Had I been writing years ago, the only way my work would have been seen by others would have been if a traditional publishing house liked what they had seen. With more than 150,000 books being published in the UK alone each year, however, writing something that will be noticed by someone of significance in the publishing world would perhaps be quite an achievement.
However, there is now another option: Self-publishing.
Self-publishing isn’t a new concept, in fact, it dates back to 1979, but there has, until very recently been a sort of stigma attached to those that have followed this path. Whilst self-publishing authors sing from the rooftops about having greater creative control over their work and the potential for higher royalties on sales, traditionally published authors remain steadfast with their thoughts, believing that a publishing house is the only way to achieve true success.
Therefore, for an author, the question remains, is it better to self-publish or work with a publishing house?
What is Meant by Traditional Publishing?
Traditionally, people have worked in the past with a third-party individual who helps to edit and release your book to the market. They complete what is required in order to turn your manuscript into something people would want to buy and for that reason, you will perhaps see a smaller return. You are no longer the sole owner of your work; you have basically entered into a partnership with someone else and therefore they will also take a slice of the profits.
Sounds harsh perhaps, but what you need to remember is that you are working with an expert in the field, have access to their industry knowledge and their contacts meaning that your work may be seen by more people than if you self-publish.
What is Self-Publishing?
When you publish a book for yourself, you take on the responsibility for all aspects of the process. From editing the story, creating an eye-catching book cover, formatting the text, and marketing the title; you are the one in charge. That doesn’t mean you can’t ask for help, there are many companies and individuals out there that provide their expertise, offering their editing services for books, illustrators that will spend their time envisaging and designing the perfect book sleeve for you, and marketing companies that will help with promotions and book tours. It means you are not alone during the process but you retain full control of all decision-making.
As you have read, each option offers something different, and both have merits, it ultimately comes down to personal preference and choice and where you think your skills are.
How do you Decide?
Realistically self-publishing is going to cost more to begin with. Whereas the publisher would normally take on the costs of producing your masterpiece, if you go down the self-publishing route, you will find that your bank balance will be affected. However, if successful, you could see yourself reaping the rewards. When self-publishing, you can earn up to 70% of the royalties for eBook sales and 50% for print sales, far higher than the reward through a publishing house where the royalties could be as low as 5%on print books and 25% on eBooks, so you could recoup your money quicker if you decide to publish for yourself.
#2 Retaining Creative Control
We are all protective over our own creations, and if you self-publish you will retain full control over what happens to your work. However, sometimes we need that critical eye to look over things and tell us what is or isn’t working, what can be cut and what should be expanded upon. This is a benefit that automatically comes with a traditional publishing house, whereas if you self-publish, should you wish for someone else to look over your manuscript, you will need to find the right editor for you and shell out the additional fees, although it is also worthwhile remembering that there are indie publishers that offer the security of a traditional publishing house but with more flexibility on the part of the writer.
Working with a well-established traditional publisher is likely to get you noticed far more quickly than if you self-publish. That’s not to say that you won’t be successful, it may just take longer to reach the same level of promotion. You need to remember that these are seasoned pros and therefore they will have huge marketing teams behind them to create excitement in the build-up to your publication date. Bookshops are also far more likely to stock your book if it has come from a reputable company that they have a long-standing relationship with. That’s not to say that if you self-publish you wouldn’t gain any exposure you might just need to think long and hard about where that comes from.
It might also be worthwhile noting here, and yes, I appreciate it is a marmite book, but E.L. James’ 50 Shades of Grey was self-published, has sold over 100 million copies, and remained on the New York Times Bestseller list for 133 consecutive weeks. I am pretty sure that many authors who worked with traditional publication houses could only dream of success looking like that.
To learn about more successful self-published authors, check out this article about 10 successful authors that self-published.
If self–publishing is your preferred route there are still support options available for you. Several companies now offer a number of services including developmental editing packages and writing mentoring consultations that will help you to excel for a comparatively very small cost.
Finally, I think it is important to remember that unfortunately, regardless of whether you decide to self-publish or follow a more traditional path, the chances of earning enough to retire on with just one book are slim. On average writers can make anywhere between £5,000 to an amount in excess of £500,000 per book written therefore unless you are destined to become the next J.K. Rowling, you may find that you need to write a series of books similar to that of George R.R. Martin, Stephanie Meyer or Diana Gabaldon should you wish to become a full-time, successful writer.
For inspiration and to find out who are the world’s richest authors (2021) check out this article which features the Top 20.
Are you thinking of publishing a book? Would you self-publish? Perhaps you are already a successful writer and would like to share your insights with others.
Thank you to Marginalia Manuscripts for sponsoring this article. I have been paid for my time but all views and opinions mentioned in this piece are my own.
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