[Podcast] Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing: Which Is Best for Me?

“Is traditional publishing for me?”

It’s a question all writers ask at some point in their journey. And the answer depends on each individual. We interviewed Jamie Weiner, author of The Quest for Legitimacy: How Children of Prominent Families Discover Their Unique Place in the World, who has both self-published and traditionally published a book. In our interview, Weiner shared the pros and cons of his individual publishing experiences.

There’s no one right way. You might go the route of traditional publishing for one book and the self-publishing route with another. There’s no right path. But there are a few guideposts to help you make your decision on your book writing journey.

Responsibility vs. Independence

Publishing houses are like banks: they want a return on their investment, your book. Because they are in the business of producing and selling books, they have refined the process so it is as efficient as possible. While the entire process is managed for you—editing, designing, printing, and distribution—you might be surprised by the limited interaction you have with the publishing house. Yours is one of many books to be published.

Because a publishing house provides a copy editor, a cover designer, and a marketing and distribution team, you don’t have to find—and vet—a team of professionals (which, let’s be honest, we might not trust our instincts to pick the best for the best final product).

The flip side? With self-publishing you have more control over the process of the book. You don’t have to wait on a publishers release date (which can sometimes be years after you submit a proposal). You don’t have to defer to their creative process. You can control the pricing and distribution of the book. You can control the audio rights.

Simply, you have more control.

Creative Control

The most alluring aspect to self-publishing is your ability to control the creative process. We’ve worked with authors who have fought with their publisher on titling and cover art. One publisher wanted to replace a conceptual (and catchy!) title with a purely descriptive title (because, they said, it would be better for SEO). Another author was provided cover designs that used stock imagery. Yawn.

While some traditional publishers take your creative feedback, they won’t always. Ultimately, the final decision is theirs.

With self-publishing, you have complete reign over your creative vision. You will determine when your book will be published, what cover design looks best, how your book should be organized, the contents (references, appendices, glossaries, etc.) to be included, and more!

Publishing houses also have heavy sway over your material. Do you want to include a prologue? Your publisher might not allow for it. Or, they might demand it, even if you don’t think it needs it.

That being said, most publishing houses are open for discussion if you have concerns. In Weiner’s case, he didn’t like the cover design his publisher provided. He decided to pay for an illustrator (out of pocket) to design a cover he appreciated.

Book Promotion: It’s All on You

We all want to sell our books. Publishing and promotion are just as important as the writing of your book. You might assume that your publishing house will market and promote your book for you. They will. Not enough, though, to sustain buzz for the long haul. That’s on you.

Traditional publishers most often complete basic and general marketing strategies within the first 6 to 8 weeks of the books launch. After that, they’re on to the next released book. And yours is history.

This is one of the main reasons why publishing houses want to know if you have a pre-existing following—because they want you to promote and sell the book, even after they set you free.

It’s a hard truth: because publishing houses publish hundreds of books a year, they do not care about your book’s success as much as you do. Yes, they care. Of course, they want it to sell. But unless yours is a best-seller, your is just one of many churned out publishing machine.

Successful book promotion will be your responsibility. In Weiner’s case, he hired an external PR firm to help him promote his book. And he argues it was worth the additional money so that his book will have a better pre-sale and extended post-launch sale period.

Similarly, when you self-publish, it is your responsibility to promote your book. You can follow in Weiner’s footsteps and hire an external PR. Or you can hire a book launch team, provide ARC copies to ideal readers who will review your book ahead of release date, or even send out galley copies of your book and ask your readers to promote your book on their platforms.

So, You Want to Publish Around the Globe?

If you’re wanting mainstream exposure for your book, a publishing house is a great option. They have connections with prestigious publications, bookstores, and libraries, and it’s their job to expose your book to the world. Another benefit to publishing houses is their ability to publish your book in other countries and in other languages. This can guarantee your book’s reach around the globe.

It's harder to receive mainstream exposure if you self-publish, but it is not impossible. If you have expertise on a subject, a credible and high-quality book, and work hard to make connections, you can promote your book through prestigious publications. If you’re wanting to publish in other countries or other languages, you will have a harder time than if you had selected a traditional publisher. You’ll have to oversee the translation process, which can be tricky

Both traditional publishing and self-publishing provide individual benefits to writers. Your next step: Determine what exactly you want out of your publishing experience, and which publishing option works best for you.