So you’ve finished writing your book—perhaps a lifelong dream—and now you want to get it published. Where do you go from here? You poured your heart and soul into the writing, and I hope you also spent countless hours editing and revising. Any seasoned expert will tell you: All writing is rewriting.
Certainly the writing alone took months, maybe years. But you did something few people ever do: You finished writing your book. Now what? Maybe you’ve done your homework on the do’s and don’ts of publishing a book, but you’ve found so much conflicting advice that you’re overwhelmed.
How do you decide your next step? In simple terms, you have two options:
- Traditional publishing or
Which is best for you? I’ll start with definitions so you know what you’re actually choosing.
What Is Traditional Publishing?
Traditional publishers take all the risks. They pay for everything from editing, proofreading, typesetting, printing, binding, cover art and design, promotion, advertising, warehousing, shipping, billing, and paying author royalties.
If a “publisher” requires any money from you—even a minimum number of copies purchased—they are not a traditional publisher. They might refer to themself as a co-op or a hybrid publisher, and they might even insist that they accept some manuscripts and reject others, but they are not traditional publishers.
What is Self-Publishing?
Self-publishing is the act of independently publishing your book on a platform like Amazon without the need of a traditional publishing house. Self-publishing a book is done with these steps:
- Write a book you’re proud of
- Decide which self-publishing platform to use
- Get your book edited, a cover designed, and it formatted
- Upload your manuscript and accompanying assets
- Hit “Publish” when you’re read
- Your book is self-published!
What’s the Difference Between Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing?
It’s easy to look at these two publishing routes and get confused. Why would someone self-publish a book when there are companies dedicated to doing it for you? There are actually many reasons.
Regardless what services or suppliers you use to have your book printed, this option is rightly referred to as self-publishing. Why? Because everything is on you. You are the publisher, the financier, the decision-maker. Everything listed above under Traditional publishing falls to you. You decide who does it, you approve or reject it, and you pay for it.
The term self-publishing is a bit of a misnomer, however, because what you’re paying for is not publishing, but printing. So, the question becomes, why pay to be printed if you could be paid to be published?
What is the difference between self-publishing vs traditional publishing?
Self-publishing is a completely independent route with no barriers to entry whereas traditional publishing involves the acts of querying, landing an agent, and getting approved by a publishing house.
Let’s Get Real About How to Publish a Book
Some say writers can make a lot more money by self-publishing. They argue that rather than settling for just a 15% or so royalty of the sales by a traditional publisher, they enjoy all the profits. The problem with this logic is that it too often underestimates what it costs to self-publish. The likelihood is that the “profit” per sold book, often at best, equals about the same as a traditional royalty. The downside then is that as a self-publisher, you have vastly less experience promoting, advertising, marketing, selling, delivering, and billing than traditional publishers do.
Besides the fact that this is a full-time job that will likely rule out your having the time to write another book, with rare exceptions, traditional publishers sell many more copies than self-publishers do. That said, self-publishing may be your choice under certain circumstances. Such as:
- You’ve exhausted your efforts to land a traditional deal. That doesn’t always indicate that your writing is inferior. It could merely mean that your audience is limited, making your book a less viable business proposition for the publisher.
- Your book is of interest to hundreds of people, as opposed to thousands. I self-published a couple of volumes of my father’s poetry, because it was of interest to several hundred friends and relatives but not to a mass market audience of thousands required by a traditional publisher.
- You’re a college professor or in some similar occupation where you must “publish or perish,” but your area of expertise is so esoteric that your books would not likely be commercial successes on a mass scale.
In truth, there are many reasons you might opt to self-publish, so the issue becomes whom you can trust as a supplier for all the services you’ll be paying for. That’s where you need to do your homework. Talk to others who have self-published to see whether they felt ripped off, over-promised, over-charged, etc.
Many vanity or subsidy or hybrid self-publishing suppliers have beautiful websites, rave reviews, and examples of beautifully produced books that will make your mouth water.
They’ll use terms like, “If we accept your manuscript…” when the truth is, many such firms would print anything you sent them as long as your check was attached.
They’ll offer all the services I listed above, but if you decide not to take advantage of those, you’ll pay less but also wind up with an inferior final product. That’s why too many self-published books look self-published:
- Amateur art on the cover.
- No editing or proofreading.
- Little thought to interior design or even typeface (many use sans serif type, while traditionally published books mostly use serif type).
- Many use the word “by” before the author’s name on the cover, which you rarely see with traditionally published books.
- Some self-published books don’t even spell Foreword correctly, but rather spell it Forward or Forword or even Foreward. And many use the British spelling of Acknowledgments, adding another E for Acknowledgements.
But those are the least of the potential issues. With careful planning, studying, and comparing, you should be able to self-publish your book for much less than the $10,000 or more that many of these companies charge for their “premium” packages.
The Pros of Self-Publishing
- Anyone can do it. Your end product can now look much more professional, and your price per book is much more reasonable than it once was. Print-on-demand technology now allows for low-cost printing, so you can order as few as two or three books at a time for the same cost per book as you would pay if you were buying hundreds.
- You determine the publishing timeline. It’s possible to publish almost instantly online.
- You control the editing process.
- You have creative control over the cover and interior design.
- You set the price.
- After expenses, the profit is 100% yours.
The Cons of Self Publishing
- Anyone can do it. The market is glutted, as literally thousands self-publish daily.
- Everything falls to you, from page numbers to fulfilling orders. If you don’t do it, it doesn’t get done.
- Lower visibility and exposure. Though local bookstores might display your book on consignment, few others will—regardless what distribution companies promise. They may expose it to thousands of stores in an online calendar, but they’re not handselling it into those. Some experts say only 5% of all published books actually reach bookstore shelves.
- Self-publishing predators promise the world and often deliver very little. Do your homework. Get recommendations. Ask questions.
The Process of Getting Self-Published
The best way to set yourself apart, besides ferociously self-editing your book, is paying for a professional editor. The biggest mistake many self-published authors make is spending more on design and marketing than on professional editing and proofreading.
A great looking book with a terrific cover and lots of promotion will die a quick death in the market unless the editing and proofreading are also evident.
The last thing you want is a handsome product that reads like the manuscript made the rounds of the traditional publishing houses, was rejected, and had to be self-published. Writing quality sets you apart in a saturated marketplace.
Engaging a Self-Publishing Company vs. Doing It Yourself
Many companies offer all the services you need to self-publish, but some are more trustworthy than others. It takes a lot of success—and sales—to recoup the costs of such services. You may run across the term “hybrid publishing,” referring to different pay-to-publish methods, but the bottom line is that it’s still self-publishing. As I’ve said, you are the publisher. You pay the bills.
Hybrid publishing companies claim to combine the best of a traditional publishing house with a self-publishing model. But beware. Many of these are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Again, do your homework, get references, compare pricing.
The more popular platforms to “publish” online:
- Amazon Createspace: a print-on-demand option also prints paperback copies ordered on Amazon.
- Kindle Direct Publishing: you can publish an ebook online available for purchase on Kindle and Kindle Apps worldwide via Amazon.com.
- iBooks: you can publish a book to the Apple iBooks store and distribute it anywhere on the internet.
Other considerations for self-published titles (unless you’ve hired someone to navigate this process):
- Create an author website.
- Format and upload your manuscript for the internet.
- Purchase an ISBN (International Standard Book Number, a 13-digit unique identifier).