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Self-Publishing vs Traditional Publishing: Which is right for me?

Feb 24, 2021

To self-publish or to not self-publish; to traditionally publish or to not traditionally publish.  That is the question every author asks themselves. The answer is mainly dependent on two things.  First, why do you want to write a book?  Second, how do you feel about the pros and cons of each option?

Why are you writing a book?

Simon Sinek’s breakout book, Start with Why, is a great resource to help you figure out your “why” in every aspect of life. The following exercise will help you answer your book-writing-why. It’s a broad question and there are as many “whys” as there are authors. It’s critical to your success to figure out your “why” because that becomes the driving force that pushes you through the discouragement, over the roadblocks, and around the unexpected obstacles that you’ll encounter.  

To help you determine your “why” ask yourself these questions. Actually, write your answers on a piece of paper.  It feels more real when you do that.

Here are some prompts to get you started on discovering your “why”:  

  1. What impact do you want your book to have on the world? On other human beings? 
  2. How will the book impact your life? 
  3. How many books do you want to sell? 
  4. How will you measure your success as an author? 

It doesn’t matter whether it takes you five minutes or five days to answer those questions. The point is to discover why you want to write a book and what you consider will make you successful. Until you determine your “why” it won’t matter much which publishing route you consider. It’s your “why” that will help you determine whether Self-Publishing or Traditional Publishing is right for you. 

Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing

Nearly 2 million books are published each year.  The majority of those are self-published and the opportunity to traditionally publish has stayed about the same as it has for decades. Self-publishing has eliminated the barrier and the costs to self-publish are very affordable. It needs to be noted that Self-Publishing has also created more competition and the market for all categories has become more saturated.  

To further help you evaluate which path is right for you, consider the following: 

Control

Traditional

When traditionally publishing you are selling your book rights to a publisher.  You give up most of the control in the areas of design and the decisions of how your book will be formatted, designed, structured, marketed, and distributed. You give up a high percentage of the profits too. 

Self-Publish

If you self-publish you retain the rights to the manuscript and make all of the decision--format, design, structure, marketing, and everything else involved in publishing the book.  It also means you bear the responsibility of the cost of printing and distribution. 

Question to ask yourself: 
Do I want more control or less control?  

Cost and Royalties

Traditional

When you traditionally publish you MAY receive an advance, meaning the publisher is purchasing the rights to your book by paying you.  New authors typically don’t receive more than $5,000 or $10,000 and the amount is influenced by the size of your author platform.  If your first book is successful you may receive larger advances.  

Additionally, you also receive a royalty from the publisher, typically 10 - 15%, some of which may go to your agent.  However, if you received an advance you will not get paid any royalty until the publisher earns out the advance they paid you.  

The publisher fronts all of the costs associated with designing, printing, and distributing the book.  The advance is like the publisher is betting on you and it’s all a calculated risk.

Self-Publish

You front the cost to write, design, print, and distribute the book. Self-publishing is expensive to do right. There is no truth to “if you build it, they will come.” Your potential readers have to know what you built and where to find it amongst the tens of thousands of other books self-published every year.

You may have to own the production and front the cost but you will get 100% of the royalties (after all the costs).  For every book sold you will receive a considerable amount more money than through traditional publishing.  

Question to ask yourself:
Did I write the book merely to make money? Did I write the book to drive an additional business?

Distribution

Traditional

This is where an established publisher really does the hard work. They have distribution relationships, salespeople, catalogs, and websites. 

Self-Publish

You do the leg work. You promote the book wherever you can. Your greatest asset here is word-of-mouth. You build a loyal fan base and they do the marketing for you by writing reviews and talking to their friends about your book. In other words, you have to build a base who are invested in your story and your message enough that they become your salespeople.

Question to ask yourself:
Do I have the bandwidth (money, time, resources) to build a website, a platform, a social media following who will drive book sales? 

Timeline

Traditional

Traditional publishing is slow.  You’re looking at a minimum of one year from the time a publisher accepts your proposal and wants to move forward with a contract and then finally get to publishing your book.  If you have only written a few chapters of your book, it will take even longer.  

Self-Publishing

Assuming you have the funds and knowledge and stamina to write, edit, and format a book in one week, then within 2-3 days you could have it up on digital platforms as an eBook.  And within another week you could have it up on a print-on-demand service.  Even by self-publishing standards that is superman-fast but you get the point. Self-publishing is quantum leaps faster than traditional publishing.

Question to ask yourself:
How important is it to publish my book sooner rather than later? 

Conclusion

There are many different things to consider when choosing between Traditional Publishing and Self-Publishing.  One thing for sure is that Traditional Publishing isn’t guaranteed to happen no matter how great your book is and the risk is you lose time in the pursuit of that path. 

Self-Publishing is quicker to market and you own the entire process from start to finish.  That may excite some of you and that might scare some of you.   

There isn’t a right or wrong path, it’s just a different path.  To choose you need to determine your “why” and let that govern what’s most important to you. Base your short and long-term goals on your “why,” which will be your best guide.  

If you have a question about traditional or self-publishing reach out to us.  We’ll be happy to answer your questions.

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