Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing – Chris O’Byrne
It’s time to get your book designed and published. These next sections are focused on what to do with your manuscript now that it is complete. But first, we want to tell you about the difference between traditional publishing and self-publishing. Both will get your book to readers, but they are very different.
This is the very first decision you need to make before moving forward. Before describing the difference between the two, we will give you some context. Traditional publishing has been around for years. It’s what most everyone thinks of when talking about publishing. On the other hand, self-publishing is a newer model. CreateSpace, which is now KDP, Kindle Direct Publishing, was established in 2000. Amazon owns this platform, and it is the largest and most popular self-publishing option. We’ve had experience working with them since 2002, almost since their inception.
As the name suggests, self-publishing is done by yourself. You own the content. Traditional publishing is done through large publishing houses like Penguin, Hachette, or HarperCollins. They own the content. The majority of business owners choose self-publishing for nonfiction book writing, but there are cases where traditional publishing is still used. To make this simple, here is a little more about each option along with a pros and cons list.
What is publishing, anyway? Why is it not a big deal to publish a blog post but a huge deal if you publish a book? It’s a holdover from years ago when it took a lot of effort and writing skill to have a book published. There were plenty of authors back then, but the machinery required to publish a book was expensive, and thus started our modern-day traditional publishing.
Publishers needed to buy “sure bets” to make sure they earned enough to pay workers, buy machinery and buildings, etc. It was never about serving or getting an author’s message out into the world; it was about what could sell.
Traditional publishing works the same today, but now the industry is struggling because so much of the money available is now going into self-publishing instead. That means they have to run leaner than ever, which means cutting back on less-essential services like editing, design, and marketing. Even advances are rare these days. You need to be a proven author (meaning you sell books) before they invest in marketing. Why should they pay for marketing (something they’re notoriously poor at, anyway) when they can bring on authors who may not have a great book but do have a platform for selling a lot of books, thus doing the work of the traditional publishers for them.
So why ever go with a traditional publisher? One, because you want the bragging rights (which are also steadily declining in value). Two, you don’t want to pay anything upfront to have a book. Be warned, you pay dearly on the back end, both from drastically reduced royalties and from “buy-back” clauses. One author I knew was smart enough to carefully read his contract with a big, traditional publisher. The contract stated that if the publisher was not able to sell 10,000 books within a certain amount of time, the author agreed to buy the difference—at cost!
Here is a list of pros and cons for traditional publishing:
- You may get a cash advance for your writing (unlikely for new authors)
- You will have mainstream publishing visibility and credibility (bragging rights)
- You can more easily get into major physical bookstores
- Your book editing is done for you
- Your book design, including cover, interior layout, and ebook, is taken care of
- You typically need an audience who will buy 25,000 copies of your book once released to get a book deal.
- You do not get any help with book marketing
- You no longer own the content of your book
- You lose marketing control of the content
- You do not control your book content, editing, or design
- You may need to purchase additional books upon release if your audience does not buy enough copies
- You need an agent to get a deal, and the timeframe is normally 18 months or longer
- You only get a fraction of the sales royalties (typically 8–10%)
On the other hand, there is self-publishing. Most business owners who have a product or service choose this option. It is a flexible option that allows the author to distribute, change, or repurpose the writing as they please. Self-publishing is a newer option that only requires you to have a computer and internet connection.
Here is a list of the pros and cons of self-publishing:
- You retain all rights to the book content
- You have full control over the editing and design
- You can place ads, website addresses, and CTAs in the book
- Your book will go to market as fast as you can work (for reference: Conversion Publishing writes books in 90 days and publishes them in 30 days)
- You receive 100% of the royalties
- You are in charge of the decision-making process (this could also be listed as a pro)
- You have to hire your own editing, design, and publishing teams or do it yourself
- You are 100% responsible for all the errors made
- You are responsible for other expenses like buying ISBNs
- You are responsible for all the marketing
Chris O’Byrne is the CEO and Founder of JETLAUNCH, a professional book design service for authors and publishers. JETLAUNCH is the exclusive publishing partner for Coach Tam and 265 Point’s Christian Author Network. Over the past decade, JETLAUNCH has designed books for thousands of authors. Some are well-known names like Joe Vitale, John Lee Dumas, and Dan Sullivan, but at JETLAUNCH, every single author is important.