Authors used to be at the mercy of publishing houses in order to get their books distributed. Today, there are a variety of options available for getting your book into the hands of readers. Enterprising writers can choose to go the more traditional route, or they can self-publish. Self-publishing gets easier all the time, but you need to understand all the aspects of self-publishing vs. traditional publishing. Which one is right for you?
What is traditional publishing?
In the traditional publishing model, authors submit their manuscripts to several agents over a period of time, in hopes that one will sign on with them. Then, agents reach out to publishers and try to get a book deal. Typically authors experience a number of rejections before getting a deal worth their time. From there the contract is signed and the book is likely to go through several rounds of editing before being published and distributed. Authors going this route enjoy the prestige that comes with an established printing company, and it makes it easier to distribute books in stores. Authors may even be able to get an advance on royalties. However, it can be very difficult to obtain an agent or a publisher, and if you do, the process will be slow and you will need to cede a lot of creative control.
What is self-publishing?
In an increasingly digital world, authors can bypass much of the cumbersome process and choose to publish on their own. In this model, authors complete their book (ideally having it professionally edited and designed first) and then use a self publishing platform to create the book and share it with the world. This model is experiencing rapid growth and for good reason.
Pros of self-publishing
For people whose pieces have been rejected by traditional publishers – or those who don’t want to go through that rejection in the first place – self-publishing offers a flexible and cost-effective option. Self-publishing also:
- Allows total creative control: Some people who have published with traditional companies end up regretting their decision because they saw their ideas overridden. If you self publish, you have ultimate control over your content and design. You’ll never feel like you’re making creative compromises.
- Provides higher royalties: Traditional royalty rates usually fit in the 7-25% bracket, averaging about 10%. You can get royalties as high as 70% with self publishers. That means you need to sell a lot less books in order to actually make money.
- Puts niche books in front of an audience: Publishing houses need to make a profit, so they are going to take on books that will reach the widest audience the fastest. With self-publishing, you can create content that you’re passionate about, even if you’re part of a small group that cares about that topic. Many of the most successful self publishers write books on subject matter that’s very specific to certain groups.
- Makes the process go faster: It already takes a lot of time to write and edit (or illustrate) a book. From there, you can skip the outreach, waiting game, further rounds of editing, etc. Self publishers can make their book available within hours of finalizing the manuscript.
- Appeals to a digital market: People’s preference toward reading on devices continues to grow. In fact, projected e-book sales in 2025 are expected to be $7.78 billion. Self-publishing is a great way to create content that reaches people digitally.
Cons of self-publishing
Sounds pretty great, doesn’t it? That doesn’t mean it’s all upside. Traditional publishing does have it’s advantages. Here’s what might make self-publishing less compelling.
- You’ll do it all alone: With traditional publishing, you’ll have someone to advise you throughout the process. If you self publish, you need to navigate everything by yourself (or hire a partner who can help you).
- It’s difficult to get the book in bookstores: Though it’s not impossible to get into bookstores, it is harder for self published authors to get retail distribution. With traditional publishing, bookstores are a part of their business model, and they know how to manage those distribution channels.
- You’ll have less time to spend writing: If you’re a serious author who is passionate about creating the best material, you may have less time for the other steps in the process. When you self-publish, you need to spend time editing, designing a cover, marketing, etc – or outsource those activities.
What to consider when choosing
There are several factors to consider if you’re thinking about self publishing. Review each of these areas as you look at different platforms.
The publishing process
How does the self publishing platform actually work? What steps are involved and how quickly can your book reach a market? You want your book to be published quickly, but you also want it to be very high quality. Pay particular attention to the time that it will take to have your book hit the shelves.
The same online or digital book distribution options that are available to traditional publishers are also available to self-publishers, but you need to understand the system. To make this easier, it’s best to work with a publisher who has their own fulfillment arm and can fill orders, pack them, ship them, etc. When looking at publishers, see how they can help with distribution.
As we already mentioned, royalty rates are much higher in self-publishing, but they will vary by platform. You’ll likely be looking at a percentage of the book’s retail price minus the book’s print cost. Naturally, you want to work with a publisher who will provide you with the highest possible royalties. In some cases, self-publishing authors can keep 100% of their profits by selling their books on their own website or partnering with a 3PL that can manage the entire process.
A very common question is “how much does it cost to self publish a book?” The truth is that the cost to publish varies significantly. Authors can end up spending thousands of dollars on the book production process, from book editing, formatting, and cover design, to any extras like marketing classes for new books. Understand exactly what is being offered at what price. Get a detailed breakout of how much it will cost to meet your specific needs.
Interested in self publishing?
Many writers have spent their life hoping to obtain a book deal with a big-name publisher. That’s a lofty goal, but should certainly be pursued if it’s a dream of yours! However, in today’s market, most people want to write books about the subject matter they care about, or they want to publish research, passion projects, or even stories their kids loved. For these people, self publishing can offer a more realistic path. Self publishing offers an alternative route for people who haven’t had success with traditional publishers or don’t want to go through the hassle and potential rejection.
Our team can help make your writing dreams a reality. Our experts help with printing, delivery, and everything in between. Combining our innovative self-publishing platform with world-class 3PL services means we can handle all of your printing, sourcing, design, and distribution needs in one place. To learn how to get your book not only published but out in front of your audience and in the hands of readers, reach out to our experts today.