Self Publishing Vs. Traditional Publishing
What do EL James, the author of the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy, and Mark Twain have in common? It’s certainly not subject matter.
James, the writer of the steamy novels that have become bestsellers and spawned a movie series, and Twain, the Missouri native who gave us classics featuring Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, were both self-published authors.
James started out writing erotic fan fiction based on Twilight. She posted the first installment of her mega-bestseller 50 Shades of Grey online by herself and ended up scouted by the publishing industry. Publishing houses offered her deals, she signed with a major publisher, and the rest is history.
Twain grew tired of the publishing process from publishing houses and decided to become a self-published author. He produced his own books and gave us at least two of his better-known books that way.
It used to be that a self-published book was looked at with a certain amount of disdain. Those were the people who couldn’t hack it with traditional publishers. If you self-published your book, no one would see it except for your family and the circle of friends that you pushed it onto who had to pretend they wanted it. If you didn’t have a traditional publishing deal, then you weren’t a “real” writer.
Things have changed significantly in the last several years. Now self-publishing has taken off, and more and more people are turning away from a traditional publishing house in favor of self-publishing.
This method of publishing gives self-published authors creative control and freedom over several other aspects of their work. While the traditional route is still popular, publishing companies now have to admit that they have some competition among those who are self-published. Many now wonder ‘why self-publishing is better’.
This article will delve into both types of publishing and will give you the information you need if you have a book you would like to see out in the world. Self-publishing can not only give you a good starting point to get the creative control you want, but it can also get you a book deal with a traditional publisher down the road if you are interested.
You have publishing options, but staying informed and on top of the game is what is going to sell books and make you a profit.
Literary agents run the game for authors when it comes to the traditional publishing process. You hire them to represent you. They present your book to various traditional publishing houses in the hopes of getting you a book deal.
Major publishers meet with literary agents all day long, and if you are a new author, you are going to have a bit of a hard go of it if you’re trying the traditional publishing route. You may have written a great book, but if Stephen King has a book coming out next January, you’re going to have a hard time getting a decent book deal for a release anywhere near that time.
Book sales matter most to a traditional publishing company, and traditionally published authors are often put on hold because a heavy hitter who is signed with a traditional publisher has a book coming out. It’s a lot of hurry up and waits, whether you have an agent or not.
When you decide to self-publish, most of the time, you’re your own literary agent. You are in charge of getting your work published, and you have to do your own research. Self-published books are posted online all of the time, and they can be sold on various websites. You have to figure out how to best use the marketing services available to you because the publishing is going to come out of your own pocket.
There are online bookstores that cater to self-published authors, and some major bookstores also do “local author” spotlights and will have an indie author come in to promote a self-published book and do signings.
It’s good for business, and it stands to make the bookstore more money when people come in to support an indie author and also buy a book written by an author with more mainstream success.
You have to deal with the ins and outs of print distribution as well. Usually, this would be negotiated by an agent, but now it’s all up to you. Foreign rights sales for online bookstores that sell internationally is your own issue to navigate, and you set your own rules as far as that goes.
It’s more work, but you can have complete control over where your book is sold, how many copies each vendor or seller, or website gets to sell, and what your profit margin gets to be.
Indie authors can make their own rules and negotiate their own terms, whereas those who traditionally publish have to do as they’re told by traditional publishers, agents, and editors. The vast majority of all authors want as much control over where their book sells and how much it sells for. When you self-publish, you get that control.
Traditional publishers employ more experienced editors than if you go with self-publishing. While that is true, editors who work for traditional publishing companies will chop things you may not want to cut from your book. What can you do about it? Most likely nothing.
When you get a traditional publishing deal, editors are a part of that deal most of the time. You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit is basically the mantra editors expect traditionally published authors to live by.
Traditionally published books have most likely been hacked, shortened, added to, changed, and reworked several times before they ever see bookstore distribution. The author’s idea for the cover design goes out the window if it doesn’t jive with what the editor says will sell the most books online and in the book stores.
Successful authors, they’ll tell you, listen to their editors, and are led to success by them. When the book comes back from editing, you may be surprised to discover that the same characters you put so much of yourself, your time, and your heart into are now totally different. The plot may be changed because the editor felt that the ending needed to change. And if you want the book published, you go along with it.
When you self-publish, you are your own editor. This grants you creative control. While you may not have the expertise as far as what sells and what doesn’t the way an editor in traditional publishing does, you don’t have to change anything, and you can rely on your own instincts and the integrity of your story to help make you successful.
Creative control is something that all writers want. Self-published books may not get the immediate book sales that a publishing house can get, but you know when you read a self-published book that the book is there in its entirety because its author had creative control.
Self-publishing authors can print books the way they want to. The cover design gets to be whatever the author wants it to be because, as the editor, you also get to be the cover designer. If you go the self-publishing route, you can rest assured that your idea and your story can remain intact without someone controlling everything about what stays and what goes.
It doesn’t matter if you write fiction, nonfiction, children’s books, or if you are an author who writes gritty novels. If you pursue self-publishing, you call the shots. The creative control alone drives some authors to become self-publishers.
When you go with traditional publishing, you are at the mercy of schedules laid out by trends, the publishing house, its more senior and bestselling authors, and the current saturation of the market.
Most traditional publishers are more interested in the money to be made than the story to be told. A traditionally published author is often told that you will do better if you wait until a specific date, season, or event to release your book. This is true of both fiction and nonfiction.
For example, politics is always a hot topic in the nonfiction realm. So during election times, more of these books are apt to be on the shelves, competing with each other. You may have to wait until an election year or until one ends if you don’t have the clout to compete with a big-name author.
Traditionally published writers also don’t get to keep all the money made from book sales. You may get rich, but you make a lot of other people rich along the way. Remember that agent you usually have to hire to break into publishing success with a traditional publisher?
Well, that guy or gal doesn’t work for free. You pay that person. You pay the publisher. You pay the editor. You pay all the fees associated with traditional publishing. You are basically sharing your wealth, and the money stretches into even more hands if you end up picking up some literary prizes along the way.
A traditional publisher also decides where your books will sell. A traditionally published book may have a deal with certain vendors, sells, or a book store chain that means you have to deal with those companies. While this often means more money, it also sometimes means leaving out the small local bookstores that you would like to see your book sold at. When you publish traditionally, you have no control over it.
When self-publishing, it is generally up to you to do the legwork as far as getting your books to the public. This can be a hassle and a lot of work, but it can also be very rewarding.
You may find when you self-publish that more local bookstores are willing to stock your book because you are a self-published author and not part of the corporate machine.
When you self-publish, you aren’t bound by a traditional publishing contract, so you have the freedom to sell your book where, when, and how you want to.
For example, you can decide that you want your book to be sold exclusively as an e-book. You can pay the fees associated with publishing online, and you can sell your book as an e-book. You don’t have to bother with or worry over binding, shipping, or any of the other things that having a book printed and sold in stores entails.
Self-publishing means that you can write your own rules and sell your book where you want to and when you want to. It doesn’t matter what author is releasing a book next year. You can release your book the same day if you wish to. You don’t have to wait until the numbers are just right or until your book is chosen to be released due to scheduling and marketing like you would with traditional publishing.
Self Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing
If you are in it for literary prizes, then you may want to go with traditional publishing. Most people don’t start out writing with hopes and dreams of plaques and awards, though. Most authors write books because they have a calling for the art. It’s a story that won’t leave their minds, and they need to get it out for someone else to read.
If you are in it to tell your story the way that you want it told, with total creative control, then self-publishing is the way to go. No one can chop up your story or tell you that the ending is lame and needs to be changed or that the characters are flat, so you need to change them when you self-publish. The story stays yours, and you get to control everything from cover to cover.
If you don’t want to mess with having to be the person who markets the book, produces the book, and deals with all of the business aspects of the book, then traditional publishing may be the route for you to go. You can hire an agent who will do the legwork for you, but there’s a very good chance that you’re not going to see acceptance of your book right away, and either way, you still have to pay the agent.
If you want to have a hand in every single part of the process, then self-publishing is the choice for you. When you self-publish, you can’t really reject yourself. You go into it the whole hog, and you market your book, and you sell your book, and you book appearances at local libraries, convention centers, book signings at bookstores, and other things in that vein.
You are present for and accountable for every decision made. It seems like grueling work, and it can be, but at the end of the day, the book stays the way you want it to be, and you don’t have to pay a middle man (agent) to do any of the work for you.
Other Traditional Publishing Cons
Let me tell you a little story. It’s about an author that almost everyone has heard of.
Stephen King has been on the bestseller list for decades. His name sells, and he’s a writing powerhouse. He can write a horror story like The Shining that can shock and terrify an audience, and then he can switch gears easily and write a moving story like The Green Mile with no trouble. Many of his books have been turned into movies, television miniseries, and streaming service specials.
King didn’t start out the master of horror, though. He had a large nail that he drove into the wall of his small house. He hung his rejection slips from traditional publishers on it. Traditional publishing was not his friend in the beginning. He kept at it, though, and his first novel, Carrie, ended up being a significant success.
Even World Wide Bestselling Authors Have to Play by the Rules
King writes a lot of books. Simon and Schuster, his publisher at the time, along with most other traditional publishing companies, discouraged authors from writing more than one novel a year. If you did have more than one, they wanted you to sit on it. They wanted you to wait. It didn’t matter that you had a story to tell. What mattered was money, bestseller lists, and the reputation of the publisher.
King wrote several books a year, and he didn’t want to wait on them. He also didn’t like that his name was being marketed rather than the stories themselves. He was starting to feel like people were buying his work just because the traditional publishing company he was with was marketing him (rather than the books) so heavily.
So Stephen King became Richard Bachman.
Tied down to the contract he had entered into with a traditional publishing company, he couldn’t put out more than one book a year. So King invented a pseudonym. Richard Bachman was the alter ego. He wrote gritty novels that King fans wouldn’t respond to as eagerly. His work was edgier, and his work was more raw. And his work wasn’t attached to a big name.
Bachman wrote five novels (a sixth came later) alongside novels he wrote as himself so that he could have more than one book out at a time. Did he want to be two different people and deny credit for the books he wrote as Bachman? No one really knows. What we do know is that if he hadn’t come up with a pseudonym, he would have had to put his other books on hold, which any writer will tell you can really stifle creativity.
Who is Self Publishing?
Self-publishing has a bit of a bad reputation. Many assumed that these authors couldn’t make it with traditional publishing, and that’s why they fund and publish their own work.
I just mentioned Stephen King, and just about everyone who has ever read a book or seen a movie has heard of him. He’s not self-published. So obviously, if you want success, you should write and then find a traditional publisher, right?
You could argue that EL James only got anywhere with her self-published fan fiction because Twilight was such a hit, and it was traditionally published. You might argue that Mark Twain already had several traditionally published books under his belt when he decided to self-publish. This doesn’t help much if you’re trying to use these examples when deciding on self-publishing vs. traditional publishing.
However, it may surprise you to know that L. Frank Baum published several of his Wizard of Oz books by himself. And who hasn’t heard of the Wizard of Oz?
Legally Blonde by Amanda Brown was self-published.
William Young self-published his hit book The Shack, which was awarded The Diamond Award for selling over 10 million copies.
It’s not a fluke that self-publishing can and does work. It’s not always just people who are piggybacking the success of another book or series or people who have already found success through traditional means.
Self Publishing Isn’t What it Used to Be
It used to be that when you had a book that you wanted to publish yourself, you called around to different print shops to try to get the best price possible. Once you had done that, you paid for however many copies you wanted to be printed, and you would end up with a pallet of books you wrote sitting in your garage.
Then you started the grunt work of marketing and selling your books. You gave the books to family and friends for holiday gifts, guilt-tripped people you knew into buying your book, and you still ended up with two-thirds of a pallet of books in your garage, collecting dust. But hey, you had a physical book that you wrote, and it still felt good.
Today, things are totally different. Amazon is one of the largest corporations in the world, and they sell, well, everything. They will also publish your book, market your book, and sell your book. All by means of self-publication. All you’ve got to do is write it and follow very simple and user-friendly steps available online.
From that point, you sell your book on their website, and you set about plugging your book wherever you can, whether it be via social media, email, text, whatever. People can hop online and order your book, and you can sell it without having to do too much work.
Why Self-Publishing is Better
Self-publishing has become the better way to publish a book. It’s easier, faster, you keep control of your book and your sales, and you can keep the middle man out of it all. You don’t have to adhere to antiquated rules and standards, and you can keep your costs down by publishing online rather than in physical print.
As the world moves forward technologically, we will continue to find ways to get the information we create out faster, easier, cheaper. It may very well be a possibility that in the near future, there won’t be a need for traditional publishing when all you need to do is write a book, click a few buttons, and you have a self-published book in front of you.
As self-publishing gains popularity, the cost is also driven down, which means that publishing something you wrote will be affordable for many more people.
Self-publishing is quickly becoming the better option between the two, and the stigma associated with self-publishing is quickly evaporating and blowing away. Judgment doesn’t play a part when huge successes have come fairly recently out of self-publishing.
So if you’ve got a story in your head that is just waiting to be told and read by the public, don’t worry if you don’t understand how traditional publishing works. Don’t worry if you can’t afford to hire an agent or don’t know how to find and hire a reputable agent who isn’t out to scam you out of your time and money.
It doesn’t make you less legitimate as a writer. It doesn’t make you a less valuable writer. Self-publishing means that you don’t mind putting in the work so that you can maintain control of your creations. Self-publishing means that you are not only looking out for yourself as the writer but for the reader who lives in a rural area and can’t necessarily get to a big book chain.
Self-publishing means that you can put your book out when you want to. You don’t have to take a backseat to other writers who may have more acclaim and money than you have.
Self-publishing also means that if you get noticed and your book sells well when set to your own standards, you could get scouted by traditional publishers and will then have a better idea of what you want, what works for you, and what doesn’t. Self-publishing is the best way to publish in the modern world.