In this modern-day world of technology, everything is changing. People are ditching the 9 – 5 to build careers for themselves, consumers can get unlimited content with the click of a button, and us authors can choose to publish for ourselves.
But it’s still a heavily debated question— to traditionally publish, or to self-publish?
There are pros and cons to both avenues, and I’m here to tell you that there is no wrong or right way to publish. Every author’s journey is different, and some find their way to success in the most unthought of ways. Many authors are now finding success simply by sharing their work on writing sites such as Tapas and Wattpad, and get picked up by editors who offer them paid contracts to serialize their work. But if you’ve ever heard someone declare self-publishing a dodgy, ‘shortcut’ route, well… it’s not true. It just depends on why you choose to go that way.
The Pros and Cons of Traditional Publishing:
For many, self-publishing is not even considered an option. Traditional publishing is highly respected in the book industry— if you get picked up by a company, it’s a big deal. It means you were deemed worthy and earned your place among bookshelves. So for many, it’s the only way to go because of the respect and recognition that comes along with it.
But is it really worth going to all the trouble of endless pitching and rejection? Let’s take a look:
The pros include…
Getting backed by a team of professional, trained staff to polish, produce and promote your book.
Immediately gaining access to a pre-built network for PR and book exposure, which will skyrocket your career as a debut author.
Not having to spend a dollar to get the book produced.
The cons include…
Having little to no control over anything— you might get a say in the book cover design and though you will be able to maintain creative control, you’ll be encouraged to make changes to your manuscript in crazy time periods with pressing deadlines.
Losing potential earnings due to the split royalties shared between you and your publishing house— and you’ll lose even more if you have an agent.
The years of pitching and rejection it takes to even land a book deal in the first place.
The Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing:
There’s a difficult weigh-up of pros and cons for traditional publishing, and if you’re not much of a traditionalist, you might grow tired of the ‘waiting game’ and the endless rejections and decide to take matters into your own hands. But if you decide to pursue self-publishing solely for this reason, it’s important to understand just how much you sacrifice, and how strong of a plan you must have to be able to prevail by taking the harder route:
The pros include…
Maintaining creative control over the entire process of publication— you get to create a book and brand you love and design everything the way you envision it.
You keep 100% of profits, if you do everything right.
You don’t have to wait for that ‘approval’ to get started publishing a book— you could publish five in a year if you have the funds to do it, with no pitching or rejections or contracted timeframes to hold you back.
The cons include…
Having no support system around you and having to learn everything yourself— from where to find decent editors, to finding a vanity publisher, to figuring out the marketing process.
Having to build your own network from scratch and claw your way into PR opportunities so that your book has a chance at gaining exposure.
Having to spend money before you even make your first sale with no guarantee that you’ll earn it back.
So which one should you choose?
It all boils down to what you want from your career— the choice you make should not be made in spite of rejection, or craving for money and success, but rather, should be a lifestyle choice you make on behalf of your author career.
However, for some, the choice might seem without question— why would you self-publish when publishing houses already have systems in place that will ultimately pay off if you persist and have patience?
The answer lies within what you truly desire from your career, as a business person, which is something not many authors think about. Most see themselves solely as creatives, not business people, and will focus only on their creative works and getting the next book written. If this sounds like you, then traditional publishing would be a perfect fit for you, because it means someone else handles the selling and producing, and all you have to do is write books and show up to promote them.
But if you are someone who enjoys setting your own deadlines, forging your own path, and finds the challenge of building a career from scratch enthralling, you might come to despise the deadlines and lack of control that comes with traditional publishing, despite its many perks. And why would you put up with that if you know you can do it yourself, while reaping the full profits that would otherwise be restrained from you?
There is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing to self-publish, but there is a distinct difference between those who go into it with a plan, and those who throw caution to the wind and wing it. You can immediately tell the difference in the professionalism of a self-published author who knows what they’re doing, compared to one who has put very little thought into their cover design, marketing strategy, and is holding out for a miracle.
So, my advice is to take a look at your strengths and weaknesses, and also figure out what you want your career to look like, then make the choice from there.
Pagan is an indie-published, YA fiction author & marketing assistant at Pen Name Publishing, as well as the founder of Paperback Kingdom.