Self Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing (the Pros and the Cons)

Self-publishing vs. traditional publishing has been a debate of interest for the past couple of months. Two very successful self-publishers J. A. Konrath and Amanda Hocking have sparked this debate.

J. A. Konrath on his blog reports that in April 2009 he made $607 self-publishing, in April 2010 he made $4041 self publishing and in April 2011 he estimates he will make $52, 860 self publishing. He also disclosed that from March 1st to March 13th, 2011 he made $21, 812 from his ebooks, breaking the figure down to $1762 per day, $73.44 an hour, $1.22 a minute and about 2 cents per second. J. A. Konrath also started a two-part dialogue with Barry Eisler (who turned down a $500,000 book deal to self-publish) about ebooks and self-publishing that has sparked a lot of interesting discussions and debate.

Let’s also take a look at Amanda Hocking who has received a lot of press and attention lately for making the switch from a self-published author to accepting a rumoured $2,000,000 deal with St. Martin’s press for four books.  Amanda Hocking has published eight novels and one novella since March 2010 and has sold a reported 1,030,768 copies up until March 22, 2011; from these sales she has made around $1.5 to $2 million dollars before signing the rumoured book deal. In addition, Amanda Hocking has paperback sales, through CreateSpace, that are around 10,000 copies.

Why with such success would Amanda Hocking make the switch from a successful self-published author to a traditional publisher? She gives the reasons of readers being unable to find her books in retail spaces, complaints from readers of the editing quality of her books, needing more career stability, and wanting to focus more on her writing as opposed to editing, design, covers and other administrative and business related tasks.

The question then is what route is the best route for a wannabe writer? Let’s examine the pros and the cons of both.

Self-Publishing (The Pros)

  • Allows authors to grow and build a platform that in the long run may attract a traditional publisher if they are successful at self-publishing
  • Speed of implementation is much better, you can write your book and have it published in less time than if you go the traditional route
  • More control over your work in terms of design, title, and cover art and you don’t have to worry about doing book tours and speaking engagements that don’t seem to covert into sales.
  • Better flexibility with pricing. For example many self-publishers employ a technique wherein they will price their ebooks at .99 cents in order to become a bestseller, gain sales and gain exposure and then go back to a $2.99 price point. With ebooks being on the bestseller list is important, as it may be the only way new readers are exposed to you.
  • You own the rights to your book so you are in a better position to negotiate speaking engagement deals and other opportunities that may arise.
  • Great if you are an expert in a highly specialized topic understood only by a few or cult following. For example, an obscure mathematical theory that only a few people would grasp and that a publisher would have a difficult time understanding a pitch for.
  • Great if you are a speaker that serves a massive audience that is in excess of 50,000 wherein getting near to full price for your books is worth it and would exceed your trade sales.

Self-Published Author J. A. Konrath

Self-Publishing (The Cons)

  • The majority of book sales are still in print
  • Ebooks only represent about 20-30% of the market
  • You must be able to juggle the responsibility of the business and marketing side of books in addition to your role as a writer
  • It is more challenging to get media coverage without a traditional publisher as they are viewed as a filter of sorts
  • Your ISBN number is connected to you for life. If you do decide to go the traditional route in the future they may investigate your previous sales records and if under 10,000 copies you may be seen as not capable of selling books.

Amanda Hocking

Traditional Publishing (The Pros)

  • If you are able to sell print copies the bulk of the money is made here
  • Publishers are the experts and have been in the business for years and are therefore more knowledgeable about retail distribution, identifying markets, editing, marketing, and getting your books out to the widest audience possible.
  • The insider relationships are valuable especially in relation to agents, publishers and retailers. The expertise and relationships are harder to develop on your own.
  • You are better able to focus on writing and marketing as opposed to design, distribution, editing, and the other business and administrative side of publishing.
  • Because you have the “filter” of a traditional publisher you are probably better able to secure more traditional media attention and publicity. Although, online publicity throughonline marketing and blogs seems to work well for both self-publishers and traditional publishers.
  • The ability to be viewed as a “legitimate” author definitely increases your credibility and opens the door to people, places and resources via publisher reputation that would otherwise be closed to you as a self-published author.

Traditional Publishing (The Cons)

  • Moves very slow and takes a longer time for your book to be published. This can be a problem especially if you are writing on a very trendy topic or a topic that experiences a lot of changes over time (such as software or technology related books)
  • You have minimal, if at all, say in the design and cover art of your book, and even in the title of your book.
  • There is a shift happening towards ebooks and traditional publishers have most of their interest still in print. Many new authors are making deals that focus mostly on print, if however this changes where does this leave the author?
  • The price of ebooks are way too high and many self-published authors are making great sales due to the low price points of their ebooks. There is some evidence (Michael Connelly) that charging higher prices for ebooks can negatively affect ebook sales.

According to Tim Ferris not all authors should be trying to emulate Seth Godin by going the self-published route. He reasons that for established and successful authors self-publishing is a viable option because their reputation precedes them and was built through traditionalpublishing. But what about Amanda Hocking whom for her the reverse was true? She built a platform and a hungry audience through self-publishing and then attracted a major publisher. So the reverse option is viable.

What both have in common is a well-built platform and a sizeable hungry audience. The question may not be traditional publishing vs. self-publishing which route should I take? But rather should be: Are you building an audience of hungry fans? Do you have a platform? Is it strong, sustainable and growing?

Amanda Hocking proposed a more idealistic conclusion when she stated, “I’m going to let you guys in on a little secret: This isn’t an either/or situation. You guys are both on the same team—Team Writer.”


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3 responses

  1. Thank you for the insight; I’ve been debating on self-publishing and traditional publishing for a long time now. After much searching for information, I think this site has given me the most useful insight.

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