Self-Publishing or Traditional: Which One is Right for You?

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by Katie McCoach

For those who are planning to self-publish a book, you may have heard by now that self-publishing is a business. It’s your business, and treating your business with professionalism and enlisting in the required help will help your business (books) succeed.

For those seeking agent representation, this idea also holds true, however a publisher is in charge of many of the business decisions instead of you.

How do you decide which option is best for you?


Traditional Publishing—The Steps:

Seeking agent representation is your first step in hoping to land a publisher. Yes, there are some publishers that now will ferret through slush submissions without needing an agent, but there are many benefits to having an agent. One of them being that someone is investing their time in you—selling your product—and two, the right agent has your best interests at heart. They will help you with the contract and make sure you don’t get screwed.

But seeking representation is difficult! You must craft a query letter, a synopsis, and research agents to pitch the best ones suited for your work.  And still, it may not work out for numerous reasons (trends, timing, recently acquired books, etc.). This is part of the publishing game, and it’s what makes this process so tough. But, if you want the best chances of landing an agent, be sure to do your research—follow submission guidelines, craft a compelling query, edit your query and manuscript before sending, and be sure not to do any of the “don’ts” when pitching. For a list of “Do’s” and “Don’ts”: What NOT to Say to a Literary Agent (or Editor).

Once you land an agent, it doesn’t mean everything is suddenly a cake walk. The agent may ask you to make changes to your manuscript, then once they feel it’s ready they will start pitching to acquisition editors of the publishing houses to get you the best deal possible.

Once you get a deal (with a publisher), you must be sure the contract is agreeable on both ends, and then the publisher will begin working on the book. They will hire the editors, the book designer, and they determine the release date. Books take a while to release. The publishers handle all the decisions, they get the book on the shelves and distributed, but it is still your job to market/promote the book. Marketing is minimal from publishers these days, so no matter what path you take as an author, you are in control of the promotion of your book. Having a publisher might just open a couple more doors for you.


Self-Publishing—The Steps:

Self-publishing is becoming a very popular option these days, even with previously traditionally published authors. And why not? In self-publishing, every decision for the book is yours. You hire the editors, the formatters, the book designers, the printing company . . . you are in complete control. This is liberating for some authors because they know the product they put out is everything they want it to be. However, this also means you foot the bill. As I mentioned at the start: self-publishing is a business. You are now a business owner.

If you’re not willing to invest in your book, who will?

Finding the best team to help you create your book is on you, and as a self-published author it’s very important you do your research and are constantly learning about the business and changes in the industry.

But the ultimate benefit: the earnings go directly to you. Minus what retailers take, the rest is yours. An agent or publisher isn’t taking a portion of your earnings. You’re in charge of your book’s fate.

It’s a lot to decide which path to take! What feels right for you?

Either way, you want to publish the best possible version of your work. And either way, you will feel amazing when your book hits the shelves.



Guest post contributed by Katie McCoach. Katie is a member of Romance Writers of America and the Editorial Freelancers Association. She’s had essays published in TrainWrite and Kalliope and is currently writing a contemporary romance novel. For advice on editing, writing, and publishing, visit her blog and be sure to also follow her on Twitter.

18 thoughts on “Self-Publishing or Traditional: Which One is Right for You?

    1. This is a common misconception, and I’m glad I’ve helped point that out here! It’s important that all authors understand that in order to grow their platform, it’s a lot of work no matter what.


  1. Hi Ryan and Katie. The lack of control with the traditional publisher can be, as you pointed out, a bit of a sticky point with any author. I really like the point of view this post takes. I’ve been writing a series of posts comparing the traditional and the self-publishing route myself (though from a different perspective than this one) and I wanted to ask: Would you mind if I quote one or two passages from this post in my next installment? I’ll provide links to both your and Katie’s blog. Thanks!


    1. Martin, that’s great you are writing a series. What is your perspective? From the author side? I’d love to know more. And I’m 100% OK with you quoting the article and referencing it. Thanks for asking! Let me know if you have any questions.


      1. Thank you Katie. In my series, I take a rather quirky technical look at what makes a book appealing and enjoyable to read (cover design, trim size, interior design), focusing on the pros and cons comparison between traditional publishing and self-publishing. I intentionally stayed away from bits that are not directly related to the final physical/electronic product (i.e. editing or the money considerations), but I will be linking to some further resources.


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