Have you ever wondered what the difference is between self-publishing and traditional publishing or which option would be right for your book? While today’s writers have many publishing options, those options vary greatly, and deciding which one to choose depends on what is most important to you.
Traditional publishing means having your book published by a publishing house, such as Simon & Schuster or Random House. Such publishing houses have a lot of recognition and contacts in the literary world. You would submit a query letter or proposal discussing your finished manuscript either to a literary agent or directly to the publishing house.
Securing a literary agent can often be as challenging as securing a publishing contract, but most major publishers won’t even look at a manuscript if it doesn’t come from an agent.
An editor at the publishing company will read your proposal or letter and decide if the manuscript is right for the company. The question then is this: Will they accept or reject it? If the manuscript is rejected, you are free to shop it around to other houses. However, if it is accepted, the publisher will buy the rights to your book and pay you an advance on what they expect you will earn in future royalties.
At this point, if your manuscript is accepted by a major publisher, the publication process is in their hands. The publisher will take responsibility for designing, packaging, marketing, printing, and distributing your book, making sure it gets into the right hands in the right market. If a small or independent press publishes your manuscript, you’ll play a more active role in that process.
This all sounds great, right? But many writers are significantly invested in their writing, especially fiction authors, and accepting a publishing contract also means giving up control of your manuscript.
It is not uncommon for an editor to take creative license and recreate, or demand that you recreate, large sections of your book, even if you think it is perfect the way it is.
But with self-publishing, you get to retain control over your content and decide what market you want to sell it in. However, this freedom comes with a cost and a lot of hard work, something that most folks working other jobs to support themselves may not have.
You see, when you self-publish, you are responsible for designing, packaging, marketing, printing, and distributing your book. You’re also serving as your own editor and proofreader, as well as funding the entire operation yourself. Print-on-Demand (POD) companies have emerged to ease the pain of ordering boxes of books that never see the light of day. Now, you only have to print as many copies as you need.
Self-publishing can be a great way to get your work out to the public without spending years pitching to publishing houses and waiting for them to get back to you. Even if your book is selected from the multitude of queries and proposals piling up in an editor’s office, it can take another full year of production before you hold a copy in your hands, hot off the presses.
Instead, in the six months it could take to hear back from publishing houses, you can literally have your paperback or hardback book signed and ready for the world, depending on the self-publishing company you choose to hire.
Now, non-fiction titles may have a better chance at a quicker response and at being pushed through the production schedule at a publishing house, especially if the topics are timely or relevant.
Either way, understanding the intentions you have for yourself and your work will help you decide the best route. If you are willing to be patient and wait for an offer and an advance from a traditional publisher (and are thick-skinned and can handle receiving rejection letters for a while), then traditional publishing might be the right choice for you. If you want to maintain absolute control over your content, then self-publishing might be more appropriate.
Fortunately, POD, e-books, e-readers, and the Internet have started to change the game and level the playing field between traditionally published books and self-published books.
No matter what option you choose, it’s important to give your manuscript the attention it deserves so that it’s free of errors and engages your readers. Submit your manuscript to one of Scribendi.com’s book editors to help in your endeavor.
- How to Help an Editor (maasmith.com)
- Infographic: 5 Key Book Publishing Paths (the-digital-reader.com)