Monthly Archives: December 2012

Traditional Publishing versus Self-Publishing

What you need to know to make your choice. . .

When an author writes a book their end goal is get it published and distributed to their readers. In today’s publishing world there are options. The two most obvious are traditional publishers and self-publishing. Each method contains respective pros and cons.

Traditional publishing

In choosing the traditional publishing method, an author completes his/her manuscript, creates a query letter or proposal, and submits these documents to a publishing house. (If the author is fortunate enough to obtain a literary agent, the agent can do this for them). At the traditional publishing house an editor reads the query letter or proposal and then considers whether the manuscript it is right for the house, and decides either to reject it or publish it. If it is rejected the author is free to offer their manuscript to another publisher or to self-publish it. If the publishing house accepts the manuscript and decides to publish the book, the house buys the rights from the writer and then pays him/her an advance on the future royalties. The publishing house will spend the money to create the book’s design and package and then print as many copies of the book that they will sell. They will market the book and distribute the finished book to the public.


The self-publishing process is a bit different. The author who decides the self-publish method becomes the publisher. The author is then responsible to proofread the final manuscript, put up the money to publish the book and also pay for the camera-ready artwork. Then the author is responsible for marketing and distributing the book, fulfilling orders, and creating and running marketing campaigns. Fortunately with today’s print-on-demand (POD) services the author can decide to print a number of books or print only as many as they need.

Differences between the two


If the author chooses to submit his/her manuscript to a traditional publishing it can take years to become a book. The author might have to pitch the manuscript to several traditional publishing houses before it is picked up. Most traditional publishing houses have a “slush pile” of query letters on their editor’s desks to wade through. If an author has to shop their manuscript to several traditional publishing houses and ultimately end up in several “slush piles” the math means a lot of time waiting for just one publishing house to show interest. Then consider if the publishing house does accept the manuscript, it can easily take up to another year or more before the book is finally produced. Unfortunately this doesn’t apply to non-fiction, only fiction. Non-fiction books with timely and relevant topics are likely to be published a little quicker.

If the author chooses self-publishing and depending on the printing company chosen, an author can have a finished book in either hardcover or paperback in their hands within six months. Choosing to create an e-book an author can have this time cut to merely weeks or even days. But again the author will have to pay for these services out-of-pocket.


The caveat to self-publishing is that the author is responsible for paying for all of the services needed to finalize the manuscript and print the book. The author needs to do his/her due diligence when selecting a print-on-demand company to secure the best price and quality possible. However, with a traditional publishing house the author is paid an advance anywhere form few hundred dollars to seven-digit figures. Typically in traditional publishing, the publishing house uses its vast resources, experience, knowledge, contacts, and will vigorously promote the book. In self-publishing the author pays for everything, design, editing, printing, advertising, distribution just to get the book into stores and into reader’s hands. The author is alone in the publishing process. A self-published author needs to have great marketing skills as well. But with self-publishing the major reward for all of the money spent is complete control.


A traditional publishing house has final control over the author’s manuscript. Often a traditional publisher will rewrite portions if not all of the manuscript to make it more acceptable to their publishing style. Or a traditional publisher might refuse to publish a manuscript if they feel it is too controversial, doesn’t fit with their style or because they believe it won’t sell. By self-publishing the author has greater control over the contents, design, and appearance and can market and distribute the book as they choose.

The choice is yours

After having looked at traditional publishing versus self-publishing, the author needs to ask some hard questions about what is best for him/her and their intentions for the book. Is the author willing to play the waiting game in order to possibly receive a large advance from a traditional publisher? Or is control of their manuscript and a faster turnaround more important?

The publishing playing field is being leveled with such resources as POD, the Internet, and online booksellers and bookstores. Authors today truly have more options.

As first published in Book Marketing Magazine.



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