Writing a book is hard work, but when it is complete, you will face a new set of challenges when it comes to looking at publishing options. You can consider a few different paths when deciding how to bring your work into readers’ hands, but you will mainly face a choice between traditional publishing and self-publishing.
|Self-Publishing:||Approx. 60-80%||Hours for publishing, weeks for book deliveries||Usually up to the author||Belongs entirely to the author|
|Traditional:||Approx. 7-15%||From months to years||Usually up to the author||Controlled by publisher|
To find out more about the processes of traditional publishing versus self-publishing, read on to see the ways they differ and the ways they are similar.
Differences between Traditional and Self-Publishing
Once you get to the publishing point, you will find many differences between traditional publishing and self-publishing, and they are focused primarily on the following three aspects:
- Royalties: The revenue you will receive from book sales
- Time: The period it takes until the book is published
- Copyright: The right an author has over their creative work that allows it to be copied, and for profit to be made from those copies
On top of these three main aspects, you will notice a difference in several others that derive from them, such as:
- Control: The control you have over your work will vary significantly according to the publishing method you choose to pursue
- Editing: An essential part of the publishing process, no matter the route taken, and one that the author will have to tend to if self-publishing
How the Traditional Publishing Route Works
If you’re a first-time author, finishing your book is only the first step towards publication. Getting to the point of having the book published the traditional way can take some time and is a long road towards the finished product. Once you’ve managed to get signed by a publisher, the company will lead you through the process of getting your book ready.
The main advantage of publishing traditionally is that if you manage to get through the selection process, you won’t have to worry too much about what follows. The publisher will be in charge of most of the details, and they will usually undertake everything at their own cost if they find a project they deem worthy of investment.
This process can be a lengthy one: it involves various stages of editing, designing, and generally preparing a book to go on the market at a specific time that is seen as most profitable for the publishing company and the author. This can be affected by many variables that may lengthen or shorten the time it takes to deliver your book to readers.
The traditional publishing route involves less responsibility and less financial investment into getting a book released. Still, it does come at the cost of selling at least part of your full rights to the work and giving away some or most financial and creative control.
Steps Needed before Publishing
With traditional publishing, the time before getting a contract from a publishing company can be more fraught than the time spent on releasing a book through this process. There are many steps to go through before you reach the publisher if you choose this method, and they can take time and effort.
As an overview, these are some of the steps you’re likely to have to go through on your way to a publishing contract:
- Putting together a book proposal: This will benefit from including a straightforward promotion plan. This shows why your book has the potential to be a strong investment that can turn a profit.
- Penning a query letter: The best way to get to a publisher is first to get an agent. To do this, you will need to write a query letter that will usually be 300 words or under and that you will use to condense the essence of your book to catch the eye of an agent.
- Pitching the book: Once you have secured a literary agent, it is time to court the publishing houses. Your agent will advise you on the best choices available, and from there, you may experience a waiting game until you are offered a contract.
Once you have a contract with a publishing house, you will move forward with the publishing process, which they will mostly control. At this stage, the differences between traditional and self-publishing will start becoming even more apparent.
This is the primary source of income you will receive from your book sales. Traditional publishers will keep a large percentage of sales, and the author’s cut will be agreed to when the contract negotiations happen. This will vary depending on the contract, but usually, the author receives around 7-15% of the book sales.
Royalty rates usually follow a set standard, and they will vary according to the book’s edition. You will see differences in royalties for hardcovers and paperbacks, for example. Your contract with the publishers will break down the types of royalties you should expect to receive and how they work.
If you’re going with traditional publishing, you will also receive what is called an advance against royalties after you sign your contract. This is an amount of money that will be decided by the publisher based on how they think your book will perform on the market and various other criteria. This advance can be delivered all at once or through installments.
Your contract will also include the plan for this advance. The usual stages where you’ll receive parts of it include the signing of the contract, the delivery of the manuscript, the acceptance of the manuscript, and others.
Traditional publishing can involve a lengthy timeline between signing an author and the book being released. After the contract negotiations are done, the publishing process will continue to extend into several steps with different timelines. These will involve editing and design, promotion, and other work on your book that your publisher will consider necessary.
This process can extend from months to years, depending on what the publisher sets out with you during the contract negotiations. The publishing house will be motivated by releasing the book at the most profitable time and in its most profitable stage. Delays and amendments to the schedule are expected, depending on the variables of the process.
The publisher will take their time preparing your book in all the aspects that influence its release. This will remove much of the responsibility from your shoulders, but it will also mean you should be prepared for a considerable wait to see your book in the hands of readers.
This is one of the most significant differences you’ll see between traditional and self-publishing, and an aspect that directly influences everything else in the process. An author’s copyright is the right to copy the work and profit from said copies. This is usually entirely in the author’s hands, but if you choose to go with traditional publishing, this will change.
Traditional publishers will require you to sign over your copyright to them so that they can copy the work for you. This means that the publisher will control the copyright for you, and you will be relinquishing your rights over your work. In holding the copyright, the publishing house will essentially have ownership over the material.
Copyright usually lasts for the duration of the author’s life and seventy years after their passing. This can significantly affect what happens to your work during your lifetime and beyond, and you should consider exactly what this entails before negotiating a contract with a publisher.
If you choose a traditional publishing route, you will be giving up most of the control over the process. This can help if you’re a first-time author without the ability to invest in all the aspects involved in self-publishing, but it can also be jarring. You can negotiate to keep some rights over the decision-making in the contract, but the rest will be up to the publisher.
The biggest issue you may contend with is the loss of creative control over your book, from the title to how it’s marketed. The publisher may consider your work as in a different genre than you intended, or that a title you preferred to use doesn’t bring the point across as well as they would like it.
The loss of control over essential aspects of the work like creative and financial decisions can be frustrating to deal with, but if you’re aware of what might happen, you should be prepared for it. Make sure to research and negotiate every clause of your contract to know exactly what kind of control, if any, you will have left to influence the process.
Signing with a traditional publisher doesn’t have to be a tense experience, as long as you are fully aware of what this entails and what you can bring to the table based on your contract.
Edits are an expected and necessary part of the publishing process, no matter which route you take. With traditional publishing, editing will be provided in full by the publishing house and their team of editors. There will usually be various stages to the editing phase, and other than applying the requested changes, you won’t have to deal with any other parts.
The editors will provide changes that are relevant to your book and that are geared toward making it be on the standard of the commercial niche it will belong to once published. Publishing houses have teams of consummate professionals on hand that can help turn your work into a polished final product before it hits the market.
How the Self-Publishing Route Works
Self-publishing is a method of publishing that is consistently growing in popularity. It eliminates many of the pitfalls of traditional publishing, like potential gatekeeping and the loss of rights involved in the process. Still, it can also be more of an investment and present more of a risk. You will also bear full responsibility and carry most if not all the pressure involved in it.
There is plenty of on-demand printing technology that allows for straightforward self-publishing, and finding the best one to suit your specific needs is only a matter of research. Before embarking on this process, you have to be aware that you will become, essentially, the publisher of your own work.
You will be in charge of every aspect of the process, and you will have to create a network of other professionals to help you with the parts you can’t do yourself. This can be a challenging trip, but one that can result in higher rewards. Despite the idea that traditional publishers have better access to the market, self-publishers can achieve great success too.
Make sure to research as much as you can before taking on the role of publisher of your work. As long as you are aware of what you need to do and what mistakes to avoid, you will be able to extract the best of what this process has to offer with minimal tension.
Steps Needed Before Publishing
Once you finish your book and make the decision to self-publish, these are some of the steps you should consider taking:
- Create a business plan that includes goals and set targets.
- Calculate the cost of publishing your book, from the printing to the editing, the design, and the marketing.
- Purchase your ISBN. Any publisher can get an ISBN, but with self-publishing, you’ll have to apply for one yourself.
- Hire other professionals: you will need an editor, proofreader, cover designer, and an indexer if you consider one necessary. Make sure to hire professionals with previous experience.
- Create marketing copy for online retailers like Amazon.
Once you have taken these steps, you can move on with the self-publishing process and collaborate with printers to get your product delivered.
This will be decided by the printing and distribution service you end up using, but self-publishers will earn between 60-80% of book sales. The difference between this method and traditional publishing involves potentially more income from sales, but also requires more money being spent upfront and no advance to help with it.
Despite the initial investment and the potential time you may have to wait to see a return on that, you have the potential to get more income for your book than you otherwise would with other publishing methods.
Self-publishing can be done in very little time. Once you find a printer and distribution service, you can publish in a matter of hours and arrange for physical books to be delivered within weeks. This is one of the biggest selling points of self-publishing, as it is almost immediate compared to traditional publishing.
The author as publisher retains all rights to their own work and can copy and profit from it. Retaining the full ownership of self-published books can be very lucrative in the long run, and it will mean that no one else can alter your work. Copyright protects your work under intellectual law and as the sole owner of it, you can fully benefit from this protection.
Like copyright, self-publishing allows you to have complete control over your work and the publishing process. This means that you will have to do all of it, but it gives you the power to make all the relevant decisions that affect your work’s look and content. You will have to collaborate with other professionals and establish a network.
Creating this network will give you access to professional assistance with designing and other aspects, but you will always have the final say.
Editing is one of the aspects that you will need to hire a professional for when self-publishing. This will come out of your pocket, but it is always recommended to get someone with a lot of experience to ensure your work’s overall quality and the readability of the final product.
If necessary, you can also seek out a proofreader and a sensitivity reader to make sure that you cover all your bases before publishing.
Similarities between Traditional and Self-Publishing
There is one main similarity that these two processes share: the promotional aspect. Especially in recent times, book promotion has become something that authors have to do on their own. When you are ready for publication, you should create a promotion plan regardless of what method you will be using.
Traditional publishers can advise you on how to promote your work, but ultimately this will fall to you, and much of the success of the book can depend on this aspect. You can hire PR professionals to carry out these duties for you, but this can come at a cost you will have to cover.
Social media is going to be one of your best tools when it comes to promoting your book. Research how to use this to your advantage. Create a blog and make sure to interact with as many people as you can from your Twitter account. Start a network and attract attention to your book, and keep the interest alive.
You will profit from increased attention that translates into sales whether you are publishing traditionally or on your own, but you will, of course, receive more of it if you are self-publishing.
Many differences separate traditional publishing from self-publishing, but both processes have their advantages and disadvantages. They share the same outlook on promotion being the responsibility of the author.