Pros and Cons of Traditional Publishing vs Self-Publishing
Updated: Sep 8, 2022
You’ve always dreamed of being a published author, but how do you get from writing a manuscript to getting your book "out there"?
When most people think about getting published or becoming an author, traditional publishing is typically the path people consider first. But things are changing in the publishing world, and there are a number of paths you can take to get your book published in 2021. It isn’t always easy to figure out the best road you should take. Fear not, friend. We wrote this article with you in mind. Let’s get into some of the pros and cons of traditional publishing vs self-publishing and get you on the best path for your book.
To be traditionally published, your manuscript needs to be accepted by an agent and then again by a publishing house. After you finish writing the book, the publishing company will handle just about everything else including editing, cover design, printing, and marketing. This process can take a lot of time, even years. And it’s highly likely that your manuscript will be rejected a LOT before it’s ever accepted.
So, why would you want to choose this process?
PROS OF TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING
There are a number of positives when it comes to traditional publishing. First, there is generally more recognition available for traditionally published books. For example, many literary awards will only look at traditionally published books.
It can also be a confidence booster to be “chosen” by an agent and a publishing house. For many, the definition of success as an author is directly tied to this process. If this is the case for you, then traditional publishing may be the way to go.
Second, let’s talk money. If you are able to land a traditional publishing contract, you’ll get some money before your book is even released. This is called an advance. It’s like a signing bonus that the publisher usually pays in installments throughout the publishing process. Your advance will be directly proportional to how many copies the publishing house thinks your book will sell, and selling copies will be their primary goal.
Once your book is released, you’ll start earning royalties (a percentage of each sale), but that rate can be pretty small, something like 8-10%. Even still, you’ll have to sell enough copies to make up your advance before you can receive additional royalty payments.
The bottom line here is that you’ll get paid upfront, but you will likely receive less money over time.
CONS OF TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING
The double-edged sword of traditional publishing is control. Traditional publishing companies handle every step of the publishing process. The good news here is that you don’t have to worry about things like finding an editor, creating a cover design, figuring out book formatting and distribution, writing blurbs and bios, thinking about how the book should be marketed for mass audiences, etc.
The bad news: you have little to no control over these aspects of your book. Suppose the publisher wants to market your book in a way that doesn’t match your vision. Suppose they want to change the title. If you’ve already signed the contract, then you’ve given them the control to do that. Your book will be very polished and professional, because the publishing house will have access to resources you wouldn’t have on your own, but it may not line up with what you actually want for your book.
In the end, the publisher has the final say as to what ends up on shelves.
Why are book deals so hard to get, anyway?
With traditional publishing, the publishing house makes a calculated decision whether or not to publish a book based on how risky they think it will be. That is, will the possible book sales justify the cost to publish it? This is why publishing houses are so picky. They want to make money, so the books they want to publish are mainstream books that will appeal to large audiences. If your book doesn’t fit a certain mold, then they likely won’t want to take it on.
Considering all of this, maybe you don’t want to deal with agents and gatekeepers. Maybe you aren’t looking for the big-name acclaim of a traditional publishing house (and let’s face it, just because you make it to the big publishing house doesn’t mean your book will automatically become a best-seller). Maybe you own a brand or business, and you want to get your book to your existing audience fast while maintaining control over the creative choices in publishing.
There is an option that allows you to have full control over the publishing process and will guarantee that your book ends up in readers’ hands.
Depending on who you ask, “self-publishing” can mean anything from putting your work on a fan-fic site, to doing all the steps of publishing yourself, to hiring others to do the publishing for you (this is also referred to as assisted publishing, DIY publishing, and indie/independent publishing).
Since doing all the steps yourself takes a lot of time, research, and learning new skills, many self-published authors shorten that time and effort by paying people (or a company like Next Page) to do some of the publishing steps for them, such as editing, cover design, and branding.
PROS OF SELF-PUBLISHING
What are the positives to self-publishing? The biggest one is control. Unlike traditional publishing, where the publishing house has final say on what your book looks like and how it will be positioned, these creative decisions are all up to you when you self-publish. You can design your own cover, or hire someone to make a design for you. You can then work with that person until you have the design you love.
Another big plus to self-publishing is time. Traditional publishing can take over a year before your book is out there, not to mention however long it takes to get your manuscript accepted by an agent and a publishing house in the first place.
With self-publishing, it may take you some time to learn how to do all the steps of publishing yourself (if you aren’t able to financially invest in paying other people to do those steps for you), but the timeline is all up to you.
Speaking of finances… While you won’t get the advance that you would with a traditional publishing contract, you will be able to retain all of your rights and royalties to your book when you self-publish. This means you’ll make more profit per book sold than you would with traditional publishing.
CONS OF SELF-PUBLISHING
When you self-publish, making any profit on your book at all will rely on selling copies. Some places, like Next Page, offer branding and marketing packages that will help launch your book, but continued marketing will largely be up to you. You have to become your biggest cheerleader and become comfortable with consistent self-promotion if you want to succeed as a self-published author.
If you don't have the time, energy, or desire to become a marketing machine, then self-publishing may not be the best path for you.
Lastly, beware of scams or other bad deals when it comes to publishing outside of traditional publishing houses. Vanity publishers and some “hybrid” publishers may take advantage of inexperienced authors. Be sure to read all contracts before deciding what the best decision is for you and your book.
Pros and Cons of Traditional Publishing vs Self-Publishing
So, which publishing path is right for you? While it’s true that self-publishing doesn’t offer the same prestige that traditional publishing does, for many authors, self-publishing is the way to go. Seeing your book listed for sale while having had control over how the work is branded? Being able to set your own timeline? And keeping the rights and royalties to your own work? That’s any author’s dream. Contact us if you want help making that dream a reality.
About Next Page
Next Page Editing and Design is a Virginia-based self-publishing company that produces high-quality, well-designed books that reflect authors' brands, purpose, and impact. We do this through editing, book design, launch support, author branding, and coaching. Once we finish our job, you keep your rights to print, sell, and promote your work while retaining 100% of your book's profits. We call this a "no-strings attached" model.
To request an editing or self-publishing quote, click here.