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Self Publishing vs Traditional Publishing: A Guide for How to Choose

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Angelica Hartgers


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Self Publishing vs Traditional Publishing: A Guide for How to Choose

Pursue self publishing or traditional publishing? That’s the big question many authors are faced with in today’s book publishing space.

If you’re researching how to publish a book, you’ve likely started (or finished!) writing your book.

First off, congrats! Wherever you may be on your book writing journey, you’re well on your way to becoming a published author.

We live in an exciting time when publishing a book has never been easier – and this is true whether you’re writing a nonfiction book or a fiction book!

self publishing vs traditional

In our age of information, it’s as important as ever to make an informed decision between self-publishing a book or traditional publishing. A book is life-changing, so you’ll want to be sure you choose the path that’s right for you.

Are you ready to learn how to publish a book and share your story with the world?

Here’s what we’ll cover in our self-publishing versus traditional publishing guide:

  1. How to publish a book
  2. Traditional Publishing vs Self-Publishing 2019
  3. Traditional vs Self-Publishing Pros & Cons
  4. Traditional Publishing vs Self-Publishing Costs
  5. Steps for Publishing, Traditional Publishing vs Self-Publishing
  6. How to Choose Self-Publishing or Traditional

How to Publish a Book for the Modern Author

Throughout history, the road was narrow for aspiring authors.

Traditional publishing companies were the standard, and the process was not easy (not to mention it hasn’t changed much!).

If you wanted to publish a book, you had to get past the gatekeepers first (aka traditional publishers).

Think of Jane Austen’s novel Pride & Prejudice, written in 1797. This magnificent literary piece continues to be a classic today. It has sold over 20 million copies!

But Jane was rejected by publishers on numerous occasions, and this particular book was not published until 1813. It took 16 years to traditionally publish the book!

As you can see, the struggle was real for writers – even literary geniuses like Austen (who later became a self-published author). And though writing itself has never been easy, publishing a book today can be less challenging.

The first step in how to publish a book is to be aware of your options. Most importantly, it’s now easier than ever for writers to be in control.

Modern authors have two choices on how to publish a book: self-publishing vs traditional publishing.

So, what’s the difference? Let’s take a look!

Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing 2019

First, we’ll start with a quick rundown on each. Then, you can decide on traditional publishing vs self-publishing for your own author career as you navigate how to publish a book.

These are the steps in the traditional publishing process:

  1. Write a book.
  2. Self-edit the manuscript.
  3. Submit your manuscript to literary agents and hope that someone finds the potential in your work.
  4. If and when your manuscript is accepted, the literary agent will submit your work to publishers.
  5. If and when a publisher accepts your work, they offer you a contract to publish your book.
  6. The publisher handles everything in the production process, including expenses – from editing, formatting, and designing your book.
  7. Market your book.
  8. You are paid an author royalty based on the number of books that are sold.

As you can see from the traditional publishing process steps, authors are generally less in control with traditional publishing.

These are the steps in the self-publishing process:

  1. Write a book.
  2. Self-edit the manuscript.
  3. Have your book professionally edited (and formatted, if needed).
  4. Have your book cover professionally designed.
  5. Choose a self-publishing platform to publish and/or sell the book.
  6. Market your book.
  7. Maintain your book.

In brief, self-publishing a book means that an author is in charge of the entire book publishing process – there isn’t a gatekeeper to get approval from!

Although the author oversees and funds the self-publishing process, it shouldn’t be completely DIY. In fact, successful self-published authors hire professionals for things like book editing and book designing.

Because of today’s technology, self-publishing a book is a viable option for many authors.

traditional publishing vs self publishing

Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing Pros & Cons

Each publishing process had its own advantages and disadvantages. As you decide how to publish a book, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of both traditional publishing and self-publishing.

Pros & Cons of Traditional Publishing

If traditional publishing route sounds like a ton of rejection, you might be wondering why authors choose this path when considering how to publish a book.

In short, it was simply the accepted way to publishing for so long. Until recently, many authors didn’t know of any other way to get their work published and into the hands of readers.

Although it’s still extremely difficult to get your book traditionally published today, there are some advantages to going this route.

Pros of Traditional Publishing:

  1. No upfront costs from the author. The publisher pays for all of the expenses to get your book published, including editing, formatting, and designing costs.
  2. Possibly sell more books. Traditional publishers have more industry connections that can help to sell more books. For example, traditional published books are readily available in retail bookstores.
  3. Social Credibility. It’s validating to have your book accepted by a traditional publisher. It can improve an author’s feelings of self worth, and it can be considered prestigious. For some authors, this is important.
  4. Publishing is done for you. You handle the writing and self-editing. Consequently, you don’t need to worry about learning how to publish a book because the publisher handles this.

Cons of Traditional Publishing:

  1. Very competitive. The chances of actually being traditionally published are very slim. In fact, an agent or publisher won’t even consider your work unless you have a social following.
  2. Lengthy process. If you’re able to get past the gatekeepers and get a book contract, the process is very time consuming and can take years for your book to hit the market. Just be aware that you’ll need to spend time querying an agent before publishers will even consider offering you a contract.
  3. Less creative control. Since the publisher handles the editing, formatting, and designing of your book, you might have less say-so in how the book actually turns out.
  4. Lower royalty fees. Because the publisher eats up the costs to publish your book, traditional publishing royalties are often significantly lower.
  5. Marketing may be up to you. Many publishers provide less support in marketing your book. For instance, marketing may be entirely left up to the author in many cases.
self publishing versus traditional publishing

Self-Publishing Pros & Cons

Now that you understand traditional publishing’s pros and cons, it’s time to weigh the alternative in detail: self-publishing.

If you’re considering how to publish a book, it’s important to note the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing.

Pros of Self-Publishing:

  1. No gatekeeper. If you want to write and publish a book, then you can do exactly that. No need to wait on permission.
  2. A quicker process. It’s all on your timeline, so you can decide when exactly you’d like to write and publish your book.
  3. Full creative control. You oversee the entire process, and book production is all in your hands. This means that if you have a specific vision for your book, you can execute it!
  4. Higher royalty rates. Depending on which platform you use to publish your book, the royalty rates are generally higher. For example, if you publish your book on Amazon, royalty rates are as high as 70%.
  5. Build a skill. Once you learn how to publish your book, the sky’s the limit. To clarify, this means you can keep writing and self-publishing as many books as you want!
  6. Endless opportunities. Being able to publish your book on your own terms can open up a world of opportunities. Many self-published authors use their book to build industry authority. In fact, some self-published authors even use their book to spring into traditional publishing! Or, maybe your book will have a more personal use, such as sharing your family’s history. Whatever the reason, the opportunities are endless.

Cons of Self-Publishing:

  1. It’s all on your expense. Self-published authors pay out of pocket for professionals to edit, format, and design their books. There also may be other expenses depending on the author, such as marketing costs.
  2. You risk selling fewer books. It isn’t standard to have self-published books in any major retailer. With less visibility comes less opportunity to sell a large amount of books. It will be up to you to market your book.
  3. Less support. It’s up to you to learn how to publish a book. And you’re in charge of the entire book process from start to finish, so everything is up to you. But there is a huge self-publishing community that you can reach out to along with self-publishing companies. You can check out our review of Self-Publishing School to learn more about this avenue.
  4. Stigma. Self-publishing often gets a bad wrap. This is mainly caused by the idea of an oversaturated market and the quality of self-published books. Because the gates are open to literally anyone, there is a higher potential for a self-published book to not be of high quality. This is why it’s crucial to hire professional services like editing.
self publishing pros and cons

Traditional Publishing vs Self-Publishing Cost

Now that you understand the pros and cons of traditional publishing vs self-publishing, we’ll learn how much it costs to publish with both options.

It’s important to understand that the cost can vary depending on a number of factors, which we’ll explain more in the sections below.

How much does it cost to publish a book traditionally?

In true traditional publishing, it won’t cost you anything to publish your book. A traditional publisher will handle all of the costs associated with publishing your book. If a publisher asks you for money, they are not a legit traditional publisher.

Instead, they might be what’s commonly known as a “vanity publisher.” These are companies that basically slap their company label on your book, so it appears that you have a “traditional publisher.”

These vanity publishers are known to prey on authors. They are often not recommended, and can come with a high cost. Thus, it’s important to do your research as you consider how to publish a book.

You can get an idea of which companies to avoid from this list from the Alliance of Independent Authors, which rates self-publishing companies.

vanity publishers

How much does it cost to self-publish a book?

While the actual cost to publish an eBook is free on self-publishing platforms like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, the author will pay for other book production services.

Therefore, the cost to self-publish a book is entirely dependent on you as the author. You can choose to publish your book for as little, or as much, money as you want.

It depends on which services you pay for, and the rate of the freelancer or company you hire. Some services include editing, formatting, designing, illustrations, and marketing.

If you’re writing children’s books, you’ll also have to factor illustration costs into your expenses. If you’re writing children’s picture books, the illustration fees may be higher, depending on your book’s subject and context.

At the minimum, self-published authors should hire professional book editing and cover designing services.

Self-published authors can stay within a budget of $1,000, or choose to spend up to $20,0000 – it really just depends on your needs and preferences!

You can use this Book Calculator Tool to determine how many books you need to sell, and at what cost, to earn back what you’ve spent to self-publish your book.

What are self-publishing companies?

If self-published authors do everything on their own, what exactly are self-publishing companies around for?

Great question! With the rise of the self-publishing industry, comes a rise in self-publishing businesses. With this in mind, we’ll cover three main types of self-publishing companies:

  1. Self-Publishing Platforms are the mediums that you will use to publish your book. Some examples of self-publishing platforms are Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and Apple’s iBook.
  2. Self-Publishing Author Services provide authors with publishing services like book editing and designing. Some authors find these companies convenient, but they often are more expensive than finding your own freelancers. Before working with these companies, do your research to ensure you’re working with a reputable business.
  3. Self-Publishing Education Companies, like Self-Publishing School for example, teach writers how to write and self-publish a book, among other things. They can also provide authors with learning resources, community, and mentorship.
self publishing companies

Steps on how to publish a book: Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing

We’ll take a quick look at the major steps needed to take on how to publish a book for each publishing process.

Obviously, you’ll want to dive in deep to some of these steps, as each step has its own set of directions to follow, but here’s the gist:

Steps on how to publish a book with traditional publishing:

  1. Write the book
  2. Self edit the book
  3. Write a query letter and/or proposal
  4. Submit your material to agents
  5. Get an agent
  6. Submit your materials to a publisher
  7. Receive a publishing offer
  8. Have your book published

Steps on how to publish a book with self-publishing:

  1. Write the book
  2. Self edit your manuscript
  3. Learn how to publish a book through self-publishing
  4. Hire a professional editor
  5. Hire a professional book designer
  6. Format the book
  7. Publish the book on a self-publishing platform
  8. Launch your book
  9. Market your book
  10. Maintain your book

Self Publishing vs Traditional Publishing: Choosing how to publish a book

Still struggling to decide which publishing route to take? Use these guiding questions to help you decide how to publish a book:

You should try to traditionally publish if you…

  • Have a large social following
  • Are writing a book for an extremely large market
  • Can handle rejection often
  • Have the time and patience for a longer publishing process
  • Need the validation

You should self-publish if you…

  • Have the drive and initiative to oversee the entire process yourself
  • Are eager to learn how to publish a book yourself
  • Are writing a book geared towards a niche market
  • Have a timeline for when you’d like your book published
  • Can afford to hire professionals to get your book ready to be published
  • Are able to deal with less validation, and are okay with being the underdog in the publishing world
traditional or self publishing

Making Your Decision on How to Publish a Book

Achieving your goal to write a book, and making the decision to publish it, is a huge milestonet!

As you do research on how to publish a book, we hope this article was informative and helped you find a starting point in considering traditional publishing vs self publishing.

To illustrate, we’ll leave you with this fun analogy to help you decide how to publish a book:

Imagine this:

There is a road to the Castle of Book Dreams, a place where writers can achieve their dream of having their book published. The road is aged, as many before you have walked this road before. However, this road is very challenging to gain access to, since there are numerous gatekeepers that you must pass first. And if people do get access to the road, they often encounter so many setbacks and get so tiresome that they never actually make it to the Castle itself.

What’s worse, this has been the only road to the Castle for as long as anyone can remember.

But all of a sudden, a new road has sprouted up, and it also leads to the Castle. It is a slightly different course of direction, and it can also be tricky to navigate, but everyone has access to this road! There isn’t any guard that will deny you, if you are ready and willing to embark on the journey yourself. Once you’re on the road, it will be up to you to trek on and continue the journey towards the Castle, where your book dreams await.

Are you ready to start TODAY?

Whether you’re considering self-publishing or traditional publishing, learning more about the process will only help because informed decisions, are the best decisions.

Want to jumpstart your book writing process?

Join Chandler Bolt from self-publishingschool.com at his FREE Webinar Training as he reveals the exact tactics and strategies he used to write and publish 6 bestselling books in a row.

Click here to sign up today

So, which road would you choose to embark on?

Angelica Hartgers

Content Creation Specialist at Selfpublishing.com
Angelica Hartgers is the Content Creation Specialist here at Selfpublishing.com. When she’s not cooking up content for the self publishing community, she loves to read good books, travel the world, and spend time with her family.
Angelica Hartgers