Publisher vs Self-Publishing

How do Traditional Publishing and Self-Publishing compare?


Once you have completed your novel or non-fiction book how do you go about getting your thoughts and ideas out to your waiting public?  The book needs a publisher.  When I started the process I didn’t give any thought to the end product or how to publish my novel.  I learned by trial and error, and there have been a lot of errors.  See my blog on publishing for more details.  Here I want to highlight the differences as I have seen them.

  1. Traditional publishers don’t seek you out – you must search high and low to find a publisher interested in your book. If you are totally unknown (as most of us are) you will find it difficult to gain traction.
    1. You must research to find the right kind of publisher (some are genre specific)
    2. You will find many who are not accepting manuscripts.
    3. You may need and agent just to get a toe in the door.
  2. Self-Publishing involves different levels of preparation. You must proof-read and prepare your book, but you need only research the different options of self-publishing companies.
    1. Print-on-demand (POD) publishers
    2. So called “vanity” publishers – pay a high fee to get a few books


  1. Traditional Publishing companies provide you with all the start-up you need. You sign a contract and they provide the services.
    1. Editor
    2. Graphic artist
    3. Format experts
    4. HTML conversion specialists
    5. Marketers (though this is also often their weak point)
    6. Printers
  2. As a self-publisher you must find the experts to assist you if you want a truly professional book. But you can learn to do much of the work yourself.  Self-publishing companies like Createspace and Bookbaby provide you with the tools to do-it-yourself, but also have experts available to hire (for a price).  This allows you to focus on your strong suits.


  1. Traditional publishers put you onto a waiting list for publication. They often work by committee and the process takes a lot of time.  You will find that your novel, over which you slaved for months or years, will now take another one to two years before the public will see it.
  2. Self-Publishing allows you to set the timetable. You could publish TOMORROW (if you think your novel and cover are already perfect).  Another, little known, advantage is that if you find an error after publishing, you may “unpublish” your book, fix the problem, then “republish.”  My first book had errors introduced by the publisher.  Once their initial run of books had been printed, there was no way to fix the errors.


  1. Traditional publishing contracts often pay you a whopping 6-8% royalty. This sounds good when the initial retail price is over twenty dollars, but when did you last buy a paperback novel for $25?  Your friends and family will probably go for that, but the reading public will scorn the price and wait for it to drop.  The publisher has to start high, because they have salaries to pay, printers and distributors to reimburse.  Distributors receive the lion’s share of the royalties and no one makes much from each book sold.
  2. Self-Publishing allows you to earn from about 35% to nearly 100% royalty. This sounds like a no-brainer.  You can set a price that is reasonable.  You are in the driver’s seat and can adjust the price up or down.  There is science to pricing, of course, so it isn’t a bad idea to get advice, nonetheless.  You can research this and develop a strategy.


  1. Marketing is done by the big publishers. They have the deep pockets to pay for advertising campaigns and ads. However, smaller publishing companies usually expect you to come to them with a following already in place.  If you have no online presence, they don’t want you.  It isn’t easy to generate interest in an unknown author (the author’s “Catch-22” – you need a following to generate sales, but you can’t get a following without being published)
  2. As a self-publisher the marketing problem doesn’t go away. You will have to do it yourself, despite the promises of the self-publishing companies.  They have marketing plans, slick packages (pricey) with Facebook ads, and reviews, but you will pay dearly for them.  This has been one of my greatest challenges.  We must blog, tweet, FB, friend, email, etc. to gain customers (just like any other business).

Nevertheless, after making a great case for self-publishing, I don’t know if I would have gone ahead with it had I not been published by a publishing company first.  When I received that first letter from Comfort Publishing that they wanted to publish my novel, it was validation, a recognition that someone else thought enough of my ideas and writing to put their money into publishing my work.  It was deeply satisfying to see my name on the cover of the book knowing that someone else had put it there.

On the other hand, my first royalty check arrived 8 months after publication and I received almost no communication once the book was published.  I can’t afford to buy the book to sell to others (I get a whopping 40% discount) so I can’t make it available from my website.  My publisher did not purchase ads and, at first, did not even produce an Ebook (it was a new innovation).  Once they have your manuscript, they have total control of it for as long as they choose (depending upon your contract).

Needless to say there are a lot of things to consider when choosing to publish your novel.  You and it deserve a great start so think it over carefully.  Post your comments, contact me.  I continue to write and for now will continue to publish books myself.

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About smcpherson58

Aside from loving chocolate and coffee (not necessarily in that order) Scott McPherson has learned that he loves to write. He writes fiction and, so far, has published two novels. Scott has many varied interests, though he tries to focus on one at a time. He has worked for nearly thirty-five years as a family physician, a pass-time that gives him great pleasure and pays the bills. He has five daughters and dotes upon three grandchildren. Recently married, he really loves life. Scott writes from his life experiences and from travel. His career in the active Air Force was brief, but he has been a member of the Nebraska Air National Guard since just before 9/11 in 2001. The aftermath of that great disaster changed the face of the Guard and led to missions in far-away lands. He has spent time in Turkey, Iraq, Spain, Crete and Guam in missions related to support for Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. He has been to Iceland and Antarctica as well. Scott has no personal experience with violent death or murder, but has gained knowledge from experts. In his first novel, “A Step Ahead of Death,” his character, Jack Sharp MD, becomes embroiled in a murder mystery. First as suspect, then as amateur sleuth, Jack tries to make a difference. He finds himself right in the middle of an investigation well beyond the scope of a local murder. A man of faith, Scott traveled to Africa with his small family in the 1980s and served as a medical missionary in Zaire (known as Congo today) with a church organization. The vast difference in what it takes to exist in such an environment served as a basis for much of his second novel, a thriller, “Congo Mission.” His character, Jack, is twenty years younger than in the first novel. In “Congo Mission” Jack serves as a physician in a missionary hospital in the jungles of northwestern Zaire. There he is not only captivated by a young woman visiting the region, but falls victim to his nemesis Jacques Levant. His motivations and faith are tested and his resolve to do God’s work gets pushed to the limit. When he is not writing Scott enjoys walking, a practice that actually led to his first attempt at writing a novel. He began making notes and writing prose about the mundane things around him. He tried to make the details sound interesting, even though it was just for his own pleasure. Eventually he found that he could expand his prose to “what if?” “What if I just kept walking?” “What if I, or my character, found a dead body in the ditch along the side of the path?” That was the premise for the first novel, “A Step Ahead of Death.” Scott McPherson is an avid trombone player and has played since he was nine years old. He marched in the Cornhusker Marching Band at the University of Nebraska and now takes advantage of one free football game a year by playing in the half-time show with the UNL Alumni Marching Band. He plays in the Lincoln Civic Orchestra and a community band from the nearby town of Waverly, Nebraska. Scott loves to sing as well, though his range seems to have diminished in recent years. He has sung in college and church choirs and remembers performing parts of Handel’s Messiah as a highlight of his singing experience. One little-known fact about Scott is that he once sang soprano in a boys choir. Scott plans to keep writing as long as the ideas flow and others show interest in his stories. He loves to interact with other writers or readers about what has become a passion in his life. Reviews are always welcome as are questions and comments.
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