Traditional Publishing vs Self Publishing: Pros and Cons of Each Method

From a post on Facebook, I wanted to capture this before it gets lost in the Facebook archive and I have to dig to find it. Backdated to reflect the original publish date. I've been thinking about the reasons a person might want to traditionally publish their book as opposed to self publishing. Here are my thoughts on making the choice.

  1. Do you want a published work to make money? - Many new authors want to make money but don' realize how much competition there is. With both traditional and self publishing you will need to help out with your promotion. Traditional publishing can help with promotion of your book but nowadays they are more likely to make an offer if you already have a following that they can tap into. If you only want to publish in order to share with family and friends or want to see your writing in print, self publishing might be enough.
  2. Do you want to total control over the publishing process or are you willing to let others make decisions about your books content, appearance and marketing? Traditional publishers are interested in the most likely path for success and they may try to push your book into their mold. This means that you may be asked to cut or add to your book, change the title, select a cover you don't like, etc. These changes are meant to give your book the best chance with the potential readers for that genre. With self publishing, you have complete control over how your book will look and what is contained in it, however, the final product may not find enough readers.
  3. Are you willing to do all aspects of publishing, i.e. arranging for all of the work that a traditional publishing house performs? If you only want to write and not worry about editing, formatting, generating a print copy and ebook, language translations, graphic layout, ISBN registration, then you should look at traditional publishing. If you don't mind learning the tasks of publishing and acting as a small publishing house, self publishing can work for you. There are businesses that can handle a lot of these tasks but you will still need to become familiar with pricing, services, etc in order to make sure you are getting good value for your money.
  4. How important is the quality of the final product? With a traditional publisher or small press, it is likely that your book will be of good quality. If you self publish and don't have experience or can't afford to hire someone with experience for developing the cover and formatting the interior, than your book may not meet your expectations. Contractors or small businesses that help in self publishing may not meet your expectations either unless you do your homework to find services that are match your expectations.
  5. Do you have money to invest in self publishing? Self publishing, if done to make money, should be treated as a small business. Your initial investment can range from tens of dollars to thousands depending on your experience with book creation and your requirements for the final product. The upside is that you when you self publish you will keep all of the royalties, the downside is that part of that money will be used to fund your book creation. Unless you have already built up a following it is unlikely that you will make your money back with your first or even second book so you will continue to invest in the business. With a traditional publisher and an agent, you will receive advance money and a percentage of the book sales. This is not as much money but you also don't have to pay for any publishing costs.

For us, we have chosen to self publish because we like the control of our books and the fact that we can get them out quicker than we might if we tried to work with an agent and traditional publisher. For other people, finding an agent and a publisher may make more sense because they aren't comfortable with book formatting and all of the business aspects.

Authors can also choose to do a mix of publishing, if you choose to traditional publish, you can self publish in the future and vice-versa. Either method will involve work. I recommend finding a writer's group in your area or on-line where you can talk with other authors about publishing. Meetup.com is a good site to look for meetings, Facebook also has groups that might be associated with your area. You may also be able to find out about agents or small publishing houses that are looking for writers for your genre.