Traditional Publishing or Self-Publishing? A Brief Look at the Pros and Cons

Not that long ago, the rest of an aspiring author’s road map was already essentially laid out for them once they made the momentous decision to publish their book. After the book was finished and edited, the long, hard, process of querying literary agents was the inevitable next step. This “gatekeeper” would then work tirelessly to find the best possible publisher on the best possible terms. 

Oh, how things have changed! Self-publishing is, today, a valid choice within almost any genre — a path toward sharing your work with the world that, rather than being second-rate, is merely different. Now, when you make the terrifying, exhilarating, choice to try and get your book out there, you’re faced with your next challenge right away. Should you partner with a literary agent and attempt to have your book traditionally published, or would going down the self-publishing rabbit hole potentially be the smarter move for your work?

There’s no blanket answer, no choice that’s universally right or wrong. Both traditional publishing and self-publishing are associated with their own strong advantages and disadvantages, and both choices again spark their own forks in the road. 

The pros and cons of traditional publishing

It’s called traditional publishing for a reason — until quite recently, this was the only sensible choice a reputable author would make. Aspiring debut authors, those who have already been published before, and high-profile personalities who already have a large platform all still have compelling reasons to opt for traditional publishing. They include:

  • You stay in your lane, while your publisher and literary agent offer their expertise. With traditional publishing, you, as an author, make sure your book is the best it can be — a task that’s already demanding enough on its own. You will have to query literary agents, but once that part is out the way and you have accepted an offer, you will not have to also become an overnight expert on book publishing. Your publishing house will take care of that. 
  • You take on less financial risk. Yes, time is money, and lord knows that you poured countless hours into that book. If you choose the traditional publishing route you will not, however, have to make any upfront investments that may come back to bite you later. The publishing house takes on the upfront costs when they are convinced that your book will be profitable for them, and rather than losing money, you will make it.
  • You get a reputation boost. Self-publishing is still considered inferior in some circles. Depending on your genre, traditional publishing will instantly get you the street cred you need to build on for your next book.
  • You may get more books into more places, faster. Publishing houses have connections that many first-time authors do not. Crucially, traditional publishing will help your work make it to book stores. 

Authors who choose to begin the process of traditionally publishing a book also, on the other hand, face serious headaches. You surrender some of the control over your book, including part of the creative side, to your publisher and before that your literary agent. Your royalties will be lower, as others also have significant stakes in your success, and you can also expect a long road filled with rejection before you finally make it. 

The pros and cons of self-publishing

Should you be playing with the idea of self-publishing your book, the benefits immediately stand out. The author retains absolute control of all aspects of the book, and will not have to share the profits with other stakeholders. Self-publishing a book is also light years faster than going the traditional publishing route. 

Some of the same characteristics that can make self-publishing so appealing represent potential pitfalls too, however. With complete control comes sole responsibility. You may get higher royalties, but to professionally self-publish a book, you’ll still likely have to partner with an editor, designer, and, if you are going for paperback publishing, you will have to get your book printed. All these costs will fall onto your shoulders as a self-published author, and you may also wish to consult a literary lawyer. If you are thinking of publishing an ebook, you will have to be extremely careful not to inadvertently sign crucial rights away when you decide to host your book on a major platform. 

In addition, self-publishing still comes with prejudice. The simple truth that anyone can self-publish a book of any quality at all — and there’s a sea of, let’s just say, substandard work, out there — has the risk of sending the message that your only reason to choose this path is that you were unable to get traditionally published. 

Self-publishing, when done professionally, does not take less work than traditional publishing. It may be right for you if you already have a large following or a reputation, or are an expert marketer. 

Traditional publishing and self-publishing are very different choices and, while both can be the best choice for authors, this is a decision that will have an enormous impact on the success of your book. That is why it’s crucial to consider the pros and cons of both in-depth.

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