Self Publishing vs Traditional Publishing: The Ultimate Showdown 

JD Caron
September 13, 2023

Self-Publishing vs Traditional Publishing: Which one is best for you?

Torn between self-publishing vs traditional publishing in today's dynamic book industry? Did you know Colleen Hoover started her journey as a self-published author with her book "Slammed"?

And now she has numerous bestsellers under her belt after transitioning into traditional publishing.

There's a tug-of-war between the age-old traditional publishing powerhouses and the fierce, new-age indie author rebels.

So, who's got it right?

Fun fact about self-publishing vs traditional publishing

Before you jump to conclusions, here's something that might shock you. As of September 2021, self-published authors, especially in genres like romance, sci-fi, and fantasy, dominated more than half of the top bestsellers on Amazon Kindle!

It's not just about writing anymore.

It's about understanding the market, creating a captivating cover design, designing a brilliant blurb, engaging with your readers, and so much more.

But, let's not get too ahead of ourselves.

Today, we're delving deep into the world of publishing, and we're laying out these 8 significant differences between self-publishing vs traditional publishing.

8 significant differences between self publishing vs traditional publishing.

self publishing vs traditional publishing differences

Control Over Content and Design:

  • Self-Publishing:

Picture this. You've spent months, maybe years, crafting your manuscript. With self-publishing, that vision you've clung to, from the depth of your characters to the shade of your book's cover, remains purely, authentically yours. You're in the driver's seat, making all the calls.

Want a midnight blue cover with gold lettering? Go for it! Feel like that prologue should stay? It's your call. This path offers an unfiltered space where your creation remains undiluted.

  • Traditional Publishing:

On the flip side, while traditional publishing does provide expertise and a tested framework, it also comes with a trade-off. Dive into this route, and you'll gain access to seasoned professionals who've been in the game for years.

But remember, their experience also means they'll have a say in molding your work to fit the market. That title you're fond of might be tweaked, the cover might be chosen to align with current trends, and some content might be revised for broader appeal.

Cost and Investment:

Let's talk dollars and cents, because understanding the financial side of publishing is crucial.

  • Self-Publishing

Think of it as starting a boutique coffee shop. You're investing in the feel of the shop, the beans, and the baristas—all out of your pocket. Similarly, with self-publishing, the financial responsibility rests squarely on your shoulders.

It's your dime for that artistically intricate cover, that meticulous editor who aligns with your vision, and the strategies to make your book a hit. Yes, it might sound daunting, but remember, you're building your brand, your way. And, like our coffee shop analogy, the potential returns?

They're all yours to savor.

  • Traditional Publishing

Now, imagine a popular coffee chain, like Starbucks, offering to set up a shop for you. They handle the logistics, the staff, the beans—everything. That's traditional publishing in a nutshell. Your manuscript gets the royal treatment without you spending a penny.

The publisher covers costs, from refining your story to ensuring your book hits the right shelves. But, just as the coffee chain would take its share of profits, the publisher's cut will be much greater compared to the self-publishing route.

Royalties:

How do these earnings differ between the realms of self-publishing and traditional publishing? Let's break it down.

  • Self-Publishing

Here's a tantalizing thought: imagine pocketing a whopping 70% in royalties for every eBook sold. It's like hosting a concert where a major chunk of the ticket sales go directly into your account. But, just like the cost of setting up that stage and getting those lights and sound systems, there are upfront costs in self-publishing.

Yes, the royalties are richer, and the prospect of earning more per sale is alluring. However, it comes after you've paid for marketing and advertising.

  • Traditional Publishing

Now, let's switch gears. Picture signing to a major record label. They handle the concert setup, promotion, and ticket sales, but in return, they get a significant portion of the earnings. This mirrors the traditional publishing route.

Your royalty rates might be more modest, but you also haven’t spent anything upfront. They've taken the risks, handled the heavy lifting, and as your book flies off the shelves, you still get your slice of the pie, albeit a smaller one.

Distribution:

Let's talk about the journey of your book, from the final draft in your hands to the eager reader's bedside table. Distribution is the highway your book takes, and depending on your publishing route, the lanes and pit stops can vary dramatically.

  • Self-Publishing

Envision a digital marketplace - vast, limitless, and teeming with readers from every corner of the globe. With self-publishing, this arena is your playground. Uploading an eBook and reaching readers from Tokyo to Toronto? But let's pivot to the hard copies.

Getting your self-published work into brick-and-mortar stores is similar to an indie artist trying to get their CD into major music stores. It's possible, but it often requires hustle, grit, and perhaps a pinch of serendipity.

  • Traditional Publishing

Now, consider the grandeur of a world tour organized by a top record label. The label has the contacts, the experience, and the clout. Traditional publishers have cultivated relationships with distributors over years, even decades.

These bonds translate to your book finding prime real estate in bookstores, airports, and even cozy little cafes. Your story becomes accessible to readers who relish the experience of wandering aisles, searching for their next adventure.

Time to Market:

Now, let's turn our attention to time—a commodity that can be as valuable as gold. How fast can you turn that manuscript on your desk into a book in the hands of your readers? Let’s set the stopwatch and explore.

  • Self-Publishing

Think of it as the world of instant gratification. You've penned down your final chapter, had a few rounds of edits, and voila! With just a few clicks and decisions, your book can be out there in the digital sphere, accessible to millions.

It's like cooking a gourmet meal with a pressure cooker—delicious results in a fraction of the time. Days or weeks, and your brainchild is out there, competing with the best of them.

  • Traditional Publishing

Now, imagine crafting a vintage wine. The grapes are chosen, pressed, and then left to mature, developing rich flavors over time. This is the essence of traditional publishing. Your manuscript, once accepted, undergoes a meticulous process—it's refined, paired with the perfect design, marketed, and then finally launched.

While this journey can span months, often up to two years, the result is a polished, well-marketed book that has had the benefit of time and expert attention.

Validation and Prestige

Let's dive into an often whispered-about topic in the literary corridors: validation and prestige.

  • Self-Publishing:

The landscape is changing. It was once viewed with skepticism, now, self-publishing is steadily gaining its rightful place in the sun. With the freedom it offers comes the responsibility to shine, and the prestige once reserved for traditionally published authors is now within reach. However, reaching that pinnacle demands effort, dedication, and a strong commitment to quality.

  • Traditional Publishing:

Here, the journey starts with a nod of approval. Being chosen by a traditional publisher brings an immediate sense of validation. This isn't just a personal triumph; it's a professional endorsement. And with this acknowledgment, many doors—media interviews, literary events, potential book awards—become more accessible. It's a recognition that your work stands out and is deemed ready for a wider audience.

In essence, both paths offer their own versions of validation and prestige. One is more self-driven, while the other comes with institutional support. The question is, which resonates with you?

Marketing and Promotion:

Navigating the vast seas of marketing and promotion? Let's set the sails and explore the terrain.

  • Self-Publishing:

In this realm, the captain's hat is firmly on your head. From plotting the course to steering the ship, the marketing journey rests largely in your hands. You decide the strategies, the platforms, and the narrative. But fear not, for you're not sailing these waters alone.

A fleet of professionals, marketing consultants, and coaches, like what I offer with the Author Success System, are available to guide and assist, ensuring you reach your desired shores.

Traditional Publishing:

Here, the journey is more of a partnership. The publisher steps in with resources, experience, and networks, providing a head start in the promotional race. But it's not a hands-off cruise for authors. You're in the co-pilot seat, collaborating, contributing, and often driving many initiatives. The publisher might set the stage, but it’s the author who often steals the spotlight, connecting with readers and building their personal brand.

Both paths demand dedication and a keen understanding of the literary market. Whether you choose the solo voyage or the collaborative trek, remember: the story is yours, but sharing it with the world is a journey worth every effort.

Pro Tip:

As a self-publishing author, never invest any money in advertising before you have at least 10 reviews for your books.

Struggling to get more reviews for your book? We’ve got your back. Click on the image below to download your FREE guide to getting more reviews for your book.

Rights:

Let's delve into a critical element of the publishing world that often lies behind the curtains: the rights to your literary masterpiece.

  • Self-Publishing:

It's all about autonomy. When you self-publish, you're not just the author but also the steward of your work's destiny. You maintain complete ownership over your content. Want to adapt it into a screenplay? You can. Thinking of translating it into multiple languages or branching out into audiobooks? The choice is yours. In the self-publishing universe, every right associated with your book remains securely in your hands, giving you the flexibility to decide its future trajectory.

  • Traditional Publishing:

Here, the dynamics shift. When a traditional publisher gets on board, they're not just investing in printing your words on paper; they're buying into the potential of your story. As a result, they'll typically acquire some or all rights to your book, be it for international distribution, adaptations, or other formats.

This means that certain decisions about your book's future iterations or adaptations will rest with the publisher.

The silver lining?

Their expertise and resources can propel your book into markets and formats you might not have accessed on your own.

In both cases, it's essential to be well-informed. Understanding the rights landscape ensures you make choices that align with your vision and the legacy you envision for your work.

Self Publishing vs Traditional Publishing: Conclusion

Navigating the world of self publishing vs traditional publishing can feel like choosing between two epic adventures.

  • Do you blaze your own trail with self-publishing, embracing all its freedom (and responsibilities)?
  • Or do you journey the historic path of traditional publishing with its seasoned guides (and its own set of challenges)?

Here's the deal to help you make the decision: If you're all about control, quick moves, and enjoying most of the profits, self-publishing might be your calling. But, if you've dreamt of that old-school stamp of approval, and the expert finesse that gets books on those big bookstore shelves, traditional publishing might be more up your alley.

Oh, and let’s clear the air on one thing: self-publishing isn’t a walk in the park. You’ve got to wear the hat of a writer, marketer, designer, public relations manager, and more.

But here’s some good news for those leaning towards self-publishing: I've got a killer pre-publishing and marketing checklist to set you up for success. Trust me, this is the confidence boost and guide you need to navigate the self-publishing maze! Click on the image below to get your FREE copy…

So, what's your next chapter gonna be? Share your thoughts below. If this article resonated or cleared some clouds, pass it on to your writer buddies. We're all in this grand narrative of storytelling together.

Remember, it’s not just about writing a story, but how you share it with the world. That’s where the magic happens. Write on, dream big, and let’s make those publishing dreams come true!

About the author 

JD Caron

Denis was a coach long before he ever knew what that was. From his time in the military, to the decade he spent as a 911 ambulance dispatcher, he constantly found himself in leadership and teaching roles (he knows his way around an emergency). And after struggling to self-publish his first book, he knew he could help others do it better.

Currently, Denis is traveling around Europe, exploring WWII sites and sampling all the delightful cuisine the continent has to offer.

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