If you’re a writer, there’s a pretty good chance you want to share your stories with the world. You may not say it out loud, you may not even admit it to yourself—but deep down maybe you dream of seeing your book in a Barnes & Nobles, or watching someone read it on the subway.
For me, my publishing dream is too see my novel in an airport bookstore. I know it’s kind of weird and specific, but ever since I was a kid, there was something so magical about the books in the Hudson News displays.
It took me a long time to admit I wanted to become a published author, but once I did, I had to research how. Nowadays there are two main pathways to share your original stories with the world, and I’m excited to teach you about both today!
Traditional Publishing is when you publish your book through an outside publisher. Publishers range from small presses to big publishing houses. HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, & Simon and Schuster are examples of traditional publishing houses you may be familiar with.
Compared to Self-Publishing, Traditional Publishing has its pros and cons:
EDITORIAL SUPPORT: When a book is traditionally published, it has the support of an editor who works at the publishing house. That editor works with you to make your book the best it can be before it goes out into the world. Oftentimes editors have years of experience and are really talented at helping you revise your novel. This is a huge benefit to authors because the better the book, the better chance is has to sell!
DISTRIBUTION: When you walk into a big-name bookstore like Barnes & Noble, the vast majority of the books you see are traditionally published. Traditional publishers have very wide distribution channels and have the ability to get your book placed in bookstores all around the world, as well as the ability to sell and distribute e-books, audio books, and more.
MARKETING: Traditionally published and self-published authors both have to play an active role in marketing themselves and their books, but authors who are traditionally published also have the support of their publisher’s sales & marketing team. This support can manifest in money spent promoting your book, social media advertisement, building an author website, the organization of promotion events, book tours, and more.
ADVANCE & NO OUT-OF-POCKET EXPENSES: When a book is purchased by a traditional publisher, the author receives an advance upfront from the publisher as initial payment for the book. This advance could be anything (literally anything from $500 – $500,000+). Additionally, the author doesn’t pay for any book expenses like hiring an editor or a cover designer. The author may choose to pay for some marketing in addition to what the publisher is paying for, but they aren’t obligated to pay for any costs related to the book.
Sounds like a dream, right? Wait till you read the cons:
TOUGH BARRIERS TO ENTRY: It is extremely difficult to get traditionally published in today’s market. If you want to be traditionally published, the first step is to write and revise a book to the best of your ability. Once your book is ready, the next step is to get a literary agent. Literary agents get anywhere from 25-150 emails every day from writers seeking representation for their bookS. That can add up to 10,000 e-mails a year and most agents only sign a few new clients every year. Sometimes it takes multiple books before a writer signs with an agent (it took me 2 books!), but after you get your literary agent, the agent tries to sell your book to a traditional publisher. Since publishers have a lot of books pitched to them every year, it’s tough to get a book deal. But it isn’t impossible—the hundreds of books you see when you walk into a bookstore are proof!
RELINQUISHED CONTROL: When a publisher purchases your book, they also purchase a large degree of control. Things like book covers and editorial visions become the publisher’s decision. That’s not to say that you’ll have no input at all, but at the end of the day, the publisher is the one holding the steering wheel.
SLOW: Traditional publishing is pretty slow. If you got a book deal today, you might not see your book in the world until 2018 or 2019. On average, books take 1-2 years to launch, so if you’re inpatient like me, this can seem like a lifetime.
ROYALTIES: When you earn royalties on your book (a % of money you get for every book sold), you earn 10-20% of the book’s price. This might not seem like a con until you see what self-published authors earn (90-80% of the book’s price). The reason the royalty percentage is “low” is because the publisher invests so much up front (your advance, your editor, your marketing support, etc.), so they take a bigger % of money out of the books that are sold.
As you can see, traditional publishing comes with its pros and cons. But is it right for you? Read on about self-publishing to find out which path you prefer!
As the title suggest, self-publishing is when you publish the book yourself. Due to the rise of e-books and platforms like Amazon, self-publishing has become a major way for writers to share their stories with the world. But like Traditional Publishing, self-publishing has its pros and cons. If you look, you’ll see every con of traditional publishing is a pro of self-publishing, and every pro of traditional publishing is a con of self publishing!
NO BARRIERS TO ENTRY: Unlike traditional publishing, no one stands in the way of you becoming a self-published author! If you familiarize yourself with self-publishing platforms (like Kindle Direct Publishing, Book Baby, Lulu, Smashwords, etc.) you can get your book into the world.
CONTROL: With self-publishing, you are 100% in control of everything: your final book edit, your cover art, your marketing, your promotion, everything. You’re the one sitting in the driver’s seat for every book decision you have to make.
SPEED: Have a manuscript sitting on your computer? You can upload it onto a self-publishing platform in a matter of minutes. Unlike traditional publishing, self-publishing can be quick and efficient because there are less people involved, the vast majority of self-publishing happens with e-books, and you are the boss!
ROYALTIES: When you self-publish you get 80-90% of the royalties from every single book sold. Compared to the 10-15% of the royalties traditional published authors get, that can be a pretty substantial income difference, especially if you’re able to sell a lot of books!
Appealing right? But don’t forget to check out the cons…
COST: When you self-publish, you have to pay for every cost associated with your book. Depending on the shape you want your book in, those cost can become significant. Examples of self-publishing costs are: hiring an editor for developmental edits and proofreading, cover design costs, formatting, and printing if you decide to get physical copies of your book made too).
SMALLER DISTRIBUTION: Remember when I said that almost all the books in your local Barnes & Noble are traditionally published? That’s because traditional publishers have wide distribution channels and have the ability to sell your book all over the world. While self-publishing has the advantage of the internet and e-book market, it doesn’t yet have the physical and international distribution channels of traditionally published books. This makes it harder for self-published books to become best-sellers (but it does not make it impossible – ever heard of The Martian?)
NO EDITORIAL SUPPORT/EXPENSIVE EDITORIAL SUPPORT: When you self-publish your novel, you don’t get the same editorial support that traditionally published authors get for free. Having an outside editor who can help you make your book the best it can be is a huge asset, so if you want to get it you’ll have to hire a freelance editor. But this can cost anywhere from $500 – $2,500!
NO MARKETING SUPPORT: Like I said, whether you’re a traditionally published author or a self-published author, you will have to take an active role in promoting yourself and marketing your book. But self-published authors have to do 100% of the marketing without the guidance of a publisher who’s been in the business of marketing books for decades. This doesn’t mean there aren’t resources and guidance available out there, but you have to be active in seeking it out and any money spent marketing your book has to come out of your pocket.
If this is a path you’re interested in, Jenny Bravo of Jenny Bravo Books has created an incredible self-publishing resource guide. You can check it out here!
Alright, this was an info-packed blog post, but I hope you understand the two major ways you can share your story with the world!
The important thing to remember is neither type of publishing is better or worse—it’s up to you to look at the pros and cons of both and decide what’s right for you!
Also remember that you can do both! Every single book you write is an opportunity to try something new.
Alright friend, I’ll see you next week for the first installment in our Rules of Revision series. But before you go: