Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing

When I began writing my novel, I had intended to go the traditional route. I was researching query letters, looking up how to get an agent, etc. However, by the time I finished the first draft, I had decided that self-publishing was the best option, for me at least.

Both traditional and self-publishing have pros and cons. One major advantage when it comes to traditional publishing is the advance. You’re paid before your book ever sees print. While that sounds great, from what I understand, most first time authors don’t receive a large advance, and their books rarely earn out. Another advantage of traditional publishing is the editing. Traditional publishers ensure the books they put out are properly edited (although that does not mean that they’re free of errors or poor writing), and as a result those books have a reputation of being of a higher quality. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the third, and perhaps most important factor to use traditional publishing. The prestige. That is why most authors become authors. Most imagine what it would be like to be famous, have countless fans, and be part of that ever exclusive club of traditionally published authors.

Now, self-publishing has had a reputation for the longest time of being poorly written and edited, but that simply isn’t true, and the public is starting to realize that.  For every Fifty Shades of Grey (which was originally self-published), there’s a The Martian (also originally self-published). Self-publishing is also cheaper than ever now. Before digital, it would cost  ridicules amount of money that you’d have to pay upfront, and you’d have to try and sell all the books to book stores or fans yourself. These days, you can just upload it to Amazon, and they’ll even let you sell physical print-on-demand copies. You don’t have to put down a dime. Of course, you probably will end up spending some money, such as for your own editor or a cover artist, but it is a negligible expense in the long run most of the time, and you can usually find people who can do it really cheap. Additionally, Amazon pays royalties of 30%-75% depending on the price of your book, compared to traditional publishers where its closer to 8%-15%, in some cases even 5%. And it is also important to remember that in self-publishing, the author owns all rights to the book and can do with it as he or she pleases, while in traditional publishing, the book could be out of print for years, but the author still won’t have the rights to do anything with it.

There’s a common assumption that traditional publishing takes care of all the author’s marketing, so the author can focus on the book. Unfortunately, that simply isn’t true. The traditional publishers have limited resources, and with the very rare exception, first time authors (and even authors who have been published numerous times) will find all themselves doing all of the marketing, with the publisher not lifting a finger. So chances are, a first time author, be it traditional or self-published, will be doing their own marketing. One thing traditional publishers do take care of, however, is the cover. But that also means that the author generally gets no say in what the cover will look like. When someone self-publishes, they can have the cover look however they see fit.

Another factor to consider, which was a major deciding factor for me, was patience (or my lack thereof). I want to be able to hold a book in my hands as soon as possible. If I had gone the traditional route, best case scenario I would be published two years from my personal final draft (before sending out query letters), while with self-publishing, I can be selling the book weeks after the final draft is completed (due to editing, formatting, and the book cover).

What path do you think is better, and which would you choose?

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