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I had a conversation with someone on Twitter that wove through a lot of topics, but it reminded me of something I was very surprised and disappointed to learn when I first started planning to publish. Supposedly, a lot of people think that if someone is self-publishing that means they aren’t good enough to traditionally publish. While there are a lot of crappy books in the self-pub library, there are also a lot of amazingly good books. Self-publishing and traditional publishing are just two different options. Both have pros and cons.
To help clear things up for any new writers out there, lets start with a couple definitions:
- Traditional Publishing, or Trad-Pub for short: This is the way books have been published from the beginning. An author writes a manuscript and submits it to one of the many publishing houses. If accepted, then they magically turn it into a book. Voila.
- Self-Publishing: An author writes a manuscript and magically turns it into a book by themselves. They often hire people for certain aspects of the process: Cover design, editing, marketing, etc. They can either publish themselves through services like Create Space, or sign up with one of the smaller publishing companies, often called Independent Publishers.
I’ve realized, while writing this post, that the pros of one are usually the cons of another. Maybe that’s obviously how this works but I hadn’t really noticed until now.
Anyway, here goes. Let’s start with the Traditional Publishing Cons.
It’s not a sure bet. Your submitted manuscript will be added to the “Slush pile”, consisting of every manuscript thrown at them that day/week. When first looked at you will have only a sentence or two to convince them to keep reading.
Your book will be published. Not only does it cost nothing to upload a book to Amazon kindle (they charge a portion of your book price when it’s bought by someone), but they don’t reject manuscripts. Instant acceptance. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s going to sell. More on that later.
You have little to no control over the final product. There may be some exceptions to this, but for the most part the publisher decides everything for you; cover art, target audience, marketing strategy. Not to mention any rewrites and edits they feel you need to do.
You are in total control. Everything from the cover to how it’s promoted is up to you. There are downsides to this which I’ll cover later, but you have the freedom to make your book, your way.
You receive only a tiny percentage of your profits. Granted, there are very few ways to publish where you receive ALL your profits, save maybe selling out the back of your car. However, Trad-pubs usually only give you about 10%. That’s because they have so much overhead. They have to pay for: Cover design, editing, marketing, promotion, etc., etc.
You receive more profits from your book. You are paying for more things before publishing (cover designer, marketing, etc.) but you will also get more money back from book sales. The exact percentage depends on where and how you publish, of course, but you get to decide that. After I’ve gone through the process myself I’ll be updating this post to reflect more options. For now, let’s take Amazon as an example:
- Amazon eBook: It’s a bit complicated, but there are two options: 35% or 70%. You have to qualify for the 70% option but even if don’t, 35% is still much better than what a Trad Publisher pays.
- Amazon Paperback: 60% minus: Printing costs, applicable taxes, and withholding.
Now let’s flip and talk about how some of the Self-publishing cons are actually Trad-pub pros.
You have many jobs besides writer. All those things the publishing house would take care of like: marketing, promoting, researching your target audience, and more, are up to you. If you’re not already an expert in those things, you will be spending a lot of valuable time learning about them so you can do them properly. So, congratulations; you’re not just a writer anymore.
Trad Pub Pro:
You only need to worry about writing. The publisher will take care of everything else. No need to figure out the list price, don’t need to come up with a marketing strategy; write your book, you’re done. There are some exceptions to this rule. For instance I have heard one author who raved that her publisher let her work with their designers to design her cover, but I believe they were a smaller publishing house. In any case, you will need to promote your book using your author platform. You do have one of those right?
You have to spend money before you make money. I mean sure, you could throw your book onto Amazon without anyone else proofreading it and with a cover you created in Photoshop… but that’s not a good idea. In fact, I believe it’s the main reason there’s such a negative image of self-publishers. To sell well you need to have professional help, it’s that simple. Who you hire is up to you, but the options include: Editors (several different kinds), cover designers, Marketers, publicists, and more. Each of them costs money because they are trying to earn a living, just like you are.
Trad Pub Pro:
You don’t need to spend any money up front. The publishing house pays for everything and takes its cut out of your profits. That’s why you only get 10% with them, they’re having to pay for all those people and fees needed to get the book out to the public. They’re also risking all that money going down the drain if your book doesn’t sell. It’s an acceptable trade off I think.
You need “sell yourself”. Yes, you need to sell your book, that’s your product, but you are also an asset. You can’t say, “please buy my book. I’m not really a great writer, but I hope you like it.” If you don’t have confidence in yourself, no one will have confidence in you. You need to tell them about your book in a positive way, “You’re gonna love my book. It’s such a compelling story.” For some of you this may not be a problem, but for me this is a con because I hate being my own cheerleader. It feels like bragging and I’m constantly plagued by “What if they don’t like it?” As an author I’m going to have to get past that… somehow.
Trad Pub Pro:
They handle promotion, for the most part. I say that because as stated before, you need to do some promoting yourself. It makes sense to me because you know your book better than anyone. This goes double for debut writers. If you’ve never published before, don’t expect your traditional publisher to go all out with TV ads and billboards declaring how great you are. They save that expense for established authors who they know will deliver. Unless you’re very, very, lucky. However, you can probably expect them to pick up the tab for any online ads, which can add up to a lot in the long run.
When I first decided to publish I immediately discounted traditional publishing because of the first con; I wasn’t sure I was a good enough writer to get past the slush pile. As time went on and I learned more about both options, I realized that even if I was convinced I was good enough, I wouldn’t want to give away all control and nearly all my profits. So, I decided to self-publish. So far, I’m happy I did. If you decide to go the traditional route that’s OK too. When you get down to the heart of the matter, we’re all just writers after all.
What do you think? Have you published independently or through a Traditional publisher? Have you even decided yet? I’d love to hear from you, and maybe your experience or thought process can help others decide.
Happy reading/writing 🙂