Overview: traditional publishing vs. self-pub

I’m going to touch on all the pros and cons for publishing methods. But I won’t go into intense detail. This is an overview.

Traditionally-published authors have one main argument:

Self-publishing takes tons of effort on the author’s part.

You need to do all your own promo. You buy ad space. Set up book signings. Pitch to speak at conferences. Get into libraries. Pay for Kirkus and other reviews. Do blog tours. Apply for BookBub.

And more.

You pay serious money for a professional editor, cover artist, and other services. You have to do all your own editing and quality control. You must deal with layout and formatting. You must figure out how to put your book in Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Apple Book, and other formats. You have to put the book up on all those sites and track everything.

There are some platforms you don’t have access to, such as the Library Journal. Librarians use these publications to decide which books to stock. And librarians have a huge impact on what people read, especially youth.

These are all services a traditional publisher gives you. Free of charge. In fact, they pay you an advance before you make them any money. Ostensibly, an advance allows you to eat while writing and editing.

Self-publishers have their own compelling argument:

Trad-publishing takes all the control away from you.

If you self-publish, you keep all your royalties. Amazon and Barnes & Noble take their cut, but you still make 50%. Trad-publishing pays 10% per book. Then 15% of that goes to your agent. (They do earn it.)

With a publisher, you no longer control your career. They decide your title, your cover, and where your book goes on the shelf. They decide whether to cut your series off before it’s finished.

Publishers pay an advance, but it’s not as much money as you think.

Mid-list authors with large publishers should expect five figures. You receive your advance in 2-4 installments, which is actually good for your taxes. But $60,000 over 18 months won’t support a family, much less $30,000.

Your royalty checks come in quarterly, but only after you earn out your advance. A surprising number of books never earn out. Publishers often get things wrong on royalty statements. You need a good agent who audits your publisher.

You need a good agent in general. Once someone decides to take you on, they’ll ensure you get a good contract and don’t get fleeced.

If your publisher folds, you have to get back all your rights. Otherwise they get tied up in bankruptcy proceedings for decades. Then you have to find a new publishing home and figure out what to do with your old books.

One fact clinches it for most serious authors.

The average self-pub book doesn’t sell.

Even looking at all books published, the average doesn’t sell more than 100 copies. The ones that do are traditionally published 99.99% of the time.

I recommend a hybrid career. Find a publisher, get books out, and develop a readership. When you’re known enough, pull out the novels your publisher didn’t want. Self-publish those.

You now run your own promo, etc. But hopefully you’ve made connections that will help you. You have a bigger platform thanks to years with a traditional publisher. These books may not sell as well, but you’ll earn five times more.


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