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There are pros and cons to traditional and self-publishing. But what exactly is traditional publishing?

Basically, a publishing company will buy the rights to an author’s manuscript through a literary agent who represents the author. The agent then negotiates a deal with the publishing company and in return, the agent will get a percentage of the sales from the book.

And while a publishing company will usually give the author an advance—typically between $5,000 and $10,000—that advance is against their royalties. So, that means, when the book is published, the author won’t see any money until their royalties have surpassed the amount of their advance.

Traditional Publishing Paydays

And on the subject of getting paid, traditional publishing companies will only pay out royalties to their authors twice per year.

A publishing company will provide the author with an editorial team and a designer—for the novel’s formatting and cover—at no cost to the author. That sounds great, right? Well, maybe not. It all depends on how much having control over your own book matters to you. Because the publishing company is footing the bill, they have the final say over all edits and designs.

Traditional publishing companies also have the say of when they stop printing your book, which can be as little as one year after publication.

With a marketing team at their disposal, traditional publishing companies use the bulk of their budget on well-known, big-name authors. And that leaves very little for newly signed authors, who are encouraged to hire a publicist to market their book themselves.

What Are Your Chances In Traditional Publishing?

There are so many writers in the world who want to be traditionally published—sending manuscripts to agents and publishers in the hopes to be ‘discovered’, but unfortunately, less than 1% of authors who want to be traditionally published are accepted.

There are those that think traditional publishing companies are there to protect authors; only allowing good books to be published and being ‘gatekeepers’ against bad ones.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. The fact is, publishing companies are a business. They put out the books that they think will earn them the most money. They do not care about the writers, only their profitability.

Today, the biggest reason for traditional publishing is the prestige it gives. That and the fact that traditionally published books are in all the brick and mortar stores.

But just because you land a book deal, that doesn’t guarantee that your career is set for life. When creating contracts for authors, some publishing companies have begun including clauses that state that they do not have to buy the rights to the author’s next book, regardless of if the previous book did well or not.

In fact, an author can make just as much, if not more, by self-publishing. How much money you make off of your book largely depends on how dedicated you are when it comes to marketing it, whether you are self-publishing or traditionally publishing.

So Why Traditionally Publish?

If you choose to publish traditionally there are, of course, the prestige, kudos, and validation as well as wider distribution in bookstores. Most companies will offer the author an advance on their book. And there are no upfront costs, as the publishing company will provide the author with a team of established professionals to work with.

Make Sure To Do Your Homework

  • While it may seem like a great idea to have zero cost up front, remember that traditional publishing companies pay terrible royalty rates—only between 6%-25%
  • It is also more difficult to implement changes in your manuscript if you don’t like the direction the editor thinks you should go
  • It’s a slow process—can take 6-18 months after the book is ready, before it’s even published
  • They price ebooks too high
  • Don’t market new authors effectively
  • Author has no creative control on anything once the contract is signed
  • Traditional publishing companies only pay out royalties twice per year
  • The author has no input on cover art and book title
  • Potentially prohibitive contract clauses such as World English rights in all formats

Pros of Self-Publishing

Authors who choose to self-publish are on the rise. Gone are the days when you sent out hundreds of query letters and synopsis to tons of literary agents in the hopes that just one will take a chance and request to read your full manuscript. But just like traditional, there are pros and cons of self-publishing. Some of the pros are:

pinterest pin on pros and cons of self-publishing
  • As an indie author, you will have total creative control over every aspect of your book
  • Higher royalty rates—70% for ebooks and around 60% for print
  • Less waiting time to get your book published
  • Can make a name for yourself
  • You get to handpick your publishing team: freelance editors, cover designers, and formatting
  • Little to no deadline stress
  • No gatekeeping or rejection
  • More frequent paydays
  • You retain all rights to your manuscript
  • A greater opportunity for niche publishing
  • It’s empowering
  • Sell in any global market

Cons of Self-Publishing

Self-publishing seems like an amazing route to go, but don’t forget that it is not without its downsides.

There is more than one self-publishing platform and depending on which one you choose, you may have less visibility than a traditionally published author.

You have no support system. Everything you do, you do on your own with your own resources, including finding reputable editors and designers to work with. It is possible to get your indie book in a physical bookstore, but it’s difficult and you must work aggressively to get it.

The upfront costs are high. Professional editing can cost anywhere between $1,000 and $6,000 depending on a number of factors and believe me, you get what you pay for. With the high cost, there is also the potential for financial loss. After you’ve spent the money publishing your indie book, you may not make that money back in sales. This is where marketing your book is super important.

Self-publishing is also incredibly stressful. As an indie author, you are essentially running your own business and you are 100% responsible for your own success.

How Do You Know Which Path Is Right For You?

Ultimately, it comes down to what is more important to you: paying no costs upfront and having an established team ready to go, or having total creative control and owning your publishing rights forever.

Do You Have To Choose Between the Two?

Hybrid Authors

Some authors today are going the hybrid root; both self-publishing and traditionally publishing. These hybrid authors make the decision based on each project and specific publishing rights.

Things To Watch Out For

While there is much to learn when you begin your self-publishing journey, remember to be cautious. Not everyone is there to help you, and if something sounds too good to be true…it usually is. Here are a couple of links to websites looking out for authors everywhere. Preditors and Editors (legit vs scam) and Writer Beware (scam list).

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