Self Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing

Two days ago I wrote a post entitled Do you read books by indie or self-published authors? It got over 70 comments and I really urge everyone to read them, because it turns out I’m not alone in not reading self published novels. There is a very large stigma still hanging over the self publishing umbrella, which basically comes down to the fact that a lot of people publishing unpolished work.

So I was wondering… as a writer – what are you working towards? Do you want to publish traditionally or self publish?

For me, I’m definitely interested in traditional publishing. The main reason for that, is I’m interested in the collaboration side of things. I’d love to work with an agent/editor/designer/marketer and everyone else who comes with the territory of traditionally publishing. The idea of taking my work and transforming it into something I never could have imagined is an amazing. So that’s why I’m interested in traditional publishing.

But who knows, maybe in thirty years if I’m still trying to get published, then I might venture into self-publishing waters. I’ll definitely have a fair few completed novels by then 🙂

What about you guys?

About Jodie @ Words Read & Written

Book blogger & aspiring author.
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93 Responses to Self Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing

  1. stangra says:

    The problem with strict self-publishing is one of quality control, as many people have mentioned. One model I think is worth exploring is an author collective, where a group of like-minded authors who want to self-publish get together and help each other with quality control, etc. I know of one that is very successful in non-fiction writing and it works because of the seal of quality it has managed to provide. One of the reasons the collective is able to do this is because they don’t just publish everything, only books that are clearly high quality. Another thing that helps is that the collective is managed by two authors who already have a very good reputation and they are the ones that generally decide if a book can be published in the collective. An interesting way forward for any prospective author to think about I think.


  2. Harliqueen says:

    I’m going the self-publishing route, but that was something I decided on from the beginning. I like the idea of having control over my own work, and not having to rely on publishers to get in gear.

    But everyone is individual, and every writer needs to find what works for them 🙂 It’s nice to have all the different avenues open to writers now.


  3. sethtan says:

    Interesting topic! I’m looking towards traditional publishing first since they have distribution networks etc. If it fails, I’ll move into self-publishing. A great guide that I’ve been reading is APE by Guy Kawasaki that tells you how to self-publish your own book. That book was self-published by the way so he knows what he’s talking.


  4. cherylgross says:

    I think they both have their advantages as well as their drawbacks. I for one self published because the process of finding an agent and publisher was way too slow. I’m glad that I got the project out and I must admit it looks good, is well written and edited. I am basically a visual artist who decided to utilize my writing skills, so the look and feel of the entire book was very important. In the end if I do say so myself, I produced a good product. That being said getting it out there is indeed a bitch. I was lucky to have a book signing at Forbidden Planet, NYC which was huge. I just had another event at a local store, JC Made in Jersey City. Both were was very well received. But because of the stigma of self publishing, most commercial stores and reviewers won’t touch you. I understand it’s a big world out there but by the same token, there is something to be said about putting out a product that should be recognized. Unfortunately the brick and mortar stores are disappearing.

    At the moment I’m onto the sequel and instead of an illustrated novel, this one will be a graphic novel. I’m having a lot of fun with it and since it is a different venue, perhaps it will be better received by the powers that dictate the publishing world.


  5. Dustin says:

    There are pros and cons are both.. While I’d prefer to go traditional, self-publishing allows the author complete control of their work, and anyone can do it, as long as the funds are available. Nowadays, it seems much more difficult be picked up by a traditional publishing house.


  6. Shea Oliver says:

    Having just recently completed the rough draft for my first book, and being in the middle of the process of trying to land an agent, I would have to say that my inclination is toward traditional publishers. Like you, having the resources of a publishing housing behind me is part of the overall goal.

    That being said, self-publishing is certainly coming of age, and for a select few it is a path to traditional publishing and/or a decent income. If I am unable to land a contract in the coming months with a traditional publisher, then I am planning to self-publish. However, I will hire a professional editor and someone to create my cover art. Additionally, I know that I will have to expend some significant time and money on marketing.


  7. tlehmann says:

    Given that I currently run a board game publisher, I am still on the fence if I want to dabble in a second form of digital publishing. The idea of E-book publishing is appealing though, as it offers a way to publish with low commitment and potentially still land a book deal later on. Congratulations on the engaging article and all the best!


  8. Really interesting discussion here. Like many people I could say a lot here, as it’s such a key issue for writers. But I will content myself with a few observations. First, that both routes have their pros and cons, and these can vary by genre – e.g. some genres have a well-established SP culture (e.g. romance, erotica, paranormal) while some others areas remain much more TP dominated – and in the end it comes down to individual choice as to which serves you best. For me, SP has a lot of attractions but I have to concede it has its drawbacks, one of which is that quality varies wildly. Second, neither route is easy. TP is incredibly difficult to break in to; SP is dead easy but then very hard to make sales and money because of the zillions of others doing the same thing. Third, the two shouldn’t be seen as mutually exclusive any more. I’m doing SP now but I don’t think that necessarily precludes me doing something else later. And finally, I think that in future the distinction between the two will start to blur – there have to be other, hybrid ways of getting our work out there, perhaps something like author cooperatives that take on some of the functions of traditional publishing while still allowing more creative freedom and a bigger slice of the financial rewards for its members. But it will always be bloody hard work however you do it.


  9. Anthony Schiavino says:

    I’m interested in traditional publishing but I’m at such an early phase of the process where I’m waiting on beta readers/notes. I’m not rushing it. Every time I’ve fought against the grain, or forced anything it hasn’t worked so I’m just going through the motions. Ultimately if I have to self-publish I’ll hire a copy-editor and I’ve got a cover. The big thing to understand right now, and this was probably said, is we’re living in a transitional time. The way a certain age group perceives publishing is different than the next. There’s no right or wrong. I personally want the hardcover in my hands but does that mean a hardcover by a publisher? If so how big or small? We’re in a golden age right now in addition to the transitional time. It’s what we make of it.


  10. RaiBal says:

    I’m not afraid to have jumped into the murky waters of Indie. It’s great that everyone else has the time and income to hire others to perfect their work, but I’m not one of them. I completely understand why there is reluctance to read Indie, too, because I’ve done it and was fairly startled by the bad. I trust myself to not be that person, though, and with the hope that someone will recognize my work and help me obtain the lofty goal of publishing the traditional way. I’m getting hits at Smashwords, which is encouraging. I’d love to have someone prof. critique my work, too, but like I said, I don’t have the monetary means with which to do it, so I chose the Indie route and will hope for the best.


  11. The suggestion that traditional publishing equates to quality is untrue. Publishing is a business and books of various levels of quality are printed to maintain revenue flow. This is no different than different types of department stores that each sell different quality levels of goods.

    Most successful indie writers, just like traditional ones, put a lot of care into their craft. They also collaborate with others. Many people are surprised that even in the traditional route, much of the marketing effort relies on the author. And this: If your book doesn’t sell, it is very quickly off the shelf and replaced by another. E-books can help overcome this, but if the book doesn’t catch on quick, support goes away. E-books are the primary medium for indie writers, so they are not reliant on bookstore success. Even with the rise of e-books, traditional publishers are still very linked to booksellers. I love bookstores, but the second largest chain in the U.S. went out of business. The largest chain is now in trouble and publishers are very worried.

    Think of all of the thousands of authors in a bookstore. How many actually live off writing? Very few, and it takes awhile to get there for most. People making millions – big names like Tom Clancy or J.K,Rowling – are relatively few. Most writers, however, would be happy to live off their writing and not in a “rich” sense, as it isn’t a get-rich scheme by any means. This is what has made indie publishing attractive to many people. They put years of hard work into their books, but by the time everyone else gets their cut (agents, publishers, distributors, booksellers), they’re lucky if they ever see any royalties beyond their advance.

    It’s not that there isn’t success to be had in the traditional route. There are great agents and publishers out there that are very author-centric. Not long ago, self-publishing was hampered by the fact that an author couldn’t get his or her book in front of readers. E-books and the internet changed all that.

    Ultimately, many authors don’t limit themselves to one model or another. Pursuing different avenues for different projects is common, and many have had success.

    So don’t artificially limit yourself. Write a great book and find the best path to get it in front of people, while making sure you haven’t given away the rights to all your work to other people.


  12. I’m late coming to this post so I pre-apologize if my points have already been covered.

    If have the know-how to produce a quality ebook file, there is no reason not to self-publish and still submit to traditional publishers at the same time. If one is concerned about self-publishing negatively affecting their reputation as an author, use a pen name. if you self-publish successfully and build an audience, it can only help in the long run. Self-publishing can get you the feedback that new writers are always looking for. Reviews can help build that thick skin writers need to face rejections from publishers.

    Self-published does not always mean it’s crap. How bad print books have you read?

    Reading self-published work can also teach you a lot. You’re more likely to learn more from a poorly written and formatted ebook than you will from a good one.

    And finally, Self-publishing allows a writer total control which, in turn, teaches them a lot about the BUSINESS of writing.

    Trad publishing and Self-publishing have the same goal for the writer: get your work out to your audience. Period.

    I’ve written on this subject to ridiculous length on my own blog, so I can’t cover it all here, but just to summarize:

    Self-published work shouldn’t be ignored. It has value to both readers and writers.


  13. Mari Biella says:

    There are advantages and disadvantages either way. Traditional publishers will always do certain things better, and remain a better choice for some authors. However, they tend to be dominated by market forces, and so for niche writers self-publishing might be preferable. (Having said that, the small, independent presses are also a very good option.) I think it all depends on the author. Besides, choosing one thing at one stage in your life doesn’t mean that you’ll be bound to it forever: more and more authors now dip their toes in both, and I think this will become more common in the future.

    My best advice for anyone who isn’t sure is to do your homework, know what you want and what you can realistically hope to achieve, and make a decision based on that.


  14. alyjoshaver says:

    I beta read for a self published author. She hired her own editor and her work is just as good as any published author! I think that there is a right way to self publish. Since her self published books have done so well she now found a company to traditionally publish with. Pretty much every single one of her books have been top sellers on Amazon and iBooks.


  15. hannahgivens says:

    I’m still interested in traditional publishing because I really feel like my book would be better that way, not to mention getting more respect (whether it’s deserved or not!). Still, if that’s not an option when my book gets done, I’d rather self-publish and do it well than go through a cheaper, not-so-great traditional publisher.


  16. Shari Risoff says:

    In the decision process, I think you should ask/read what writers have to say who have had feet in both worlds. This post by writer Johanna Harness explains her experience beautifully:
    (Her new book, Spillworthy, is outstanding too!)


  17. fireflyin says:

    I don’t read self-pub. Probably because of the stigma, and there’s a lot of truth in it. I don’t think writers self-pub because they don’t want to go the traditional route. But maybe I’m wrong. I’m a traditionalist, mostly because I think it’s a more secure stepping stone in advancing my career as a writer. But yeah, I’ve thought about self-pubbing. I wouldn’t do it, though, until I’ve exhausted every avenue for a traditional publisher.


  18. rolltidejen says:

    Both have their advantages and disadvantages. I’ve self-published a few just for kicks, but then, I also have a strong background in page layout and the editing process. I used to read Dara Joy back in the day, before she got into a LONG legal battle with her publisher, and her books had me howling with laughter. I loved reading them. But during the legal battle, she self-published several novellas that would have benefited more had she gone through traditional publishing because 1. the layout was horrible (the covers made me cringe in embarrassment for her, they were so bad) and 2. she was in dire need of an editor to clean up her writing. It’s a double-edged sword sometimes. 😦


  19. Traditional publishing is, I imagine, the goal most writers are driving themselves mad in hopes of achieving. I’m right there with those writers, of course, but I’ve also started considering self-publishing as well, at least for some projects, because it’s evolved so much with so many different ways to share (or shamelessly plug) your hard work. I think the big thing for me with this subject is the matter of making sure falling back on self-publishing doesn’t cut out seeking at least two critical sets of eyes to really pull apart the work in question, and then editing appropriately. There are plenty of victories that can be found in self-publishing, as there are plenty of horror stories of how it went horribly wrong (or was used horribly wrong).

    That being said: if I could get something published by Harper-Collins or Penguin Books, I would be able to die a truly happy author.


  20. M T McGuire says:

    I’d love to trad pub but… when I finished writing my first book it was 2009. The ebook revolution was still taking off. I wasted a year giving away free shorts to establish a following while I was getting an agent. As a method of establishing a following I strongly recommend against doing that. Anyway, at the time, simultaneous submissions were frowned upon, you were supposed to approach them, one at a atime. It took me a WHOLE YEAR to get polite nos from from five of them.

    So I had a think and I decided that i) I’m time poor, while it would be lovely to have editors and marketing staff working alongside me and it makes sense to find a publisher, in reality, it wouldn’t work. What publisher is going to take a punt on a new author who takes two years to write each book? Most of them need a book every six months. Real Life isn’t going to allow that for me. I have had a career producing print. ii) My stuff is quite wacky. Reviewers regularly comment that they’ve written nothing like it. So that makes me even less attractive as a business proposition, a book a year, tops and stuff that’s a bit weird. I love self publishing. It’s the only way I’ll ever see my books in print. I have very little time to market my books. So I just do what I can and hope that once I’ve written enough of them, they’ll start to take off.




  21. Danielle says:

    Thank you so much for liking my husband, Phil Wohl’s books. We appreciate your interest!
    Kind regards,


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