If you can’t decide whether to self-publish or go for traditional publishing, here is a comparison of the two types of publishing to help you decide.
Your goal is to be published. In the past, the only way for this to happen was to be picked up by a publishing house after sending in a few chapters of your book and enduring rejection letter after rejection letter.
This is not for the faint of heart! It is also not the final word on getting published. Author J. K. Rowling has courageously shared some of her rejection letters on Twitter (Kennedy 2016) in order to inspire new authors to press on (pun intended). Here is a look at the advantages of going the self-publishing way instead.
Self-Publishing has many advantages:
- Enjoy fast, click-of-the-button publishing: Whenever you decide to publish, just click the Publish button and your book will immediately be published. Of course, this has its pros and cons. Instant gratification, the feeling of satisfaction of finally being published, or rushing to meet the deadline of your promised book availability, may make self-publishing seem like a dream, when in fact it could become a nightmare. If you self-publish before professional editing, you’re more likely to get negative reviews from your online readers, regardless of the great story you’re telling. Traditional publishing takes a much longer time.
- More profit and better access for readers: You can still sell the book anywhere online. Anyone who wants to buy your book can do so in an instant. They don’t need to pay any shipping or postage costs. Again we’re talking about instant gratification, but this time it’s for the reader. Say they’re on vacation and have only their tablet with them, having left their laptop at home. They’re in a different time zone, and find themselves wide awake in the middle of the night. Or they’re in the tropics and a tropical storm is keeping them inside. They can just go online, buy your book, and start reading; possibly making your book the highlight of the vacation in the process! Additionally, more people from abroad will be inclined to buy your e-books than printed books in order to avoid shipping and handling costs, as well as long delivery times. Traditional paper books cost more to produce, reducing profit, and limit access in a number of ways. A physical book can be more unwieldy, heavier to carry, and limited in font size for readers with poor eyesight.
- No cost required to publish on e-book platforms: Most delivery platforms, like Amazon and Kobo, for example, don’t charge you anything upfront when you sell your books. There’s no waste involved, no stacks of unpurchased books sitting in a warehouse. With traditional paper publishing, there is the cost of materials and labor involved in the creation of the physical book.
- Creative Freedom: Everything, including the cover, the marketing, and the book contents, are in your control. You can even update your book and release the new version at once. This happens more often than authors would like to think. You’ve made the final push to finish writing and publish. Your book is available 24/7, 365 days a year, to anyone in the world with access to the Internet. You’re sitting back, waiting for the profits to roll in. Instead you get flaming reviews from readers who say at best that your story was good but the grammatical mistakes were distracting, and at worst, they stopped reading altogether because they couldn’t get past the errors, including plot holes and character inconsistencies. With an e-book you can pull the book, send in a rush order for professional editing, and re-load the book in a matter of days (depending on the length of the book and availability of the editor). A printed book with errors will haunt you forever.
Traditional Publishing is harder, but still around:
- Traditional publishing makes it very hard to break into the market: Traditional publishers have very low acceptance rates, which means that the odds of getting accepted and published are stacked against you. Some say the rate is even as low as just 3 books published out of 10,000 submissions (Harper 2004). It seems that when the economy is down, trying to make some extra money on the side by writing is up. This only makes it even harder to break into the world of publication.
- More time needed to publish: It may take months, or even years, till your book is out there in the market. It takes a long time for your manuscript to be evaluated, and if it is accepted, then even more time is required for editing, production, and marketing. If you are rejected, you send out your manuscript to a different publisher or agent, and the process of waiting for months begins again.
- More extra charges: Your book will be available mostly in bookstores. Otherwise, a reader will have to order your book, and the extra shipping or postal charges may discourage a reader from buying your book. Your book won’t be instantly available anywhere in the world.
- Low royalty rates: Most authors may get only 7 to 25 percent royalty rates. This depends on a number of factors, including whether the book is hardback or paperback, and the number of copies sold. For example, a paperback book could typically give a royalty rate of 8 percent of the first 150,000 books sold, and 10 percent thereafter (Jacobson n.d.). That’s a lot of books.
- Restraint of creative freedom: When your book is chosen by a publisher, it is more or less out of your hands. They design the cover in the image they have in mind for it. As a result, the essence of the book you may have had in mind may get lost. Think back to the British comedy As Time Goes By. Lionel Hardcastle (played by Geoffrey Palmer) writes the incredibly boring story of his life as a coffee plantation owner in Kenya. His “boy publisher,” who owes a huge debt of gratitude to Lionel’s dad, gets hold of the manuscript and the next thing Lionel knows he’s being driven to book signings in a Land Rover painted in zebra stripes and being dressed in a safari costume with a scantily clad model for the cover photo shoot. It ends up with protesters storming his lecture and shouting “Elephant killer!” at him because of all the hype his publisher created. Sure, it was only a TV show, but it could happen!
We would suggest that you go for the self-publishing. E-books are quite advantageous and bring you more readers—readers who are actually interested in what you have to offer. More importantly, you retain all your rights when you publish, and you can also publish without many hassles.
Harper, Tara K. 2004. On Publishers and Getting Published. Accessed February 12, 2017. http://www.tarakharper.com/faq_pub.htm#chances
Jacobson, Alan. n.d. The Business of Publishing. Accessed February 12, 2017. https://www.alanjacobson.com/writers-toolkit/the-business-of-publishing/
Kennedy, Maev. 2016. “JK Rowling posts letters of rejection on Twitter to help budding authors.” The Guardian. New York, NY, March 25. Accessed February 12, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/mar/25/jk-rowling-harry-potter-posts-letters-of-rejection-on-twitter