What are the differences between Traditional publishing and self publishing? Many! Careful consideration is required to weigh the pros and cons of each method. Even more reflection is necessary for an author to finally reach the “right” decision for publication of their work.
Traditional publishing is a lengthy process of courtship between author, agent, and publisher. First the author writes the manuscript. They then try to get an agent which is a monumental task in and of itself. Once represented the author writes a query or a proposal and submits it to a publishing house through the procured agent.
The publishing house then either accepts or rejects the author’s work. If accepted the publishing house buys the rights to the work from the writer and pays an advance on royalties. The publishing house decides when to publish the book, zealously edits the content, selects the cover design, prints the predicted number they think will sell, and then distributes the book to its contracted book sellers. Once the book is distributed the publisher may or may not actively promote the book. The total sales dictate the percentage royalty the author earns.
Many authors are surprised to discover that once the book is distributed the author is expected to promote at their own expense. If a book does not sell as well as expected in the first 120 days, some publishing houses require the author to return their advance. However, if successful you could be the next Stephen King or John Grisham (but even they have a scrapbook with rejection letters from publishers who are now kicking themselves for their hastiness).
If the author’s query is refused they are then free to take it to another publisher. The reality of the query process is that a writer with a good, clean, well written and well edited manuscript will make the rounds at many different publishing houses before they are successful. The process can take years and requires incredible persistence as each publisher can take up to six months to generate a letter of rejection.
Self publishing is often seen as the red-headed step-child of the literary world. There is a stigma associated with self publishing in some circles; however, for many budding authors it is their saving grace. Once in print and on the bookseller’s shelf, the average reader cannot discern a self published book from one that has been traditionally published.
When pursuing self publishing, the author becomes their own publisher. The author must not only write the book but must also pay for the cover design, the editing, the printing, the advertising, and the distribution as well. They must be prepared to market, fill orders, and run their own public relations campaign, too.
The self-published author owns their work outright and if an aggressive promoter can sell their way to the best seller list with a good sales strategy that includes a powerful website to boost and support sales. The good news is that the author can have the book in their hands in 6 months from a completed manuscript as opposed to traditional publishing which takes more than a year!
Speed does have a high cost. Depending on the self-publishing company the author selects, it usually costs upwards of $20,000 to self publish. However, you get what you pay for in the process! It is your book, your cover, and your content.
There are some drawbacks to self-publishing that go beyond the expensive initial outlay. Publishing and promoting your book will be very time consuming. It requires a unique blend of marketing and business savvy that most authors do not have to start with but quickly become adept in the processes. Most of the work associated with getting a book successfully marketed and in the hands of the public require performing tasks totally unrelated to writing. Finally, the biggest consideration is that many booksellers will not shelve a book that is not nationally distributed, but if you sell enough copies on line then they can’t afford to blacklist you.
Decision time to select a publishing method calls for a complete analysis of the goals the author has for publishing and the type of fortitude they have. If you are stubborn, persistent, and have a stiff upper lip that is resistant to rejection, then traditional publishing might be the path for you to pursue. If you are pressed for time, a self-starter, highly organized, and have a cash reserve then self publishing could be your course to follow. Each publishing method has its merits and shortcomings but with careful thought and analysis authors can make a confident choice as they follow their publishing dreams.
Tebbel, John. A History of Book Publishing in the United States, 4 vols. (1978).