Traditional or Self Publishing — Which is Better?

There is no simple answer to the question of “Which type of publishing is better?” Neither is right for every author or every book. Each has its pros and cons. You have to weigh the pros and cons against your unique situation to determine which solution is better for you.

Traditional Publishing

TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING might be the better choice if you…

  • Have one standalone novel.
  • Plan to write only this one book.
  • Plan to write a series or multiple books, but write only one book a year or so.
  • Write picture books, chapter books, or books for young YA readers, because it’s difficult to get self-published books in front of this buying audience.
  • Have no money to invest up front.
  • Want an advance.
  • Want to get your book on bookstore shelves.
  • Dream of having a movie made of your novel or want to win prizes or get chosen by Oprah.
  • Would like some (limited) help with marketing, especially at and before launch.
  • Want the validation of success on the traditional publishing stage or just the reassurance that your book was one of the few good enough to make it through the gauntlet of gatekeepers.
  • Are willing to invest the time it takes to query agents, get the manuscript ready for submission to publishers, and produce the final book.
  • Can handle the rejection, criticism, and rewrites that come with working with agents and editors.
  • Have written a book that falls cleanly into one genre AND meets the narrow word-count guidelines for that genre.

Self Publishing

SELF PUBLISHING might be the better choice if you…

  • Have written this book just for fun and want to make it available to family and friends.
  • Are writing a series.
  • Write prolifically, producing several publication-ready manuscripts per year.
  • Write shorts, novelettes, or novellas.
  • Write erotica, particularly types that appeal to niche audiences.
  • Have written a book that might be deemed hard to sell because it crosses genres or is in a genre not selling well commercially.
  • Can afford to invest money in professional editing, a quality cover, or other service.
  • Know who your potential buyers are and have a solid plan for reaching them.
  • Want to publish quickly (or NOW).
  • Cannot handle the rejection, criticism, and rewrites that come with working with agents and editors.

A word about money…

Self publishing pays a significantly higher royalty percentage, but there are potentially high upfront production costs if you want to put out a professional-looking product. It’s a risk either way.

  • If you don’t invest, you likely won’t sell many copies because your book will LOOK amateurish.
  • If you do invest, you may not sell ENOUGH copies to make back that investment.

Traditional publishing pays a small royalty percentage, but you have NO upfront financial investment (or risk), and the publisher covers all production costs.

  • Self published books *tend* to sell only a few copies. The average is 50-100 copies, mostly to friends and family. The risk of not recouping your investment is very high.
  • Traditionally published books sell an average of around 5000 copies.
  • Books that are self published “well” tend to sell more copies.

So, really, which should I choose?

I’m a huge proponent of “self publishing well.” However self publishing well takes a fair amount of money, excellent craft, and a LOT of business knowledge.

I strongly believe that writers should FIRST traditionally publish — for several reasons:

  1. Being accepted for traditional publishing gives you external validation that your writing is READY for publishing. (Hint: Professional editing does NOT ensure that!)
  2.  Traditional publishing gives you a wide fan base that you can leverage for self published books in the future.
  3. Traditional publishing will introduce you to the business side of publishing, and do so with a much easier learning curve than you’ll face if you self publish first.
  4. If you self publish first, you’ve blown your debut status. If you want to traditionally publish in the future, you have to show them that your published books have good sales. They don’t care if they were self published — low sales mean no one wants to read your books. (There are ways to mitigate the damage, namely using a pen name for future books — but you will have to be honest with agents and publishers upfront, and they may choose not to deal with the hassle.)
Which type of publishing is best for you?

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