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    Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing

    Date Posted: 20/10/2017 | Category:

    Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing

    You've written your manuscript, you know what your book is all about and you're ready to get this thing on the market and reap the papery fruits of your hard labour. You'll need to get it published then. But which method suits you best?

    It’s an argument that will likely never have a proper conclusion. And if you’ve read my article debating whether authors should publish their book as an E-book or printed book you’ll know that actually, I’m not a fan of being told I have to pick sides in binary decisions such as these. Especially when they might not be all that binary after all.

    Don’t stop reading just yet though. I’m not throwing in the towel in some sort of protest at yet another divisive decision that needs to be made. I can still weigh up the pros and cons of both, and help you come to an informed decision. Even if I can’t provide a conclusive answer to the question.

    Sound good? Good. Let’s begin.

    In the most basic terms, traditional publishing and self‐publishing are very similar, with slight differences. For both, your manuscript will need: to be polished of spelling and grammatical errors, include a title and blurb, have a cover, marketing, printing and distribution.

    This probably seems like a lot to think about, so allow me to clarify: it is.

    Not much point being coy, it'll be difficult. That much is made pretty clear to you from the get‐go. Getting a book from word document to bestseller isn't an easy task, and it's even more hard work than you've already put into the actual writing of it.

    However, as tedious as it sounds, it is a necessary step if you're wanting to turn your writing into a living, rather than just a hobby in which you empty yourself of creative spirit and energy for 'fun'.

    It's a good thing there are several options available to you then, but it's impossible to be able to give one definitive answer as it often varies between people and their individual preferences and requirements. An overview of the pros and cons of both might prove helpful, so here I am. You can thank me later, you accomplished and published author you.

    Traditional Publishing

    'To write what is worth publishing, to find honest people to publish it, and get sensible people to read it, are the three great difficulties in being an author.'

    Charles Caleb Colton

    The first step is proposing your manuscript to a publisher where it will be read by an editor and the publisher will decide whether they want to endorse such a work. At this point, it can be either accepted or rejected. If it's rejected, they'll send you a polite note thanking you for the offer, which they must respectfully decline, and reminding you not to let the door hit you on the way out. If it's accepted, on the other hand, they'll approach you about purchasing the rights to your work. They'll review the contents, design and package the book, before advertising it and printing and distributing the predicted number of sales.

    In this respect, most of the hard work discussed previously is taken care of for you. Many writers understandably prefer this; after an extensive and tiring process taking place over the course of several months or even years, which leaves you both physically and mentally drained, how much work are you in the mood for? You'll be paid an advance on your work ‐ meaning you're in the green before any actual sales take place ‐ and be allocated a cut of the royalties with each sale. Books published through traditional means are more likely to sell more copies and usually make more profit than self‐published works.

    A lot of this can be attributed to the rigorous marketing used by the publishers, because they want your work to sell as much as, if not more than, you because that's how they get their profit. They know what they're doing; with a pre‐existing string of trusted contacts and significant knowledge and resources, you're in safe hands.

    Traditional publishing also gives much more opportunity for awards and acclaim. If you're an author plagued with low self‐esteem and you need a little jolt of validation to give you confidence in your future as a writer, approaching publishers may be the way to go. Due to the pure size and visible presence of publishing companies, it's likely you'll receive more recognition through traditional means. Reviews and awards are also more easily attainable. As being published can sometimes mean an automatic nomination into renowned competitions, these will only create more publicity for your work. More publicity means more sales. See what I'm getting at? If you've ever wanted to gold‐plate anything that really doesn't need it, an award wouldn't hurt your chances.

    'I'd had 12 different job titles in publishing before I typed "The End" at the bottom of a manuscript page. I thought the manuscript was in great shape; I was pretty proud of myself. Then I sent it to some publishing friends, and they tore it apart.'

    Chris Pavone

    On the other hand, traditional publishing can be a very time‐consuming process. As unfortunate as it is, a lot of new writers will have to approach multiple agencies before one accepts, if any do at all. Larger companies like Penguin, Ladybird and HarperCollins will facilitate more success but can take up to 6 months to process through all their entries before reaching yours. With such a large number of applicants, selection is more prestigious but the other side of this temperamental coin is that it's less likely to happen.

    After being chosen, the production process can be another year of waiting, unless it's a non‐fiction on a topical subject, in which case they'll want that pumped out onto the market as soon as possible. Worst case scenario, you're waiting two and a half years before it's even something in the shops. Some publishers also have a 'Do Not Complete' clause to take into account, meaning you're unable to publish anything under your name until the previous work is on the market, creating further delays.

    The production process itself can be riddled with difficulty and complication. Many authors wrestle with their publishers over creative freedom. Publishers may choose to not publish a work because a certain section or subject matter is deemed controversial, potentially losing them sales. The content, title and marketing can be altered in a way that completely derails your original idea of genre and target audience, meaning the end result is almost unrecognisable.

    You could comply completely, but there's a chance it'll transform your book into something so far removed from the intended vision it might as well be 400 pages of random word generation. If an agreement cannot be reached with your editor, the publishing house may decide to drop you to avoid further hassle. They don't have the money to not be making profits every day of the year.

    And that's what it ultimately comes down to. Publishers are not charities. They are not publishing your book out of the kindness of their heart or 'to help a fella out'. They are businesses who want to make as much money as they can as often as possible. You need to take that into account before going with traditional publishers. They can be brilliant but often they're more concerned with profitability rather than artistic integrity or the quality of the final product, which should be your primary concerns as a writer.


    'I enjoy self‐publishing & sending publishers rejection letters. They're like, "Who is this guy?" And I'm like, 'the end of your industry.'

    ‐ Ryan Lilly, Write like no one is reading

    One of the reasons self‐publishing is becoming increasingly popular is the pure, distilled convenience and adaptability of it all. Now you can start writing a novel and literally have that same novel in finished hardback form in your hands within six months. That's even before considering E‐books. Companies like Amazon and other online bookstores can approve your book and have it on sale in a mere matter of days. Earning money. Being a real book. With words and everything. What year is it again? Because it sure feels like we're living in the 25th century or something. Sardonicism aside, this is a fairly new and relatively revolutionary advancement in the world of writing and publishing that doesn't alienate newcomers, allows for greater ease of access and is massively faster overall.

    'Nowadays, the Internet decides if you're good, not the big man in the big office. No matter how important that man thinks he is, everyone else knows that he's not important anymore, and the Internet decides these things, here in the modern age.'

    ‐ Alexei Maxim Russell

    Self‐publishing also removes almost all of the limitations proposed by traditional publishers. With nobody to stifle your creative freedom, you're able to make bold artistic statements and can dare to be a bit more controversial, which always gets people talking about your work. Cover art, title, marketed genre and advertisements can all be designed as originally envisaged, and last minute alterations can be made on your own terms.

    This freedom will also allow you to write content that fills an otherwise ignored niche. Publishing houses need to reach a specific number of sales and profits with every book they publish in order to consider it a success. If you want to write a book on a very specific subject for a very specific group of people, self‐publishing allows you to do that without hindrance, so long as your definition of success isn't as unrealistically profit‐centric.

    Nevertheless, we might as well talk profits while we're at it. Depending on your pricing, your books can award you a massive 50% royalty cheque per sale. That's a very considerable amount as royalties from traditional publishers usually peak at 25% (which is very rarely offered) and average at only 10%. It's fairly obvious that you won't need to sell as many copies to earn the same amount of money than with traditional publishers, and with self‐publishing you're able to sell your books in any countries you so choose worldwide, increasing chances for sales.

    'To be a successful fiction writer you have to write well, write a lot... and let ’em know you’ve written it! Then rinse and repeat.'

    ‐ Gerard de Marigny, The Watchman of Ephraim

    This is great and all, but fundamentally, self‐publishing is much the same as traditional methods. You'll still need to clear up any mistakes, cover art, marketing, distribution and printed copies, except this time you're doing it by yourself. Sure, you can sell the books wherever you want, but only to English speakers ‐ unless you're fluently multi‐lingual or willing to splash out on a translator.

    That's another thing: you're personally funding the designing, editing, printing, and distribution unless you're willing and able to do all that yourself. Pure Indie development. Maybe you're thinking the increased sales prices I mentioned earlier make this a negligible detail. Alright, so each sale will earn you more money, but sales are much less likely and are largely dependent on multiple tiers of luck. Whether the industry needs more of what you're offering, whether people are interested by your title and cover enough to inquire further, whether you can translate intrigue into sales... it all adds up.

    Despite the freedom you're afforded, even self‐publishing has limits. Shops or online marketplaces won't sell your book if it's deemed too unfinished or imperfect. If something's particularly 'out there' or niche, to the point where it appeals to a number countable on one hand, it may not be sold. Especially not on the shelves. That's actually pretty rare. If a self‐published book purports to be 'available' at a certain retailer, the likelihood is you'll have to ask about it directly and have it ordered in especially. Most of the time, self‐published books are not put in stores, narrowing down the chances of purchase.

    The amount and chances for critical acclaim, prestige and validation from the industry are vastly decreased, if those things are important to you. Many competitions won't accept the works of indie writers, whether it's because there would be too many unchecked entries or because the industry is a just a little bit pretentious and holier‐than‐thou. While kudos from higher‐ups isn't vital, it often opens up opportunities to climb for more prestigious positions in the literary world and gets your work more noticed.

    'The good news about self publishing is you get to do everything yourself. The bad news about self publishing is you get to do everything yourself.'

    ‐ Lori Lesko

    So... what's the result?

    With significant positive aspects and negative drawbacks of both traditional and self‐publishing methods, it might be difficult to tell what's best for you. Obviously this varies from person to person, but it seems like neither option is the clear winner. Neither is particularly ideal, and as clear‐cut as I've made it, you may still be unsure what to pursue with regards to publishing your book as it seems there's no good balance. Luckily there are other options. With writing being such a massive and continually growing, publishers must adapt and accommodate as well.

    Getting into Traditional Publishing is difficult, but then it becomes a little bit easier once you’ve got a foot in the door. Self‐publishing your book might seem like the easy option, but it’s scary and a lot of hard work.

    If you’re considering self‐publishing, think about an assisted self‐publishing option. It’s self‐publishing, but with help from experts, making the scariness seem a little less daunting, and the hard work seem a little more achievable.

    And would you believe your luck, you’ve found yourself on a website that offers exactly that service. So, check out our publishing packages when you get the chance.

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