The pros and cons of traditional publishing and self-publishing

After another of the lesbian fiction publishers is about to close down, the discussions on some Yahoo groups started anew: What is better for authors—traditional or self-publishing?

Well, we are a (not so) traditional publisher, but we tried to list the pros and cons that each option has for authors.


Advantages of traditional publishing

  • One of the biggest advantages of traditional publishing is that there are no up-front costs to the author. The publisher will pay for editing, layout, cover design, e-book conversion, printing, shipping, and marketing. There’s no financial risk involved for the author. With self-publishing, there’s no guarantee that you’ll even get back the money you invested.
  • If you join a publishing house, you’re not alone. There’s a team of experienced editors, graphic designers, proofreaders, and technical support staff, who help make your book the best it can be. Self-published writers have to do all the work by themselves or hire someone to do it for them. The costs of substantive editing, copy-editing, and cover creation easily add up to at least $1,000.
  • In a traditional publishing company, once you submitted your manuscript and worked with an editor, your work is done. It’s in your best interest to help with publicity, but the publisher handles all the production and administrative work, so that leaves you more time to actually write. If you self-publish, you’ll have to spend a lot of your time producing and promoting your books instead of actually writing. Self-published authors have to wear a lot of hats, and acquiring all the skills you need for self-publishing takes up a lot of time too.
  • Some traditional publishing houses have a wider distribution, which means more exposure for your book.
  • Traditional publishers often have a bigger budget, more experience, and more options for advertising and promotion. In self-publishing, you do all your own promotion, which can be time-consuming and expensive.
  • Publishers and their individual authors already have a loyal following. Readers are subscribing to or checking the publisher’s website to see what’s going to come out next. If the publisher has a good reputation, readers will buy your book because they know they’ll get a high-quality book, even if they have never read one of your books before. If you self-publish, you don’t have that built-in audience. Readers won’t find your book while they browse your publisher’s website (because you don’t have a publisher).
  • There might be more prestige in traditional publishing. Some readers still harbor prejudices against self-publishers. Since some self-published authors don’t have much money to spend on editing and cover art, they might produce amateurish books—that’s why self-published writers get a bad reputation, even though some produce excellent books.

Advantages of self-publishing

  • Speed of publication: If you submit your novel to a traditional publisher, it can take six to eighteen months from submission to publication. If you self-publish, you can get your book out and build an audience much more quickly.
  • If you self-publish, you have complete control over price, cover, title, content, and marketing. Every decision is yours—but that’s a double-edged sword, since you’re also responsible for every aspect of producing and selling your book. You have to give up some control with traditional publishing. You won’t have total control about your cover, title, or back cover blurb of your book. The amount of control you have depends on the publisher. At Ylva Publishing, authors can suggest titles for their books, and they have input on the covers and blurbs. They’re involved in most of the decisions regarding their books.
  • Self-published authors retain 30-70% of the list price. Since publishers cover all the costs, authors typically receive lower royalty rates. Right now, the standard royalty rate in traditional publishing houses is twenty-five percent for e-books.
  • If you publish your own books, you won’t get any rejection letters from publishers. Some statistics say that traditional publishing houses accept less than 3% of all submissions. With self-publishing, anyone can do it—and that’s a pro and a con at the same time. There’s no acquiring editor who screens the submissions and weeds out low-quality manuscripts. That’s why some readers are reluctant to buy self-published books. Readers might wonder if the author self-published her book because she kept being rejected by traditional publishers.

There’s no right or wrong way to become a published author. Both paths have advantages and disadvantages. In the end, it all comes down to what might be a better fit for you, your goals, and your resources.

If it’s important to you to keep control of every aspect of your book, self-publishing might fit you.

If you see publishing a book as a collaborative process and would like to have others carry part of the workload and costs, leaving you more time to write, a traditional publisher might suit you. Then it’s important to find a publisher you trust to make the right decisions for your book.

Also, keep in mind that the pros and cons vary, depending on the size of the publishing company. Small presses such as Ylva Publishing often have more flexible publishing schedules, and authors are more involved and have more influence over every step of the publishing process.

Well-known literary agent Rachelle Gardner will soon publish her e-book How Do I Decide? Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing. I’m sure the book will have a lot of interesting things to say about the topic too.

What do you believe is the better solution for you as an author? And as a reader—do you prefer to buy books from traditional publishers or from self-published authors?
We’re looking forward to your comments.

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About the Author : Astrid Ohletz


  1. Fran Heckrotte January 6, 2013 at 20:00 - Reply

    Thank you for this informative author. My thoughts are there are no wrongs or rights in either path. As you say it is specific to the author’s wants and needs. Before a decision is made, though, there is a lot to consider and the author should never put speed of publication over diligent investigation of the choices available.

  2. Fran Heckrotte January 6, 2013 at 20:02 - Reply

    CORRECTION! I meant to say informative article. Just goes to show that copyediting is needed even for posts.

  3. selfpublishingadvocate January 7, 2013 at 08:27 - Reply

    Reblogged this on Self Publishing Advocate.

  4. selfpublish101 January 7, 2013 at 19:43 - Reply

    Reblogged this on Self-Publish 101.

  5. joanarling January 11, 2013 at 20:23 - Reply

    Some years ago I decided I wanted to write “for real”. Of course, I wanted to present my works
    to the world, and one obvious choice was HTML on a website. I was, however, very dissatisfied with the options HTML gave me. So I took on LaTeX (which is a rather wonderful typesetting system, but it’s also quite hard to learn) and produced wonderful PDFs. Or so I thought.

    Since a friend of mine wanted something to “take to bed”, I uploaded an experiment to a self-publishing service and ordered five samples. With the words of Joseph Conrad: “The horror … the horror.” And that was only typesetting errors that had escaped my attention on-screen.

    Around the same time, Ylva gracefully accepted one of my stories and I was, for the first time, exposed to working with a content editor. Need I re-quote Mr Conrad? It’s not the occasionally misplaced comma, it is “you’re telling, not showing here”, or “Point of View!” that made me quite humble. What makes it worse: she was virtually right every time.

    To sum it up: If you are much better at this than I am (and you may well be), go ahead and self-publish. For myself, I am very happy that there are experts who help make better what I produce. In the end, what readers get is what matters, isn’t it?

  6. Ylva Publishing January 24, 2013 at 11:11 - Reply

    Rachelle Gardner has now published her book on traditional vs. self-publishing:

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