Self-publishing or traditional publishing – which is best for your book?

As an aspiring author, it’s important to think about your publishing options – even before you’ve finished your book. Will you choose self-publishing or traditional publishing? Which is best for your book? What are the differences?

In this post, we’ll cover all your questions so you can discover which publishing route feels right for you.

The world of publishing

So much has changed in the last decade. Getting your book published was once reserved for the special few – those who successfully managed to get past the ‘gatekeepers’ in the world of traditional publishing. Many aspiring writers had to get used to facing rejection, time and time again, unable to get their work into the hands of readers.

But the introduction of self-publishing on Amazon changed a lot of things for a lot of people. Something that had once only been for the few was now an option for the many. Cue the sound of corks popping and keyboards tapping.

And while this has been fantastic for both new and experienced authors alike, it can still feel like a confusing part of the process for anyone just starting out on their writing journey. 

So let’s look at the two options you have, shall we?

Traditional publishing

Traditional publishing has certain kudos that are unlikely to ever go away. It’s really the only way to get onto bestseller/awards lists and be easily stocked in bookshops.

To be traditionally published, you can approach a publishing house directly. You might want to approach an agent first, who would then try to find a home for your book with a publisher, particularly if it’s one of the bigger publishing houses. With smaller publishers, you may be able to approach them yourself. Quite often, a publisher’s website will have information about submissions, telling you exactly what you need to do.

A traditional publisher buys a concept. You don’t need a finished book to send in a submission. What you will need is a detailed outline of your book idea so the publisher understands exactly what you’re offering. 

Lots of things will contribute to their decision, including whether they’ve already got something similar on their list or whether they’re currently accepting new authors. It’s not always about you.

Understandably, people take rejections personally. But it’s important to go into the process knowing you’re more likely to hear plenty of ‘no thank-yous’ before you hear a ‘yes.’ It’s just the nature of the beast. 

If your book submission is accepted, you’ll be paid an advance to secure the rights. For a new author, this might only be £3,000. If you have a master’s or PhD in a certain subject, that may help you, but not always.

Pros and cons of traditional publishing

Pros:

  • Kudos

  • Support from the in-house editor, marketing and sales teams

  • Being able to walk into a shop and buy your book off the shelf

  • Award nominations and bestseller lists

Cons:

  • Royalties are lower (only 10% of the cover price)

  • You won’t see those royalties until you’ve paid back your advance

  • It’s likely you’ll need a substantial audience for a publisher to be interested in your work – they want people with ready-made buyers!

  • From initial enquiry to seeing your book on the shelf can take eighteen months to two years

Self-publishing

Once looked upon as the drunk cousin at traditional publishing’s wedding, self-publishing has grown in popularity and authority. In the early days, self-publishing had a bad reputation, thanks to people who published anything and everything, without the support and guidance of professionals.

Over time, however, those who self-publish have worked hard to move away from this reputation. Working with professional editors, proofreaders and cover designers means it’s quite hard to tell if a book has been traditionally or self-published. If self-publishing is done well, the only real way to tell is by looking at whether a traditional publisher is named on the inside cover! And there’s nothing stopping you from creating your own publishing name either.

Self-publishing has never been easier. You can write your book, publish it on any of the digital platforms and have it in the hands of your readers within hours. You start to collect your first royalties sixty days after publishing. There’s no advance to pay back or hoops to jump through. 

It also means you’re in full control of your publishing experience. Something traditionally published authors often crave. You decide when the book will be published and where. Amazon is the obvious choice for many, but there’s also Lulu, Apple Books, Draft2Digital, IngramSpark and others. 

Not only that, you can use drop-shipping to create physical copies of your book or record an audio version too. The possibilities are vast.

Pros and cons of self-publishing

Pros:

  • Greater control over when you publish, including subsequent books

  • Better royalties (70% for books up to £9.99)

  • You decide on the cover design and marketing strategy

  • Working with/supporting other small businesses, e.g. editors, designers, etc.

Cons:

  • The process is entirely your responsibility – writing, publishing, marketing and PR

  • Budgeting for an editor, proofreader etc.

  • You’re accountable – there are no external expectations to get it finished by a particular deadline

  • It’s difficult to get your book into book shops or onto any bestseller lists

Summary

Where and how you publish is entirely up to you. Personally? I love the self-publishing option for small business owners, as it’s a fairly straightforward process. And I love the fact you can bring your audience on the journey too.

But don’t be put off approaching a traditional publisher if that’s where your heart lies. It’s not impossible. As long as you’re ready for the journey ahead, traditional publishing can be an excellent way to get your work out into the world.

Go with your gut – you’ll know what feels right for you. 

To learn more about writing and publishing your book, why not grab a copy of my book, Dare to Write? It’s packed full of advice, as well as my step-by-step process to take you from initial idea to published book. If you’d like 1:1 support, take a look at how you can work with me.

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