Self-Publishing vs Traditional Publishing: Which one is right for you?

Self-Publishing vs Traditional Publishing

In the current publishing landscape, one of biggest consideration an author faces is whether traditional publishing is still their best path to success. In the past, the only way to get your book into the hands of readers was by working with a publisher who could get your book into stores. With the rise of online retailers and ebooks, any author can now access millions of potential readers without the backing of a HarperCollins or a Random House.

In this post, we look at the benefits and drawbacks of both traditional publishing and self-publishing. With the help of a short quiz, you will also get a better idea of the approach that best suits your needs. Whether you’re a first-time writer or a published author with dozens of books to your name, take a moment to consider your options and decide which path will work best for you at this point.

For a more detailed look at this topic, you can now subscribe for free to our 10-part Reedsy Learning course, Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing.

The Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing

Who doesn’t like a slideshow? In this deck, we look at the most critical elements of self-publishing and traditional publishing — including the editing and production process, your distribution options and, of course, the money.

Which path is the right one for you?

While neither self-publishing or traditional publishing can guarantee success, choosing your path wisely will give you the best chance at achieving your goals. With that in mind, let’s look at both options from your perspective.

Why should you definitely work with a publisher?

If your primary goal is to achieve international recognition or win a literary prize, then self-publishing might not be your first option. Self-published titles are not eligible for most book competitions, so if you’re looking to win the Booker Prize next year, you should look for an agent.

In the modern age, getting your book onto the shelves at Barnes & Noble is more about vanity than sales, as newer authors tend to find their audiences through ebooks. But if selling your books in physical stores is important to you, then traditional publishing is still your best bet.

Finally, success in self-publishing requires a lot of promotional work — most of which will take place online. If you’re not digitally savvy, or if you also want nothing to do with editing, designing, distributing and marketing your books, the traditional route will also be your best option. Beware, though, if you tell a publisher you don’t want to do any marketing, you won’t find any publisher…

Why should you definitely self-publish?

If total creative control is something that’s critical, then you are precisely the sort of person who should be self-publishing books. If you want to publish your book quickly (for example, to get it out before this Christmas), then you won’t have time to go through the traditional process, where it can take up to two years to publish a book.

A self-publishing approach will better serve certain types of books. If your genre is considered ‘niche’ — like crossover fiction, a personal memoir, or a book designed to promote your business — you may find it harder to attract interest from a publisher.

On the flip side, if you’re a successful author, or simply one with a large following, you could benefit from cutting out the publisher. If you can reach out to a large audience and market your book independently, you stand to make 3-10x more in royalties from each book, ebook, or audiobook you sell.

Self-publishing is a big commitment, of course: not only will you make financial sacrifices upfront, but it will also demand a lot of your time. But if you are willing — or even excited — to take a hands-on role managing the editing, design, and marketing of your book, you are in a position to thrive as an independent author.

Still not sure? Take this quiz

The publishing business is in the middle of its biggest change since the invention of the Gutenberg press — naturally, there’s a lot of information to absorb here. If you’d like to learn more about it, we urge you to subscribe to this Reedsy Learning course on Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing. It’s completely free, and it goes into the topic in much more detail.

If you have any questions about self-publishing and the options available to authors in the modern publishing landscape, leave us a note in the comments below, and we’ll do our best to answer them.

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  • Anairb

    A really stupid quiz. Its conclusion about me?
    “It looks like you’d like (sic) you should definitely pursue traditional publishing (either because of your genre or your objective), but you have unrealistic expectations as to how fast the traditional publishing process can work.
    Finding an agent can take up to a year (if you find one), and getting a publishing deal can take another year. Then, it can take up to a year as well until your book is released. So be patient, and ready to pitch in in terms of marketing.”

    I’ve self-published five books with some success and many good reviews on Amazon. The idea of getting an agent and going the ‘traditional publishing’ route makes me laugh. I’ve earned more from my least successful book than I ever would have had I gone ‘the traditional route’.