Self Publishing vs Traditional – How to Choose the Best One for your Book

Updated: Feb 24

In my work as a book publisher and book marketing consultant, I’m often asked: “what is the best publishing model?” It’s an important question. After all, if you’ve responded to the calling of being an author, then you want it to give your book the best possible chance to succeed.

self publishing vs traditional

Both experienced authors and first-timers search for publishing options in a variety of ways. There are a ton of choices to consider, and researching them can be overwhelming.

By popular demand, here is an overview of the three major types of publishing methods:

  1. Traditional
  2. Self-Publishing
  3. Assisted Self-Publishing

Each publishing option has its merits. Naturally, the one you choose has to fit your needs most intelligently while serving the mission of your writing or speaking business. With that in mind, here is a review of the three options:

Self-Publishing Overview

This option is best for experienced authors who are good at everything and like to retain control. On the upside, it takes only three to six months to publish your book, and you retain ownership of your intellectual property.

But there is a downside. As the author and publisher, you assume the cost of editing, cover design, and interior layout. Physical books that have printed cannot be returned, and the price per book is high if you choose print-on-demand services.

The deeper concern, however, is that most bookstores won’t carry self-published books. Most authors discover this “gotcha” after they’ve published with CreateSpace or similar services. This shrinks your potential considerably, as 85% of books are sold outside of Amazon.com. Being locked-out of traditional bookstores also leaves you with fewer marketing choices.

If you’re into the DIY thing – including lots of guess work, learning new software and a few costly fumbles – you may want to choose the self-publishing option. Recognize that these activities will take a bite out of your marketing, speaking and writing time.

Traditional Book Publishing Overview

Traditional book publishing plays the glamour card.

This is the typical scenario where the author finds an agent, and the agent shops the finished manuscript to the dozens of publishing houses where they have connections. Finally, one editor falls in love with the book, catches hold of the vision, and promises to turn the author into a star.

The publisher takes control of all the design and editing, along with full retail distribution, book trade advertising, and confident pricing. There’s celebratory champagne followed by meetings, lots of back and forth, editing, rewrites and delays.

In fact, putting a book into the marketplace through traditional publishing takes between eighteen and thirty months. That’s almost three years. No lie! By the time your book hits the shelves, you’ve (hopefully) written your second book required by contract.

What does a publisher do?

What does a publisher do, you ask? Well, at this stage, the publisher now owns your book.

You’ve sold it to them for an advance on royalties, and you may never see another dime if it doesn’t take off in the first 90 days. Oh, and by the way, you are responsible for 100% of the marketing for your book; you won’t get much help from the publisher unless your first book was a smashing success. Some publishers offer the services of a speakers bureau and public relations services if you’re in the top 5% of their catalogs such as J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown or Stephen King.

Traditional publishing isn’t necessarily the best answer if you’re concerned about copyright restrictions, movie rights and flexibility with your intellectual property. This is the reason self-publishing has become popular in recent years, despite the drawbacks on publishing your book yourself.

But there is a third publishing option, one that combines the best of both worlds.

Hybrid Publishing Overview

One company offering the hybrid model is Made for Success Publishing, which was designed for speakers and authors who want to play a bigger game. This means publishing a book is not just another product launch. The book’s mission is to establish a national presence for the author.

In reality, hybrid publishing provides the best of traditional and self-publishing models. Printed books are returnable, and a variety of book derivatives are published (like audiobooks).

In this model, authors benefit from expertise with elements like cover design, editing, book formatting, distribution and marketing recommendations. For some authors who speak, a high performing book can make the difference in adding another $5,000 to their speaking fees.

In today’s book publishing environment, just getting a book printed is not enough due to the increasingly competitive nature of the book industry. As you may have inferred, I have a bias towards the hybrid option. That’s because it is designed to leverage the best of both worlds; offering the author control over their work while capitalizing on the full opportunities in the marketplace.

Enjoy the journey as you research these publishing options.

Bryan Heathman is the CEO of Made for Success Publishing and the author of #1 Best Seller: Book Marketing Reinvented, a book for authors with his best-selling book launch formula. Bryan’s Fortune 500 experience includes Microsoft, Eastman Kodak and Xerox.