So, you've poured your heart and soul into your manuscript, and now you're faced with a critical decision: should you take the self-publishing route, embracing the freedom and control it offers, or opt for the tried-and-true path of traditional publishing with its established infrastructure and support? Here, I explore some of the pros and cons of both options to help you make your own decision.
There is a whole range of options out there, from completely do it yourself, to turnkey solutions and everything in between. The in-between usually fits into the bucket of independent publishing, which comes in all styles and flavors.
THE SELF-PUB ROUTE
Creative Control - You're the captain of your ship, steering it in the direction you envision without interference from external editors or publishers. Your cover design, marketing strategy, and every creative decision rests solely in your hands. While creative control is a perk, it also means you alone are responsible for your book’s success, and if you’re not great at graphic design, catchy descriptions, or developmental, it can be an uphill slog.
Marketing - As they say, “Time is everything.” Self-publishing allows you to put your work into the hands of readers sooner than the traditional route, which can take years to find a home with an agent, then pass through the gauntlet of publishers, then through the editing and release/advertising timelines. However, success demands not only writing talent but also entrepreneurial skills. Building a platform to promote your own work can take years if not a lifetime.
Higher Royalties - Let's talk money. With self-publishing, you typically enjoy a larger cut of the book's profits. Traditional publishers often take a significant cut to cover their costs and efforts in marketing, distribution, and production.
Reach - With self-publishing platforms like Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, your book can be available to readers around the world, opening up vast opportunities to connect with diverse audiences. Traditional publishers have established relationships with distributors, making it easier for their books to find shelf space.
The TRADITIONAL ROUT
Professional Support - Traditional publishers come armed with teams of professionals – editors, cover designers, marketing experts – all dedicated to making your book the best it can be. This support can elevate the overall quality of your work and enhance sales. However, this comes at the cost of creative control, which we discussed above.
Prestige - Let's not overlook the perceived prestige associated with traditional publishing. Being accepted by a reputable publishing house is a badge of honor for many that can boost your credibility as an author. Traditional publishers have the means to validate and amplify your voice in the literary world. This has benefits in terms of books in hands and pride. As self-publishing becomes more mainstream, its stigma is both rising and falling, with lots of emphasis on “looking professional.”
Wider Distribution - Traditional publishers have well-established relationships with distributors, bookstores, and libraries. This means your book is more likely to be stocked on physical shelves, reaching audiences who might not frequent online platforms. However, as more purchases turn to online sources, this advantage is starting to diminish.
Financial Advantages - While self-publishing offers higher royalties, traditional publishing usually comes with an advance. This upfront payment can provide financial stability during the writing and publishing process. Also, publishers often pay for cover design, editing, and marketing, whereas self-published authors pay for these costs.
Uncertain Acceptance - The publishing world is highly competitive, and there's no guarantee that your manuscript will be accepted by a traditional publisher, and it often takes years to get an in-road through an agent. Rejections can be disheartening, and the acceptance process can be subjective.
You don’t have to choose the same route for all of your books. An agent might be able to promote one genre but not another for a variety of reasons, whether because of changes in genre or personal connection with the story. Similarly, not all books get picked up by publishers. If so, it might be best to go traditional publishing for one novel and self-publishing for the next.
Every path to success, whatever success means to you, is different. It’s important to consider your personal goals, values, and resources. Are you driven by a muse more than financial success? Or is your dream to place your book in a billion people’s hands? Are you the patient type? Is prestige or support important?
Remember, there's no right or wrong choice. Successful authors have emerged from both routes. The key is aligning your choice with your aspirations and being prepared to navigate the unique challenges and rewards that come with your chosen path. Whether you decide to hoist the sails of self-publishing or embark on the structured voyage of traditional publishing, the most important thing is to stay true to your voice and persevere. Happy publishing!
As always, I appreciate your support of self-publishing and indie authors. In the name of putting myself out there, here are a few of my works.