Until not too long ago, self-publishing wasn’t an option for professionals who wanted to build their reputation with a book.
Traditional publishing was like the huge shiny skyscraper downtown, and self-publishing was like the rundown office park out in the boonies.
But now self-publishing has moved uptown, and if you look closely, you can see cracks in the facade of those shiny office buildings.
But here’s the thing: I can’t say, “Pick this one” or “Pick that one,” no questions.
It just doesn’t work that way. There are pluses and minuses to both traditional publishing and self-publishing. There are also perils and scams lurking in both routes.
Some authors have both traditionally published books and self-published books in their list. Others adamantly choose one or another.
But for the busy solo professional, small business owner, or entrepreneur looking to use a book to expand your business, here’s a quick rundown of the pros and cons of traditional publishing and self-publishing.
Let’s start with a definition. A traditional publisher can be either a small, boutique press or one of the handful of remaining publishing conglomerates. A traditional publisher takes on the risk of selling your book and pays you a percentage of the profits. They may pay you an advance (big presses probably will) that will be deducted from future royalties, or they may skip the advance and just pay royalties.
Advantages of Traditional Publishing
Traditional publishing has a few advantages over self-publishing.
- Status. Some readers are more impressed by books whose publishers they recognize.
- Reviews. A self-published book has functionally no chance of being reviewed by Publishers Weekly, the New York Times Review of Books, or your metropolitan daily (most of which publish few to no reviews anyway).
- Publishing services. Your publisher will get the interior and exterior of your book professionally designed and will print and warehouse copies of it.
- No out-of-pocket expenses. If a “traditional press” asks you for up-front payment — that is, if you are both surrendering your copyright and paying expenses, you’re dealing with a scam.
- Distribution. Most physical bookstores will stock their shelves only with books from traditional publishers.
When you self-publish, you own the process. You manage the design and distribution of your books. You take the risks; you make the profits. Sort of like your business.
Advantages of Self-Publishing
- Ownership. You own the process. After initial expenses, you receive profits not royalties — 30 to 70 percent of the cover price instead of 10 to 15 percent of the net (an amount that depends on how the publisher calculates expenses).
- Lead time. From the time you sign a publisher’s contract, it can be a year and a half to two years before your book sees the light of day. The search for an agent or publisher can add several years to that process. As a self-published author, you can publish as soon as the book is ready — or as soon as you’re ready to launch it.
- Mass market vs. niche market. Publishers, especially the big presses, need to sell enough books to cover their corporate costs. Independent authors need to cover only the costs of design, editing, and their writing time — because print-on-demand includes the cost of printing in the price of the book. That means you can successfully write a book for a much smaller audience and still profit.
- Ongoing business development. If you’re self-published, you can cover your costs with ongoing business development. Some business authors track their profits in thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars in new business. That means they can give away hundreds of copies at under $10 apiece and make a hefty profit.
How Self-published Authors Manage the Advantages of Traditional Publishing
- Status. Most people, including industry professionals, don’t really care who published a book. Readers want to be confident that it will deliver the value it promises. Solid content along with professional design and editing will give them that confidence.
- Reviews. Mass market reviews can be gratifying, but a review in a trade publication — online or offline — directed specifically at the book’s target audience can yield better book sales and more influence in your field. Furthermore, the Wall Street Journal and Amazon — whose rankings can make a big difference to sales — don’t discriminate against self-published books.
- Publishing services. Freelance professionals can deliver book covers and interior design that are as high-quality as the work from traditional presses. Companies like Author Impact Publishing can find the best designers and editors for your book, saving you the time and effort of locating qualified services.
- Distribution. You can distribute your book through the online booksellers, and if you use the right print-on-demand company, your book will be available for bookstores to order it — whether for a book event or for readers to ask for.
- Importance of sales. If you’re using your book to build your professional standing and attract new clients, the number of book sales doesn’t make or break your publishing success. If you’re traditionally published, it’s all about book sales.
Self-publishing vs Traditional Publishing
Whether you decide to go the traditional publishing route or self-publishing depends on what you want to accomplish with your book.
I know a man who wants to be able to find his book on a table in a bookstore and smell the sweet smell of a new book. That goal requires a traditional publisher.
If you want your book to build your business, finding it in a bookstore is a low-priority add-on.
For authors who use a book to build their business, the highest-priority features are:
- Valuable content to prove your knowledge and build your reputation
- Professional packaging so that prospects trust your expertise
- Quick production so that you’re not wasting months waiting when you could be building your practice
- Control over the process, marketing, promotion, and sales of your books
What’s the best route for you?