Self-publish or Traditional?

There has been a lot of debate recently about whether an author should go down the traditional publishing route or whether to self-publish through the likes of Amazon or Create Space.
Whatever the author decides, these two prospects offer different pros and cons. There is a certain element of the quality of writing and prestige with traditionally published books that is not yet present with self-published books, so many authors still pursue traditional publishing, despite the lure of becoming self-published.
Traditional Publishing
Despite what the naysayers might think, traditional publishing is still very strong and it is still important to writers.
Finding an agent is usually the starting block for most writers wishing to look for the traditional published path. Others submit their work to publishers direct, whether large publishing houses or small indie publishers.
It can be a long, drawn out process to get on that publishing ladder, so any writer who wants to pursue traditional publishing must be patient, determined and should grow a very thick skin.
  • Traditional publishing offers prestige and a certain amount of quality.
  • There is a wider distribution of saleable books and therefore an expectation of more exposure or publicity
  • Many publishers offer an advance; the amount varies depending on how well they think your book will sell.
  • They edit the book, polish it and provide the cover artwork for it.
  • The author may be expected to participate in a few marketing drives, much of the marketing is provided by the publisher because they have the advertising power.
  • It could help you to become a well known author.
  • It’s extremely hard to break into
  • It takes anything between 12 months to 18 months for the work to be published.
  • They have a lot of power over the way your book should be presented, especially with cover design.
  • They may make some changes to your work, including changing the title.
  • If you have an agent, you have to pay Agents fees.
  • You may end up with fewer royalties than you expected.
  • Many first time authors make very little money.
  • Publishers rarely make money on first time authors, and so only produce short print runs because of the cost of making and printing the books.
Self-publishing can make an author of anyone. And that is not necessarily a good thing.

This platform allows anyone to write something and publish it, regardless of experience or knowledge. For many writers who have struggles for years, it is very alluring, because finally they have something tangible, they can publish their work and call themselves an author.
The drawback, of course, is that the emphasis is on the word ‘everyone’. And unfortunately, not every ‘author’ can actually write to a standard that would be considered acceptable in the traditional sense. The quality, at present, is extremely dire because authors just haven’t taken the time to learn about creative writing and all that it entails.
Writers must have a detailed knowledge of the craft – how to structure sentences, how to deliver dialogue properly, how to use the correct grammar and syntax, how to balance narrative and description with dialogue, how to weave subplots and themes, how to manage a plot from start to finish, how to characterise. And those are just the basics. Most self-published authors don’t understand more complex concepts such as foreshadowing, symbolism, metaphor, layering, flashback, correct exposition, tenses and POV.
Most importantly they haven’t learned how to even edit their own book to a publishable standard. Any self-respecting author who is supposed to be ‘good’ at writing should be capable of this.
This is why over 80% of self-published books are written so badly by people who don’t know how to write and don’t understand the basics.

  • Self-publishing means that anyone can do it.
  • Because it is digital, there are no costs involved in the actual publishing of an e-book.
  • Authors have complete control of the creative process.
  • Authors control what price to charge.
  • Authors can decide what cover art they would like.
  • Publication is almost instant.
  • It makes it easy for authors to go back and apply changes to their books.
  • It offers larger royalty rates (but only if the books sell in the first place).

  • Because anyone can self-publish, the potential to flood the market with poorly written rubbish increases and thereby damages the reputation of publishing in general.
  • The numbers of self-published ‘authors’ is increasing daily, meaning the self-publishing market is already saturated.
  • Any artwork or professional editing comes at a cost, provided by cover artists and editors.
  • Not all ‘editors’ are experienced in editing, and because they want your money, they will not necessarily tell you that your book is rubbish.
  • Few authors make a living from it. The returns are minimal.
  • Authors have to do all their own marketing and publicity. It requires a constant push and takes up a lot of an author’s time.
  • It’s extremely hard to get books into bookstores, and even if you did, don’t expect wonderful sales.
As with most things in life, there are pros and cons. Whether an author wants to go down the self-publishing route or the traditional route, each one should be judged on its own merits, but it is worth remembering that A) people do not turn into writers overnight and B) not everyone can write.
If you are determined to self-publish, then make sure that you have written something of substantial quality, that you understand the fundamental basics of creative writing, you’ve spent a few years at the craft and have a basic grasp of the complexities involved in creating a novel.
If you don’t, you’ll be one of the countless ‘authors’ churning out unreadable garbage.
If you want to go for traditional publishing, then make sure you’ve written the best, well edited, polished piece of fiction possible, otherwise you may find the going very long and arduous.

Next week: What makes a bad writer?


  1. AJ, I have self-published and did not want to go this route again but breaking in to traditional publishing is hard. Is there any chance that a self-published book will attract a traditional publisher? I know that there is a lot of junk out there but I don't feel that I have the time to wait for traditional publication since I'm retired.

  2. The hard truth is that it's very rare that a self published book will attract a traditional publisher. It's not impossible, nor unheard of, but it really depends on many factors such as what the story entails, the quality and strength of the writing and whether they feel it is 'marketable' enough to make money. Hence it's so hard to catch their attention. Plus, your book is competing with 2 million others on Amazon, Lulu, Create Space and the like. How do you stand out?

    Traditional publication is hard but not impossible. You have nothing to lose by submitting your work to targeted agents. You never know.

    The other alternative is to try smaller, independent publishers. I don't know whether you are UK/European or US based, but the UK Writers' & Artists' Yearbook or the US Writer's Market have all the listings for publishers and agents. Small indy publishers may take you on with a small print run.

    Give it a go, you never know!


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