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Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing

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Today it is easier than ever for an upcoming author to publish a book. Two main ways of publishing are available for authors: traditional publishing and self-publishing. According to Infinity Publishing, traditional publishing is when a traditional publishing house- such as HarperCollins or Penguin Random House- buys a manuscript and proceeds to publish the book. Self-publishing, as one could guess, is when a person publishes their book independently, using their own resources (Merriam-Webster). After researching both traditional publishing and self-publishing and studying the pros and cons of both, one can come to a well-informed conclusion. As we can see by reading “A Look Ahead to Self-Publishing in 2015”, self-publishing—or Indie publishing, as some may call it—has advanced and grown in recent years (McCartney 1). Contrary to popular belief, however, traditional publishing is superior to self-publishing because it is more cost efficient, it allows the author to earn more money, and it gives the author a larger platform.


One reason why traditional publishing is a better method than self-publishing is because traditional publishing is more cost efficient. Some people may be able to afford to pay for the printing, distribution, and advertising of their book, but many others aren’t as financially set. According to an article by Young Adult author Lu Ann Brobst Staheli, “Which Way— Do-It-Yourself or Traditional”, it is smarter and easier for an author to be paid for their book’s publication than to have to pay the many costs of self-publishing, which include, but aren’t limited to, design, printing, and multiple rounds of editing [Writer (Kalmbach Publishing Co.)] .


For those who aren’t familiar with the publishing world, here are some of the many costs of self-publishing. Once the author’s manuscript is finished, that’s when the real work begins. If they want to produce a book of great quality, they’ll need their manuscript to be edited several times. According to Reedsy, a writing website that supports authors and publishers, a manuscript needs proofreading, copy editing, an additional round of copy editing and proofreading, content editing, and an editorial assessment. The total average cost of professional, quality editing for a manuscript of 60,000 words is $4800 (Reedsy). After editing, they’ll need to pay for cover design and book interior design- that’s if they want their book to be attractive to their audience. The average cost of professional cover design is $700, and the average cost of professional book interior design is $840 (Reedsy). Altogether, in order to self-produce a book of fine quality, it would cost an average of $6340. Once the book is complete and ready to go, the author will have to pay for it to be printed- price depending on the number of pages and the amount of copies they want printed. After the printing, the book still needs distribution and advertising- if the author wants their book to be read. With self-publishing, the author will have to pay for all of that themselves, but with traditional publishing, they won’t. When an author chooses to traditionally publish, the publishing house takes care of the editing, cover and interior design, printing, distribution, and marketing (Scribendi).


Besides being more cost efficient than self-publishing, traditional publishing also allows the author to earn more money. According to an article by authors Jessica Case and Claiborne Hancock, “Why Publishers (Still) Matter”, publishing houses pay royalties based on how many of the author’s books sell instead of how much they paid to produce the book (Publishers Weekly, 2014). In case the term ‘royalties’ is unfamiliar, here’s a definition from Investopedia: “A royalty is a payment to an owner for the use of property, especially patents, copyrighted words…” Each publishing house is different, but the big publishing houses, like HarperCollins, normally pay a royalty of 25%. In fact, just recently, HarperCollins raised their royalty percentage so that now if authors sell their books directly from HarperCollins without a middleman (such as Amazon or Barnes & Noble), they will earn 35% of the book price (Teleread, 2014). Some may argue that when self-publishing, the author will be earning 100% of their book sales, but in actuality, they won’t be. Even if the author manages to sell 100 books at $10 per book, they will still not make up the $6340 plus (average calculations presented earlier) that they will have spent to produce and distribute their book.

Royalties are just one way that publishing houses offer to pay their authors (Writer Unboxed). Besides paying royalties, there are two other ways that signed authors can choose to be paid. They can be paid with a flat fee, which is a fixed amount of money that the publishing house gives the author, regardless of whether the book is a success or not (Writer Unboxed). Another payment option is called an advance against royalties. An advance against royalties is basically royalties and a flat fee combined; the publishing house gives the author a fixed amount of money and a contract that says the author will be paid more in royalties if their book sells well (Writer Unboxed). Therefore, as it’s easy to see, traditional publishing allows the author to earn more money. Ros Barber, author of award-winning The Marlowe Papers (a novel written in verse) explains very well in a blog post that with self-publishing there are no royalties, no flat fees, and no advance against royalties. As she says, “70% of nothing is nothing.” Unlike with self-publishing, where one will not make much of a profit, if any at all, traditional publishing houses are basically paying the author for the honor of publishing their book.


Another great advantage of traditional publishing is that it gives the author a larger platform. What is the point of working hard to publish a book if no-one is going to read it? Besides the designing and printing of the book, the publishing house chosen will also provide distribution services. In an article by author Harold Underdown, “What a Publisher Does: Key Roles”, it’s shown just how hard publishing houses work to make every author’s book a success (2014). If self-publishing, the author will have to hire a distributor to get their work out there or, worse yet, they’ll have to market it themselves. However, with a traditional publishing house, the publisher will not only distribute, but also market their book for no additional costs (Underdown, 2014). Publishers have wide connections, and they are the ones who get a book into bookstores, libraries, and even advertised on television. On their own, an author can’t exactly walk into a bookstore or a library and demand that their book be displayed. The publisher finds ways to advertise the book, such as sending catalogs that tell people what the newest books are and putting out ads; they will even meet with library employees and booksellers to tell them about the new book. Even more excitingly, the publishing house can arrange for their authors to do book tours to advertise and sell their books (Underdown, 2014). With all these ways for one’s book to be seen, the book has the possibility of being read by people all over the world.
Even if one does have the money to hire a distributor, it appears that bookstores and libraries aren’t too eager to place self-published works on their shelves. According to a popular news source, bookstores don’t want to buy self-published books because they worry about a guarantee of money back once a self-published book doesn’t sell, they don’t see self-published books as having enough publicity and awareness, and they’d just rather work with the industry that they know well (The Huffington Post, 2015). In an article written only last month, “LJ’s Self-Publishing Survey”, Kate DiGirolomo gives librarians a voice to share why self-published books aren’t found in many libraries. 34.8% of interviewed librarians state that there aren’t any credible reviews to be found on these self-published works; 25.5% of interviewed librarians explained that there isn’t ample time to go through several self-published works, to determine if there are any stellar pieces; 21.3% of interviewed librarians complain that self-published works lack fine quality (Library Journal, 2016). Hundreds of people frequent libraries and bookstores daily. If an author publishes with a traditional publishing house, their book could be the one that hundreds of people see every day.


Some people feel as if they have to self-publish if they want to be published at all. They have had many manuscripts rejected by traditional publishing houses (Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2013). John Pritchard explains, in his article “Self-Publishing”, that the publishing houses were rejecting manuscripts because of “inexperience, controversial content, editorial guidelines, creative differences…” (2013). It’s true that the big publishing houses, such as Penguin Random House and HarperCollins, are very particular about who they publish—they don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts (Penguin Random House; Harper Collins Publishers). However, there are 2760 publishing companies in the United States alone (Publishers Global). Many of these publishing companies are specialized for different book categories; there are publishing companies looking for horror, poetry, young adult fiction, etc., and some publishers are even looking specifically for new and inexperienced authors (Book Publishing Companies). In the end, it doesn’t matter that an author hasn’t been published with a large publishing house because their readers won’t even know the difference. While many readers may know who wrote their favorite books, they are not likely to know who published them (The Creative Penn). Even if an author’s manuscript gets rejected a few times, they should keep trying. They should search for new and improved publishing companies if they have to, but, in the words of former British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, they should “never, never, never give up.”


The self-publishing industry may be advancing, but traditional publishing remains the superior method of book publishing. It is apparent from the earlier calculated costs that self-publishing demands a large sum of money while traditional publishing does not. With self-publishing, the author gains little to no profit, but with traditional publishing, the author will earn a good deal of money, as well as the pride of knowing they were paid to make a dream come true. While self-published authors have to work extremely and unnecessarily hard without promise of recognition, traditionally published authors are given a larger platform on which to be heard, or read, far and wide. Choose the traditional method because it is more cost efficient, it allows the author to earn more money, and it gives the author a larger platform. It’s quite obvious that traditional publishing is the path for authors to take.



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