Traditional vs Self Publishing

This is a rehash of a post from last year. I’m in the market for an agent and/or a publishing contract with a traditional publisher. Again, I’m being asked (and asking myself) “Why go traditional when you’ve had some success (albeit limited) with self publishing?”
I have a number of reasons for wanting to take the traditional path. The most significant reason for me is that it is an indicator of success and acceptance by the wider literary community. Yes, yes, I know that this is strictly a personal belief and my not having traditional publisher representation doesn’t mean that I’m not an author. It’s a personal goal.

My other reasons for wanting a traditional publisher (and these are probably more important than the personal achievement component) are access to an established distribution network and marketing expertise. (Yes I know that I’m still going to have to do the bulk of the marketing myself – its the distribution network I really want).

For me, the pros and cons of Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing are as follows:



  • You have a 100% chance of being published (and that’s a very nice thing)
  • You can choose to publish only e-books, or print books or both
  • You can publish short stories, serials, novellas, novels – whatever takes your fancy
  • You’re in control of the entire process
  • You determine your timetable
  • You received a significantly larger proportion of the royalties than if you went through a traditional publisher (Anything from 30-70% compared to 5-10%)
  • You will learn a lot about the entire publishing process: from writing, to business set up, to printing, to marketing, to sales. This is an invaluable set of experiences (trust me)


  • You cover 100% of the cost
  • You take 100% of the risk
  • You’ll need to buy/pay for an honest opinion on the potential marketability of your book
  • You need to edit your manuscript very carefully and not rely on your Beta readers to do the work of a professional editor
  • You’re on your own in terms of marketing and distribution
  • It’s very difficult to get book sellers to stock your book/host book launches/host other promotional activities.
  • It’s very difficult to get people/professional organisations/journals/ and/or other publications of merit to review your book.



  • You’re in this together.
  • You’ll not have to make a financial contribution to the process (if you do then you’re not in a traditional publishing contract – beware)
  • With any luck you will receive an advance (depends on the size of the publisher, type of book and your experience)
  • You’ll receive advice on selecting the best possible cover for your book
  • You’ll receive a professional opinion on the saleability and appeal of your writing
  • You’ll receive advice/services from a professional editor (again you will need to do work here – humans make mistakes no matter how good they are).
  • You’ll have access to people with experience marketing books, press releases, and working with areas of the media
  • You’ll have access to an established distribution network


  • You have a statistically low chance of obtaining a publisher (or even a literary agent) and therefore a low chance of actually being published
  • A traditional publisher is no guarantee of sales and/or success
  • You’re in a contract and will be expected to understand and comply with that contract
  • You need to give up some artistic freedoms to produce a product that fits with the publisher (Suck it up – they’re doing this to try and sell your book)
  • You need to fit in with their time frames and demands
  • You received a significantly smaller proportion of the royalties than if you were self published (about 5% but it varies)
  • Don’t expect an easy ride. You’ll still need to work hard to promote your own book!

Good luck! Strive to do what’s best for you and your writing project.

2 thoughts on “Traditional vs Self Publishing

  1. onereasonableperson says:

    One thing I don’t see emphasized enough in articles like this one: To become a successful self published author, one must learn the business of self publishing. That curve is almost as hard as learning to write and takes a lot of effort.

    To me, the most crucial question any author must answer is whether or not they want to run a publishing business.


    1. sarahjwrites says:

      I certainly agree with your point and it is a huge learning curve. I participated in a number of workshops through my local writers centre to get the low down on the workings of the industry, printing, POD, Kindle/Amazon, tax arrangement, cover design, etc. BUT nothing came close to the on-the-job experience of self publishing my first book. Marketing is tough but doable – and a business plan (plus specialised marketing plan) is essential. What I found a hard nut to crack (and I didn’t – despite trying several tactics) was achieving bricks and mortar distribution. The distribution side of things is my main reason for my continued pursuit of a traditional agent/publisher.

      Liked by 1 person

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