Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing: Making the Right Choice for Your Book
In this comprehensive guide, we explore the key differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing to help you navigate through the complexities of each option and make an informed decision for your book.
Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing: Making the Right Choice for Your Book

Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing: Making the Right Choice for Your Book

‍In the always-evolving world of publishing, authors now have more options than ever when it comes to getting their books into the hands of readers. The decision between self-publishing and traditional publishing is a crucial one, and it's important to weigh the pros and cons of each route before making a choice. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the key differences to help you navigate through the complexities of each option and make an informed decision for your book.

Understanding self-publishing and traditional publishing

Before delving into the advantages and disadvantages of each option, it's essential to have a clear understanding of how self-publishing and traditional publishing work.


Self-publishing allows authors to retain complete control over their book, including the name of their publishing imprint. In this model, authors write, edit, and polish their books themselves or with the assistance of hired professionals. They then take on the responsibility of publishing, marketing, and distributing their books. Self-publishing provides authors with the freedom to make all decisions regarding editing, cover design, formatting, pricing, and distribution channels. Self-publishers receive all royalties from their work but are responsible for all costs associated with publishing.

Traditional publishing

To be traditionally published, an author typically needs to secure a literary agent who will pitch their manuscript to publishers. If accepted, the publisher will usually take on the responsibilities of editing, cover design, marketing, and distribution. Traditional publishing offers the potential for prestige, wider print distribution and, often, access to an established professional team. The author also generally receives an advance against royalties—a sum of money that does not have to be repaid to the publisher in the event the book sells fewer books than expected.

Pros and cons of self-publishing

Pros and cons of self-publishing

Self-publishing has become an increasingly popular choice for authors, offering numerous advantages and a greater level of control over the publishing process. However, it's essential to consider the potential disadvantages as well.

Advantages of self-publishing

  1. Full ownership and control: Self-published authors retain complete ownership of their rights and royalties. They have the final say on all aspects of the publication of their book, including cover design, formatting, marketing, and distribution.
  2. Customizability: Self-publishing provides authors with the freedom to customize every aspect of their book, ensuring it aligns with their vision.
  3. Faster time to market: Unlike traditional publishing, which can take months or years from book deal to publication, self-publishing allows authors to bring their books to market much more quickly, sometimes even within days or weeks.
  4. Higher royalties: Self-published authors can earn significantly higher royalty rates, ranging from 30% to 70%, depending on book format, pricing, and distribution channels.
  5. Niche opportunities: Self-publishing enables authors to target specific niche markets, catering to a dedicated audience that may not be easily reached through traditional publishing.

Disadvantages of self-publishing

  1. Responsibility for quality: As a self-published author, your book is held to the same standards as a traditionally published book in terms of writing, editing, and cover design. Any unprofessional aspects may reflect poorly on the author.
  2. Costs: While it’s possible to publish a book without spending money, it’s rarely possible to achieve the same level of quality as a traditionally published book unless the author has a large publishing budget. Authors are responsible for investing in their book.
  3. Time-consuming: Managing the entire self-publishing process requires time and effort, from learning the intricacies of the publishing industry to handling marketing and distribution. You will need to do this or hire someone to manage the process on your behalf.
  4. Marketing and promotion: Self-published authors are solely responsible for marketing and promoting their books, which can be a significant challenge without the support and networks of a traditional publishing house.
  5. Lack of validation: Some readers, booksellers, and influencers may view self-published books as less credible or of lower quality compared to traditionally published books. Overcoming this stigma can be a hurdle for self-published authors.

Pros and cons of traditional publishing

Traditional publishing offers authors the opportunity for prestige, wider distribution, and access to professional publishing teams. But there are some drawbacks to this publishing path to consider.

Advantages of traditional publishing

  1. Prestige and validation: Traditional publishing provides authors with a sense of prestige and validation, as their work is selected by literary agents and publishing houses.
  2. Costs: The publisher generally pays all expenses for producing the book, such as copyediting, cover design, formatting, and distribution. Some marketing-related investments may also be included, such as submission to reviewers, advertising, and entry in awards programs.
  3. Print distribution: Traditional publishing excels in print distribution, making it easier for books to be stocked in physical bookstores and potentially gaining exposure to a wider audience.
  4. Professional support: Authors working with traditional publishers usually benefit from the expertise of professional editors, cover designers, formatters, and marketing teams.

Disadvantages of traditional publishing

  1. Slow process: Traditional publishing is notoriously slow, with long timelines from securing a book deal to publication. This can be frustrating for authors looking for a faster route to market.
  2. Loss of creative control: Authors relinquish some creative control when working with traditional publishers. Decisions regarding cover design, title, and marketing strategies may not align with the author's vision.
  3. Low royalty rates: Traditional publishing typically offers lower royalty rates, usually ranging from 7% to 25%, and it may take time to earn back any advance paid by the publisher (if the advance is earned back at all).
  4. Limited marketing support: Authors, especially debut authors, often find themselves responsible for a significant portion of marketing and promotion, as traditional publishers often prioritize their efforts on high-profile releases.

Making the right choice: self-publishing vs. traditional publishing

Choosing between self-publishing and traditional publishing ultimately depends on your specific goals, preferences, and resources. Consider the following factors before making a decision:

  1. Creative control: Determine how important it is for you to retain complete control over the creative process, from cover design to marketing strategies.
  2. Timeline: Consider your desired timeline for publication. If time is of the essence, self-publishing offers a faster route to market.
  3. Distribution channels: Assess whether print distribution is essential for your book or if online sales, print-on-demand, and eBooks will suffice.
  4. Financial considerations: Evaluate your budget and potential earnings. Self-publishing usually requires an investment in editing, cover design, formatting, distribution setup, and marketing. This may range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars, depending on your requirements.
  5. Marketing and promotion: Assess your ability and willingness to market and promote your book independently or if you prefer the support of a traditional publishing house.
  6. Genre: Look at bestseller lists of books similar to yours (your comps) and check how they were published. Certain genres are well-suited to self-publishing, and others to traditional.

Also see our free two-page PDF guide comparing traditional, hybrid, vanity, and self-publishing. It's free and no registration is required.

Frequently asked questions

  1. When should I expect to pay for publishing? Rarely, if ever, should you be expected to pay with a traditional publishing deal. A true traditional publisher should not ask you for money (though smaller presses might ask you to pay for editing). Use your best judgment when a publisher asks you to pay. They might be a well-intentioned hybrid publisher (see below), or they might be a predatory company hoping to take advantage of an uninformed writer. For this reason, arm yourself with knowledge about the publishing industry so you are prepared to vet these companies. (Note: any author, regardless of publishing path, often invests in marketing and promotion.)
  2. What is hybrid publishing? Hybrid publishing is another form of self-publishing. In return for the author investing money in the publication of their book, the hybrid publishing services firm pays a higher royalty. See our guide for how to evaluate the best hybrid publishers. Also see our article: Hybrid Publishing or Self-Publishing: Which Is Right for You?
  3. What is a hybrid author? A hybrid author is an author who has self-published and published traditionally. As noted above, these authors will choose between self-publishing and traditional publishing depending on the book, their goals, and other factors. Examples of hybrid authors include Margret Atwood, E.L. James, and Upton Sinclair.
  4. How do you find a traditional publisher? To get a traditional publishing deal, you first need to find an agent who wants to publish your book. Finding an agent is a difficult and often long process, since agents’ interests are based not just on your book, but on future publishing trends. Once you find an agent, they will solicit traditional publishers on your behalf.
  5. Are there professionals who can help me self-publish? If the concept of self-publishing on your own is daunting, you might consider hiring a publishing consultant or a company that specializes in self-publishing. There are vetted lists of these companies compiled by independent resources, including the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) and the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA). AuthorImprints is a member of both organizations.

Learn more about AuthorImprints self-publishing services.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *