Many aspiring authors who have not published books yet spend a lot of time thinking about how they can get their books published. It’s difficult to get a large, traditional publishing house to put up the necessary money to print, market, and distribute a new author’s book. Self-publishing is much easier, and rather than waiting months, perhaps years, for a traditional publisher to accept your book, you could have already offered it through a self-publishing, print-on-demand website like Lulu.com.
So which choice is better — self-publishing or traditional publishing?
The answer depends on your goals as an author. Following are pros and cons of both publishing methods to help you decide which option will enable you to reach your goals.
When an author’s book is accepted and published by a large publishing house, the author has achieved a goal that many writers wish they could add to their own list of accomplishments. However, it can be difficult to sell your book to a big publisher (even if you’re able to get a literary agent to represent you first), and just because a traditional publisher produces your book doesn’t mean millions of copies will sell. Many first-time authors are surprised to find out that due to budget restraints and issues related to illegal downloading of books, the recent recession, and other business conditions, publishers don’t do much to market books anymore.
Unless you’re an established author with a track record of selling a lot of copies of your books through your own self-promotion, don’t expect much marketing help from a traditional publisher. These days, 95% of marketing efforts are expected to be carried out by the author. That means you need to have a strong online and offline presence that will enable you to reach and promote your book to a very wide audience in order to boost sales. In other words, you’ll need to do the same type of self-promotion if your book is published through a large publishing house as you’d have to do if your book was self-published. Depending on the book, traditional publishing houses may work to sell foreign rights to publishers in other countries so translated versions can be made available (you receive royalties on those, too).
Furthermore, when your book is published through a large publishing house, you’ll have to give up some control. The publisher will provide editors and a marketing team that will have expectations for the book. Decisions related to elements such as content, the title, the jacket design, word count, the price, your earnings on sales (royalties, which you’ll receive once or twice per year), and more are not only yours anymore. When you work with a large publishing house, it’s also important to ensure that you retain the copyright to your book in your contract, and that you retain the right of first refusal to edit the book if the publisher requests revisions for reprints in the future.
Of course, when your book is published by a large publishing house, you and your book instantly have more credibility than a book and author that self-publishes. Your book is likely to be added to the Library of Congress cataloging system, and it will be included on the publisher’s website, in the publisher’s catalogs, and more. In addition, if the publisher’s distribution team is good, your book will be available through major book sellers’ websites and possibly in brick and mortar stores. If your book isn’t actually stocked on the shelves of brick and mortar stores, it can be ordered from those stores.
When you self-publish your book, you use a service such as Lulu.com to print and ship copies of your book to customers as they are ordered. Typically, you can set your own price, ensuring that you make a specific amount of money on each book sold. Some of these services also allow you to list your book for sale on Amazon.com.
Self-published books are at your mercy in terms of sales. The author has to do all of the marketing to sell copies. Typically, self-published books are not carried in bookstores (online or offline), and authoring a self-published book doesn’t carry the same level of credibility that authoring a book published by a large publishing house does.
In addition, you have to handle all administrative functions related to the sales of your self-published book, including the creation of e-reader versions or translated versions if you want to make them available.
Which way should a new author go — traditional publisher or self-publishing? Again, it depends on your goals. Use the following factors to help you decide which publishing route you should take with your book.
- Self-publishing allows you to retain control of your book.
- Self-publishing allows you to set your price and keep all of your profits when you earn them (rather than waiting for annual royalty checks to come from a traditional publisher).
- Traditional publishing gives you a lot more credibility as an author.
- Traditional publishing can give your book wider reach, thereby increasing sales potential.
- Traditional publishing ensures your book is available through traditional book sellers, both online and offline.
Christina Crowe ( @CashCampfire ) says
Thanks for writing this article! I’ve been thinking about publishing a book for years now, but wasn’t sure whether I should self-publish. I’m probably going to end up publishing traditionally so that my book can be bought from book stores.
However, I have a question: When you traditionally publish, you can put your book up on Amazon too right? You mentioned that you could with self-publishing, so I wasn’t sure if it was the same with publishing traditionally as well.
Susan Gunelius says
Christina, if your book is published through a large publishing house (even most smaller publishing houses), they’ll have a relationship with Amazon so your book can be purchased from that site.
Christina Crowe ( @CashCampfire ) says
Ah, I see. Thanks for clearing everything up, Susan! I’m excited, though I still have a few more months to go before I’m satisfied with my book.
It is not very likely that a traditional publisher will touch your stuff if you’ve already self-published your work. You’re no longer a “debut author” and publishers aren’t very interested in working with an “established” author with low book sales. Think long and hard before self-publishing. Traditional publishers also help you whip your book into shape, while self-publishing does not.