Differences Between Traditional & Self-Publishing

Which is better – traditional or self-publishing? The answer may be different depending on your circumstances and overall goals. Author Kenneth Alan Moe, having experience with both methods, can offer some tips to help you decide which is best for you.

Each avenue has its pros and cons. While it can be very helpful to have a publishing company do the lion’s share of the work to hone, print, and market your book, you have to find one willing to take the chance on your product first. That can be a demoralizing experience – you certainly must get comfortable with rejection. Traditional publishers may also insist that they retain the copyright to your book, and your royalties per book sold will be much less than if you go the self-publishing route. Time is also a factor. A typical publishing house will promote a new book for a year and then consign any unsold copies to a remainders company. But some really good books may take more than a year to catch on or gather attention.

On the other hand, self-publishing is available to anyone as long as they have the drive and the money to put up for it. The author controls the associated expenses by deciding which pre-publication and publication services to engage and which to handle independently. Examples of contractors an indie author might need include editors, typesetters, graphic designers, and marketers. However, the author’s job is not done when the book is finally available for purchase. It takes a lot of time and potentially, money, to effectively network and cultivate an audience. But an indie author has the luxury of taking whatever time is needed to get the job done.

The Deal with Traditional Publishing

In regard to traditional publishing, Ken shares, “My non-fiction book, The Pastor’s Survival Manual, was published traditionally, with the publisher handling all the publicity and printing costs. They provided a proofreader, and I worked with an editor about shaping the material and naming the book. The publisher retained the right to name it, although one of my suggestions was ultimately accepted. The publisher also holds the copyright. I still get royalties for this book after more than 20 years in print, but they don’t amount to much, being a small percentage of the net sales (not gross sales), effectively about 4% of the sales price.”

The Pastor’s Survival Manual benefitted from professional marketing and has been used in seminary classrooms since the 1990s.

Trade-offs in Self-Publishing

For all of Ken’s other books, including his 7-book series Heretics in Occupied Eden, he has gone the route of self-publishing. Says Ken, “The upside of traditional publishing is no out-of-pocket costs for the author. With self-publishing, the author has complete control of the material, including titles, cover design, and copyright ownership. Traditional publishers often leave the copyright with the author, but in my case, they did not. The royalties with indie publishing are considerably higher, but the author has to assume marketing and advertising expenses, which can be considerable.”

The Heretics in Occupied Eden series represents a more personal artistic vision, and Moe appreciates the ability to retain final say in how the story is shaped and marketed, both initially and in perpetuity.

Making the Choice

In regard to his future writing endeavors, Ken shares, “I would go with a traditional publisher only if I had complete editorial control, maintained the copyright, and received a reasonable royalty. I’ve been spoiled by the freedom of indie publication. My assumption is that this would involve re-publishing one of my independently published books. For a new novel, I would probably stick with the independent process. But I would go with a traditional publisher with a non-fiction book geared toward a specialized or professional readership.”

Bottom line: if you are serious about your career as an author, there is no reason you can’t do traditional publishing for some projects and self-publishing for others. Take the time to price out the cost of self-publishing. Evaluate the fine print in an offer from a publishing house. Really get in touch with your personal priorities for the project, as well as the limitations you may have in terms of time available to commit to the process. In the end, the answer will become clear.

Do you have experience with one or the other type of publishing? With both? Leave a comment below!

Further reading:

Exploring the Benefits of Self-Publishing

Considering the Challenges of Self-Publishing

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