Self Publishing vs Traditional Publishing: 5 Important Considerations

Written by Emily Harstone | May 1, 2013

When you have finished writing your first manuscript and edited it to your own satisfaction, what is your next step? You can either go the traditional route and start writing query letters to agents who may help you get a contract with a traditional publishing company. There are several questions that you can ask yourself, that can help determine whether you should submit your work to a traditional publisher, or publish it yourself.

1. How long is your book?

Although there is no official length for books, established publishers definitely have ideas about how long it should be. These publishing standards vary per genre. For example Science Fiction and Fantasy novels tend to be between 80,000 and 120,000 words long. Mysteries and romances often are shorter and tend to be between 60,00 and 70,000 words.

A lot of books that are self published, particularly electronically, are a lot shorter than that. Hugh Howey, the author of the bestselling e-book Wool, published the book originally in 5 separate parts, then published it as one omnibus edition. The first part is 12,000 words (60 pages). That is hardly the length of a book a publisher would accept, yet Howey managed to make his self published series a best selling one by building interest from the first part through to the fifth. A publisher never would have accepted the first part alone, but after Howey turned the series of novella’s into a hit, Penguin is publishing The Wool Omnibus edition in Print.

If your novels tend to be shorter and part of a series it can be a lot easier to self publish them online and build a fan base by offering the first one for free. That’s how Howey became one of the best selling authors publishing right now.

If you tend to write longer literary novels, it could be harder to self publish it online, because it is harder to build a fan base for literary novels in the self publishing world right now.  Readers are used to spending 1.99 to 99 cents on  self published ebook purchases, so they may not be so willing to pay enough per book to justify all of your hard work.

2. How much control do you want over your book?

Some writers want editorial feed back. They want someone else to tell them which characters and scenes to cut or focus on. Other writers want to execute their own artistic vision. If you are in the first category you can either try to go the traditional route or hire a freelance editor to give you feedback. Freelance editors tend to vary wildly in price, but if you can’t fine one in your price range you can always try to get a friend to give you feedback. If you fall into the second category and this is your first book, you should probably self publish it. You will most likely be happier with the end results.

3. How much submitting are you willing to do?

16 publisher’s rejected The Diary of Anne Frank, 12 rejected the first Harry Potter book, 121 publishers rejected Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  One of the most famous authors of the Twentieth Century, C.S. Lewis’s work was turned down over 800 times before one piece was accepted for publication. This does not even take into consideration the modern publishing world that relies on agents. You have to put together a good query letter, make sure your first twenty pages are as polished as possible, and submit to at least fifteen agents, in order to get one of them, in order to get a publishing contact. That is no small amount of work, although the pay off, a major publisher releasing your work, may really be worth it.

4. How much promotion are you willing to do?

When you have a larger traditional publishing company releasing your book, they will handle most of the promotion. You might have to show up and sign a few books or create an authors facebook page, but most of the promotion is the publisher’s responsibility. They are also in charge of distributing your book, making sure that the public has easy access to it. However with a smaller independent publisher you might end doing the same amount of self promotion as a self published author.

When you publish your own book, you become your own publicist. If you are self publishing in print you also have to be in charge of distribution as well. But the primary focus will be on making sure people know about your book. A lot of people self publish these days, particularly electronically, because it’s cheaper. You have to make sure your book stands out, and you have to do everything to make it stand out, from the cover to a twitter account, to convincing friends and strangers to give positive reviews. This can be a lot of work. But if you have an interest in social marketing, and are willing to put some work in, you can get your work into the hands of others. Remember that if you support other self published authors, they are likely to help you as well.

5. How soon do you want your book to be out in the world?

If you are the patient type, traditional publishing could be the way for you. It takes an average of two years to see your book published by an established publisher. Self publishing, even if you are printing the books through a third party can take a few weeks at most, and sometimes even just a few hours.  If you like to see immediate results, then self publishing might be the right choice for you.

Hopefully after reviewing all the questions and their explanations you have a better idea about which publishing route is the best fit for your career and your manuscript.