Self- versus Traditional- Publishing

Last month we wrote about the steps you need to consider if you're thinking about self publishing. This week we look at the pros and cons of self publishing versus the traditional publishing route.

I just don't know if self-publishing is for me!

Let's look at the pros and cons of both.

After countless nights staying up late in front of a glowing computer screen, you’ve finally finished your book and you’re ready to share your piece to the world.

But this is the point where you’ll have to make a major decision: will you go down the traditional publishing route or self-publish your book? In the literary world, this is a common debate. Authors who traditionally publish say that this is the only path to mainstream success and recognition, while self-publishing writers sing the praises of higher royalties and creative control over their work. With both sides being applauded, it is you who’ll ultimately decide what works for you. Is it better to get a publisher or to self publish?

What is traditional publishing?

Traditional publishing is when you work with a third-party publisher to release your book –which is a notoriously long process. Trade/traditional publishing means an agent(s) is your first port of entry and the publisher is the gatekeeper to your audience. This process begins with you scouting for (over a period of time) and commissioning an agent to pitch your book proposal to a publishing house. The agent will then submit your manuscript to publishers (here, expect a number of rejections for a length of time) before one accepts your work and offers you a contract.

On contract-signing, you’ll receive a book advance. Your work will then go through more edits and be published eventually. In other words, the publisher will handle the editing, formatting, designing, and marketing of your book. After releasing it through one of their imprints, you will get a small percentage of royalties (typically in the range of 5 to 15% of sales). However, the royalty payments will begin only after the publisher has recovered the book advance paid to you initially.

Pros of Traditional Publishing

  1. Literary awards & prestige (e.g. recognition as bestseller by New York Times, entry in the Pultizer Prize or PEN/Robert W Bingham Prize)

  2. Aid of an experienced editorial, design, & marketing team

  3. No cost for the author: production expenses (including printing, cover art, warehousing, distribution) are shouldered by the publisher

  4. Distribution to physical bookstores, retailers, libraries, and other institutions (which improves the chances of your book being discovered & purchased)

  5. Publisher arranges editorial reviews & organizes book signing events

  6. Potential to become a household name writer (e.g. Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, Nora Roberts)

Cons of Traditional Publishing

  1. Incredibly time-consuming. New authors are especially more likely to be rejected numerous times (by agents first then by publishing houses) before 'maybe' landing a book deal. Even after a contract is offered, it takes 1 to 2+ years to be published and distributed.

  2. Limited creative control. Authors have less control over the creative aspects like the book’s title, cover design, and (most of all) how it’s edited.

  3. Lower royalties. Royalty rates are a percentage of your book’s sales and likely to be net as all the returns, marketing costs, discounts, and overheads are taken away from the total before your royalty is calculated. Royalties also differ per format: ebook VS audio VS hardback. Standard royalties from paperbacks through bookstores are usually just 7.5% of sales.

Getting your book published in the traditional way is dependent on how you pitch agents and how they pitch publishers. Your book might meet the requirements of agents at the time you are querying, either because they already have authors that write similar work or they are looking for something specific. If the publishing houses then say no, you pretty much have to start over; think about next WIP (work in progress) as an alternative.

If you believe in your work, many readers will love it too so self-publishing is probably the best option.

What is self-publishing?

Authors can bypass the traditional gatekeepers and publish on their own by using one of the self-publishing platforms. If you choose this route, you’ll manage the edits, formatting, cover design, releasing and marketing. Having to handle these doesn’t mean you do all of them yourself. You can hire professional editors, expert cover designers, etc. to help you, but this does mean you’ll have to arrange the collaboration and use money from your own pocket.

This type of publishing method allows you to maintain full ownership of your book’s right and royalties –which is why, along with the growth of eReaders, the popularity of this method has dramatically risen in recent years.

Pros of Self-Publishing

  1. Guarantee that your book will get published at the time you want

  2. Complete creative control. Authors can hire professional editors and book designers who understand their vision and can collaboratively work together.

  3. Changes are easier to make. As copies are not printed and stored in advance, alterations in texts and design can be made even after the book is published. This could be a more attractive design or some typographical errors not noticed before.

  4. Can get in front of a hundred (if not thousands) of readers online as fast as you wish to

  5. Higher royalties: authors earn about 70% for ebooks and 50% for print

  6. Longer shelf life. Books published traditionally are periodically removed from bookstores to make way for newly published ones, while self-published work is always available in online bookstores and can be discovered/purchased even months/years after its publishing.

Cons of Self-Publishing

  1. Marketing of your book rests entirely on you. This requires full commitment to creating and updating blogs, using social media & book discounting websites for promotion, soliciting reviews, building an emailing/mailing list, contributing articles to websites to drive traffic to your page, and publishing with multiple platforms to maximize the reach of readership.

  2. You shoulder all the payments for professional services (e.g. editing, proofreading, designing), mostly upfront.

  3. Physical bookstores and retailers will likely not stock your book because you won’t be able to accept book returns.

  4. Many manuscript and book awards don’t consider independent/self-published authors

The largest book publishers

It can’t be denied that many of our most beloved and treasured books come from imprints of huge trade publishers. The Big 5 power-houses that dominate the publishing domain are:

Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette Livre, Macmillan Publishers, and Simon & Schuster

The best self-publishing companies for first-time authors

Deciding to self publish is a huge leap and is both nerve-wracking and exciting. To help publish and distribute your creation, the numerous options available can be overwhelming. Be aware that there are illegitimate self-publishing platforms out there. Look into all of the scams and publishing companies you should stay away from. But, here are the best self-publishing companies we’ve rounded up for your reference:

Amazon KDP

Apple Books

Barnes & Noble Press

Rakuten Kobo









The best indie book publishers

Independent book publishers are small businesses in the publishing industry and are not affiliated with any big corporations. These indie publishers operate independently and one can liken them to chic local boutiques compared to Nordstroms and Macy’s. They operate on a smaller scale compared to billion-dollar publishing titans. These small presses do publishing the traditional way, but often without the agent (middleman).

Some of the best indie publishers are:

Akashic Books

Bellevue Literary Press

BOA Editions

C&R Press

Catapult Books

City Lights Publishers

Coffee House Press

Enchanted Lion Books

Europa Editions

Featherproof Books

Feral House

Forest Avenue Press

Future Tense Books

After considering these factors, deciding which publishing route to take all boils down to personal preference.

Whitman Publishing is a boutique Australian publisher. You can contact us at Michel Dignand for more information.


Content Credits


© 2019 Wistman Publishing & Michel Dignand

    by Beach Websites