Traditional or Self-Publishing: Which Path is Right for You?

Traditional or Self-Publishing: Which Path is Right for You? 1024 576 Reader Views

by Sheri Hoyte, Managing Editor, Reader Views

I came across a social media post the other day that really pushed some buttons because I see variations of it so often and it’s so self-defeating. The post was on Facebook in one of the writers’ groups I frequent, from an author who was giving up on trying to break into the traditional publishing world. It went something like this (paraphrasing):

Every rejection pushes me closer to self-publishing. I guess I’m going to have to start saving to have my book professionally edited. No worries, it’s slowly killing me, but I’ll be fine.

When I first read the post, my head started spinning. What’s wrong with self-publishing? What do people think the traditional publishing model actually looks like?

Of course, there are pros and cons to both traditional and self-publishing. Many authors who started with self-publishing have had their works picked up by traditional publishers down the road. Many who have gone the traditional route later found they enjoyed the flexibility on the indie side of the road. Ultimately, the key is to decide what works best for you.

Quashing the Self-Publishing Stigma

Unfortunately, self-publishing comes with a stigma that still carries weight today. Like most stigmas, this is based on the rehashing of outdated or mis-information. Self-Publishing has come a long way since it’s humble beginnings. No one could have imagined print-on-demand a few years ago, and the industry keeps shifting favorably to the needs of independent authors, so much so that I believe it will one day be the norm. A few thoughts about self-publishing:

  • If you want control over your work, self-publishing is the best way to go. This can present as the freedom of maintaining your voice, writing the story you want to write, setting your own deadlines, and retaining the rights to your work, among other things.
  • That said, you don’t have to do it all yourself. While you CAN do it all yourself, there is a learning curve, and if you don’t have the time or inclination to spend the time learning the ropes, you might consider hybrid-publishing. There are a number of companies available using this model that will do the work for you. Yes, it’s a service and there are costs involved, but how valuable is your time? That’s what you truly need to consider in order to do what’s best for your given situation and goals.
  • Realize you don’t need validation. Sure, pats on the back are wonderful, and most everyone responds favorably to encouragement and support. But don’t spend too much time pining for a kind word or two from a traditional publisher. You certainly don’t want to give agents and traditional publishers all the power by letting their words determine whether you keep writing or not.

Today’s Traditional Publishing Model

Admittedly, I am biased as I do work in the indie industry, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time here. But I do have a few thoughts about traditional publishing:

  • Even traditional publishers expect the author to do most of the marketing. Please be sure you understand this, as it is the biggest misnomer “out there.” Unless you are a celebrity, don’t expect that a traditional publishing company is going to market your book for you. Those days are long gone. Sure, they might do an initial marketing campaign, but the ongoing marketing efforts in most cases fall to the author. In reality, even celebrities are out there hyping up their work by creating TikTok videos, Instagram and Facebook reels and using other advertising venues to market their books.
  • In addition to having exceptional and compelling content, you must also enjoy a large author platform and a successful track record for selling books for any chance of breaking through in traditional publishing. Make no mistake, the author platform is crucial in the self-publishing world as well, but in order to even be considered for a traditional publishing contract, you must have a phenomenal base.
  • Traditional publishers may be able to get your book into bookshops, but the reality is most sales today take place online. Amazon, anyone? Even brick and mortar shops realize this and most, if not all, have their own online platforms as well.

A Word about Editing

If I’m honest, I think the part of the Facebook post above that riled me the most was the reference to editing. Why anyone would be surprised to receive rejection notices after submitting an unedited manuscript is beyond my understanding. I know it’s expensive. I get it, I truly do. But your book is your baby—it’s an extension of you, it’s a reflection of you. The amount of money spent on editing, in my opinion, is one of the most important investments an author can make. It doesn’t matter if you’ve written the best story ever, if it’s riddled with errors, it will end up straight in the readers’ did-not-finish piles. That sounds harsh, but with so many books clamoring for readers’ attention, isn’t it logical to expect they want to spend their time and money on well-polished, top-notch products?

In the end, whether you’re an advocate for traditional or self-publishing, word of mouth is still the best advertisement. Always present your best work, build a loyal readership, engage on social media, schedule book signings at your local indie bookstores and book festival events. Get to know your readers and let them get to know you!

  • Emilio Corsetti III

    Great article. I’d like to end the whole self-published tag once and for all. A self-published book is something you take to Kinkos and have twenty copies made to give to your friends. If you write a book and see it through all of its phases, from draft to completed manuscript and out to the market, then it’s called an independently published book. Have you ever heard of a self-published film?

    A book from a publisher has an advantage over an independently published book for about three to six months. After that, the publisher moves on, and the author has little to show for his or her work due to declining sales. The independently published book can continue sales indefinitely, assuming the author markets effectively. You can still market your traditionally published book, but the only one who benefits from those efforts is the publisher.

    I have independently published two books. 35 Miles From Shore in 2008 and Scapegoat in 2016. Both books continue to sell. I’m currently working on my third. The only reason I may consider the traditional route for this next book is that I believe it has potential as a documentary series or as a film. I also write screenplays, and I know how to market in this arena, but traditional publishers offer credibility that an independently published book lacks.

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