Note: Because my work with clients always involves a conversation on publishing versus self-publishing, I wanted to offer information from another expert on the topic. Last week, guest blogger Savannah Cordova of Reedsy wrote a piece on traditional publishing for me. This week, Savannah continues with a post on self-publishing. I help authors with both avenues, offering my recommendations based on the quality of the work and the author’s experience, reputation, and online presence. If you want to hear more, reach out when you’re ready!
Self-publishing: creative autonomy and better royalties
It’s all in the name with self-publishing. You’re entirely responsible for publishing your own book. That means you’re in charge of editing, marketing, and everything in between.
Don’t worry if you’ve never even thought about this, because being responsible for all the different elements doesn’t necessarily mean doing them all yourself. In fact, in most cases, authors hire freelancers to manage the areas where they lack expertise and experience. Needless to say, this will come at a cost. However, self-publishing authors on a budget can compromise by paying only for their top-priority services and figuring out other solutions for the rest. (For example, maybe you have a few writer friends who can help you edit as a favor, or at lower rates; the money you save can go toward a beautiful cover design.)
Of course, the main advantage of self-publishing is guaranteed control. Though you’ll have to hustle to turn out a nice product, you’ll be free of other people’s expectations and restrictions. You don’t need to grudgingly accept a textual change or cover design you hate just because your publisher says so. You’ll also maintain the full copyright on your work and a much higher share of the royalties.
Choosing how to publish your book
It’s important to understand the pros and cons of self-publishing versus traditional publishing, but to make the right decision, you’ll need to think about your own project. Ask yourself the following questions to determine your ideal course of action:
1. Can I afford to self-publish?
There’s no set cost when it comes to self-publishing a book. Indeed, you can publish an unedited, coverless ebook for free. But if you want to put out something you’re proud of, there’s no point in going for the cheapest available options. Your book deserves the best.
For context, most authors spend $2,000 to $4,000 on professionals when self-publishing their books. A full edit—developmental + copy + proofreading—constitutes most of this, though not every author requires all three stages. (If you’re confident in your plot but terrified of typos, you might only need to pay for a proofread.) If you know your book needs work and don’t have much money to spare, but you do have time to perfect your query letter, traditional publishing might be the better option. Or you can simply hold out until you’ve saved a little more.
2. Who is my audience?
If you write in a popular genre—either an evergreen genre like crime fiction, or an of-the-moment genre like historical commercial fiction (think The Vanishing Half or Malibu Rising)—you may have an easier time attracting the attention of a big publishing house. Their resources and branding will, in turn, help you stand out to your audience despite the crowded market; they’ll know how to market it to their own readers who have bought similar books.
On the other hand, if you’re writing for a niche audience (particularly one you’re already tapped into, e.g. through social media), if your book has some unusual elements that might not fly with a publisher but that you know other readers will appreciate, or if you’re aware that your genre is in high demand among indie readers (as is the case for romance and fantasy), then self-pub is probably a better fit. The knowledge and personal connections you already have in any of these situations will likely outweigh what a publisher can offer.
3. When do I want to publish?
Publishing your book the traditional way takes around two years on average (with the persistent caveat of “depending on publisher size”—it’s usually less time with a small press). However, with self-publishing, the timeline is completely up to you. Much like the cost, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. You can publish next month or spread the process out over years.
Still, this factor is pretty straightforward. If you want to publish ASAP, then self-publish because with trad pub, you’ll first need to get an agent, then wait out the various stages of editing and design work, plus a potentially lengthy marketing campaign, before your book comes out. If you don’t mind waiting, though, feel free to keep traditional publishing on the table!
4. Am I willing to relinquish control?
We already discussed this, but honestly, the most important factor in this decision is how you feel about control over your book. If you’re happy to let a team of professionals take care of almost everything—with minimal input from you—then traditional publishing would likely suit your book well. If, on the other hand, you have an extremely clear idea of how you want your finished product to look, then self-publishing is the way to go.
And of course, even if you achieve the same end result (a published book) either way, there’s still be a major difference between these routes: at the end of it all, a traditional publisher would hold all or the majority of rights to your book, whereas self-publishing allows you to hold onto them and receive a greater share of the royalties. Yes, it’s true that self-pub authors have to spend money to make money, but you’d get back so much of that for yourself.
At the end of the day, there’s no right or wrong answer. Both traditional publishing and self-publishing are brilliant ways to get your book out into the world. It might not be easy, but now that you’re equipped with all the information you need, you should be able to make the choice that’s right for you.
Savannah Cordova is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace and resource hub that connects authors and publishers with industry information and professionals. In her spare time, Savannah enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories.