Self Published versus Traditionally Published

Once upon a time, about twenty or thirty years ago, it was rare that you heard about self published authors, and even rarer that one became famous and was accepted by a traditional publisher. Two names immediately come to mind of those who made that leap—John Grisham and Christopher Paolini. Both are still with their major publisher and still release books. What about the ordinary person who didn’t have the same luck as Grisham or Paolini? What chance do they have in this very different world of publishing today.

Today, thousands upon thousands of books are uploaded and published daily. Since the turn of the century, the publishing world has changed so significantly that unless you have kept up with it on a daily basis, it’s almost unrecognizable to those from another era. No longer does a publishing company have a massive staff of people to read prospective authors’ work, to hold their hands through the sometimes arduous, occasionally long, process of having their book published.

Today’s publishing world is more in the control of small publishers or the self published authors. Long gone are the three martini lunches and organized book tours with excessive media exposure on the morning talk shows. Today’s author is expected to put forth the labor or many mules as they promote their recently published book while writing the next book and often holding down a day job, in addition to their responsibilities at home. The successful authors I know often put in eighteen to twenty hour days for what amounts to peanuts, and we always have to be up and ready to talk to our fans, for the fastest way to have your career as an author disappear into the wind is to be rude.

So, now it’s your turn to determine if you’re going to submit your book to a publishing company, be it one of the major publishing conglomerates or to an indie publisher whose offices are often virtual. What are the pros and cons of self publishing versus going with a traditional publisher?

Self Published: First, you get to keep your full royalty, after the sales venue you are using takes their cut. To determine that,, you must learn to understand sometimes complicated formulas that are used to explain why you got what you view as a pittance versus the price of the book.

Of course, before you actually can claim that money as your own, you must also pay several people. There is the plot editor, who helped you set up your book and ensured there were no holes in the plot. A line editor will go over your book with a fine tooth comb and ensure that it’s as perfect as possible. Then you have a proofreader who comes behind the line editor and ensures nothing was missed. Finally, you must deal with a cover artist. The price for one of those can vary from a few hundred dollars to several thousand, depending what you want for your cover art. Once all of those people are satisfied, you can count your royalties as your own. And come to the realization that you didn’t make as much as you thought you would be.

I’m not saying that self publishing isn’t profitable, but there are overhead costs a traditional publisher will pay and not charge you. For some authors, the biggest benefit is that they are in charge of the whole process from beginning to end. They answer to no one but themself.

Is that what you want? Are you ready to work day and night, give up most of your activities outside your day job, to be published? Are you ready for the lower return on a book you’re selling? If so, then this might be the right step for you.

Traditional Publisher: My choice was always to go with a traditional publisher. Yes, I must accept a percentage of the money paid to the publisher by the sales venues, but that amount is spelled out in my contracts. Here are the reasons I believe I’ve made the right choice: the editors, proofreader, cover artist, and then promotion work that I’d have to do by myself would take away from time that I can spend writing. The cost of those items would cut into my wallet in a way that would frustrate me to no end.

The reason for this is that the publishers I’ve selected and who have offered me contracts have been mostly been upfront with what they’ll do and what I’ll get in return. With one exception, I haven’t had any problem getting my royalties and have received great support from my publishers. Not only that, being with a publishing company has one thing no self published author has—a built in support system who will assist you with promotion for the simple repayment of doing the same for them. Instead of having to depend on myself to get the word out about my books, I have close to 500 people willing to do that for me. And they do, along with cheering for my successes and giving me a shoulder to cry on when there’s a failure.

There are benefits and drawbacks to both self publishing and traditional publishing. What decision you make is based on your needs and financial security. Make no mistake, this new world of publishing isn’t for the faint of heart. Those not willing to get out and hawk their books day in and day out will soon find themselves trampled.


G. B. Miller said…
I'm not so sure about having both a plot editor and a line editor, but to each their own.

Personally, if you're going to self-publish, it definitely helps to have a few beta readers as well, if only to help you tweak and fine tune the story.

I'm one of those rare breeds who have been published three different ways (traditional, self-pubbed regular and self-pubbed vanity) and I think in today's world, being a hybrid is your best bet of having your work published.

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