July 14

Self-publishing Vs. Traditional Publishing: What's Right For You?

self publishing vs traditional

Recently, I’ve found myself chatting to several different people about the pros and cons of self-publishing. Having only ever self-published, and having not been “massively” successful thus far, I really have a limited personal view of the argument. For some genres, like children’s picture books, self-publishing is pretty much an act of love, whereas other genres can actually lead to far better returns for an author than traditional publishing.

Here’s what I have found to be true about self-publishing vs. traditional publishing,  so you can decide for yourself if one is better than the other for you, or even if a combination approach is the best way to get your book into the hands of ravenous readers.


If you have a book in your hands, ready to be published, you may be afraid to send it off to an agent or publisher in case it gets rejected, which, sadly, many books do. Again, and again, and again… The publishing industry likes for authors to be highly marketable. Your work has to rock hard, and you need to ideally have some sort of fan-base in place to prove that people actually like what you’ve written.

Because publishers are less likely to take a risk on an unknown quantity, you could face years of rejection, even if you are a really awesome writer with a solid best-seller on your hands. It’s just the way it is, but it doesn’t have to stop you from getting published.

Self-publishing is easy. In fact, some would argue that it’s too easy, because a glance at Amazon will show a glut of really crappy books by authors who throw up a few thousand words and a cheesy cover and call themselves authors. (Raises hand guiltily about the cheesy covers, but I stand by my short nonfiction, thank-you-very-much!) Do these less-than stellar books turn a profit? Some do. Many fail, while some aren’t really put up to turn a profit at all, but to help establish the author as an authority figure in their niche.

Self-publishing has made it possible for unknown authors to earn a very good living without the need for an agent or a publisher stepping in and taking most of the profits, and if you publish primarily in ebook form, your overhead is practically non-existent, meaning everything you earn in 100% profit.  Sounds good, doesn’t it?

So, if you, Joe Schmoe, want to publish your own book, it has every chance of being just as successful as a traditionally published book, but only if there are certain things in place to make that happen. Here’s the bit that many self-pubbers don’t want to hear. Unlike in traditional publishing, where you typically have a team of marketers, advertisers and other support team members in place to help push your book baby out into the big, wide world, self-publishing is just you. That’s it.

You have to learn how to market your books, price them competitively, promote them to the right people in the right places, and interact with your readers to establish a relationship that will help sell your books and build your “brand.”

Traditional publishing

What’s that you say? You are an artist, not a salesman? How can you possibly be expected to learn the dirty details of how to sell your darling books when you’re obviously the creative type, not the business type? Umm, after you get your head out of your own arse, please be advised that although traditional publishing may be the route for you, you’ll still need to learn some things about promoting your work. Authors are expected to do some work for sales, even if it’s less effort than going it alone.

If you long to be the next JK Rowling, staring lovingly at your books in all the bookstore window displays, traditional publishing can be a good way to make that happen. However, it’s not the only way. Self-published authors can still have their books distributed through major bookstores, but it takes (surprise, surprise) a little more effort.

To start with traditional publishing, you’ll need to find an agent willing to take you on. Depending on your book’s genre, you may be able to send in an unsolicited manuscript, even via email, and you might just get lucky enough to land an agent quickly. From there, your agent will deal with trying to get you accepted by a publishing house.

Both self-publishing and traditional publishing

Don’t freak out if you still haven’t figured out what you want to do. I mean, on one hand, you may have to learn a ton of new things, and your book still may not sell all that well, but you’ll have full control over the results. And, on the other hand, you could spend years waiting for a publisher to take on your book, and still earn far less than you realize.

There is a third alternative, and one that I have seen result in some really great results. Using a combination of both methods, or self-publishing first to build an audience, then use your newly-built platform to engage an agent and publisher, can be a very lucrative option for some authors. Who would have thought that John Grisham couldn’t get published at first? Not me, but it’s true. He self-published first, but kept trying with traditional publishers until one accepted him.

Whichever of the three methods you choose, there are some things you can do to help boost your chances of your book being a success. I’ll talk about these in a later post, in detail, but just know that regardless of how you’re published, you need to know how to get your book seen by the right audience, and you need to be your own biggest supporter.

How are you choosing to publish your next book? Please let me know in the comments below!

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Posted July 14, 2015 by Jessica Woods in category "Self-publishing", "Traditional publishing vs self-publishing", "Uncategorized", "writing


  1. By Sue Fleckenstein on

    Thanks for the post Jessica. I have done some self-publishing in the past and it is a fairly easy process. I think the hardest part is promoting your site and your books. I made good sales at first and then found that they really trickled off.

    1. By Jessica (Post author) on

      I think self-publishing has opened the door for so many people, but it’s true, sales can fizzle out if there’s no active promotion. Then again, I’ve seen authors who do very little promotion earn steadily. I think it can be a combination of luck, timing and skill, but it’s a fun chance to take, lol!

  2. By Mike Gardner on

    This article is great timing for me Jessica, I am just in the process of finishing my book, (I know you have heard that a thousand times), have a foreword written for me by a New York Times best selling author, have an editor and formatted all lined up and going to publish on Sept 1st. Have decided in this instance to self publish through creat space, I totally agree that there is a load of rubbish on Amazon, bit my view is that it is easier to stand out above the crowd, most people make some basic mistakes that show they have self published, I believe it is possible to self publish and still have a book that looks as though it has been professionally published

    1. By Jessica (Post author) on

      Wow…congrats on the foreword! I agree that skill can take you very far in self-publishing. The cream always rises, my friend! And you are right…there is virtually nothing to distinguish a self-published book from a traditionally published one at a glance. Look deeper, and you’ll find the benefits can far outweigh those of traditional publishing. Can’t wait to see the book!

  3. By Patti Stafford on

    I agree about the pros and cons. I do believe that traditional publishing leads to better writers for the most part. Many people spend years honing their skills before a publisher will look at them. With self-publishing, anyone can throw a book out there, like you said. I’m not sure how I really feel about this—it’s a lot of mixed feelings.

    I do believe the new KU guidelines will help weed a lot of crappy writers out of the bunch, but all of that remains to be seen.

    1. By Jessica (Post author) on

      I know how you feel. Some days, I feel like it’s “cheating” to be able to put a book out that hasn’t been “approved” by the industry. On the other hand, I’ve read a blog post by Hugh Howie that talks about how even successful self-published books are asked to be rewritten by traditional publishers later on, despite it having already been successful as a self-published book. I think you’re right about the KU guidelines for some genres, but there’s still no stopping people who genuinely think their book is good from publishing, even when it isn’t. I sincerely hope my books won’t fall into that category, lol!

  4. By Amanda Byas on

    Personally, they all have their own pros and cons. Not to mention, each way you choose to go has its own adventure. My friends come to me and ask me about publishing books and what way is the best way. Well, I tell them they can go either way or a combo, but I honestly cannot tell you first hand. I will have to bookmark this to send to those friends who ask.

    1. By Jessica (Post author) on

      Definitely right about the adventure part…I think there’s lots to learn, whichever way you choose to publish!


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