Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing: Which One Is the Best for You?

When you finish writing your book, you inevitably face the question: self-publishing or traditional publishing?

The answer to the question should I self-publish or use a publisher? is complex, and you should weigh all the aspects.

One reassuring thing, though: whatever decision you make, it doesn't have to be the final one. Many of today’s successful independent authors went both ways. The so-called hybrid authors have published books both in traditional publishing and as indie publishers.

Indie authors, indie publishers, and the Big Five can peacefully share the market. The right solution for you depends on your book, your circumstances, and your preferences.

In this article, we explore the topic of traditional vs self-publishing.

Let’s dive in.

Main Takeaway:

The choice between self-publishing vs. traditional publishing depends on individual preferences and circumstances. Each option has its own advantages and disadvantages in terms of creative control, royalties, distribution, and required effort. 

What Is the Difference Between Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing?

It all comes down to who coordinates the publishing process. This is the main difference between self-publishing vs using a publisher.

Here's why.

If you're self-publishing, you're in complete control of everything, and you own the rights and royalties.

If you publish traditionally, the publishing company owns the rights and royalties and most probably the creative direction, too.

We should get into more detail.

Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing: Questions to Guide Your Process

Self-publishers get more control and a higher royalty rate, but some traditional authors enjoy working with agents and other publishing professionals who guide them.

Therefore, no one will know for sure which way is better, except you, of course.

The following questions will help you in this traditional publishing vs. self-publishing debate.

1. Do you like to be in charge?

People working at traditional publishing houses will likely make decisions regarding your book. Most publishers may ask you to rewrite certain parts or change the title.

They also decide:

  • the publishing timescale
  • the book's price
  • the rights to different formats
  • the book cover and who signs off on it

This means you agree to give away control when signing a traditional publishing agreement.

But this is fine if you're happy with someone else's recommendations. It just means that traditional publishing is for you. You do the writing, and other people do the rest.

Usually, authors who want to launch a writing career and wish to coordinate the entire process, from writing to promotion, want to be independent. They want to manifest creatively in their own way and take responsibility for everything. If you want the final say at every step of the publishing process, go indie.

2. Do you like marketing?

Your book may be a masterpiece with a beautiful cover design and catchy title, but you still need to promote it properly.

Traditional publishers (usually) have a decent budget for advertising and marketing and can also afford to pay reviewers and publicists. They have the advantage of getting your book into bookstores, which is an opportunity since even a poorly marketed book can sell if people see it on the shelf.

Keep in mind that even if you go with traditional publishing, you’ll still have to promote your book and not leave this part entirely in the hands of your publisher. Marketing your book is an ongoing process that happens long after launch day.

If you are an indie author, you must invest time and money in your book promotion.

With an already existing circle of readers, you can start from a less difficult position, so work on your author website, brand, and social media accounts to grow your community of readers.

3. Have you ever written a book that's been published?

If you are an author with a name already known to readers and can show some sales numbers, it is easier to find an agent or a publisher.

If this is your first book, it will be a bit tough. You'll probably have to pitch your book more than once.

In case you don’t want to wait until a publisher decides to accept your book, you can choose to self-publish.

💡Here’s a complete guide to self-publishing.

4. Do you have what it takes to get a project done?

Another important thing to consider when talking about the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing is that you'll have to do more than write.

Most authors who successfully publish their own work understand a thing or two about the process behind it, including the techy parts.

After putting together your manuscript, you’ll have to:

If you don't want to get into these things, maybe it’s a sign you want to stick with traditional publishing when it comes to the traditional publishing vs. self-publishing dilemma.

5. Can you act like a business person?

As a self-publisher, you can ask freelance professionals for help with editing, book covers, or illustrations. This also means you'll have to manage them.

Moreover, book launches or online events need to be organized. This means you'll have to find a place or set up an online event and then promote it.

Maybe you’ll have to print several book copies and sell them at your events. And you have to keep track of them.

Both traditional publishing and self-publishing require a few business skills. However, a traditional author will do much less than an indie, who has to do the work of several people.

But it all pays off in the long run.

6. Would you like to get on prestigious bestseller lists?

When it comes to key differences between self-publishing vs. publishing the old way, you need to consider bestseller lists.

While you can reach some good ones as an indie author (e.g., Amazon, Indiebound) and even get your stories turned into movies (e.g., The Martian by Andy Weir), getting on the New York Times bestseller list, for example, may be unachievable.

This is because (besides other difficult requests) book sales that indicate the bestseller status come from their chosen bookstores and online shops in the US.

Getting on these bestseller lists is only some people's goal, but if you do want to get there, traditional publishing is more suitable.

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A Breakdown of the Differences Between Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing

If you made it this far, you've probably answered the questions debating traditional publishing vs. self-publishing.

Next, let's see a breakdown of the differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing, put side by side.

 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 book 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 to all artwork you use.The publisher has the rights to your book; the exact conditions depend on the publisher and the contract.
DecisionsYou make all the decisions regarding your book. You might make good or bad decisions; nevertheless, they are your decisions.An expert team makes all the decisions regarding your book.
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 your market size and how well you can reach your target audience.Only a selected few can get published. Publishers have limited funds and must choose from the incoming manuscripts. It is challenging to find a publisher that is willing to publish your book.
BookstoresYou can choose an aggregator to distribute your book to major retailers and online bookstores worldwide.Publishers distribute their books all over the country.

The author has to take care of the publishing process and book promotion.

The publisher takes care of the publishing process. You still have to take care of the book promotion after.
Know-howYou need to learn how to take care of everything or hire professionals to help you.Publishing professionals will handle the editing and publishing.

When it comes to traditional publishing vs. self-publishing, the only one with the answer is you. Weigh all the aspects for both and see which one's a fit.

You can even test both methods and see what works.

Is self-publishing good? Yes, if independence is what you are looking for. Some traditional authors wish to switch to self-publishing to gain complete control over the entire process, but there are also self-published authors who want to have their books picked up by a traditional publisher.

Is self-publishing better? Only you know this. Go out there and try.

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