31 Days of NaNoWriMo Prep: Day 25 – Should I Self-Publish or Traditionally Publish?

Hey there everybody! Today we’re getting controversial with Day 25 of “31 Days of NaNoWriMo Prep”. After all, nobody can really seem to agree about which is better when it comes to self-publishing vs. traditional publishing. Today, though, we’re going to settle this once and for all. If you’re new here and feel like you’re being thrown into the fire without warning, then you may want to go back and read the other 24 posts in this series. If that’s the case, you can check them out here, or you can watch the corresponding YouTube videos here.

I guess we should start with discussing the differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing. Traditional publishing involves finding a literary agent and then shopping your novel around to publishing houses, who then have your novel professionally edited, have a cover designed for your novel, and get your novel into bookstores, both brick-and-mortar and online. It’s called traditional publishing because, well, it’s traditional. That’s the way most people have been publishing their books for many, many years. Self-publishing, on the other hand, is where you do everything yourself, from hiring a freelance editor and cover designer to formatting your manuscript for publication and setting up your novel with different self-publishing companies like Kindle Direct Publishing, Ingram Spark, CreateSpace, etc. This is a relatively new form of publishing, made possible by that thing called the Internet.

Back when self-publishing originally came into existence, it definitely wasn’t the best way to get your novel published. It mainly flourished solely on the Internet, since at the time, if you wanted physical copies of your novel, you would have to order bulk prints and then pray that you could sell all of them (sort of like traditional publishers do). The self-publishing market was also over-saturated with sloppy, un-edited romance and erotica novels written by people who were trying to make a quick buck. Now, however, self-publishing is becoming a legitimate option for aspiring authors. Print-on-demand services have drastically changed the playing field, allowing one copy of a book to be printed at a time, meaning a self-published author no longer has to stockpile copies of their novel in their house to try and sell. People can go to online bookstores like Amazon and purchase a paperback or hardcover copy of a self-published author’s work, and it’ll be delivered right to their doorstep at no cost to the author.

So, that sounds pretty great, right? Why, then, are people still traditionally publishing their novels? Well, because there’s pros and cons to each type of publishing. Let’s start with self-publishing, since we’re already on the topic.

One of the biggest pros to self-publishing is that you have complete control over the final product. You decide what edits to make, what your cover looks like, and what price to sell your novel at. You’re in charge, and that’s something a lot of people like. With self-publishing, it’s also easier to get your book published, so long as you have the funds to do so. Not counting the time it takes you to write the manuscript, you could have your novel out in under two years if you work hard at it. This is because you don’t have to spend time querying agents, waiting for their responses, waiting for your agent to shop your novel around to publishers, waiting for those publishers to edit your book and design your book cover and so on and so on. With self-publishing, there’s hardly any waiting at all. Not to mention that, with self-publishing, you can get up to 70% royalties on your novel, depending on the price you set and which companies you go through to publish and sell your book. That’s significantly more than you would ever make if you traditionally published. Plus, if your novel doesn’t do well in sales, you don’t have to worry about your future books not being published because of it. With traditional publishing, if you loose a publisher money, they’re less likely to take a chance on you next time.

On the other hand, there are quite a few cons to self-publishing, too. First of all, it’s very expensive. You have to fund all self-publishing expenses out of pocket, and some of them, like cover art and the professional edit, cost a lot of cash money. I mean, the goal is to then earn that money back in sales, but that isn’t a guarantee, and it requires you to have access to that money in the first place. And if your book doesn’t do well in sales, you don’t have an advance to fall back on (and, in fact, you could end up at a loss if you don’t break even on the expenses you’ve paid). There’s also the unfortunate fact that many people don’t take self-published authors as seriously as traditionally published ones, though this has been slowly changing as the online book market has been expanding and evolving. Emphasis on “slowly.” Along those same lines, there are very few awards for self-published novels, though there are a few foundations that are actively trying to change that. But if you’re looking to win all of the writing awards with your ground-breaking novel, you’d be better off traditionally publishing.

So, then, traditional publishing. Is it better or worse? Well, let’s look at the pros and cons.

With traditional publishing, one pro is that you get an advance. The advance is based on how much money the publishers feel confident your novel will earn them, and then you don’t get any royalties until your novel’s sales break even on your advance. So even if your book doesn’t break even or make that much in sales, you still have a decent amount of money in your pocket. Also, it’s almost guaranteed that your novel will be sold in brick-and-mortar bookstores, so if you have big dreams of seeing your book baby on a shelf, you should probably pursue traditional publishing. People also tend to seek out novels from Big 10 publishing houses more than they do self-published novels. Publishing houses have had years to build trust amongst readers, after all, so people tend to feel more confident spending their money on something traditionally published. And finally, like I mentioned before, a lot of awards are only open to traditionally published authors, so if you want to win awards for your novel, this is the way to go.

As far as cons go, a big one is that you have less control over what happens to your novel once it’s in the hands of a publisher. They have the final say in cover design, edits, etc. They could cut your favorite scene from your book, and you probably wouldn’t have much of a say in the matter, especially if you’re a debut author. They could also decide, after publishing book one in your series, that they don’t want to publish the rest for one reason or another. This means, if you ever want to get the rest of your series out there, you’ll most likely have to jump through a lot of legal hoops to self-publish them. Money-wise, if you exceed your advance in sales, you only get about 10% royalties after that (and if you have an agent, they get 10-15% of your 10%). Now, keep in mind that, as a traditionally published author, you’ll probably be selling more copies of your book than you would as a self-published one, so even with only 10% in royalties you could be making more than you would if you self-published. Still, traditionally publishing isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme by any stretch of the imagination, and you could end up making just as much, if not more, by self-publishing if you market your book correctly.

Which leads me to another point. There’s a common misconception that you have to do less marketing for yourself when you’re traditionally published, but that isn’t true. Unless you’re a big-name author like John Green, you’ll be doing most of your own marketing. It’ll be your job to sell your book, just like it would be as a self-published author. And, like I mentioned earlier, if your novel doesn’t do well in sales, your chances of getting picked up by a publisher for your next novel are very low (nobody wants to bet on the losing horse). Not to mention the waiting game that I also mentioned earlier. It’s much harder to get your novel traditionally published, and it could be years before your novel is on the shelves, if a publisher even decides to sell your book at all.

Which is better, then? Whose pros outweigh whose cons? Well–and you’re going to hate me for saying this–it’s up to you. I’m not here today to tell you that you should self-publish or traditionally publish. Personally, I’ve decided to self-publish my debut novel The Caspian Chronicles: The Forbidden Prophecy, but that in no way means that self-publishing is the right choice for you. You know yourself, you know your novel, and if you really consider all of the pros and cons that I’ve laid out for you, you’ll know which is the right choice for you.

However, I do want to say that I think we should start respecting both forms of publishing equally. Let’s kill the stigma that self-publishing is “lesser.” Maybe at one point it was, but that’s changing, and we need to respect that. Don’t look down on someone like me because we chose to self-publish. We, as fellow authors, should work to support each other and build each other up. And if you choose to self-publish, don’t play into the negative stereotypes. Do it right. Don’t cut corners. To change peoples minds about self-publishing, we need to make them see that we take our writing just as seriously as those who traditionally publish do.

With all that being said, I hope you’ve learned something new today. Make sure to check back in tomorrow for Day 26, where I’ll teach you how to figure out what genre (or genres) your novel falls into.

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