Self-Publishing vs. Traditional: Which Is Best?

Do you currently have a book contract with a traditional publisher but are pretty unsatisfied with the overall process? Even if you were super excited when you first signed the deal, maybe your rose-colored glasses are starting to smudge and you’re realizing that maybe this wasn’t the best path for your art.

Self-Publishing vs. Traditional: Which Is Best?
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Do you currently have a book contract with a traditional publisher but are pretty unsatisfied with the overall process? Even if you were super excited when you first signed the deal, maybe your rose-colored glasses are starting to smudge and you’re realizing that maybe this wasn’t the best path for your art. Executives making decisions about your book cover. (Really, they chose that one?) Or others changing elements of your story in the editing process that you simply don’t agree with.

Or maybe you don’t have a deal yet, but you’re shopping your work around to literary agents hoping someone picks you up. But like waiting at recess to be chosen for the sports team, this waiting around can be pretty bad for your morale.

Whichever category you’re in, is it time to more seriously, much more seriously, consider the self-publishing route? Maybe it’s time to break up with your publisher and choose a different route. We'll compare self-publishing versus going the traditional route.

History of the Publishing Industry

History of the Publishing Industry

First, a quick history lesson.

Publishing has changed a lot in recent decades. Much of the transformation is due to the creation of that beautiful and terrible thing called the Internet. And how AI will shake up the publishing world.

The traditional publishing industry used to involve you (talented author) writing your book, then desperately mailing query letters to agents hoping they like you. If you do happen to find an agent—maybe after waiting around for a year or two (while your book is collecting dust)—your agent will spend even more time shopping it around to traditional publishers. 

This whole old-school publishing process is best summed up with author Stephen King’s nail story. Every time Mr. King would get a rejection letter, he would hang it up on a big nail in his home office. His advice to new writers was that, when the rejection letters pile up to the point of not fitting on the nail, just get a bigger nail

*Sigh.* Or maybe you could just publish it yourself because of a thing called the Internet? Maybe? We’re going to take a look at the pros and cons of self-publishing on Amazon versus traditional and let you decide for yourself.

5 Benefits of Using a Traditional Publisher

We’ll be generous and start with the benefits of using a traditional publisher. There are some. 

  1. Professional Editing
    Working with a traditional publisher means you’ll have access to professional editors who can help refine your manuscript and make it the best it can be. Some of the editors you will work with have been doing it for decades and are experts in their craft. They will know exactly how to add that extra layer of polish to your book.
  2. Distribution
    Traditional publishers have well-established distribution networks that can help you get your book into physical bookstores, online retailers and other outlets around the world. This can definitely help increase your book's visibility and reach a wider audience.
  3. Marketing
    If you use a traditional publisher, you’ll be able to tap into their marketing and publicity teams. They can help you promote your book through a ton of different channels that you might not have even thought of using. Some include social media campaigns, book reviews, author tours, podcasts and more.
  4. Advances and Royalties
    Cash money! By signing on the dotted line with a traditional publisher, you’ll usually get some kind of cash advance against future royalties. This can help support you financially while you work on finishing your book or starting your next project. Once your book is released, you’ll earn royalties on each copy sold, which can provide a long-term source of income.
  5. Fame and Prestige
    Being published by a traditional publisher can be a big mark of validation for you as an author. It can also open up opportunities for speaking engagements, media appearances, and other things that can help advance your writing career.
    The traditional publishing route can have its advantages. But it also has downsides. Let’s look more closely at a few of these disadvantages.

5 Downsides of Traditional Publishers

  1. Pesky Editors
    Having your book edited by a team at a traditional publisher can sometimes mean they change things that you don’t want changed. And once you sign that contract, you’ll be kind of stuck. You might not be able to have a lot of say in those changes. (More on this in the next section.)
  2. Lack of Marketing
    Even though you might assume a big publishing company will take out billboards and advertisements across New York’s Times Square, the reality can be very different. Many traditional publishers don’t actually spend a lot of effort marketing new authors. This is because of risk and “managing their portfolio.” They will often focus more attention on big-name authors that they know will make them money. Because it really is all about the money. So even with your own flashy publishing deal, you might be surprised to find out you still have to do a lot of the marketing on your own. Not cool.
  3. Smaller Royalties
    Royalties you will get from traditional publishers are often way less than what you would earn from self-publishing routes. So make sure you read the fine print in your book contract. You might be getting a fraction of a penny for every book sale, meaning you have to sell one gazillion books just to make enough to cover your bills. That’s a lot of books.
  4. More Waiting
    We touched on this already but going the traditional route means a lot of sitting around. And that’s the last thing you want to do as you pursue your dream life. You have to wait to find an agent, and then wait some more as they shop your work around to various publishers. And the actual process of the publishing company preparing your book can take a ton of time, too.
  1. Canned Work
    What happens if the publisher really likes your first book and gives you a one-book deal, but then they sit on your second book because of strange marketing reasons? Again, you’ll kind of be stuck.

Executive Art? We’ll Pass.

Another big downside for artists in traditional publishing is having to change their work based on the opinions of executives. 

For instance, Ernest Hemingway had to cut some of the words he wanted to use in his books to please the publishing house that he was under contract with. His editor, Maxwell Perkins, fought for him at times, but other times, Hemingway and Perkins were both fighting a losing battle. The publishing house won. They got to edit certain things as they saw fit based on what they thought the public wanted.

After all, they were ultimately the ones in charge, funding everything and releasing the books under contract. So if they wanted something changed, it was often changed. 

In the music industry, famed producer Rick Rubin once told the story of how Tom Petty’s masterpiece album Wallflowers was originally a double album. But the record company executives didn’t think a double album would sell very well. So they made Petty pick a smaller selection of the many more songs he had recorded in the studio.

The album went on to become a big success, proving that people would have wanted to hear more of the songs that had to be cut. And those songs still have not seen the light of day due to the record company’s decision. 

These are just a few of the sad outcomes of what happens when traditional publishers have too much control over the artistic and creative process. 

Why not skip all that drama about what will sell and what supposedly won’t sell? Why not just take your work to the masses and let democracy work? Let the people decide what they like and what they don’t like. But some traditional publishers would never even let them see, read or listen to the material and be given the chance to do that. Instead, they want to hold all the power and control over the decision-making. 

Not anymore. Amazon’s KDP makes it possible for anyone with an idea, a dream and a book to skip all those steps and become a published author.  

Amazon KDP Self-publishing

The Rise of Self-Publishing

The ecommerce giant Amazon has played a massive role in shaking things up with their self-publishing platform Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). Amazon has invested a ton of time, energy and money into helping independent authors share and cash in on their work. After all, Amazon started as an online book retailer. So it’s in their blood. And having a constant stream of new books and content to sell on their online store is a big win for them and the authors they support.

Authors like yourself can now publish their work straight to the masses. And using Amazon’s self-publishing tools is one of the best ways to bypass those pesky gatekeepers, make money with Amazon’s tools, keep control over your work and save you time trying to get published.

So is it better to self-publish or get a publisher? We think the answer’s obvious. But let’s look at a few of the downsides of self-publishing.

5 Downsides of Self-Publishing on KDP

There are a couple of disadvantages to self-publishing that we are duty-bound to tell you about.

  1. No Professional Editing
    As a self-published author, you’ll have to do your own proofreading, editing and formatting. But you’ll have plenty of options, so don’t let this stop you. AI writing tools now offer ways to delegate this part of the writing process. And using freelance sites like Upwork or Fiverr will give you access to others who can help take the load off. But the reality is still that you will have to do it yourself as opposed to traditional publishing houses doing it for you. This can be a challenge for authors who are not experienced in editing or who may not have the budget to hire a professional.
  2. No Established Distribution Network
    Even with Amazon’s distribution channels, self-published authors are still responsible for getting their books into physical bookstores and other outlets. This can be more work on your end versus having a publishing company take care of it.
  3. Upfront Costs
    Self-publishing requires you to pony up some of those initial costs in the publishing process. Things like proofreading, editing, software, book cover design, and formatting. Some of these are relatively cheap, while other times the costs can add up quickly.
  4. No Advance or Guaranteed Income
    Unlike traditional publishing, self-publishing doesn’t offer an advance payment or guarantee you’ll make any income from your book sales. Authors are responsible for the marketing and promotion of their work, which can be time-consuming and may not result in many sales at first.
  5. Stigma
    Let’s be real. While self-publishing has become more mainstream in recent years, there is still a lingering stigma in some people’s minds that self-published books are of lower quality than traditionally published books. This can make it harder for self-published authors to gain credibility and respect in the industry. But this view is slowly becoming less of an issue as more and more authors choose self-publishing.

5 Benefits of Self-Publishing on KDP

Now for what we’ve all been waiting for. The benefits of self-publishing.

  1. Easy, Fast and Free
    With Amazon’s KDP platform, you can publish your book in less than 5 minutes—and for free. In just under 72 hours, your work will be available in Kindle stores around the world.
  2. Huge Potential Audience
    Depending on where you self-publish your book gives you access to readers. Publishing your book on Amazon KDP gives you access to a massive worldwide audience. And a bigger pool of potential readers means a bigger pool of actual readers.
  3. 70% Royalties
    The KDP platform gives you the chance to earn up to 70% royalties for every sale of your eBook. And by signing up for programs like KDP Select, you can make even more money with Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.
  4. More Control
    By self-publishing, you keep control over the rights of your works. So if you’re the next Hemingway, you’ll be able to put whatever dang words you want in your book. No questions asked. You’ll also have better control over things like the book’s list price and you can even make changes to your self-published book whenever you want. Publishing your book on Amazon means you’ll always be in the driver’s seat and won’t have to answer to executives at a publishing company.
  5. Big Earning Potential
    Self-publishing also allows you to control your income a lot more than traditional publishing. For instance, if you want to bring in more money every month, you can simply write another eBook. Students of our course who have written and published five full-length books are making $10,000 a month! So the sky’s the limit when it comes to how much you make.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Remember that famous book series, Choose Your Own Adventure? Well, now it’s time to choose your own adventure with your publishing dreams.

Which adventure do you want? The adventure of dealing with a stuffy old-fashioned stuck-in-the-mud traditional publishing house and having to navigate executives’ opinions on your art, having your work sit around for possibly years before it’s released and getting low-balled on the royalty rates? Oh and did we mention often losing all rights over licensing or making your book into a movie, etc.?

Or do you want the adventure where you’re in the driver’s seat? You’re in control. You get to pick the book cover you want. You get to pick the words you want in your book. You get to pick the title you want. The adventure where you control the writing process and what gets released and when. You pick the price of your book and set up the marketing plan or hire it out.

Which sounds better to you? Is it better to be a self-published author or get a publisher?

For anyone with even the smallest ounce of entrepreneurial spirit, the answer is obvious. Self-publishing offers writers like you a ton of amazing tools to make money off your work and live the dream life you’ve always wanted.

So don’t wait. If you’re locked into a traditional publishing deal already, maybe it’s time to break up with them and launch your own publishing empire.

Check out our free webinar to learn how to get started!

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