Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing Your Book Vs. Traditional Publishing

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Are you working on the next great American novel? Planning to start a career as a professional writer? Writing a book is no small undertaking, but it is a common goal for Americans. In 2002, a famous New York Times poll showed that 81% of Americans wanted to write a book. Trends suggest those numbers have only gone up in the following decades. If you count yourself among that number and finished your manuscript, you may think the hard part is over. However, you have to figure out how to publish your book.

Are You Ready to Publish Your Book?

You have finished the book after all, tied together all the plotlines in a satisfying fashion, and the hero has rode off into the sunset and a happy ending. Surely you need only sit back and bask in Pulitzer prizes and a well-earned spot on the New York Times Bestseller list.

But you have to ask yourself: How are you going to publish your book? In today’s world, authors have a wide array of publishing houses to choose from. However, with the rise of freelance industries and independent creators, several writers have chosen to self-publish with the help of booksellers like Amazon. It’s up to you to decide which path best suits your magnum opus.


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Publish Your Book With Traditional Publishing 

The publishing industry has several giants that have been in the game for a very long time. If you want to publish your book through a publishing house, you should find one that is well-suited for your story. The most prolific publishers are known as the “Big 5” and include Penguin Random House, Hachette Livre, Harper Collins, Macmillan Publishers and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which all work with a range of genres.

While these are successful publishers with ample resources to help authors, they do receive thousands of submissions and manuscripts a day. Getting yourself noticed is difficult, so it is a good idea to hire an agent if you want to work with one of the big publishers.

There also are websites to find reputable agents, such as the Literary Agent Database. It is standard practice that agents only get paid after your work is published, with a 15% commission fee on everything the author gets paid. So, if an agent tries to charge you up front, it is best to find a different agent.

There are thousands of smaller publishers across the US that are more specialized, often focusing on one or two genres of fiction. These publishers are more likely to take notice of new writers and manuscripts. If you want to work with a smaller publisher, you will most likely not need to take on the extra expense of hiring an agent.

Pick the Publisher That’s Right For You

There are several websites that can help writers find a publisher. First Writer is a website that has nearly 3,000 publishers organized by genres. Kindlepreneur also has several articles with lists of publishers that work with first-time writers and do not require an agent.

Once a publisher accepts you, they will offer you a contract with terms to publish. There are many things to watch out for in a publishing contract, and there are several guides available for first-time writers to learn what to watch out for. The most important figure to watch out for is the royalties you can expect to earn. Most publishers will offer a figure between 10% to 15% of a book’s net profit.

There may also be changes the publisher wants to make to your manuscript, and the amount of room for negotiation over these changes will vary from publisher to publisher. The publisher will ultimately have rights to your manuscript once you sign a contract.

However, what’s in the contract is where working with a publisher can really shine. The publisher will take care of other expenses such as editing, marketing, the book cover and printing. They now have a vested interest in seeing your book succeed and will put resources toward making sure your work becomes a bestseller.

Publish Your Book Through Self-Publishing

Self-publishing has been the new wave of getting your book out to the world for the past few years. The internet has made the process infinitely easier and more accessible than ever before. Some of the biggest retailers in the world have a self-publishing site, such as Amazon Kindle’s Direct Publishing or the B&N Press from Barnes & Noble.

If you want to publish your book through self-publishing, the process is comparatively simple. There are no contracts to sign aside from the standard terms & agreement for the site you wish to sell your product on. After that you will get a few options to sell your book as an e-book or a paperback.

For the writer seeking complete control over their manuscript, self-publishing will seem like a dream come true. However, that comes with risk. Everything else that goes into publishing a book, like hiring a professional editor, a book cover artist, and printing physical copies will come entirely out of your pocket.

You should seek out an editor as a self-published writer, but they are not cheap. A professional editor who will do more than simply proofread your book for spelling or formatting errors can run you anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000, depending on the length of the manuscript and the individual editor.

There Are Other Responsibilities 

You will also be responsible for the design of your book. Most self-publishing sites provide tools for you to design your cover using free art assets. But if you want to make your book stand out, you should look to hiring an artist to design a cover for you. These prices can vary wildly. An artist who works with photoshop assets will generally be less expensive than someone who designs an original piece.

Finally, if you are going to self-publish, you should not rely merely on word of mouth to get your book to turn a profit. That means you will also need to spend money on advertising. The most common type of ad for self-published writers to use these days will be online banner ads. Banner ads are charged based on the number of clicks they get, and the average is 31 cents per click. While that may seem very little, an effective ad will generate thousands of clicks.

The work and cost of getting a book ready for the market will fall entirely on your shoulders, but there is a greater reward at the end of the day. While sites that sell your book will still take a cut of the profits, you can expect 40% to 70% net profit per sale, as opposed to the 15% received by an author working for a publisher.

The Right Choice Depends on You

The choice between using a traditional publisher or a self-publishing site to publish your book comes down to two essential questions: How much freedom do you want over your project and how much of your own money are you willing to risk?

If you have dreams of bringing in the kind of money that Stephen King or George RR Martin do, remember that they are the exception to the rule. Many published authors still need to supplement their income with either a regular job or other projects.

Still, getting a book published can be a very rewarding experience, and it gives you excellent bragging rights in most social situations. You will ultimately have to decide how much you’re willing to pay or compromise your version to get there. But profits are on the horizon.

William Fewox has worked as a freelance writer since 2017, and his work is featured in literary magazines such as The Aquarian, The Navigator and The Historian. He has also self-published a handful of novels.