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.
- 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.
- You must research to find the right kind of publisher (some are genre specific)
- You will find many who are not accepting manuscripts.
- You may need and agent just to get a toe in the door.
- 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.
- Print-on-demand (POD) publishers
- So called “vanity” publishers – pay a high fee to get a few books
- Traditional Publishing companies provide you with all the start-up you need. You sign a contract and they provide the services.
- Graphic artist
- Format experts
- HTML conversion specialists
- Marketers (though this is also often their weak point)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
- 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.by