Deciding between self-publishing vs traditional publishing is the big choice 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.
Although you may be stressing over which publishing method is right for you, having options as an author is a good problem to have!
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 how to decide on self-publishing vs traditional publishing:
- Quick History of Publishing
- Defining Self-Publishing vs Traditional Publishing
- Pros & Cons of Self-Publishing vs Traditional Publishing
- The Cost Difference in Publishing
- Research Self-Publishing Companies
- The Publishing Process: Self-Publishing vs Traditional Publishing
- FAQs: Self-Publishing VS Traditional Publishing
1 – Quick History of Publishing
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.
Modern authors have two choices on how to publish a book: self publishing vs traditional publishing.
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.
So, what’s the difference? Let's take a look!
2 – What is Self-Publishing VS Traditional Publishing?
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.
Here are the steps to traditionally publish a book:
- Write a book;
- Self-edit the manuscript.
- Submit your manuscript to literary agents and hope that someone finds the potential in your work.
- If your manuscript is accepted, the literary agent will submit your work to publishers.
- If a publisher accepts your work, they offer you a contract to publish your book.
- The publisher handles everything in the production process, including expenses – from editing, formatting, and designing your book.
- Market your book.
- 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.
Here are the steps on how to self-publish a book:
- Write a book.
- Self-edit the manuscript.
- Have your book professionally edited (and formatted, if needed).
- Have your book cover professionally designed.
- Choose a self-publishing platform to publish and/or distribute the book.
- Market your book.
- Maintain your book.
What does independently published mean?
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, while retaining full creative control.
Because of today’s technology, self publishing a book is a viable option for many authors.
3 – Pros & Cons of Self-Publishing VS Traditional Publishing
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.
Each author's situation is different, so what was the best decision for another author, might not be the best decision for you. As you can see from the steps on how to publish traditionally and through self-publishing, the process is pretty different.
Now that you have a clear of how to publish a book in both ways, it's time to take a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages of each publishing method.
However, please keep in mind that you might consider different advantages and disadvantages than others. What one author might think of as an advantage, you might think of as a disadvantage, and vice versa! Or, you might even find more pros and cons based on your own personal preferences.
Let's take a close look at the benefits and disadvantages that many authors experience while traditionally publishing a book.
What are the pros and 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.
Here are the pros of traditional publishing:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Here are the cons of traditional publishing:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Lower royalty fees. Because the publisher eats up the costs to publish your book, traditional publishing royalties are often significantly lower.
- 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.
What are the pros and cons of self- publishing?
Now that you understand traditional publishing’s pros and cons, it’s time to weigh the alternative in detail when it comes to self publishing.
Again, keep in mind that what some might consider pros and cons of self publishing, others don't agree at all. For example, you might find that what one author think is a disadvantage, is actually something you might consider an advantage!
Each author's situation is different, and each individual brings their own set of skills, mindset, and resources; all of this affects which publishing method is right for you.
If you’re considering how to publish a book, it’s important to note the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing.
Here are the main pros of self-publishing:
- No gatekeeper. If you want to write and publish a book, then you can do exactly that. No need to wait on permission.
- A quicker process. It’s all on your timeline, so you can decide when exactly you’d like to write and publish your book, unlike with a traditional book deal.
- 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!
- 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%.
- 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!
- 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 books to build industry authority. In fact, some self-published authors even use their book to spring into traditional publishing by getting a book deal! Or, maybe your book will have more personal use, such as sharing your family’s history. Whatever the reason, the opportunities are endless.
Here are the main cons of self-publishing:
- 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 for a book depending on the author, such as marketing costs.
- 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.
- 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.
- Stigma. Self publishing can sometimes get 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.
4 – The costs of Self-Publishing VS Traditional Publishing
Now that you understand the advantages and disadvantages 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 won’t cost you anything upfront 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 b.
Related: Best Self Publishing Companies
How much does it cost to self-publish a book?
On average, the cost to self publish a book is around $1,500 to $2,000, but this cost will vary depending on a number of factors. 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 in order to prepare the book for publishing. The cost to self publish includes the cost to hire professional editors, cover designers, and marketing tools.
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!
How much do traditional authors make vs self-publishing authors?
Traditional authors typically receive an advance from the publisher once they accept their book contract; however, traditional authors receive significantly lower royalty rates compared to self published authors. On average, traditional authors receive an 8% royalty rate of the retail price per printed book sold, and 25% royalty rate of the retail price per eBook sold. Self published authors typically receive a 60% royalty rate of the retail price per book sold, and 70% royalty rate of the retail price per eBook sold.
Read this for more info on the question of, “How much money do authors make?”
Therefore, while it costs more upfront to self publish a book, the author has greater earning potential over time. The one caveat is that traditionally published books often have the capacity to sell more books than a self published author; this is why it's important for self published authors to market their book.
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.
|Traditional Royalties||Self Publishing Royalties|
|8% for printed books||60% for printed books|
|25% for eBooks||70% for eBooks|
For a closer look at your earning potential and to compare royalty rates, use our Book Royalties Calculator.
Book Royalties Calculator
1. My book will be published by a...
2. My book will be an:
3. My royalty rate will be:
*Please note that this royalty rate is based on the market averages for paperback books. Actual royalty rates for traditional and indie publishing can vary by author depending on several factors.
4. My book's retail price:
5. The # of books sold:
Your Profit per Book Sold
For books sold, you earn:
For 1,000 books sold, you earn:
For 10,000 books sold, you earn:
Royalties Comparisons for 10,000 books sold
5 – Research Self-Publishing Companies
If authors publish books 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.
Here are the three main types of self-publishing companies:
- 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, and IngramSpark.
- 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.
- 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.
6 – The Publishing Process: Self-Publishing VS Traditional 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:
Here are the steps to traditionally publish a book:
- Write the book
- Self edit the book
- Write a query letter and/or proposal
- Submit your material to agents
- Get an agent
- Submit your materials to a publisher
- Receive a publishing offer
- Have your book published
Here are the steps to self-publish a book:
- Write the book
- Self edit your manuscript
- Learn how to self publish a book
- Hire a professional editor
- Hire a professional book designer
- Format the book
- Publish the book on a self publishing platform
- Launch your book
- Market your book
- Maintain your book
7 – FAQs: Self-Publishing VS Traditional Publishing
Still struggling to decide which publishing route to take? It can be a tricky process to navigate!
In this section, we'll include the frequently asked questions that our readers come to us with!
Is it worth it to self-publish a book?
That answer depends on you. If you are looking to become a career author, publish multiple books, and have the drive and budget to outsource your production needs for a high-quality book, self-publishing is worth it.
But if you just want to boost your ego and say you're “traditionally published” then self-publishing is not for you.
Can you traditionally publish a self published book?
This will depend on your publishing contract with the traditional publisher. Typically, self-published books can be traditionally republished, but this is not common. You'll usually see this instance when a self-published book has received a high level of success.
Is Amazon Self Publishing worth it?
We have a full article that details Amazon Self Publishing, but many of the authors we work with prefer to use Amazon's KDP as it has an extremely large audience base, high book royalties, and cost-effective book printing.
Can self-published books become bestsellers?
YES! In fact, there are thousands of self-published books that are bestsellers. Achieving bestselling status does not depend on how the author published. In fact, this is what we teach authors in our Become a Bestseller program.
Is it better to self-publish or get a publisher?
Now that you understand the fundamental differences between the two book publishing processes, you still might be stuck wondering which route is the right one for you.
Use the table and guiding questions below to help you decide how to publish a book. If you meet one of the listed criteria, then the “X” means that you should consider that type of publishing.
|Criteria to Consider||Traditional||Self |
|Large social following||X||X|
|Extremely large market||X||X|
|Can handle rejection often||X|
|No publishing timeline||X|
|Need the validation||X|
|Can oversee the entire process yourself||X|
|Can learn how to publish a book yourself||X|
|Budget for editing and design||X|
|Okay with being the underdog in the publishing |
Here's when you should traditionally publish:
- You have a large social following
- You are writing a book for an extremely large market
- You can handle rejection often
- You have the time and patience for a longer publishing process
- You need social credibility or prestige
Here's when you should self-publish:
- You have the drive and initiative to oversee the entire process yourself
- You are eager to learn how to publish a book yourself
- You are writing a book geared toward a niche market
- You have a timeline for when you’d like your book published
- You can afford to hire professionals to get your book ready to be published
- You can deal with less validation, and fine being the underdog in the publishing world
- You want to share your book with the world as quickly as possible
Make your publishing decision
Achieving your goal to write a book, and making the decision to publish it, is a huge milestone!
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 self publishing versus traditional publishing.
Whether you're considering publishing on your own or pursuing a traditional publishing company, learning more about the process will only help because informed decisions, are the best decisions.