Understand Traditional vs. Self-Publishing

Pros & Cons from Inside the Business

Some of the most common questions I get asked working at a traditional publishing house are: Why go traditional in today’s market? Why not self-publish? Aren’t people making bank without all those hoops to jump through? My answer is always the same: There are pros and cons to both avenues. Here, I give you the benefits and drawbacks of each process and the information you need to decide what’s the best route for you.

First, you need to know my background. I have worked in traditional publishing for six years, but I have also been heavily involved in the creation of a self-published book. This has given me enough knowledge, along with all the articles I’ve read on the subject, to speak on this topic. I have made a conscious effort to be as unbiased as possible. Without further ado, let’s dive in, starting with the “traditional” route.

Traditional Publishing


#1: To have your best chance at traditional publishing, you will need a literary agent. An agent is someone you hire to represent you legally and help you develop and pitch your book to interested parties. Their job is to help you be successful. The level of involvement of your agent will vary from person to person. This can be both a pro and a con. On the pro side, you have someone on your team, rooting for you. On the con side, this is an added expense.

#2: You must succeed in getting contracted by an existing publishing house. This can be difficult to achieve. Publishers have limited space in their list, and you have to be something special to catch their attention. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. It means that it will be hard.

#3: There will be several rounds of editing on your book by different people. They may ask you to make changes you don’t want to make. Ultimately, it depends on the publisher and the editor how many times you can say no.

#4: Traditional publishing is slow. And by that I mean it will be one to two years before your book is out in the world from the time the contract is signed. If you want to see your book released without delay, this is not the route for you.

#5: Packaging is determined by the marketing department, and you will have limited input. I’m talking about your book cover and your back cover copy here. You may not have the final say, and that has to be okay.

#6: The publisher takes part of what you make from your book. They help you edit, package, and market, so they take their cut. It’s up to you to decide if this is worth it.


#1: You have been chosen! This may seem petty, but it’s no small thing to be contracted by a traditional publishing house. Not everyone can pull it off. You’ll always be able to say that you made it.

#2: You get paid an advance. This works differently at every publishing house, but typically the publisher pays you a sum upon contract and upon completion of various deliverables like synopsis, aceptable manuscript, and publication. It’s also an advance on your royalties. After your advance is paid out in full, you will continue to earn additional royalties from your book.

#3: Thorough editing is built into the publishing process. Your work will go through an acquisitions editor, a line editor, a copy editor, and a proofreader (some publishers might label these roles differently or have one less in the process). This will guarantee your book is the best it can be by the time it goes to print.

#4: A professional cover design will set your book up for success. I can’t tell you how easy it is for me to pick self-published books out of a pack because of the poor design used on most of them.

#5: Having a dedicated marketing team promote your book will give you a better chance at a bestseller list and set you up for higher sales. Marketing is hard work for three people, let alone one author who specializes in writing books not selling them. Marketing professionals have experience and the connections to give your book wider exposure in print media and online.

#6: Subsidiary rights and foreign language translations are possible with a publishing house. They are much less accessible to an individual author. I don’t even know how you would go about pursuing rights deals without representation. This means more royalties and international exposure.

Self Publishing

I have to mention that the main thing to consider with self publishing is if you are going to be doing everything yourself, you are either going to view it as complete freedom or too much responsibility. Which do you identify with?


#1: It’s going to be a ton of work. Most people have no idea how much. Be sure you are ready to commit to not just releasing your book but launching and marketing it as well.

#2: You’ve going to have to hire numerous people if you want to meet the standard set by traditional publishing houses. You’re going to need a developmental editor, a proofreader, a designer, a copywriter, and possibly some marketing and publicity help if you want to launch your book in a comparable fashion.

#3: You could get lost among the masses. There are so many people self publishing now that without doing something extraordinary, you are unlikely to stand out from the pack. Getting a professional cover design will definitely help, but it’s an uphill battle. You don’t have the connections that a traditional publishing house does to make things happen. It’s a gamble, though. You could hit the jackpot.

#4: You have to be able to figure out the technical stuff, like uploading your manuscript to your chosen self-publishing platform (Amazon, etc.). This can be intimidating and a deal-breaker for those who are not tech savvy.

#5: You have to pay for everything, including the marketing you do. This is included if you sign with a traditional publisher. It also might be a challenge for you to decide where to spend your advertising dollars. Are print ads worth it anymore? Should you advertise on Facebook or Google? Without expertise, you’ll have to do plenty of research if you want to reach your target audience.


#1: You control it all! From the story to the ad designs, you will have the final say on everything to do with your work. Self publishing gives you complete freedom. This is worth extra points in the pros column!

#2: Aside from the percentage that the publishing platform you upload with takes, you keep all the money.

#3: You can release your book on your own time. In other words, whenever you like! This is not possible with traditional publishing.

#4: You can choose to edit your book further and upload a new version at any point. This is also not possible with traditional publishing.

In Conclusion

Now that you know the basics of traditional publishing vs. self publishing, it’s time to ask yourself one vital question: Do you want to do it yourself—or do you want the help?


Anna Henke is a copywriter and marketing specialist for an independent publishing house and a freelance copywriter and blogger at TheResidentWriter.com. In her free time, Anna enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with family and friends. She lives in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.


Originally published at TheResidentWriter.com


Photo by ozkr




April 7, 2018
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