To traditionally publish, or to self-publish, that is the question on every aspiring author’s lips. Ten years ago the question would not have been on the radar. But with the technology and resources more readily available, self-publishing is becoming both an accessible and viable option for authors to consider.

When I set out on my writing journey, I had it clear in my mind that there was no doubt – I wanted to be traditionally published. I had decided this for two main reasons:

  • Validation. To think that someone reputable thinks my book is worth publishing and is willing to give me the opportunity to do so would be totally mind blowing.
  • Sentimentality. To hold my own real book in my hand, to see it on shelves in bookstores, or on Instagram shelfies, would allow me to die very happy indeed.

Apart from these more personal reasons, working with a traditional publisher also offers the opportunity to work with professional editors, marketers, and promotion teams along the way. You are often paid an advance, and for the lucky ones, the possibility of multi-book deals is often on the table.

But, the publishing landscape is evolving, and as with most things it comes down to money – or lack thereof!

The hard truth in today’s publishing world is there’s less money available to support the industry. Publishers are not committing to as many titles as they used to, advances are smaller, contracts are tighter, and multi-book deals aren’t as commonplace as they used to be. In particular, publishers are hesitant to take risks on new, unknown authors. Instead they are looking for that amazingly, brilliant, new voice that is different from everyone else – the needle in a haystack.

Of course, getting a book deal still comes down expertise of the author to have a fresh voice and a brilliant story. But not every story can be brilliant. There’s a lot of amazing writers, that will never be published. Not because their story isn’t worthy, but just because it might be similar to something else, or it might be a narrower market, or a risky genre mash. There are infinite reasons why publishers will take on one author, and not another – and it doesn’t always come down to talent.

As I work towards the stage of querying agents and publishers I’ve began contemplating whether or not the self-publishing route could possibly be an option for me.

The biggest difference between publishing and self-publishing is that you, the author, takes control of everything – including the financial commitment. You are solely responsible for the editing, proofreading, formatting, type-setting, and cover-design – and that’s before it’s even published!

Publishing from there is a whole different kettle of fish; – eBook format, print on demand, or both? Then there’s marketing and promotion, of which you can engage a professional, or tackle on your own. Taking it on yourself means organising promotion prior to publication and after. From advanced reading copies for reviewers, to blog tours, physical tours, getting yourself on podcasts to talk about your book, newspapers & magazines, writing blog posts and articles, and generally just getting yourself and your book out there.

Self-publishing is not just a matter of writing the book, having it edited and then sharing it with the world. You don’t get to just head back to the desk to start work on your next book. You have to fit in the writing with the ten other roles that a publisher would normally handle. And with no support!

That was the part that used to daunt me. But now, after listening to numerous podcasts and further research into the topic, I can see it’s not beyond me. I know how social media, blog tours, and review sites work. I have a background in digital marketing, and I understand the importance of balancing promotion and not just doing the hard-sell. I’m also not afraid of investing in my stories to have them professionally assessed, critiqued and edited, and engaging professionals help design and set my book.

So, I’m not totally daunted by the self-publishing process anymore. Even the financial side of self-publishing sounds appealing – providing the book sells of course! Compare ten – thirty cents per sale through a traditional publisher, to seventy cents plus through self-publishing. The initial outlay is more expensive yes, but long term, providing it sells well, is healthier. Not that I’m going into this gig expecting to earn a decent living. I’m no J.K. Rowling or James Patterson. I have the bar set very low for expectations of financial return! .

The other issue with self-publishing people often have is perception.

When people think of indie authors, they think the author chose self-publishing not as an alternate route, but a forced route because they couldn’t sell their book to a publisher. And that can unfairly result in pre-judgment of the story. There’s also a perception that self-published books are rubbish – unprofessional, poorly edited, littered with errors, and cheaply produced. But the perception is slowly changing thanks to authors who choose self-publishing as their primary route. Those who are willing to put the time, money and effort into making their books as professionally produced as traditionally published books, are increasing respect for the industry.

Still, having all this new knowledge surrounding self-publishing wash around in my head, I find myself thinking of the validation and satisfaction I’d get from a traditional publisher being interested in my work. Being able to announce I have scored a book deal, and then walking past the book shop and seeing my novel in the window. Yep, now I’m way back to square one.

So while I’m still leaning towards the traditional publishing route, there’s certainly lot’s more thinking (and research) to do on this one!

What are your thoughts on traditional publishing vs self-publishing?