle of readers, or a respected person in your field (a famous blogger, vlogger or fanfictioner), you start from a less difficult position than somebody who just wrote a novel and would like to see it published.

Last, but not least: do you have what it takes to get a project done?

Publishing a book takes a lot of time and effort – that’s why publishers have a whole team to work on it full-time. You have to decide how precious your free time is, and how determined you are.

Some people thrive under pressure and like to reach out to other authors, build connections, organize events and call HMRC every now and again. Others just like to be left in peace and write books. Spending day after day with a project that doesn’t seem to go anywhere and you cannot be sure that it ever will pay back – if this sounds like something that would discourage you from ever writing again, try to find a traditional publisher.

So far we wrote about the main differences between self- and traditional publishing and raised a set of questions you have to ask yourself before deciding which way to go. In the following, we are going to look at self-publishing and traditional publishing separately, and compare them in this neat table.


Self-publishingTraditional publishing
fundsYou have to pay for editing, design and marketing. You can save on printing, if you choose a POD service.The publisher pays for everything, including printing and distribution.
royaltiesYou get around 60-70% of each books sold, depending on the online store you are selling in. Also, don’t forget to pay your taxes.You get around 10% of royalties after each book, depending on the publisher and the country.
rightsYou keep all the rights. You are also responsible for purchasing the rights of all artwork you are using.The publisher has the rights of your book, the exact conditions depend on the publisher. You can read more about the contract traps here.
decisionsYou make all decisions regarding your book. You might make good decisions or bad decisions; they are your decisions nevertheless.An expert team makes all the decisions regarding your book. They will probably only ask your opinion.
timingIt only depends on your time and abilities: your book can be on the shelves within months. Publishing a book can take up to two years.
getting publishedEveryone can get published. Your success depends on how big your actual market is and how well can you reach them.Only a selected few can get published: as publishers have limited funds, they have to choose from the incoming manuscripts. It is extremely difficult to find a publisher that is willing to publish your book.
bookstoresWhile you are not restricted to ebooks, it is difficult to appear in major bookstores.Publishers can easily distribute their books all over the country.
effortsYour job doesn’t finish with typing the last period. You have to organize everything during the publishing process by yourself.You just have to write a book, and the publisher is taking care of it. You can go back and start writing the next one.
know-howIt is difficult to find skilled workers for every step through the process.You can be certain that you book is in the best hands.
fameAs an indie, you will have a hard time getting your voice heard outside your main market.Your name will be on posters, in newspapers and in bookstores – but remember, there isn’t a J.K.Rowling every year.
prizesThere are only a few awards open to self publishers.If you are good and lucky enough to win one of the big awards, you will be well known and well read.

You have a clearer picture of the pros and cons of both sides by now. Ready to make your own decision on which one to choose?

Either way, we wish you happy publishing!

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