Special Edition: There’s More To Life Than Self-Pub vs. Traditional

By Jennie Jarvis

Let me guess: If you are reading this blog, then you want to be a published author, right? You’ve written your manuscript (or most of it), and you are already dreaming of seeing your book’s title on an Amazon Bestseller list (or better yet, a New York Times Bestseller List). You know you still have a little bit of work to do to make your novel ready to publish (maybe you still have it out to Beta readers or you know you need an editor to help you with the polish). Otherwise, however, you are ready to start making the difficult decision: HOW do I want to publish?

For many years, there was just ONE option: Get an agent, have that agent send your manuscript out to book editors at publishing houses and then cross your fingers. Then, in the last twenty years, we suddenly had another exciting venue to explore: SELF publishing! Thanks to the internet, we could be in charge of whether or not our book ever made it into the hands of a reader.  But did you know that we have more than these two choices?

In the age of eReaders, we as authors have a whole slew of options in between self publishing and traditional publishing. Below is a brief run-down of the pros and cons of various kinds of publishing options available to you as a writer:

1.  Traditional Publishing

What It Is: This is the tried and true, most “respectable” form of publishing. You get an agent. The agent submits your work to a press. After a very long, grueling wait, your book is purchased. You get an advance, and eventually royalties. Your book will have a few months on a shelf at your favorite bookstore. If it doesn’t do well, then it will be replaced by another author trying to make his/her big break.

Pros: This is the Dream! Opportunity for great exposure and large readership

Cons: You have to have an agent, lower royalty rates, limited exposure since your publisher will have other clients as well.

Examples: The Big Five – Hachette, Simon and Schuster, Harper Collins, Macmillan, and Penguin Random House.


2. Small or Independent Press Publishing

What It Is: Similar to traditional publishing, but these are much smaller houses. Sometimes, they are smaller because they are newer, and sometimes, they are smaller because they represent a very narrow genre. Smaller doesn’t mean worse. It just means smaller.

Pros: You get all the benefits of a larger house but more specialized attention, you don’t always need an agent to submit (check each press’s submission guidelines)

Cons: A smaller press might have less resources including less money for your advance and marketing

Examples:  Akashic Press, Beating Windward Press, Tin House, so many more I could go on forever….


3. Digital Publishing

What It Is: This could be a branch of a traditional or a small press or could be its own company. At the end of the day, the key here is that they ONLY distribute digital copies (Ebooks). Sure, they might have a way for you to get some print copies in case you want to sell them at a convention or something, but they mostly focus on getting the book out in electronic format. If your book does well and the Digital Press is an imprint of a larger press, then you might get a traditional deal on the back end. No guarantees though.

Pros: It’s just like a traditional small press, but you can see your book published in less time! You don’t need an agent to submit (but it does get you to the head of the line), and some digital presses are smaller imprints of traditional houses (if your book does well, here comes the traditional book deal!)

Cons: Your book will most likely only ever exist in digital format, most of these publishers are looking for very specific genres such as romance, young adult or new adult

Examples: Bloomsbury Spark, Entangled, Ellora’s Cave, Samhain


4.  Self Publishing

What It Is: This is where you do it yourself! You can go to Create Space (owned by Amazon) or use another vendor like Lightning Source, but the end result is all the same – you wrote it, you put it online yourself, and you get a higher percentage of royalties!

Pros: You are in charge! Higher royalty rates, more control over your product, your book goes from your laptop to your readers in just a few short clicks

Cons: You are in charge! If you aren’t good at book design, layout or marketing/publicity, then you may need to hire professionals to help you, with more and more people self-pubbing each year, it’s getting harder and harder to stand out.

Examples: A great video comparing Create Space to Lightning Source can be found here.


5.  Hybrid Publishing

What It Is: This is where an author publishes in multiple ways, thereby benefiting from the pros of each outlet and minimizes the negatives.

Pros: You self-publish one book while you wait for another one that is traditionally published to be released, The marketing of one book helps the other and vice verse, short term income as you wait for the long term income to arrive

Cons: You need to have two really solid manuscripts ready at roughly the same time, can be very overwhelming if you aren’t comfortable with marketing and publicity or are a slow writer


6.  Vanity/Subsidiary Press Publishing

What It Is: Basically like self-publishing, but you have to PAY to have them do it for you – and sometimes, you don’t get what you paid for!

Pros: All the benefits of self-publishing but with a paid staff that helps you through the process

Cons: You are paying someone to do what you could basically do yourself. Sadly, there are a lot of con artists out there so be sure to check out the Writer Beware website to verify you are working with someone who will help (and not hurt) your book

Warning: There are a LOT of scam artists out there, so make sure you check out Writer Beware and research EVERY publisher, editor or agent who approaches you about your work.


There are a lot of options out there! Which way will you go to publish your novel?


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  1. #1 by sarahnicolas on June 13, 2014 - 9:45 am

    A small correction: Entangled is not a digital publisher. They have print imprints and digital-only imprints.The print books are distributed by Macmillan and available in all major retail stores.

  2. #2 by jarviswrites on June 13, 2014 - 10:05 am

    Thanks Sarah! You would know! My mistake.

  3. #3 by A Writer With Something To Say on June 13, 2014 - 11:23 am

    Great blog, post Jarvis!

  4. #4 by lynettedavis on January 4, 2015 - 5:11 pm

    Reblogged this on Memoir Notes.

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