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After years of going the traditional route for publishing my books, I’m now considering self-publication for my next project. One of the reasons for this is that I want to see what it’s like and to have something to compare against my previous publishing experiences. Another, more practical, reason is that I want to see if I can earn a little more money than I have in the past. (Because – let’s face it – when a publishing house signs you on, they’re the ones who get most of the money, not you, the author.) A number of my writer friends have gone the self-published route and swear by it; some, on the other hand, don’t recommend it. So how do you know if self-publishing is the right thing for you as a writer? Here are a few things to think about, in case you’re thinking about self-publishing.

Pros of Traditional Publishing

  • The publisher assumes all printing costs, which means the author doesn’t have to pay anything up front;
  • Traditional publishing houses have marketing power, which means wider distribution and better exposure for the author’s book;
  • The author has to do a relatively small amount of work after the book has been written;
  • An established publishing house will nominate your work for prizes and awards;
  • The publisher provides important professional services such as formatting, layout, design, and cover art;
  • In addition, and perhaps most important, the publisher makes sure someone edits and proofreads your manuscript during its final stages;
  • Larger publishing houses usually offer an advance to the author;
  • Because of the very competitive nature, there is a certain degree of validation and prestige that comes with having your book taken on by a publishing house.

Cons of Traditional Publishing

  • It is extremely hard to find a traditional publisher willing to take your book;
  • With traditional publishing, it can take up to 18 months before you see your book in print;
  • The publishing house has final say on your book’s appearance, including cover art, design and title;
  • Publishers often don’t use their marketing power effectively;
  • Publishing houses can have a corporate attitude that means the author isn’t involved in many of the decisions regarding his or her book;
  • It’s very difficult to make changes to your book;
  • With traditional publishing, royalties are paid usually just twice a year;
  • The publishing house gets most of the money from the sales of your book, paying anywhere from 5% and 25% in royalties.

Pros of Self-Publishing

  • The author makes more money from each book sold;
  • The author has much more say in the final stages of the creative process;
  • There is much more control (price, cover, design) in the hands of the author;
  • Changes and edits are very easy to implement when a book is self-published;
  • Publication is almost instant via print-on-demand, ebook, and self-publishing services;
  • Given the changing nature of self-publishing and print-on-demand services, self-publishing a book can be very affordable nowadays, if money is required up front;
  • Self-publishing provides a creative outlet to people who might not otherwise get their work published;
  • Anyone can do it.

Cons of Self-Publishing

  • The author generally receives no important feedback or free professional services such as editing, proofing, formatting, etc.;
  • Therefore, on the whole, self-published books have more typos, errors, and formatting issues than books from traditional publishers;
  • As a result, self-published books (rightly or wrongly) are often not taken as seriously as those published by traditional means;
  • Self-published books are generally not eligible for literary prizes and awards;
  • Books that have been self-published usually don’t count as “achievements” when applying to graduate school and professional programs;
  • The author has to do practically all of the leg work in regards to distribution, marketing, promotion, etc. if he or she wants to see the title in brick-and-mortar bookstores;
  • Anyone can do it.

As you can see, there’s a lot to think about when you’re ready to get your book into the hands of actual readers nowadays. Back in the good old days it was pretty simple: most authors got an agent, found a publishing house and after the book hit the shelves, they sat back and waited for the money to pour in (or not pour in). Now that companies such as Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Apple, and other ebook vendors let authors self-publish their titles electronically, many writers, especially unpublished ones, see forgoing traditional publishers as a viable option. There are so many options and then to muddy the waters, when you talk about self-publishing you’ll also hear terms such as indie publishing or do-it-yourself publishing, which is not exactly the same as a vanity press or a print on demand service. We’ll talk about those differences in a future blog, but for now the question is: to self-publish or not to self-publish?