Should You Self-Publish Your Book or Use a Traditional Publisher?

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Most freelance writers have a novel or three that they’ve been working on in their spare time. Many business owners and affiliate marketers also have a book or instructional guide they’ve been working on and want to see published.

The question that both freelance writers and other entrepreneurs commonly ask is, should they self-publish their work or send it to a traditional publishing house? And what are the pros and cons of making either choice?

To this end, I’ve compiled the following list of explanations on why one or the other publishing format may be best for you.

Why you should self-publish.

Speed: With traditional publishing, you must find a publishing house and convince it that your book is worthy of being published. That takes time.

Most publishing houses don’t even want to deal with individual (and especially unpublished) authors, so that means finding a literary agent first. After you’ve convinced the agent to take you on, you are waiting for him to convince the publishing house to take you on. For a more detailed explanation of why authors use literary agents, click here.

With self-publishing, there is no waiting for a literary agent or a publishing house. You send your manuscript to a self-publisher and it’s reviewed immediately. In most cases, the manuscript is accepted for publication and you need only decide how many copies you wish to have printed right away.

Author rights: Traditional publishers often have authors sign draconian contracts that forbid them from selling their books in other formats, from merchandising or working with certain distributors/retailers, or from breaking away from the original publisher. Also, the author is typically bound to have a set number of books printed, which then must be sold before another royalty is paid out.

With self-publishers, authors rarely have to worry about such long-term issues or consequences. Self-publishing contracts typically only cover the terms of the book printing, after which the author is free to do as she wishes with her work. Many self-publishers can be set up on a print-on-demand schedule, meaning that the author only pays for a book to be printed once the buyer actually buys a copy.

Profits: Traditional publishers might pay you only 5-8% of the total profits from your book because they take a larger share of the profits for marketing your book and printing it, not to mention sustaining their own business.

With self-publishers, your main cost is the printing. If you find a reputable self-publisher that doesn’t inflate the printing costs, you can pocket a much higher percentage of the profits.

Why you should use a traditional publisher.

Cost: Although self-publishing isn’t too expensive, it’s not completely free either. There are costs associated with the actual printing of the book, for starters, which would occur even if you were the publisher publishing your own book. If an editor goes over the manuscript, she will charge a fee for that service. There is a cost for designing the book jacket, creating illustrations, CDs, etc.

Finally, the self-published author needs to create a website for his work and spend some time and/or money on marketing.

Marketing: Speaking of marketing, traditional publishers spend their own money on book marketing and author promotion. This is why getting published with a traditional publisher is so difficult- because that publisher must then market the author.

Self-published authors rely on their own ingenuity to successfully market their book and themselves. That means they need to not only be good writers but good marketers. Alternately, self-published authors must hire marketing agencies to do that portion of the work for them.

Distribution: Traditional publishers already have agreements in place with given retailers, distributors, and wholesalers. They already know who to tap to have a book featured on a store’s bookshelf. Thus, a traditional publisher is more likely to get a book featured not only in the author’s home¬†town, but also in other towns and even big cities.

Self-published authors can easily list their book through online sites like Amazon, but getting into bookstores is tough. Much of the author’s exposure occurs through online buzz and word-of-mouth, and not through traditional means like having a book signing at Barns & Noble.

Which route should you take?

There are certain perks to working with traditional publishers and with self-publishing. So, which route should you take if you have a book ready for publication?

It depends on your end goal.

If your goal is to make some money for yourself, to establish yourself as an expert in your field, or to add credibility to your chosen profession, then self-publishing is a good choice. With self-publishing, you’ll be able to control your book costs and profits, market your book to both readers and current customers, and easily create different book formats, updated editions, supplements, etc.

Self-publishing also works well if you are a first-time author with little or no “street cred” with traditional publishers.

However, if your goal is not money but fame and notoriety, then traditional publishing is your better choice. With traditional publishing, you work with a publisher who can extend the reach of your book into bookstores, coffee houses, schools, and even other countries and continents.

You’ll obtain expert graphic design and editing help, and you’ll also have upfront marketing.

Finally, if you’ve already self-published and generated a good readership circle from doing so, you should consider delving into traditional publishing to expand your audience. Also, traditional publishers are more willing to work with you if you’ve already proven yourself in the self-publishing world.

The Bottom Line

Publishing a book can be a scary thing, and especially for a new author. However, there are several different publishing outlets now available, from the low-key self-publisher to the high-end Random House or Simon & Schuster. You should choose a publisher based not only on final costs and backend efforts required from you, but also on what your goals are for your book.

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