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Why Self-Publishing Is the Best Solution for Today’s Author

Traditional publishing used to be the gold standard, but now for many authors the benefits of self-publishing outweigh those of traditional publishing—by a lot. With self-publishing, authors maintain control over the book and its outcomes, earn far higher revenue, and determine the fate of the work, their reputation, and the volume of sales. Treating your book like a business with you in the driver’s seat is an attractive option, making self-publishing the best solution for today’s author.

Traditional Publishing: A Fading Gold Standard

by Jenna Kalinsky, Founding Director, One Lit Place

13 minute read.

Getting your book published with a “Big 5” publisher has always been the gold standard and a coup for any writer. That sale has historically established books and their writers as valuable parts of the literary canon and launched careers.

The traditional model is respected because these top publishers select the best of the best (or what they deem to be the best of the best at the time). Authors recognize the prestige that comes from being plucked from tens of thousands of possible manuscripts to be one of the chosen few, and the competition pushes writers to do their best work

Writers are aware that the reading public trusts publishers to serve as gatekeepers. When people pick up a book published by a major house, they instinctively know it will be high quality bearing complex ideas, a well-realized story and characters, engaging writing, and a thoughtful reading experience overall.

Being chosen as that “quality book” is for many the highlight of their career, and so for these people, striving for getting one of these publisher’s names on their book jacket is a non-starter.

Working with a traditional publisher is also a comfort and maintains a sense of order. Many writers rightfully like writing and are happy to stay in their lane and focus on the writing while letting the publisher handle the business of publishing and getting the book into stores.

What’s Changed in Traditional Publishing so Self-Publishing Is Now the Best Solution for Today’s Author?

giant wall calendar

In recent years, and exacerbated by the COVID pandemic, traditional publishing has faced ever-shrinking acquisition budgets, layoffs, and mergers. The result of reduced staff and money is protracted timelines for acquisition, printing, and delivery, lower advances and royalties, and fewer resources for editing author manuscripts and marketing.

This means publishers now acquire fewer books each year. Further, those they do accept still must go through the same bureaucratic channels they always have of editing, art and design, printing, and delivery, but with fewer staff and less budget to allocate to each project, the timeline is now up to about 2.5 years from sale to shelf.

Between finding an agent, editing the book to the agent’s specifications, the agent selling the book, doing more editing and waiting for the book to filter through the corporate funnels until it gets to bookstores, a writer is quite possibly looking at … an uncountable amount of time to see their book in a reader’s hands.

The additional drawbacks include earning low royalties, relinquishing the rights to your book (and even subsequent book(s)), possibly undergoing substantial rewrites to fit the publisher’s concept for the book, and having to do your own promoting and marketing if you want to get the book into readers’ hands.

So let me get this straight: I spend however many months (or years) looking for an agent, then once I have the agent, they'll have me undergo rewrites for up to a year to their specifications, then I have to wait for the agent to sell the book. If/when they do, I will receive an advance that will vary from very modest to moderately modest and will be told I have to sell many thousands of copies before I can start earning any royalties. From there, the publisher will likely have me go through more rounds of editing and then it will be another 2+ years before the book is published and distributed to bookstores. Once it's published, I'll have to market the book myself or hire a publicist. If the book doesn't sell enough copies, once that initial print run is sold, the book may be out of print, but because I won’t own the rights, I won't be able to republish it myself … all this so I can work with a big publisher?

For some, even bearing all of this in mind, they will still say “yes.”

For others who look at this process and see little reward, self-publishing is the best solution. 

venn diagram with illustrations of light bulb and book

The Key Differences Between Traditional Publishing and Self-Publishing

Traditional Publishing

Markers: no involvement in the business side; no initial financial investment; prestige; low income opportunity.

No need to tangle in the business: be traditionally published with a major publishing house, you must first acquire a literary agent. (If you aim for an independent or university press, you may not need one). An agent takes care of the business side of things including the book’s sale and your remuneration. They represent you and will work hard to get your book placed with the best house, receive the highest advance, and negotiate the most desirable deal for going forward, including other publishing opportunities to stir up interest in you prior to the book coming out, foreign rights, or even optioning for TV and film. They often have you do some editing from light to substantial before they try to sell the book, and after its publication, they may help you with some marketing.

For many authors this level of care is highly valuable as it leaves them free to focus on their writing.

No financial investment: You do not lay out any money for the publishing or for your agent. Note: If you pay to have your book edited to help you acquire your agent, that’s a separate (and smart) investment, but once you have the agent, you will not actively pay them as they earn their 15%-20% from your book advance and royalties.

Prestige: When your book is sold to a major publishing house, you have their name and reputation aligned with yours forever. This alliance will open doors and instantly alert readers that your book is of note.

Self-Publishing

Differences: 100% author-led with complete control over all creative and business aspects; initial variable financial investment; excellent income potential

100% Author-Led: Self-publishing is available to all writers and is truly an industry that has no limits for what you can do and how high you can go. You decide how you want the book to look and read, where you want to publish it, and how much money you want to earn per book.

Gatekeeper? Ha. You are the gatekeeper!

Where for some writers being tasked with undertaking the business side is terrifying, for others it is true liberation:

  • Timeline? Your book can be out into the world and in readers’ hands within a couple of weeks.
  • Look and feel of the book? You pick the cover or even design it yourself. You choose the book’s size and font.
  • Income?  You choose the per-unit price (and how much you wish to earn from each sale)
  • Support for the parts you don’t want to do or can’t do yourself? Sky’s the limit. There are many excellent service providers who are happy to help you with aspects of the process from some to all.
  • Rights? All yours, always. You can do whatever you like with your work and publish it in any form and on any platform.


Financial Investment
: How much you spend on self-publishing is also up to you:

  • DIY: if you’re tech savvy and willing to roll up your sleeves, you can publish your book for free or close to it. Then the book is all income potential as it begins to sell.
  • Outsource aspects of the project: You can also outsource some or all of the process by either hand-picking individual aspects you’d like help with such as the cover design, the editing, which should always be done by a professional, or with the book formatting and uploading, which can be technically quite challenging.
  • Work with a hybrid publisher: these “all-in-one” self-publishers offer “boutique” or concierge-style services to professionally usher your book through the process for you.


Income Potential
: you set the price of the book and what portion of each sale you wish to receive as profit. Then, the greater your sales, the greater your income. 

Having complete creative control, fast turnaround to publication, and high earning potential make self-publishing the truly best solution for many modern authors.

Both Traditionally Published and Self-Published: Marketing & Promotion

(Sofia Mostaghimi, author of Desperada, (Penguin Random House) on Global TV, June 2023)

All authors, regardless of how your book is published, are responsible for making sure your work gets out into the reading public. Shy or not, business-savvy or not, if you want people to know about your book and for your book to sell, you’ve got to bear down and start hustling

Traditionally published authors used to be sent on book tours and given launch parties, but now, unless you’re already a household name or the publisher anticipates your book as exceedingly saleable, in which case they will allocate some budget to marketing events, you’re on your own.

This means building and hosting a website, maintaining a social media presence, and taking part in networking, which can range from grassroots efforts to speaking at literary festivals, sitting on panels, giving talks and readings, and being a guest on podcasts or other media.

Motivating Factors for Marketing Your Work

All the marketing the traditionally published author does is primarily to acquire readership, get your book into the hands of readers, and circulate your name.

The sales that come from your efforts won’t likely directly affect your personal bottom line in terms of more money earned, but the sales numbers will indicate to your publisher that you as an author can sell books, which will help you get your next book picked up more readily. 

The self-published author, however, while you too will be acquiring readership and getting your name and book out there, also gets to enjoy a 1:1 bonus for all your hard work, which is income from the sale of each book.

Play Video about carrots dangling in front of One Lit Place website on laptop

Is Earning an Income an Incentive? For Many, Definitely.

For the entrepreneurial writer, knowing that the more you promote your book the more money you stand to earn is great news and a fantastic and very sexy carrot: The more you stand behind the hard work and valuable ideas you’ve put into a book to sell it, the greater your income.

Those writers who treat their book like a business can earn a healthy (or in the case of this writer who spends 1 hour per day marketing his wife’s book to the tune of $40,000 income per month, very healthy) living from the sale of their book(s).

(The article, “The 4 Pillars of Marketing: How to Sell More Books in Less Time” includes some excellent tips for marketing your self-published book). 

Is This Shift in Publishing Happening Because People Don't Read Anymore?

One would naturally imagine that the squeeze on traditional publishers is from decreased book sales. Maybe all of those hysterical headlines that the book is dead are true? (she wondered, looking at her overstuffed bookshelf).

Nope. Not only is the book absolutely not dead; it is thriving, and people are reading now more than ever before.

This article cites recent statistics, the most striking of which is that Publishers Weekly reported that book sales in the U.S. have risen 8.9% since March 2020.

(Yes, of course, we were all watching a lot more Netflix during COVID, but we were also reading- and quite a bit!). 

The shift has more to do with a see-saw effect happening with the publishing industry: we’re moving away from a handful of large corporations managing all the books that make it to the reading public to authors taking matters into their own hands. The old way of writers doing the writing and publishers doing the publishing is melding into a different author-led model such that those who are interested in controlling the “narrative” as it were over their books’ inceptions, realizations, and futures, are going to end up on top.

To look at the sales figures for self-published books, one can see there are lot of these authors.

Is Self-Publishing Overtaking Traditional Publishing for Authors?

The shift has already occurred such that many authors, including those who have already published a book or books traditionally, are moving into self-publishing because of the many benefits.

Natasha Kullar Relph, freelance writer and literary influencer, talks about the boon self-publishing has seen in recent years. 

“In February 2023, Publishers Weekly noted: “According to Bookstats, which collects online sales data in real time from Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble across the print book, e-book, and digital audiobook formats, self-published authors captured 51% of overall e-book unit sales last year and more than 34% of e-book retail revenue, compared to 31% in 2021. Those numbers translate into e-book sales of $874 million in 2022 for self-published authors.”

Self-publishing has come a long way since it was referred to as “vanity” publishing, and with the proliferation of online platforms and options, it’s not or something only a few highly technical types can handle.

It’s easy to find innumerable helpful how-to articles, guides, and services to help you through the process, all of which bridge authors to this much more viable and autonomous method of bringing their books to readers and normalize the landscape to make self-publishing a truly valuable method of publishing your book.

What Is the Real Currency For You?

With traditional publishing, the chief currency lies in the cachet of having the publisher’s name associated with you and your book. For many writers, that’s an incredibly valuable currency and one that supersedes all others.

For other writers who want to make a living as writers or simply see an income from their hard work, self-publishing gives them the chance to use their book as a business. A survey commissioned by the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) in 2022 found that self-published authors earn substantially greater income than their traditionally published peers, and many are able to make a living from their books.

Given that most people’s time is limited, earning money for the work you do makes logical sense. The self-publishing model puts that money-earning potential directly into the lap of the writer. Having that kind of control over what and how you earn a living is empowering.

This is why self-publishing has become the smart solution for many writers. It provides them the kind of currency that enables them to live and live to write more books. 

 

You're not a writer, you're an entrepreneur and your product just happens to be a book.”

What’s Next on the Publishing Horizon: Traditional Publishers Are Acquiring Self-Published Books

Given the upward trend of self-published books, Kullar Relph cites numerous examples of traditional publishers in the UK who have approached self-published authors to acquire their books.

Where a few decades ago, such an author may have felt “discovered” like a Hollywood star being plucked out of their job at Burger King and thrust into the limelight, but now? Not so much. Giving up their rights, after tasting freedom, is not always preferable.

Paul Millerd, who keeps a blog called “Boundless” on Substack, notably wrote about how he rejected a $200k two-book deal from a major publisher, offered to him after he’d self-published his book The Pathless Path, Imagining a New Story for Work and Life. After doing the math, he realized at his current rate of sales, he’d be foolish to hand over the rights to his work and lose a tremendous amount of income.

 

How Do You Decide Which Way to Go?

If you’re planning to publish your book, this excellent blog “An Insider’s Guide to the Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing,” from self-published author Christian T. Huber articulately notes the distinctions between the two streams and is an excellent starting point to identifying what your priorities are and which publishing stream is best for you.

Your list will tell you if you have the energy and interest to usher your book into the world yourself and/or whether you want to be the usher but you’ll need some help or if you should hand the reigns over to a traditional publisher. Based on your answers, you will then be able to take definitive steps toward the right option for you.

If you’re someone who recognizes and respects the venerability of the publishing institution and can manage the lengthy timeline, relinquishment of creative control, and lower earnings, traditional publishing is a fantastic option.

If you’re excited about treating your book’s publication like a business, knowing the more you learn and effort you put in the more reward you will reap and the sooner you will see your book in people’s hands, self-publishing is waiting for you.

What matters most is that your book gets read and moves its readers. Ultimately, that’s the most important goal.

When you’re ready to consider your self-publishing options, please reach out!

We will format your book to your specifications for the individual  platforms you choose, so you can begin selling it and watching your readership grow.

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  • Amazon KDP Print
  • Amazon Kindle (E-book)
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