To Self-Publish or Traditionally Publish

Ah, the age old question that doesn't really have a solid answer. In the past, self publishing your book was thought to be some kind of scarlet letter because you weren't "good enough" to get an agent and traditionally publish. Personally, thanks to the many advancements of technology, I'm not all that convinced that one is necessarily better than the other. When it comes to traditionally publishing or self publishing, it comes down to what you, the author, want for your career.


Let's keep it a buck as we always do, anyone can self publish. This is a double-edged sword that provides much needed accessibility and a murky landscape for readers simultaneously. There is a joy in being able to read stories deemed too risky for traditional publishing but, a huge but, there is also the possibility of finding something that is highly offensive or simply not put together well. Let us continue keeping it a buck and say that even with all the gatekeepers claiming to provide quality in the traditional publishing space, some garbage comes out of that machine as well.


So, which path is best for you, lovely writer?


Self Publishing Pros and Cons

Creative control is all yours. Write a completely out of the box, super niche book and no one can stop you. Design your cover exactly the way you want, keep all the weird formatting you want, and go hog wild because you are the total boss in this scenario. With self publishing, your ideas are king. Whatever you want, you got it. This means you have control over not just the book itself, but on the way it's marketed as well. Run the ads how you want, reach out to the stores you want, contact the influencers you want.


Other than certain fees, your earning potential is limitless. Once your book starts making it's way into the arms of readers, all of that money goes straight to you. This means that not only can you earn back all the money spent on editors, artists, promo packaging, and all the other goodies you made but you can earn an actual profit quickly.


You keep all of your rights! You decide whether to sell your work to foreign markets and how it gets there. You decide if you want your work made into a movie or show if the opportunity arises. This control over the rights of you work is invaluable.


No gatekeepers telling you whether you are good enough. I've made it no secret that I dislike the mystery and opaqueness of the traditional side of publishing and a lot of that has to do with who gets to make calls. For a while, the publishing industry gatekeepers were a group of out of touch, very wealthy, usually white people who thought they knew exactly what all readers wanted. We are finding out that they were greatly mistaken. That does not mean that all of trad-pub's issues are fixed, but there are many agents and editors doing the work from the bottom up to make sure more people get through the judgey gates. With self publishing, you directly cut out all of that messiness and go straight to readers you know are out there waiting on your story.


Self Publishing is so expensive. On this path, while you maintain creative control, you also pay for that control. Editors are expensive, artists are expensive, formatting software, website domains, ads, it all starts to add up. This is probably the greatest barrier to entry when it comes to self publishing for most and there really isn't a way around it.


There is a good chance you won't reach your desired audience right away. Self publishing is super accessible, which is fantastic, but that also means a higher saturation rate. There are a lot of self-pub authors and cutting through may be challenging. Don't let this con stop you though, technology has made reaching people much easier and you should use that to your advantage.


Everything is on your shoulders. All of that creative control also brings pressure that you cannot avoid. Every single aspect of your book's life is up to you. Depending on how you decide to handle this path, you will spend a lot of time learning several different skills. Traditionally published authors have a team of people they can turn to for various aspect of their book and book release, you have you.


Traditional Publishing Pros and Cons


Instant validation and notoriety. Whether we like to admit it or not, seeing a big 4 publishing house sticker (or one of their many imprints) on a book or attached to an author's name gives a certain amount of immediate legitimacy. Whether we like to admit it or not, we think they are truly the chosen ones and they have some kind of unattainable talent. That is how we have been trained to view things at least. In some ways that is true. They went through the process, stuck it out, took a lot of metaphorical punches, and made it to their big contract and publishing day. While we may not see all the battles they had to fight for that logo, they fought them and deserve that recognition.


A full team on your side. If your book is purchased by a publishing house, you have a whole team of people working with you to make your book the best it can be. This is invaluable! The reason so many books that come from this path are well put together is because several eyes have focused on it for months to a couple years. Imagine an editor working with you on someone else's dime for a year, a dream. Imagine a bunch of people who are industry trained believing in your book! The motivation and support are unrivaled.


Advances! Now, before you think this money hits your account when the ink is dry, it doesn't. But it's guaranteed money "up front" for your work. The size of amounts and when they are paid vary from house to house but it's something you can use to keep your life going while you finalize the book. Advances really make a difference for authors coming from not-rich situations. Advances allow authors to truly focus on getting to the end product faster.


Traditional media coverage and distribution guaranteed. This is not to say that you can't get your book into brick and mortar stores if you self-pub but, it's a sure thing when you go traditional. Interviews are scheduled for you, you know major chains will have your book and you might end up on the now coveted #Booktok table.


All of the cons come down to relinquishing a lot of control to your publishing house. Rights will be negotiated between your agent and a house representative (plus other reps from other companies), there will be a lot of feedback that you may have to cede to, and if your idea is too out of the box for them they may just strike you down. To make it passed the gatekeepers you have to fit into their vision of what they think will sell.


There are a lot of nuances that I did not cover here, but I hope this basic rundown of both paths helps you make a decision for yourself. Remember that the landscape of publishing and distribution is changing rapidly as well.


As always, thank you for reading. Leave a heart and a comment to let me know what path you're thinking about taking. Happy writing!


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