Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing Part 2: Which Is Better?
Updated: Nov 23, 2020
In Part 1, I defined traditional publishing and self-publishing and outlined the general process for each (read Part 1 here). However, I didn’t answer this burning question: which publication method is better? Well…it depends. Both have pros and cons, and the best method for an author depends on several factors, including their goals, skills, and available resources. This article lists pros and cons of each method and outlines the specific reasons why I chose to self-publish The Train Rolls On (read the book description here.)
Basically, traditional publishing best suits authors who prefer to let professionals handle the publishing process; desire distribution to physical stores and/or literary awards; are unwilling (or unable) to fund publication themselves; and don’t mind giving up ownership rights, creative control, and a higher royalty percentage.
On the other hand, self-publishing best suits authors who have an entrepreneurial spirit; want to retain ownership rights and control over their work; desire a higher royalty percentage; and don’t mind coordinating all publishing and marketing responsibilities, funding a book’s production, and selling it via online retailers.
Note: These pros and cons lists include many (but not all) of the factors that authors should consider when deciding between traditional publishing and self-publishing.
Why I Chose To Self-Publish The Train Rolls On
1. Traditional publishing is very competitive, and publication is not guaranteed.
For starters, securing a literary agent is no easy task. Some agents receive 12 query letters per day from prospective clients, so the competition for agent representation is incredibly stiff.
Even if an author is lucky enough to secure an agent, there’s no guarantee that their book will be published. In fact, I participated in a webinar in April with an acquiring editor from one of the “Big 5” publishing companies. She estimated that she receives 3-4 new manuscripts every day, but she only acquires about 10 manuscripts per year for publication. This means that she rejects approximately 99% of the manuscripts that she receives. For most of them, she advised that she doesn’t even read beyond the first page. This rejection rate is pretty standard for editors in her position, and it reflects just how competitive the market for traditionally published picture books is.
With The Train Rolls On, I did not want to spend months (or even years) querying agents and submitting manuscripts to publishers, only to be left praying that someone would take a chance on me. It didn’t seem right to put the fate of this particular project in other people’s hands. With self-publishing, as long as I work hard and put in the time and money necessary to complete the project, I am guaranteed to have a published book at the end.
2. Traditional publishing is slow.
Even if an author is lucky enough to have a manuscript acquired by a traditional publisher, the timeline from acquisition to publication is often 1-2 years or more. The editor that spoke at my April webinar confirmed this, as she was in the process of filling out her Spring 2022 line-up.
Considering the time and effort that it would have taken to secure an agent, submit and have a manuscript acquired by a publisher, and then have that manuscript transformed into a published book, I might have been lucky to reach this goal within the next 3-5 years. For many authors, it takes considerably longer than that. My original goal was to publish a book by the end of 2020, so traditional publishing did not lend itself to my publication timeline.
3. Traditional publishers have primary control over the finished product.
With traditional publishing, the publisher has the final say regarding a book's title, text, size, format, illustrator, designer, etc. With self-publishing, an author can direct the book’s final outcome.
Part of my desire to publish a book was to learn a new craft, and I didn't want to miss out on the details of the process by having a traditional publisher handle everything. I wanted to dive in and be as hands-on as possible, learning about each step along the way. Self-publishing allows me to do that.
Why I Chose Assisted Self-Publishing
For these reasons, it was clear that self-publishing was the right choice for this project; however, I still had one decision to make: DIY or assisted self-publishing? This was a no-brainer. Because I am new to this and because picture books are inherently more complex to illustrate and design, I chose assisted self-publishing. That is why I have hired professionals to help me edit, illustrate, and design The Train Rolls On. (For more information about the illustrator and to see examples of her work, check out my Illustrator Spotlight blog here. For more information about the designer and to see examples of his work, read my Book Designer Spotlight blog here.) My goal is to create a book that looks and feels as professional as possible, and these pros will help me do that.
Just to be clear, I am not trying to discourage anyone from choosing traditional publishing, nor am I saying that I will never try traditional publishing myself. Actually, I do plan to give traditional publication a shot. In fact, I am already taking steps to initiate that process. I am only saying that self-publishing seemed to be the best choice for this particular project given my current goals and the available options. In the end, neither publication method is "better" than the other, and it is up to the individual author to decide which path is best for them.
In the end, neither publication method is better than the other, and it is up to the individual author to decide which path is best for them.
How I Am Handling The "Cons" of Self-Publishing
As stated above, it can take a lot of time, effort, and money to self-publish a book. Luckily, I have never been one to shy away from hard work, and I am extremely fortunate to have family and friends who support me in this endeavor. With their help, I have already funded the professional editing and a portion of the illustration costs. I am also currently organizing a crowdfunding campaign through Kickstarter to pay for a portion of the illustration and design services. (For basic information regarding how Kickstarter campaigns work, read my Kickstarter Basics blog here.) So, while self-publishing definitely has its challenges, they are challenges that I am willing to accept.