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Every author’s path to publishing their first novel is completely unique and specific to that writer. Ultimately, there comes the point in the journey where the choice between traditional and self-publishing must be made. For some, it’s an easy decision. While for others, it doesn’t feel like one at all. Then there are a few who lament and agonize over which path is best for them.


The truth? There isn’t a right or wrong answer.


There are pros and cons to each path. You have to choose what works best for you and your goals. Don’t let someone else’s dreams or someone else’s horror story sway your choice. Take advice with a grain of salt and have realistic expectations. The best thing you can do is understand what each path offers and what they don’t offer.

The following are my pro and cons lists regarding the two publishing routes:


Traditional Publishing:

Pros -

1. You aren’t in this alone. You have a team working with you on this project. If you have a literary agent, someone is negotiating for you regarding contracts and sometimes other decisions.

2. You do not have any upfront costs. I will repeat this. YOU DO NOT PAY ANYTHING TO THE PUBLISHER. The publisher pays -

*the cover artist

*the editor

*the proofreader

*the formatted

*In some cases, the marketing professions.

*You, the author may even get an advance (depending on your contract).


3. In traditional publishing, the money always flows to the author, never away from the author. If the publisher is asking for you to pay them for anything, they are a vanity publisher, and you must run far, far far, far away from them.


4. There are marketing opportunities that only accept traditionally published authors, individual well-known book bloggers are known to do this.


5. Brick and mortar book stores (such as Barnes & Noble) make it extremely difficult for self-published authors to have their books in the stores. It is much easier for traditionally published authors to see their books on the shelves in book stores.


6. Most publishers will offer some form of marketing. While a few publishers don’t, you can negotiate marketing in your contract.


7. Remember, you are under no obligation to sign a contract you don’t like.


8. Visibility may be improved because your publisher has other authors you can network with to help promote your work (think newsletter swaps).


Cons -


1. It is extremely difficult to secure a contract.


*Some publishing houses only accept manuscripts that are represented by literary agents. Literary agents receive hundreds of unsolicited manuscripts daily. You only have a one-page letter to pitch your work to these agents. Sometimes they ask for sample pages too. But if you can’t win them over with that one page, it doesn’t matter how polished your manuscript is or how incredible your story is, you’re getting rejected.


*You can approach publishers directly, but they too are getting hundreds of unsolicited manuscripts a day. So, you have to make sure your work stands out. It has to be next to perfect and be a unique story or take on a theme/trope.


2. It takes a super long time. If you go the literary agent route, the querying stage can take months (if not years). After that, you will most likely have to do some edits. Then your agent will put you on submission where they submit your manuscript to editors at publishing houses. That can take months, if not years as well.


*Getting an agent doesn’t guarantee a publishing contract.

*Getting a publishing contract for one book doesn’t guarantee they will pick up the entire series.


3. You get less in royalties - Let’s break this down. You have a literary agent who works on commission (they don’t get paid until you do), and you have a publisher who is shelling out thousands to produce your book. They are laying out all the money upfront. Of course, they will take a piece of the pie when the money starts to come in. If you were lucky enough to advance, your book has to earn that amount in royalties before you see a check.


* The more prominent the advance check, the more faith the publisher has in how many copies of your book, they can sell.


* The more significant the advance check, the longer it may take for you to see a royalty check depending on sales.


4. You are not the only decision-maker when it comes to edits, titles, and book covers. You will be able to say your piece, you will have input, but ultimately it is the publisher’s choice.


5. When you sign the contract with your publisher, you are essentially selling them your book. It’s not yours anymore; it’s a joint venture. It’s a group project now. You’re now a team player. While some authors struggle with this, I think there’s a bit of proximity blindness going on.


6. Literary agents invest hours, publishers shell out thousands of dollars, and all of this is in good faith that once the project is done, it will be a product that will sell more than it cost to make. So, it behooves them to make decisions that will make the book more marketable. That includes:


*Editing that makes the writing more palatable to a broader range of readers.

*The book cover that conforms to genre norms.

*The title that conforms to genre norms.





Pros -


1. You have the freedom to do whatever you want. Creative control is yours and yours alone. You want to paint your own cover art. You can. You want to name your book Tiddlywinks Bubblegum Kisses, you can. You don’t want to pay for an editor, you don’t have to. Literally, there are very few rules.


*Have a picture file the correct size to upload as a book cover.

*Have a text document in the right format to upload.


2. You can spend $0 and a half an hour of your time to publish a book. It’s not wise, but it’s possible.


3. Depending on where you choose to sell your books, you can get all if not the majority of your royalties.

*If you choose to sell your books on your own website, the royalties are all yours.

*If you choose to sell them on a retailer (Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Apple Books, Google Play, etc.), you get a significantly higher royalty rate than if you traditionally publish.


Cons -


1. Preceding an editor is ill-advised.


2. Unless you have a background in graphic artistry; making your own book cover is ill-advised.


3. As a self-published author, you need to not only source professionals to do this work for you, but you need to pay them. They aren’t cheap (at least for reputable quality work). For perspective:


*I edit my self-published books 3-4 times by myself.

*I send my manuscript to one editor for one round of editing.

*I send my manuscript to another editing company for 2 rounds of editing.

*I send my manuscript to a proofreader.

*I send my manuscript to a formatter.

*I have a professional cover artist who provides me with an e-book and a paperback cover.

*All together it costs me roughly $2000 to produce 1 book.

Why did I make these decisions? My first book was traditionally published; the two books I published after the same series followed the same formula my publisher did, including using the same professionals she did for consistency.


4. All of the marketing falls on your shoulders. Every iota of it is on you. No one is giving you a leg up on this. No one is helping you (unless you locate and pay someone to).


5. Visibility is difficult. You are an island. Thousands of new books are released daily, and you are all vying to get before the eyes of readers.

6. You have lost your first-publishing rights. Unless you are selling tens of thousands of copies, a publisher is highly unlikely to pick up your book, which you have self-published, was you to change your mind and want to pursue traditional publishing. You will have to approach them with a new book.


7. The majority of authors who earn a living writing have a substantial backlist. Most debut novels do not sell more than 100 copies in their first year.


Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. Building your backlist can be a substantial investment before an author starts to see a return. This is true for both traditional and self-published authors. The more books you write, the more faith readers have in you as an author. Regardless of the publishing journey, another truth about writing is that most marketing falls on the author’s shoulders. Your publisher is nothing going to do it for you. If you believe that, you will be dropped licitly split. You have to learn marketing. There is no way around it.


As I said in the beginning, there’s no right or wrong way to get published. It truly depends on your goals and what you have an excess of - if you have a lot of the time, traditional may be the better route for you. If you have a quantity of money, then self-publishing may be right for you. However, if you (like me) lack both - really examine your goals (and your bank account). What can you make work? If you choose self-publishing, I strongly, emphatically, shouting from the rooftops, beg and plead with you not to avoid professional editing or professional cover art. You can commission either of these on a payment plan or by bartering services.

Written by Victoria Jayne


1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing my post! I look forward to the discussion - Victoria Jayne