The Writing Zone: Stage 12 - Traditional vs Self Publishing
The direction one chooses for publishing their creation is one of the most discussed subjects I find whenever I attend writing conferences, writer meetups, and in one-on-one chats between myself and other writers on social media. The debate is a valid one, especially given the continuing changes in the writing world thanks to the evolution of distribution technology.
For generations, the only method for getting your book published was through a publishing house, a direction that almost always required an agent to serve as a gatekeeper.
But then the Internet came along.
In 2018, the tools for writers to self-publish are plentiful and the means for digital distribution are incredibly accessible. Anyone that wants to have a book on the market can make it happen with a few clicks online. Boom - you're published!
"Is it really that simple?"
Actually... yes, it really is. Provided that your story is complete and, in your eyes, ready for the world to see, self-publishing can be as simple as going to Amazon Publishing, establish an account, and go through the simple steps to upload your work.
Despite the ease of self-publishing today, the traditional path for publication still is an attractive one for many writers. Why is that? This post will take you to a BIG sign at this pivotal fork-in-the-road. The sign explains the pros and cons of traditional publishing and self-publishing. Once you've gone through these details, I imagine you'll draw your own final conclusions, deciding which is best for you and your book.
By the way, if you've combed through similar articles covering this subject, you'll probably notice I'm taking a far more summarized approach. That is because, to be frank, there are lots of articles that get VERY verbose on all of this. You can think of my post as the cliff notes to the encyclopedic entries that are fairly easy to find since people throughout the writing world find this to be a (rightfully) hot topic.
- Several upfront costs for a successful publication are covered by the publisher.
- From having your book reviewed by an editor to its marketing, once a publisher picks you up, a part of that contract involves their shopping your book around on your behalf. After all, they wouldn't pay for a book they had no intention of being able to sell. It is worth noting that although a publisher will cover a decent amount of legwork, you are also responsible for getting the word out and making an effort to promote as well. Unlike self-publishing, however, you aren't a one-man marketing team.
- You receive an advance as part of your contract.
- A big advantage with traditional publishing is the advance against royalties that is tied to a publisher contract. Today, the average advance is around $10,000. This advance, as mentioned, is against your book royalties which means the publisher has to make back whatever advance you received BEFORE you begin receiving more money from book sales. But in the end, you still walk away with the minimum of your advance, so in the event your book doesn't sell, you still got paid something.
- You aren't alone.
- Book publishers and agents want to see you succeed. By going the traditional route, your agent and those at the publication house (editors, marketing, cover designers) will be at your disposal to turn your manuscript into the final version that ends up on store shelves and online. You aren't necessarily hands-off, but a large amount of time that you'd otherwise spend in developing your book outside of writing it wouldn't be your responsibility.
- Seeing your book published can take years.
- Working with publishers and agents can take time. Sometimes lots of time. Once you land an agent, that person now spends time to shop around your manuscript and land a publisher. After that, the publisher can take a year or longer before launching your book. In a world where instant gratification is the growing trend, the slow-moving gears that run the traditional process can be jarring.
- You lose some amount of creative control.
- One aspect of traditional publishing that some writers cringe at is the decisions their publication houses make regarding some critical aspects of their book. Details surrounding the cover and how it's marketed, for example, are mostly out of your hands unless the publisher wants to bring you into that process. Your book title isn't safe from being altered, either.
- Your book can be published quickly, if not instantly.
- With platforms like Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, Smashwords, and BookBaby at your disposal, the pathways to getting a book published on your own schedule is possible. Provided that you've already done the design legwork ahead of time (creating the cover, formatting, etc), getting your book live for others to purchase can take as little as a few hours.
- You have full creative control.
- With no agents or external marketing teams breathing down your neck, you are able to flex your creative muscles in ways that are impossible when going traditional. Self-publishing means you can hire your own cover designer to craft your dream book cover, format your book with the fonts that best reflect your vision, and include whatever additional materials for your readers' benefits (ex: dropping in a world map or machine schematics for flavor). When you're publishing solo, nothing is off the table.
- Royalties are WAY higher.
- Compared to the sort of royalties you can expect from traditional publishers (it averages 10%), self-published ebooks can see royalties as high as 70% (from Amazon). And unlike traditional works, you'll start receiving that royalty revenue immediately.
- All costs fall on you.
- Anyone can e-publish today thanks to the ceiling being brought to the floor in terms of barriers to entry. However, if you want your book to be successful, you still need to invest in its success - and going alone means 100% of the costs are coming from your pocket. Everything, from professional editors, cover designers, and the logistics of shipping physical copies if you go in that direction, all depend on your ability to pay for them.
- No income is earned until people start buying your book.
- Amazon isn't shelling out advances for ebooks published there. Going self-publishing means you will earn revenue based solely on your book selling. This is tied to how active you are marketing your book, tying into the above con.
There are countless articles and YouTube videos that discusses this subject from practically all angles. In the end, it boils down to your preferences regarding how you want to handle your book's publication fate. This is an amazing time to live in the writing world because we have both of these major paths to choose from.
Can I tell you which is best? I have my opinions, sure, but only you know what will work best for you.