Traditional VS. Self-Publishing--by LA Jamison

The biggest question authors have when I say that I have self-published a book is which is better? Traditional or Self-Publishing?.  There is a lot of mis-information out there and self-publishing has lost credibility due to the fact that anyone can do it.  However, not everyone can do it successfully—and that is a big difference people should take exception too rather than just dismissing self-publishing all together. There are pros and cons to both.  


Traditional publishing

In traditional publishing, a manuscript is completed by an author who then sends out a query letter or a longer proposal to a publishing agency or literary agent in hopes someone in that company will take interest in them.  Writing a query and a proposal is often the Achilles heal for an author.  Books are written about it.  Workshops are held about it.  Yet, still, getting noticed can be an allusive mystery that strikes a personal nerve (when in reality authors are often poor sales people with their pitches stuck in a stack of thousands).  If, and that is a big IF, the query or proposal is a “go”, then an editor takes the full manuscript, reads it, and decides ultimately whether it truly is a fit for the publishing house or not.  If after discussion and consultation with the author on changes around edits (there always is) and that author proves they can work well with that team, the publishing house will decide to publish the book. They will buy the rights for the book from author with the contractual promise of “royalties” off of sales as well as a possible “advance” payment. Simply put, royalties are percentages from the sales. The publishing house will foot the bill for design and packaging the book and printing book. Unlike days of the old, they would market the book but that has largely turned on its heals and is now placed on the author’s shoulders. Whether you opt for traditional publishing or self-publishing, no author get’s away from dreaded beast of marketing if they want their book to be successful.

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Self-Publishing get’s a bad wrap because technically there are ways to go on websites like Amazon and put anything out there on the web for nearly no money.  Some mock it by saying that there is no such thing as self-publishing, only vanity publishing, and that this is really just a big scam. There are however several examples of successful authors going the self-publishing route all the way back to the 1930’s (read this article on the Huffington Post From the Joy of Cooking to Fifty Shades of Gray (among many examples of successful self-published books) let no one deceive you about self-publishing being a scam. Still, that doesn’t mean there aren't self-publishing scams out there.  You have to do your research and not take a company just at it’s word or alleged promises. 

In self-publishing,  simply put, the author does almost everything.  You are in control so the only one who can scam you is yourself which you are not going to do.  You can only do that by not knowing or researching the publisher you choose to publish with.  You may mess it up if you aren’t careful and to that end, my most recent book can have your back, but I’ll get to that in a moment.  The author must edit their own work or pay for someone to do this as well as the cover design of the book.  Once this is completed, the author must find a publisher who offers “self-publishing” services (there are many).  Many such companies offer a wide arrange of packages where you essentially pay them to do processes for you or you can just go to You Tube and learn to do these things free on your own like I did.  The best option is to retain your rights as the acting publisher and use these companies as more print on demand services than as a publisher with rights over your book.  You are doing the work anyway and despite exaggerated claims on them marketing your book through their distribution channels, they have no obligation to do so and often do not. To publish a book in print and/or online can run from free to low and high fees.  Your book will be available through the distribution channels the publisher has which can range from places all the way around the world but you really are in charge of getting it advertised through every single channel.  That is not easy.  Many publishers will also take care of tax information and send you the form these days which wasn't so in the past.  They stream line a lot of things for you better than in old days as well so that you can keep track of sales better.  It is best that you take charge of getting your own copyright and ISBN in the official way through the Official US offices that sell them (US COPYRIGHT OFFICE, and Browker for ISBNS). It does cost but it is a small amount.  There is a lot more information on this in my upcoming book "Self-Publishing Safari: Navigating the Publishing Jungle For Authors".  But, keep reading. 

Time to get to the real nitty gritty here.  I see three essential questions every author has about the difference between the two; author control, time and money.  Let’s look at these.  

Author Control--50 Shades of Publishing

Traditional:  It just depends but you have less control than you do with self-publishing. Depending on the publisher, you may have to change a lot of things to fit their publishing house or to work with the editor you are with.  It can be painful but isn't always necessarily so. 

Self Publishing: The author has complete control over the content, design, and appearance of their book, as well as where the book is marketed and distributed.

Time Is A Tick’en

Traditional: You may never see your book published or it can take years before your manuscript becomes a book, if at all. Can you live with that? I recently just read that Emily Dickinson wrote over 100 poems but in her life span only saw seven published and that was anonymously. I don't know about you, but no thanks!  I write because it is in my blood but we have much better access now to get out there. 

Self-Publishing: Your book can be published--once it is truly edited and finished with cover illustration(s)--within days and online E BOOKS are practically published by a click of button. You are not under the finger of publishing houses wondering if your pitch sucked.  However, if you are a first timer, there are a lot of kinks to learning the ropes in self-publishing so it can go up to 6 months or more.  What is additionally time consuming is that you have much more ground work to do in building platform and getting your book/name out there.  However, it is better to be out there than not at all I say.

Money, Money, Money!

Traditional Publishing: You pay for marketing essentially. Phone calls, traveling, promotional materials, websites etc. If your book is being published, you should be paid an advance and not paying for it to be published or you are with the wrong company.  Once your published, it isn't necessarily easy street, but your income is set and you have more marketing assets at your disposal though a publishing house.  

Self-Publishing: It depends on the company you choose and whether you are doing print or an E BOOK or both. You can do it for way less than $500.00, E BOOKS you can do free on Amazon, or you may pay much more if you go with packages to enhance the process or help you. In addition, you would also pay for marketing materials and books to give out for review. You may have a longer road marketing through self-publishing than with traditional publishing and the contacts they have in the marketing arena. 

My Advice

Try both. You could actually be submitting query letters while looking into what it takes to self-publish and if that is the route for you.  Be careful though if your book isn’t finished. You can get overwhelmed by the idea of all this and let your research and hair pulling take away from your writing. Let me help you so you aren’t pulling hair out.

First, I always recommend authors get the actual book written and edited first.  Second, really consider self-publishing if you are failing at getting the attention of traditional houses (but get feedback on your writing to make sure you don’t have major improvements as a possible reason you are being ignored).  For me, I got tired of being under the piles of other prospective authors after 15 years and I knew from a lot of critiques both in and out of college that I was a great writer. Though I will continue to query here and there, I’m focusing on building my own platform because that is the way the future is headed with things like You Tube, I-Tunes, I-Books and what-not.  Our world is becoming "self" everything. You have just as much as a chance as building your own successful author brand and platform and getting noticed as you do under a slush pile of countless other authors at a publishing house--where potential J.K. Rowlings won't be read just because they don't pitch well.  Free access to being seen and heard is bigger and more available than ever before. Take advantage of it!  However, do not go into naive thinking that publishers in any option aren’t largely focused on the bottom dollar and their own brand. This isn’t charity. These aren’t art studios where the staff live and die by you’re your written word. It is a business. Self-Publishing itself can cost you more than you’ll ever make if you aren’t careful. Traditional Publishing can give you an advance that packs a punch to your future royalties.  To that end, if you are thinking about self-publishing route, I recommend subscribing to my website to keep updated on blog posts like this one and my book coming out in a matter months, "Self-Publishing Safari: Navigating the Publishing Jungle For Authors: Publishing For Under $500.00".  I have done the research so you don't have to.  I walk you through step by step through the self-publishing process with plenty of visuals. You can also read more articles like this one on my blog page, “Word Splash”.  In addition, Every update can be sent to your email box by subscribing on the Contact Page. Good luck out there!