Self- Vs. Traditional Publishing: Pros & Cons

Self- Vs. Traditional Publishing: Pros & Cons

Self-publishing probably began with Johannes Gutenberg and his famous printing press way back in the 15th century, so it is nothing new. Following the invention of the printing press, but before the advent of personal computers and print on demand technology, many authors were successfully self-published: Marcel Proust, Laurence Sterne, Martin Luther, Walt Whitman, Ezra Pound, Emily Dickinson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Jane Austen, Derek Walcott, and Virginia Woolf. Presently, with all the bells and whistles of modern technology, there is a boom and influx on the publishing market, and now there are many contemporary authors who have found varying levels of success with self-publishing: E.L. James, Darcie Chan, Michael Prescott, Barbara Freethy, J.A. Konrath, Erika Leonard, and Amanda Hocking. These are all examples of writers who decided to circumvent traditional publishing and do it themselves. This proves that it can be done and that the winds of change are blowing throughout the publishing world.

Self-publishing

Cons:

  • Stigma and dismissal, as many readers will ignore self-published books because they can’t be good (can they?)
  • You pay for everything: advertising, print cost, shipping, promotion
  • After you write your manuscript you are in charge of everything: editing, proofreading, typesetting, layout, and the design of your book cover (unless you outsource)
  • Quality control lies in your hands and if you fail on this one the readers will notice and your reviews may come back to haunt you
  • Royalties are paltry and you only make a small percentage on each sale
  • Nobody will take you seriously when you say you’ve self-published a book, because anyone can do that nowadays (can’t they?) . . . usually followed by, “I’m writing a book, too,” or, “My Grandma is writing a book, as well,” or, even, “My dog, Shotzy, is writing a book.”
  • People get irritated when you say you are a self-published author and try to talk to them about your book, maybe too much, because you are so excited, and they grow bored with the tiresome topic rather quickly
  • Your book may go unnoticed and sell less than a dozen copies and that’s the end of the whole mess

Pros:

  • You control the content and schedule and deadlines
  • You control the design and layout and format and are not required to change anything, if you don’t want to
  • Self-publishing is fast and you have tangible books, almost overnight
  • It is only as expensive as you make it, and you can do it on a shoestring budget
  • There is a chance that your book will do well and get noticed by traditional publishers, or go viral on its own and sell thousands of copies, and you could earn a lot of money
  • You can print as many books as you desire, and if you want to print a million copies, and can afford it, then nothing is stopping you (you just have to decide what to do with them after that)
  • With eBooks you can publish directly to Kindle (and other eReaders) on Amazon or Smashwords, and it is easy and fast and there is a great infrastructure in place, and anyone can do it with little difficulty

Traditional publishing

Cons:

  • Rejection, they say, “no way, man” and your book goes in the trash can
  • Turn around time, “hurry up and wait” while you grow older by the minute
  • They decide how much you will get paid and keep as much as they see fit
  • You require an agent—they DO NOT accept unsolicited manuscripts
  • Odds are you won’t get accepted unless you fit the trends of the day, week, month, or year (unless you are already an established author with a good track record)
  • They do not take many risks on new authors
  • They censor your work and tell you what to cut and change
  • They pick the artwork for the cover
  • They decide if your title lacks panache and if they want to change it . . . they will change it
  • You surrender creative control

Pros:

  • Clout, they can get your book into bookstores and make people pay attention
  • Distribution and sales, advertising and promotion, are all done for you
  • Editing, proofing, typesetting, and printing are all done for you
  • Big sales equals big royalties (or does it?)
  • Recognition and prestige, people will praise you for being a bona fide published author
  • Libraries will stock your books (if they are of high enough quality)
  • If you sell a ton of books and hit it big you will have a great career and they will back you (as long as you produce on their schedule)

I am a proponent of the do-it-yourself entrepreneurial spirit provided by self-publishing, because I like to see my books in print, immediately. I’ve been writing for over thirty years, have not broken through the bastions of “big publishing” yet, and my time is running short. I no longer have the luxury of sitting back and patiently waiting on traditional methods, hoping a book will be accepted and put into print at a snail’s pace. I’m not too worried about being a “best seller” anymore, and just seeing my self-published books in print is reward enough for me. I can buy a few copies and brag to my friends that, “I am a published author.”

Diverse methods of self-publishing include, but are not limited to: Handcrafted books that are made entirely from scratch (printed, collated, covered, and bound) all from the comfort of a table or workbench at home. There are the self-service methods of Amazon KDP, Smashwords, and Lulu. There are print on demand options via Lightning Source and many others. Some self-publishers (myself included) start their own independent publishing companies and can use POD to order limited print runs. There is even a device invented by Xerox known as the Espresso Book Machine that is a one-stop-shop, basically a vending machine, for printing books on demand—input your digital file, pay a fee, and get a book instantaneously. 

Ways to distribute self-published books are numerous: Some authors sell books out of the trunks of their cars, or give books away for free as promotions to individuals and organizations. Then there are methods that offer incentives for readers to get rewards for posting reviews, which basically pays the reader back for buying the book after leaving a valid review. Also, Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube, and other social media can be utilized to spread the word, with in-house advertising available. Selling books on an author website, eBay, or even Craigslist are all viable methods of bringing a self-published title to the reading public.

There are so many different ways to self-publish and sell a book that the sky is virtually the limit; the market for self-publishing is still relatively new and there will undoubtedly be many more innovative methods discovered in the future. Traditional publishing has worked for centuries and is tried and true, however, the market is saturated and many publishing houses are stacked to the rafters with notable writers and polished manuscripts waiting to be printed and circulated. Nothing is guaranteed, either way, and sometimes it is just a matter of luck, like winning the lottery.

In conclusion, I am a self-published author and I recommend that anyone who wishes to see their work published quickly should use this method. On the other hand, If you can acquire an agent and get your foot in the door and you have time to wait, and your writing is of superior quality, then you may be able to take the traditional route. I think it is getting more difficult to make a name for yourself writing novels and publishing books with the traditional method because there are way more fish in the pond now, as the saying goes; it’s nearly impossible to be heard above the roaring din with all the voices shouting in the room, to use another metaphor. In the end, the method you choose is up to you. You have options now. It wasn’t always that way. Follow your heart and use the method that appeals to you most and never give up.


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