Self-publishing vs traditional


You’ve finished your manuscript. you’ve edited it to death. Now what?

I’m in that pickle right now

I’ve finished my manuscript and taken it as far as I can. But now what? Publish right? I’ve dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s, removed glaring repetitions, mistakes, typos, grammatical errors…I’ve given it to a loved one to read over who’s not afraid to tell me where I’ve gone wrong.
But now a question linger, how to publish. I’ve been through both possibilities in my mind and gone over and researched the pros and cons for each, but I still can’t decide which route is best for me.

Self publishing pros

  • You get paid once a month
  • Control – you have control over all the decision processes, the front cover, the title, the subtitles, the author’s name, the price. Every decision is yours.
  • Publication is instant. It can take just 24 hours to put your manuscript into publication
  • There are dozens are sites over the web and groups to which you can join as well as twitter friends who will help shout about your newly published work.
  • Great royalties from between 40-70%
  • Anyone can do it. You don’t need to be already a famous household name, nor a professor-expert in the field.
  • You get to keep your rights to your work
  • The market provides an excellent outlet for niche products in non-fiction and possibilities for genre fiction for fiction authors.
  • You can test the market. If your book does well self publishing then you can take this information and approach agents and publishing houses and convince them that there are people out there interested in you and your work.
  • You’ll never go out of print. Publishing through the traditional route limits the self-life of the product.

Self publishing cons

  • You get no free professional editing, formatting or cover art. You have to spend that money yourself before you get anything back. And even then it’s no guarantee that you’ll get something in return. You may not succeed. The risks are high.
  • You get fewer sales. You have to be prepared for this. Success will not be overnight. A lot of constant, hard work is needed to bring about even a few sales. (After you’ve got family and friends to buy a copy or three!)
  • This brings me onto the next drawback. Time. You’ll often hear self-published writers complain that there isn’t enough time in the day. And that’s what they are too. Writers. They write or at least that’s what the should be doing. However, a large proportion of their time is taken up by marketing, networking and sales promotions. You need to learn to be very organised with your time.
  • It is also beneficial to have a few books lined up before you publish the first. If people read and enjoy your book then they’ll come back for more, but if you only have one uploaded and not even have one to be released in the pipeline, they’ll move one. That’s to say, there is a very fine line between having other stuff out there, and churning out products willy-nilly to have products out there regardless of the quality of writing. Listen to the old maxim quality is better than quantity. But having at least one follow-up in the near pipe-line will keep readers coming back if they like your work.
  • It’s only 10% of the current book market.
  • And let’s face it, there may be some good writing out there in the self-publishing world, but there is also a lot of crap. So make sure you write the best you can, check diligently for any errors in the text that you may have overlooked. Re-work, re-edit, re-work, until you feel fully confident in its glory. And get an editor to have a look through it.
  • It’s just you. You have to be everything. The writer, the editor, the marketing team, the book cover designer…everything. Are you prepared for this?
  • Stigma. There is a lot of crap out there. Will your work be classed as one of them before someone’s even read it. Luckily the stigma against self-published books is reducing, but hasn’t disappeared yet.

Traditional pros

  • Wider distribution and more exposure
  • Most publishers pay advances
  • They have a huge team behind them, with extra eyes all looking over your manuscript, ensuring that the manuscript is as tight as it can be.
  • They do the editing, the formatting, see to the book cover, the marketing, the sales.
  • They can, especially if you have a literary agent, help you establish a career.
  • Your book is on the shelf. Physically there. This is what most authors get most excited about – seeing their own book on a shelf in a book store.

Traditional cons

  • It takes a long time to get published. On average about 18 months.
  • They are still pricing the ebooks way to high.
  • They have the power over everything. Over the art work and title. What happens if they put a cover on the front, or a font that you hate? And you are not included on the decision-making process.
  • They don’t use the marketing power efficiently.
  • The royalties are only paid twice a year.
  • The royalty rates are extremely low. Generally between 6-25%.
  • It is extremely hard to break into. And rejections may not even be because of the quality of writing. The writing may be excellent, your voice may be totally original but if their books are full, if they have recently published a similar title or theme, even your name could sound too similar, then you may get a rejection through your letter box or sat waiting in your email inbox.

While the pros and cons for self-publishing out-weighs the others in numbers, it’s not really about which list is longer, it is what is each thing worth?

[A quick thanks to





for their information into the self-publishing debate and general writing help.]


I’ve already had no luck approaching agents. My problem is that I write – and I want to write – genre fiction, historical fiction to be precise, and through my research I couldn’t find many agents willing to take someone on who wrote genre fiction. It seems that literary agents mainly want chick-lit or literary fiction (general fiction to me).

I’ve read articles, viewpoints and opinions and I’m listening to those on twitter who have taken both routes. I know there is a lot of historical fiction authors out there who’ve succeeded down the traditional route, so I can’t just ‘blame’ the genre debate. But there’s also those indie/self published authors who’ve succeeded doing it themselves.

I guess my main bug bear with self publishing is the stigma that still, unfortunately exists. Sue Grafton’s interview and the backlash it has caused, for example, doesn’t help matters.

But what are the pros and cons for me personally?

I’d love to work for myself. I like to be in control. I don’t want to change my voice for anyone. I want to be included in every decision-making process. I don’t want to be staring at a front cover that I hate. I don’t want the title to change, or even my name.

Result: self publish

What if I don’t know how? I don’t have to rely solely on myself. I love to write – it’s what is important to me. Can I afford my time to be taken up with marketing? I’d love to see my book on the shelf. In paper. I’m just starting out – how can I create a name for myself in amongst the other 1000s (I know physically how)?

Result: traditional


If you’re anything like me, then you need guidance. You’ll search the web for advice.

But look no further than


“Helping you write, publish and market your book”

7 comments on “Self-publishing vs traditional

  1. Go for it. Publishing yourself is the way forward.
    Best wishes, Stephen Livingston.

  2. Thanks stephenlivingston, I think I may!

  3. Well said! I actually just posted a three-post series about this same topic on my own blog. But I actually think you may have said it better. 🙂

    I’m like you in that it’s hard to decide which is the best option. I don’t think there really is one, honestly. You just have to follow your gut and decide which course is best for your work. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone could just decide all this stuff for us?

    • You took the words out of my mouth! So much easier if I had someone telling me what to do. I’ll just have to follow my gut! what did you decide?

      • P.s. Thanks for the kind words!

      • Actually, I decided on a similar path to yours. Since there isn’t a clear cut answer, I chose to pursue both methods. I have one series that is Urban Fantasy while the rest of my stuff is Traditional/Dark Fantasy, so to get around being pigeon-holed into Urban Fantasy by releasing that first, I’m going to self publish that series and then try my luck with the traditional route for everything else.

        Depending on where I manage to find success, if any, I’ll modify that plan as needed.

        Best of luck to you on your journey though! 🙂

  4. Enjoyed your post! If you change your mind about self-publishing, then my colleague Laura @PSHistFiction is commissioning historical fiction for Pen and Sword books and is looking for new titles. I’ll look out for more tweets about your book as I’m a historical fiction junkie!


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